Demographic Prospects

Kevin Lewis

September 24, 2020

Affirmative Action and Pre-College Human Capital
Mitra Akhtari, Natalie Bau & Jean-William Laliberté
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


Racial affirmative action policies are widespread in college admissions. Yet, evidence on their effects before college is limited. Using four data sets, we study a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reinstated affirmative action in three states. Using nationwide SAT data for difference-in-differences and synthetic control analyses, we separately identify the aggregate effects of affirmative action for whites and for underrepresented minorities. Using state-wide Texas administrative data, we measure the effect of affirmative action on racial gaps across the pre-treatment test score distribution. When affirmative action is re-instated, racial gaps in SAT scores, grades, attendance, and college applications fall. Average SAT scores for both whites and minorities increase, suggesting that reductions in racial gaps are driven by improvements in minorities' outcomes. Increases in pre-college human capital and college applications are concentrated in the top half of the test score distribution.

Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work
Heather Sarsons et al.
Journal of Political Economy, forthcoming


We study whether gender influences credit attribution for group work using observational data and two experiments. We use data from academic economists to test whether coauthorship matters differently for tenure for men and women. We find that conditional on quality and other observables, men are tenured similarly regardless of whether they coauthor or solo-author. Women, however, are less likely to receive tenure the more they coauthor. We then conduct two experiments that demonstrate that biases in credit attribution in settings without confounds exist. Taken together, our results are best explained by gender and stereotypes influencing credit attribution for group work.

(Forced) Feminist Firms
Benjamin Bennett et al.
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


We explore how lowering labor market frictions for female workers affects corporate performance. Using the staggered adoption of state-level Paid Family Leave acts, we provide causal evidence on the value created by relieving frictions to accessing female talent, for private and public firms. Reduced turnover and rising female leadership are potential mechanisms that contribute to performance gains. Across specifications, our estimates indicate that treated establishments’ productivity increases between 4% and 5% relative to neighbor control establishments. The treatment effect is larger when workers are in less religious counties and in those with more women of childbearing age.

Changing Social Contexts to Foster Equity in College Science Courses: An Ecological-Belonging Intervention
Kevin Binning et al.
Psychological Science, September 2020, Pages 1059-1070


In diverse classrooms, stereotypes are often “in the air,” which can interfere with learning and performance among stigmatized students. Two studies designed to foster equity in college science classrooms (Ns = 1,215 and 607) tested an intervention to establish social norms that make stereotypes irrelevant in the classroom. At the beginning of the term, classrooms assigned to an ecological-belonging intervention engaged in discussion with peers around the message that social and academic adversity is normative and that students generally overcome such adversity. Compared with business-as-usual controls, intervention students had higher attendance, course grades, and 1-year college persistence. The intervention was especially impactful among historically underperforming students, as it improved course grades for ethnic minorities in introductory biology and for women in introductory physics. Regardless of demographics, attendance in the intervention classroom predicted higher cumulative grade point averages 2 to 4 years later. The results illustrate the viability of an ecological approach to fostering equity and unlocking student potential.

Asian Americans, Admissions, and College Choice: An Empirical Test of Claims of Harm Used in Federal Investigations
Mike Hoa Nguyen et al.
Educational Researcher, forthcoming


The Coalition of Asian American Associations (CAAA) and Asian American Coalition for Education (AACE), two small but vocal groups of Asian Americans, have argued against affirmative action practices. One of their more prominent claims is that Asian American applicants who are not accepted and do not attend their first-choice colleges face a multitude of negative consequences, a claim that has become the impetus for the current U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into the college admissions process at a number of universities. This study empirically tests the claims made by CAAA and AACE with particular attention to the differences in Asian American student outcomes, relative to their college admissions and choice decisions. Our findings indicate a limited, if any, statistical difference between Asian American groups that attend differing choice institutions.

Have Income-Based Achievement Gaps Widened or Narrowed?
Shirin Hashim et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2020


Since 1990, U.S. policymakers have worked to close gaps in academic achievement by income and race (e.g. with school finance reform and school accountability systems) even as rising income inequality and income-based residential segregation have threatened to widen them. Using estimates of the mean and variance in household income for sampled schools, we reconstruct the student-level relationship between achievement and household income in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) from 1990 to 2015. We find that achievement at all levels of parental income rose substantially in 4th and 8th grade. In contrast to Reardon (2011), we find that achievement gaps narrowed substantially in 4th grade reading and math and in 8th grade math, while the gaps remained stable in 8th grade reading. As a robustness check, we used the March Current Population survey to impute income for dependent children by race, mother’s education, urbanicity and state and then calculated mean achievement for those same groups in the NAEP. Again, we found gaps in achievement narrowing between groups with high and low predicted mean household incomes. Our results challenge the prevailing understanding that income-based achievement gaps have widened in the United States over the last 30 years.

When eliminating bias isn’t fair: Algorithmic reductionism and procedural justice in human resource decisions
David Newman, Nathanael Fast & Derek Harmon
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, September 2020, Pages 149-167


The perceived fairness of decision-making procedures is a key concern for organizations, particularly when evaluating employees and determining personnel outcomes. Algorithms have created opportunities for increasing fairness by overcoming biases commonly displayed by human decision makers. However, while HR algorithms may remove human bias in decision making, we argue that those being evaluated may perceive the process as reductionistic, leading them to think that certain qualitative information or contextualization is not being taken into account. We argue that this can undermine their beliefs about the procedural fairness of using HR algorithms to evaluate performance by promoting the assumption that decisions made by algorithms are based on less accurate information than identical decisions made by humans. Results from four laboratory experiments (N = 798) and a large-scale randomized experiment in an organizational setting (N = 1654) confirm this hypothesis. Theoretical and practical implications for organizations using algorithms and data analytics are discussed.

Effect of State and Local Sexual Orientation Anti-Discrimination Laws on Labor Market Differentials
Scott Delhommer
University of Texas Working Paper, June 2020


This paper presents the first quasi-experimental research examining the effect of both local and state anti-discrimination laws on sexual orientation on the labor supply and wages of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) workers. To do so, I use the American Community Survey data on household composition to infer sexual orientation and combine this with a unique panel dataset on local anti-discrimination laws. Using variation in law implementation across localities over time, I find that anti-discrimination laws significantly reduce gaps in labor force participation rate, employment, and the wage gap for gay men relative to straight men. These laws also significantly reduce the labor force participation rate, employment, and wage premium for lesbian women relative to straight women. One explanation for the reduced labor supply and wage premium is that lesbian couples begin to have more children in response to the laws, shifting to a more traditional household with one woman working fewer hours. Finally, I present evidence that state anti-discrimination laws significantly and persistently increased support for same-sex marriage. This research shows that anti-discrimination laws can be an effective policy tool for reducing labor market inequalities across sexual orientation and improving sentiment toward LGB Americans.

On the Origins of Gender-Biased Behavior: The Role of Explicit and Implicit Stereotypes
Eliana Avitzour et al.
NBER Working Paper, September 2020


In recent years, explicit bias against women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is disappearing but gender discrimination is still prevalent. We assessed the gender-biased behavior and related explicit and implicit stereotypes of 93 math teachers to identify the psychological origins of such discrimination. We asked the teachers to grade math exam papers and assess the students’ capabilities while manipulating the perceived gender of the students to capture gender-biased grading and assessment behavior. We also measured the teachers’ implicit and explicit stereotypes regarding math, gender, and talent. We found that implicit, but not explicit, gender stereotypes correlated with grading and assessment behavior. We also found that participants who underestimated their own implicit stereotypes engaged in more pro-male discrimination compared to those who overestimated or accurately estimated them. Reducing implicit gender stereotypes and exposing individuals to their own implicit biases may be beneficial in promoting gender equality in STEM fields.

Gender, power and emotions in the collaborative production of knowledge: A large-scale analysis of Wikipedia editor conversations
Jana Gallus & Sudeep Bhatia
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, September 2020, Pages 115-130


This paper studies the conversations behind the operations of a large-scale, online knowledge production community: Wikipedia. We investigate gender differences in the conversational styles (emotionality) and conversational domain choices (controversiality and gender stereotypicality of content) among contributors, and how these differences change as we look up the organizational hierarchy. In the general population of contributors, we expect and find significant gender differences, whereby comments and statements from women are higher-valenced, have more affective content, and are in domains that are less controversial and more female-typed. Importantly, these differences diminish or disappear among people in positions of power: female authorities converge to the behavior of their male counterparts, such that the gender gaps in valence and willingness to converse on controversial content disappear. We find greater sorting into topics according to their gender stereotypicality. We discuss mechanisms and implications for research on gender differences, leadership behavior, and conversational phenomena arising from such large-scale forms of knowledge production.

Math and language gender stereotypes: Age and gender differences in implicit biases and explicit beliefs
Heidi Vuletich et al.
PLoS ONE, September 2020


In a cross-sectional study of youth ages 8–15, we examined implicit and explicit gender stereotypes regarding math and language abilities. We investigated how implicit and explicit stereotypes differ across age and gender groups and whether they are consistent with cultural stereotypes. Participants (N = 270) completed the Affect Misattribution Procedure (AMP) and a survey of explicit beliefs. Across all ages, boys showed neither math nor language implicit gender biases, whereas girls implicitly favored girls in both domains. These findings are counter to cultural stereotypes, which favor boys in math. On the explicit measure, both boys’ and girls’ primary tendency was to favor girls in math and language ability, with the exception of elementary school boys, who rated genders equally. We conclude that objective gender differences in academic success guide differences in children’s explicit reports and implicit biases.

Disproportionate Corporal Punishment of Students With Disabilities and Black and Hispanic Students
Ashley MacSuga-Gage et al.
Journal of Disability Policy Studies, forthcoming


Maintaining a safe and orderly school environment is challenging. In response, some schools resort to aversive punishments, including corporal punishment. Limited research has examined whether or not corporal punishment is disproportionately administered to certain students, particularly students with disabilities and black and Hispanic students. Therefore, we leveraged the most recent U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights data from the 2015–2016 school-year to evaluate disproportionate corporal punishment. We restricted the data to schools that reported at least 10 corporal punishment incidents and calculated risk ratios comparing students with disabilities to students without disabilities, and black and Hispanic students to white student. Then we estimated a series of robust variance estimation metaregression models and found evidence of statistically significant disproportionate corporal punishment administered to students with disabilities and black students. The largest risk ratio was for students with disabilities, indicating that they are much more likely to receive corporal punishment.

The motivational cost of inequality: Opportunity gaps reduce the willingness to work
Filip Gesiarz, Jan-Emmanuel De Neve & Tali Sharot
PLoS ONE, September 2020


Factors beyond a person’s control, such as demographic characteristics at birth, often influence the availability of rewards an individual can expect for their efforts. We know surprisingly little how such differences in opportunities impact human motivation. To test this, we designed a study in which we arbitrarily varied the reward offered to each participant in a group for performing the same task. Participants then had to decide whether or not they were willing to exert effort to receive their reward. Across three experiments, we found that the unequal distribution of offers reduced participants’ motivation to pursue rewards even when their relative position in the distribution was high, and despite the decision being of no benefit to others and reducing the reward for oneself. Participants’ feelings partially mediated this relationship. In particular, a large disparity in rewards was associated with greater unhappiness, which was associated with lower willingness to work – even when controlling for absolute reward and its relative value, both of which also affected decisions to work. A model that incorporated a person’s relative position and unfairness of rewards in the group fit better to the data than other popular models describing the effects of inequality. Our findings suggest opportunity-gaps can trigger psychological dynamics that hurt productivity and well-being of all involved.

The paradox of a credit-recovery program: Alleviating and exacerbating racial inequity
Shameka Powell
Race Ethnicity and Education, September 2020, Pages 784-799


This ethnographic case study examines how a racial equity-focused effort was contested and undermined by analyzing classroom observations and interviews with three teachers who worked in a credit-recovery program. Drawing on Critical Race Theory’s (CRT) whiteness as property and restrictive equality analytical lenses, this article illustrates that although the credit-recovery program was created to offer struggling Black students support and to address racialized academic disparities between Black and White students, it actually exacerbated racial inequity. Findings demonstrate that White parental demands, institutional practices, and meritocratic ideology combined to simultaneously advantage White students and disadvantage Black students. This article shines light on ways equity efforts are refashioned to support racial inequalities. The article concludes with implications for research and practice.


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