Disparate Impact

Kevin Lewis

June 03, 2021

Ironic Egalitarianism: When hierarchy-attenuating motives increase hierarchy-enhancing beliefs
Rebecca Ponce de Leon & Aaron Kay
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, May 2021, Pages 86-101


A growing number of businesses are focusing on diversity and inclusion efforts. Amidst this recent interest, scholars have sought to understand the ideologies that perpetuate inequality, concentrating primarily on the hierarchy-enhancing ideologies that antiegalitarians leverage to maintain inequality. However, we suggest that the hierarchy-enhancing beliefs typically associated with antiegalitarians (e.g., stereotypes, meritocracy) sometimes appeal to people at the opposite end of the ideological pole: egalitarians. Across four preregistered studies, we demonstrate that when hierarchy-enhancing myths may support practices aimed at promoting organizational diversity, egalitarians increasingly endorse these myths that they typically reject. When essentialism (Study 1), the Protestant work ethic (Study 2), and gender stereotypes (Study 4) supported organizational diversity, egalitarians increasingly endorsed these beliefs. They also exhibited scientific skepticism when findings jeopardized affirmative action efforts (Study 3). These findings illustrate that, ironically, pro-diversity goals can encourage egalitarians to mobilize and endorse beliefs that are typically associated with antiegalitarians and the justification of inequality.

Race, Glass Ceilings, and Lower Pay for Equal Work
Deepak Hegde, Alexander Ljungqvist & Manav Raj
NYU Working Paper, May 2021


Using detailed administrative data that allow us to hold gender, education, productivity, timeliness, and work quality constant, we document that minority patent examiners at the U.S. patent office face substantial glass ceilings and pay gaps. The promotion gap relative to White examiners averages 24.3% for Blacks, 10.5% for Hispanics, and 4.5% for Asians, with Black examiners 41.7% less likely than Whites to be promoted to the highest rank. Consistent with statistical discrimination, we find that the promotion gap for senior Black examiners halves around Obama’s 2008 election win and that greater exposure to successful minority examiners affects managers’ promotion decisions positively. We show that promotion gaps have adverse effects on the services the patent office provides to inventors and society.

Examining investor reactions to appointments of Black top management executives and CEOs
David Gligor et al.
Strategic Management Journal, forthcoming


The authors investigated investor reactions to the appointment of Black executives. The results indicate that investors respond: (1) more negatively to the announcement of Black CEO appointments than to White CEO appointments, (2) more negatively to the announcement of the Black top management team (TMT) appointments than to White TMT appointments, (3) more negatively to the announcement of Black CEO appointments than to Black TMT appointments, and (4) more negatively to the announcement of Black CEO appointments who are promoted from outside the firm than to the announcement of Black CEO appointments who are promoted from inside the firm. Moreover, the post-hoc analysis revealed that investors react more negatively to the TMT appointment of Black executives than to the TMT appointment of Latino or Asian executives. Our results show the negative association between the appointment of Black executives and investors’ reactions, and we hope it sparks future research examining causal factors and their potential solutions.

Better in the Shadows? Public Attention, Media Coverage, and Market Reactions to Female CEO Announcements
Edward Bishop Smith, Jillian Chown & Kevin Gaughan
Sociological Science, May 2021


Combining media coverage data from approximately 17,000 unique media outlets with the full population of CEO appointments for U.S. publicly traded firms between 2000 and 2016, we investigate whether female CEO appointments garner more public attention compared with male appointments, and if so, whether this increased attention can help make sense of the previously reported negative market reaction to these events. Contrary to prior reports, our data do not indicate that the appointments of female CEOs elicit overly negative market reactions, on average. Our results do highlight an important moderating role of public attention, however. We demonstrate that greater attention -- even when exogenously determined -- contributes to negative market reactions for female CEO appointments but positive market reactions for male CEOs, all else held constant. Additionally, female CEO appointments that attract little attention garner significant positive responses in the market, compared with both male CEOs drawing similarly limited levels of attention and female CEOs drawing high levels of attention. Our results help to reconcile contrasting empirical findings on the effects of gender in executive leadership and parallel recent work on anticipatory bias and second-order discrimination in alternative empirical contexts. Implications for research on attention, gender bias, and executive succession are discussed.

But how many push-ups can she do? The influence of sexism on peer ratings in a military setting
Hillary Schaefer et al.
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming


Perceived gender differences remain salient in occupational settings and biases that arise maintain inequalities. We examined rater behavior of male military cadets to test how hostile sexism impacted occupationally-relevant attributions, namely, perception of peers' physical fitness, social skill, and military demeanor, items from a larger rating system and previously linked to gender bias. Linear mixed models determined how ratings were influenced by raters' own beliefs or performance, ratee performance, and whether these relationships differed by ratee gender (N = 2520 raters and 4154 ratees). Men with sexist beliefs rated women lower on military demeanor and physical fitness. Sexism was further associated with rating women's physical fitness, more so than other men's, according to push-up scores, suggesting sexist men “keep track” of women's upper body capabilities. Physical fitness scores were positively related to military demeanor rating for women but unrelated to men's score, regardless of rater's sexism. Overall, ratings were associated with different performance characteristics for men vs. women, especially for physical abilities, suggesting a mechanism for expression of gender bias in a field setting.

Confidence Men? Evidence on Confidence and Gender among Top Economists
Heather Sarsons & Guo Xu
AEA Papers and Proceedings, May 2021, Pages 65-68


Using data from economists working in top US universities, we find that women are less confident than men along three margins. When asked about their level of agreement on survey questions about the economy, women are less likely to provide a judgment than their male counterparts. Conditional on providing a judgment, women are less likely to give "extreme" answers in which they strongly agree or disagree. Women are also less confident in the accuracy of their answer. We show that the confidence gap is driven by women being less confident when asked questions outside their field of expertise.

Do employers discriminate against obese employees? Evidence from individuals who simultaneously work in self-employment and paid employment
Sankar Mukhopadhyay
Economics & Human Biology, forthcoming


We test whether the lower wages of obese employees result from employer discrimination using a novel empirical strategy. Using data from two nationally representative surveys from the US, we analyze the wages of individuals who simultaneously work in paid employment and self-employment. While lower productivity and customer discrimination against obese individuals may affect wages in both types of jobs, employer discrimination cannot affect the wages of solo entrepreneurs. Our estimates suggest that, even after controlling for productivity (proxied by their concurrent wage in self-employment), white women (men) who are obese earn 11.4% (9.7%) less than their healthy-weight counterparts in their paid employment jobs. We also find that white women (but not men) who are overweight earn 9.1% less than their healthy-weight counterparts. We do not find any evidence of significant bodyweight discrimination among black and Hispanic workers. These results suggest that white workers, especially white women, are likely to face bodyweight discrimination in their workplaces. We report the results for a series of robustness checks to rule out alternative explanations, such as reverse causality, differences in healthcare costs, and occupation-specific customer discrimination.

Should I lead? An intrapersonal perspective on the Asian–White leadership gap
Yourie Kim, Winny Shen & Rochelle Evans
Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, April 2021, Pages 125–137


Despite being seen as a “model minority,” Asian Americans remain underrepresented in organizational leadership roles in North America. The existing and limited research on this topic has primarily focused on external barriers to Asians’ advancement (e.g., discrimination); however, little is currently known regarding potential internal barriers that this group may also experience—and why they may arise. Across two cross-sectional survey studies using undergraduate student samples (Study 1: nAsians = 205, nWhites = 290; Study 2: nAsians = 105, nWhites = 176), we consistently found that Asian Canadians reported lower affective motivation to lead and leadership self-efficacy compared to their White Canadian peers. Integrating intrapsychic versus social structural perspectives on group differences in leadership with research on implicit leadership and followership theories to explore potential explanations, these differences appeared to be driven by intrapsychic processes (i.e., personal views of the self) rather than social structural influences (i.e., metastereotypes or how others stereotype one’s racial group); however, both traits typically associated with leaders and followers seem to play a role in this process. Specifically, Asian Canadians had lower self-perceptions on agency-related traits associated with followership (i.e., more conforming), in line with commonly held stereotypes about Asians, and lower self-perceptions on competence-related traits associated with leadership and followership (i.e., less intelligent and more incompetent), counter to prevalent stereotypes about Asians. Overall, this exploratory research substantiates that Asians in North America may also face significant internal barriers to pursuing leadership roles and uncovers additional complexities that warrant future examination.

Mandatory Retirement and Age, Race, and Gender Diversity of University Faculties
Daniel Ho, Oluchi Mbonu & Anne McDonough
American Law and Economics Review, forthcoming


While many have documented the changing demographics of universities, understanding the effects of prohibiting mandatory retirement (“uncapping”) has proved challenging. We digitize detailed directories of all American law school faculty from 1971–2017 and show that uncapping in 1994 had dramatic effects. From 1971 to 1993, the percent of faculty above 70 — when mandatory retirement would typically have been triggered — remained stable at 1%, but starting in 1994, that proportion increased to 14%. We use a permutation test of moving cohorts to show that these increases are attributable to uncapping. Roughly 39% of faculty members would counterfactually have been subject to mandatory retirement. Effects were less pronounced at public schools, which were more likely to have defined benefits retirement plans. Second, we show that schools with the highest proportion of faculty over 70, and thus most impacted by uncapping, also exhibit the slowest integration of female and minority faculty members. Our study highlights crosscutting effects of civil rights laws: preventing age discrimination can have collateral effects on racial and gender integration.

Gender Differences in Job Search and the Earnings Gap: Evidence from Business Majors
Patricia Cortés et al.
NBER Working Paper, May 2021


To understand gender differences in the job search process, we collect rich information on job offers and acceptances from past and current undergraduates of Boston University's Questrom School of Business. We document two novel empirical facts: (1) there is a clear gender difference in the timing of job offer acceptance, with women accepting jobs substantially earlier than men, and (2) the gender earnings gap in accepted offers narrows in favor of women over the course of the job search period. Using survey data on risk preferences and beliefs about expected future earnings, we present empirical evidence that the patterns in job search can be partly explained by the higher levels of risk aversion displayed by women and the higher levels of overoptimism (and slower belief updating) displayed by men. We develop a job search model that incorporates these gender differences in risk aversion and (over)optimism about prospective offers. Our counterfactual exercises show that simple policies such as eliminating ``exploding offers" by allowing students to hold onto offers for an additional month, or providing them with accurate information about the labor market, can reduce the gender gap significantly.

Racial Discrimination and Street‐Level Managers: Performance, Publicness, and Group Bias
Zachary Oberfield & Matthew Incantalupo
Public Administration Review, forthcoming


This article broadens our understanding of street‐level governance by examining how citizen performance, organizational publicness, and group bias moderate racial discrimination among street‐level managers (SLMs). We examine this topic with an experiment in which we requested enrollment information from public and charter school principals while randomly assigning a putative student's race and ability. As expected, SLMs discriminated based on race, and positive performance information mitigated this discrimination. Surprisingly, negative performance information also reduced discrimination. Turning to publicness, we find no evidence that less public organizations (charter schools) exacerbated anti‐Black discrimination. Finally, we show that White SLMs discriminated against Black citizens. However, Black SLMs worked in more administratively difficult settings and, perhaps as a result, responded at lower rates; thus, Black citizens were equally likely to receive responses from White and Black SLMs. Therefore, improving access to public agencies may require representativeness and support for SLMs working in challenging organizational environments.

Evidence for a robust, estradiol-associated sex difference in narrative-writing fluency
Oliver Schultheiss et al.
Neuropsychology, March 2021, Pages 323–333

Method: We meta-analyzed 98 studies (N = 11,528) conducted by our laboratories and that featured measures of biological sex and storytelling. We ran primary-data analyses (N = 797) on an overlapping subset of these studies that also included salivary hormone and digit ratio measures.

Results: Women told longer stories than men, d = 0.31, 95% CI [0.24, 0.38], an effect that did not vary by geographic region but was moderated by cue type (verbal: d = 0.57, [0.44, 0.71]; pictures: d = 0.29, [0.22, 0.36]), response modality (oral: d = −0.04, [−0.18, 0.09]; handwriting: d = 0.39, [0.31, 0.47]; typing: d = 0.31, [0.21, 0.42]), and age (prepubertal children: d = 0.13, [−0.04, 0.30]; pubescents: d = 0.48, [0.23, 0.74]; premenopausal adults: d = 0.36, [0.29, 0.42]; postmenopausal adults: d = −0.09, [−0.35, 0.16]). Consistent with the age effect, estradiol, a sex-dimorphic hormone during the reproductive life stage, was a specific mediator of the sex difference in narrative-writing fluency. This mediation effect was moderated by prenatal hormone exposure, estimated via digit ratio.

Conclusions: When verbal fluency is assessed through narrative writing, a robust female advantage becomes evident. It is associated with the reproductive life stage and variations in current estradiol concentrations, particularly in individuals prenatally exposed to relatively more estradiol than testosterone.

Gendered virtual environments of STEM fields: A cultural-ecological analysis of predominantly white and historically black institutions
Nur Soylu Yalcinkaya, Claire Gravelin & Glenn Adams
Social Psychology of Education, April 2021, Pages 361–386


Although many studies have examined gender and racial discrepancies in STEM participation, few have considered variation in the gendered construction of STEM across racial spaces. We applied a cultural psychological perspective to investigate whether variation in conceptions of gender identity across African American and European American settings resonates with variation in gendered constructions of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) domains across predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). We further examined implications of engagement with virtual STEM departments across these school categories. In Study 1, independent coders rated website images as less masculine, and evaluated website climates more favorably, for physics and biology departments at HBCUs relative to PWIs. In Studies 2 and 3, we used these website images as stimuli in within- and between-subjects experiments. Participants gave more positive ratings for sense of belonging and perceived climate in response to images from physics departments at HBCUs than at PWIs; women rated physics departments at PWIs as higher in masculinity than those at HBCUs. We replicated these patterns in Study 3, and also found that lower sense of belonging due to exposure to images from PWI physics departments predicted less interest in pursuing STEM fields among women only. We discuss implications of our findings for understanding and addressing gender discrepancies in STEM participation.

Assessing Affirmative Action's Diversity Rationale
Adam Chilton et al.
Columbia Law Review, forthcoming


Ever since Justice Lewis Powell’s concurring opinion in Bakke made diversity in higher education a constitutionally acceptable rationale for affirmative action programs in 1978, the diversity rationale has received vehement criticism from across the ideological spectrum. Critics on the right have argued that efforts to attain diversity will necessarily lead to lower quality results, as “less meritorious” applicants are selected in place of people with ostensibly stronger qualifications. Critics on the left have charged that diversity is a “subterfuge” and an empty formulation. On the diversity rationale’s legitimacy, then, it would seem that there is precious little diversity of thought. In particular, prominent scholars and jurists have frequently cast doubt on the diversity rationale’s empirical foundations, claiming that it is a mere hypothesis, and an implausible, unsupported one at that. This critique has made its way into the pages of the United States Reports, and it threatens the foundations upon which affirmative action rests. To assess the diversity rationale, we conduct an empirical study of student-run law reviews. Over the past several decades, many leading law reviews have implemented diversity policies for selecting editors. We investigate whether the citations to articles that a given law review publishes change after the adoption of a diversity policy. Using a dataset of the citations to the nearly 13,000 articles published by leading law reviews in over a 60-year period, we find that law reviews that adopt diversity policies see the median citations to their volumes increase by roughly 23 percent in the five years after adoption. In addition to exploring the effect of diversity policies on median citations, we also explore the effect of diversity policies on mean citations. When doing so, our estimates are consistently positive, but they are largely not statistically significant at conventional levels. These findings have implications well beyond the law review setting. If diverse groups of student editors perform better than non-diverse groups, it lends credibility to the idea that diverse student bodies, diverse faculties, diverse teams of attorneys, and diverse teams of employees generally would all perform better. We thus view these results as empirically supporting the much-derided diversity rationale — support that could prove critical as the continued viability of affirmative action today confronts numerous threats.

Forget the “Mommy Track”: Temporal Flexibility Increases Promotion Aspirations for Women and Reduces Gender Gaps
Julia Bear
Psychology of Women Quarterly, forthcoming


Gender gaps in pay and career advancement increase as people take on greater caregiving responsibilities, with large gaps persistent in high-level, time-intensive positions. Given extant research concerning gender roles, and job demands and resources, I hypothesized that temporal flexibility, in particular control over work hours, would positively affect promotion aspirations, especially for women. Moreover, this interaction effect would be mediated by anticipation of work–family conflict. Results from two studies — correlational and experimental — supported these predictions. In Study 1, using archival data from the General Social Survey, results revealed an interaction between gender and temporal flexibility on promotion aspirations. Among a sample of working parents with children, temporal flexibility was significantly and positively associated with promotion aspirations for women with the opposite pattern found for men. A subsequent experimental study, concerning a promotion to a time-intensive position with an online sample of parents, revealed that women reported lower aspirations for this type of promotion compared to men when the position was characterized as inflexible, but the gap disappeared when the position offered temporal flexibility. Anticipated work–family conflict explained this interaction effect. Highlighting flexibility and schedule control increased promotion aspirations among women, an important implication for employers looking to recruit and promote female employees.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.