key topic

Workplace discrimination

In many jurisdictions, the law protects workers from being discriminated against on the basis of factors such as age, sexual orientation, gender, disability, race, appearance, and religion. These characteristics have been protected in many countries for over 50 years, yet the nature of protection remains a subject of substantial controversy.

  • Do anti-discrimination policies work?

    A mix of policies could be the solution to reducing discrimination in the labor market

    Marie-Anne Valfort, May 2018
    Discrimination is a complex, multi-factor phenomenon. Evidence shows widespread discrimination on various grounds, including ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or beliefs, disability, being over 55 years old, or being a woman. Combating discrimination requires combining the strengths of a range of anti-discrimination policies while also addressing their weaknesses. In particular, policymakers should thoroughly address prejudice (taste-based discrimination), stereotypes (statistical discrimination), cognitive biases, and attention-based discrimination.
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  • Trans people, well-being, and labor market outcomes

    Transitioning across gender is related to greater life and job satisfaction but also affects acceptance in one’s society

    Nick Drydakis, September 2017
    Acceptance of one’s gender identity and congruence between one’s gender identity and outward appearance are associated with less adverse mental health symptoms, and greater life and job satisfaction. However, trans people are subject to human rights violations, hate crimes, and experience higher unemployment and poverty than the general population. Trans people often feel that they are citizens who are not allowed to be themselves and practice their authentic identity. Many biased treatments of trans people could be attenuated if legal protections and inclusive workplace practices were in place.
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  • Identifying and measuring economic discrimination

    Using decomposition methods helps measure both the amount and source of economic discrimination between groups

    Sergio Pinheiro Firpo, March 2017
    Differences in wages between men and women, white and black workers, or any two distinct groups are a controversial feature of the labor market, raising concern about discrimination by employers. Decomposition methods shed light on those differences by separating them into: (i) composition effects, which are explained by differences in the distribution of observable variables, e.g. education level; and (ii) structural effects, which are explained by differences in the returns to observable and unobservable variables. Often, a significant structural effect, such as different returns to education, can be indicative of discrimination.
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  • Disability and labor market outcomes

    Disability is associated with labor market disadvantage; recent evidence points to a causal relationship

    Melanie Jones, April 2016
    In Europe, about one in eight people of working age report having a disability; that is, the presence of a long-term limiting health condition. Despite the introduction of a range of legislative and policy initiatives designed to eliminate discrimination and facilitate retention of and entry into work, disability is associated with substantial and enduring employment disadvantages. Identifying the reasons for this is complex, but critical to determine effective policy solutions that reduce the social and economic costs of disability disadvantage.
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  • Beauty pays but does investment in beauty?

    Despite the large returns from an attractive appearance, the cost-effectiveness of investment in beauty is ambiguous

    Soohyung Lee, October 2015
    Being beautiful gives a person an advantage in many settings. Attractive people earn more and have an easier time getting hired. People spend large amounts of money on goods and services to enhance their beauty. Is this enhancement worth pursuing? Research suggests that the expected improvement in beauty from these goods and services is limited. Therefore, despite the large returns from having an attractive appearance, the cost-effectiveness of investment in beauty enhancement is ambiguous. For the average person, the monetary benefits of plastic surgery, medical treatments to increase height, and expensive clothing are not worth the cost.
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  • Does it pay to be beautiful?

    Physically attractive people can earn more, particularly in customer-facing jobs, and the rewards for men are higher than for women

    Eva Sierminska, June 2015
    It is a well-established view amongst economists that good-looking people have a better chance of employment and can earn more than those who are less physically attractive. A “beauty premium” is particularly apparent in jobs where there is a productivity gain associated with good looks, though this is different for women and men, and 
varies across countries. People also sort into occupations according to the relative returns to their physical characteristics; good-looking people take jobs where physical appearance is deemed important while less-attractive people steer away from them, or they are 
required to be more productive for the same wage.
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