As we have seen, measuring discrimination is often difficult. To determine whether one group of workers is discriminated against, a researcher must correct for differences in the productivity between that group and other workers in the economy. Yet, in most firms, it is difficult to measure a particular worker's contribution to the production of goods and services.
One type of firm in which such corrections are easier is the sports team. Professional teams have many objective measures of productivity. In baseball, for instance, we can measure a player's batting average, the frequency of home runs, the number of stolen bases, and so on.
Studies of sports teams suggest that racial discrimination is, in fact, common and that much of the blame lies with customers. One study, published in the Journal of Labor Economics in 1988, examined the salaries of basketball players. It found that black players earned 20 percent less than white players of comparable ability. The study also found that attendance at basketball games was larger for teams women anticipated that they would be working at age thirty-five, yet when this group actually reached thirty-five, more than 70 percent of them were in the labor force. Their underestimation of future work activity surely influenced their early career preparations (or lack thereof). More recent survey data show a dramatic change in expectations. The vast majority of young women now report an intention to work at age thirty-five.
Those changing work expectations are reflected in rising female enrollments in higher education. In 1960, women received 35 percent of all bachelor's degrees in the U.S.; by the 1980s, they received somewhat more than half of them. In 1968, women received 8 percent of the medical degrees, 3 percent of the MBAs, and 4 percent of the law degrees granted that year. In 1986, they received 31 percent of the medical degrees and MBAs and 39 percent of the law degrees. This recent trend in schooling is likely to reinforce the rise in work experience and contribute to continuing increases in the relative earnings of women workers. . . .
Despite the advances of the past decade, women still earn less than men. The hourly earnings of women were 74 percent of the earnings of men in 1992 when ages twenty-five to sixty-four are considered, up from 62 percent in 1979. At ages twenty-five to thirty-four, where women's skills have increased the most, the ratio is 87 percent.
Economist Barbara Bergmann and others attribute the pay gap to "widespread, severe, ongoing discrimination by employers and fellow workers." But discrimination cannot be directly measured. Instead, researchers estimate the extent to which differences in productivity appear to explain the gap and then attribute the rest to discrimination. Such a conclusion is premature, however, when productivity differences are not accurately measured, which is usually the case.
For example, data are seldom available on lifetime patterns of work experience, and even less material is available on factors bearing on work expectations and the intensity and nature of work investments. As these are still the key sources of skill differences between men and women, there is considerable room for interpretation and disagreement.
When earnings comparisons are restricted to men and women more similar in their experience and life situations, the measured earnings differentials are typically quite small. For example, among people twenty-seven to thirty-three who have never had a child, the earnings of women in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth are close to 98 percent of men's. . . .
It is true that women and men still do not have the same earnings. But I believe that the differential is largely due to continuing gender differences in the priority placed on market work vs. family responsibilities. Until family roles are more equal, women are not likely to have the same pattern of market work and earnings as men. Technology has reduced the burden of housework, but child care remains a responsibility that is harder to shift to the market.
Source: The Wall Street Journal, October 7, 1994, p. A10.
with a greater proportion of white players. One interpretation of these facts is that customer discrimination makes black players less profitable than white players for team owners. In the presence of such customer discrimination, a discriminatory wage gap can persist, even if team owners care only about profit.
A similar situation once existed for baseball players. A study using data from the late 1960s showed that black players earned less than comparable white players. Moreover, fewer fans attended games pitched by blacks than games pitched by whites, even though black pitchers had better records than white pitchers. Studies of more recent salaries in baseball, however, have found no evidence of discriminatory wage differentials.
Another study, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 1990, examined the market prices of old baseball cards. This study found similar evidence of discrimination. The cards of black hitters sold for 10 percent less than the cards of comparable white hitters. The cards of black pitchers sold for 13 percent less than the cards of comparable white pitchers. These results suggest customer discrimination among baseball fans.
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Since World War II, there has been a tremendous change in the makeup and direction of kid baseball, as it is called. Adults, showing an unprecedented interest in the activity, have initiated and developed programs in thousands of towns across the United States programs that providebr wholesome recreation for millions of youngsters and are often a source of pride and joy to the community in which they exist.