Lang, Kevin, and Jee-Yeon K. Lehmann. 2012. "Racial Discrimination in the Labor Market: Theory and Empirics." Journal of Economic Literature, 50(4): 959-1006.

(Pre-publication version distributed as NBER Working Paper 17450)

We review theories of race discrimination in the labor market. Taste-based models can generate wage and unemployment duration differentials when combined with either random or directed search even when strong prejudice is not widespread, but no existing model explains the unemployment rate differential. Models of statistical discrimination based on differential observability of productivity across races can explain the pattern and magnitudes of wage differentials but do not address employment and unemployment. At their current state of development, models of statistical discrimination based on rational stereotypes have little empirical content. It is plausible that models combining elements of the search models with statistical discrimination could fit the data. We suggest possible avenues to be pursued and comment briefly on the implication of existing theory for public policy.

Working Papers

"Power to Bias? The Effect of Attorney Empowerment in Voir Dire on Jury Prejudice and Race" with Jeremy Blair Smith (October 2013).

Giving attorneys more power in the voir dire (jury selection) process may allow them to 1) more easily dismiss jurors whom they wish to strike on a priori grounds; 2) acquire information that enables them to identify favorably-inclined jurors more precisely; or both. Attorneys who are more skilled can better leverage their increased power to retain the jurors they prefer. We show theoretically that, since defense attorneys tend to prefer non-white jurors a priori, the interaction of empowerment and defense attorney skill should produce juries with a greater proportion of non-whites if only the first mechanism is operative, but need not have this effect if the second is operative. We find empirically that skilled and empowered attorneys can indeed stack juries by retaining jurors predisposed to their side at a greater rate. However, we find that empowerment and skill have small and insignificant impacts on the racial composition of the seated jury. In the context of our model, this result implies that, for at least some of the trials in our dataset, attorneys leveraged empowerment in voir dire to learn more about potential jurors, rather than simply to strike more effectively by relying on racial stereotypes. Our findings provide strong evidence that extensive voir dire involving attorneys can lead to the seating of biased juries when opposing counsels are unequally skilled, yet the presence of this bias may not be detected in the observable characteristics of seated juries.

"A Multidimensional Examination of Jury Composition, Trial Outcomes, and Attorney Preferences" with Jeremy Blair Smith   (June 2013), under review.

We assess the degree to which seated juries in U.S. criminal trials might fall short of the constitutional ideal of impartiality. We first ask if certain demographic and socioeconomic characteristics are related to pre-deliberation biases that individual jurors hold or to the verdicts at which juries arrive collectively. We do not focus solely on race, but also jointly consider other characteristics -- sex, age, religiousness, education, and income -- that existing literature has largely neglected. A uniquely rich dataset on non-capital felony jury trials held in four major state trial courts allows us to identify within-case effects and to control for typically unobservable aspects of the trial and its participants. We find that jurors with higher income and religiousness hold more favorable sentiments for the prosecution, while blacks hold more favorable sentiments for the defense. These pre-deliberation biases are reflected in trial outcomes, with juries with a higher average income and a greater proportion of religious jurors acquitting on fewer counts, and juries with a greater proportion of blacks convicting on fewer counts. However, these jury composition effects are smaller and account for less of the explained variation in verdicts than the effect of evidentiary strength. Moreover, while we find that prosecuting/defense attorneys prefer juries with higher/lower average income, indicating that attorneys are aware of the effect of income on predispositions and verdicts and may therefore attempt to leverage this knowledge to manipulate trial outcomes in their favor, we also find evidence that they are mistaken about the effects of other characteristics. Our results thus raise some concerns regarding the trustworthiness of U.S. criminal trials, but also provide important context for such concerns, especially by illustrating that the sources of jury bias may be more nuanced and multidimensional than an analysis based on race alone would imply.

"Job Assignment and Promotion Under Statistical Discrimination: Evidence from the Early Careers of Lawyers" (January 2013), under revision for the Journal of Political Economy.

Minorities continue to be severely underrepresented at the top levels of most occupations despite making dramatic gains in initial access to them. This fact is particularly striking in the legal profession where blacks are well represented in each associate class yet face significantly lower probabilities of making partner. To explain this divergence in the career paths of blacks and whites, I develop a dynamic model of statistical discrimination in which firms diversify their workforce by lowering the hiring standard for blacks. Despite such a diversity goal at hiring, task assignment and promotion decisions are not constrained by this policy. Under such an institutional setting, the model predicts that although blacks are more likely to be hired compared to observably similar whites, they are more likely to be placed in worse tasks and less likely to be promoted conditional on the same set of observables. However, conditional on task assignment, blacks and whites face similar promotion rates. I test the model's predictions using new data from the After the JD study -- a unique longitudinal survey tracking the professional lives of more than 4,000 lawyers. Compared to whites of similar credentials, blacks are much more likely to be hired into the best law firms. However, they are assigned to worse tasks and are less likely to be a partner. This black-white difference in promotion rates can be explained by quality differences in task assignments early in the associates' careers even controlling for measures of effort and career preferences. Results from this paper provide a unique explanation for the underrepresentation of minorities at the top of professional ladders by revealing how incompatible strategies in hiring and job assignment can reduce the number of minority promotions compared to the case without affirmative action.

"Early Origins and Evolution of Birth Order Differences in Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Outcomes " (Previously titled "Explaining the Birth Order Effect: The Role of Prenatal and Early Postnatal Investments") with Ana Nuevo-Chiquero and Marian Vidal-Fernandez (February 2013). (IZA Discussion Paper No. 6755) - New version to be available soon.

Taking advantage of the rich set of early input and outcome measures in the CNLSY97 for children across different ages, we document the start and the evolution of birth order effects from birth to young adulthood. Within the same family, latter-born children score 0.2 standard deviations lower on cognitive assessments as early as in the first two-years of life and report significantly lower sense of self-worth and self-competence as adolescents. For their latter-born children, mothers are also less likely to reduce alcohol and smoking during pregnancy and breastfeed and more likely to delay seeking prenatal care. They also provide lower levels of cognitive stimulation in the first few years of life. However, both the statistical significance and the magnitude of birth order differences in assessments remain robust to accounting for variations in early inputs. The birth order effect continues through adolescence and is significantly and positively related with the likelihood of dropping out from high school, committing a crime, and female teenage childbearing.

Works in Progress

"Prejudice and Racial Matches in Employment," with Timothy N. Bond

"The Effect of Assistive Technology on the Education and Achievement of Special Education Students: Results from a Randomized Experiment," with Scott A. Imberman, Michael Lovenheim, and Bruce Sacerdote

"Marrying Up or Marrying Down: The Rise of Women's Education and Interracial Marriages in the U.S.," with C. Andrew Zuppann

"Grandparents as Childcare Providers: Effects on Female Labor Force Participation and Early Childhood Outcomes,"with Ana Nuevo-Chiquero and Marian Vidal-Fernandez

"Specific Negative Stereotypes and Returns to Quality Signals: Evidence from the Texas Higher Education Opportunity Program"