In this article, economists Kevin Lang and Ariella Kahn-Lang Spitzer take up the expansive issue of discrimination, examining specifically how discrimination and bias shape people’s outcomes. The authors focus primarily on discrimination by race, while acknowledging that discrimination exists along many other dimensions as well, including gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. They describe evidence of substantial racial disparities in the labor market, education, criminal justice, health, and housing, and they show that in each of these domains, such disparities at least partially reflect discrimination.
Lang and Kahn-Lang Spitzer note that the disparities we see are both causes and results of discrimination, and that they reinforce each other. For instance, harsher treatment from the criminal justice system makes it more difficult for black people to get good jobs, which makes it more likely they’ll live in poor neighborhoods and that their children will attend inferior schools.
The authors argue that simply prohibiting discrimination isn’t effective, partly because it’s hard to prevent discrimination along dimensions that are correlated with race. Rather, they write, policies are more likely to be successful if they aim to eliminate the statistical association between race and many other social and economic characteristics and to decrease the social distance between people of different races.