Skip to main content

Studying Discrimination: Fundamental Challenges and Recent Progress (WP-12-08)

Kerwin Kofi Charles and Jonathan Guryan

This working paper discusses research on discrimination against blacks and other racial minorities in labor market outcomes, highlighting fundamental challenges faced by empirical work in this area. Specifically, for work devoted to measuring whether and how much discrimination exists, the authors discuss how the absence of relevant data, the potential noncomparability of blacks and whites, and various conceptual concerns peculiar to race may frustrate or render impossible the application of empirical methods used in other areas of study. For work seeking to arbitrate empirically between the two main alternative theoretical explanations for such discrimination as it exists, the paper distinguishes between indirect analyses, which do not directly study the variation in prejudice or the variation in information—the mechanisms at the heart of the two types of models reviewed in the paper—and direct analyses, which are more recent and much less common. The authors highlight problems with both approaches. They also discuss recent work, which, the various challenges notwithstanding, permits tentative conclusions about discrimination. They conclude by pointing to areas that might be fruitful avenues for future investigation.

This working paper has been published as:
Charles, K. and J. Guryan. 2011. Studying Discrimination: Fundamental Challenges and Recent Progress. Annual Review of Economics 3(1): 479-511.

Kerwin Kofi Charles, Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago

Jonathan Guryan, Associate Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Download PDF