Discrimination and Racism

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Slides for this module (draft)

Racial or ethnic discrimination is the unequal treatment of persons or groups on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Due to the widespread endorsement of egalitarian attitudes, the waste of human capital resources, and its negative impact on the level of wellbeing and socioeconomic integration of ethnic minorities, discrimination is in most contemporary societies unaccepted and legally forbidden.

So, why does discrimination persist? Answering this question is important as it would not only improve our understanding of who is more likely to discriminate against whom and why, but also because these insights may inform policy-makers about possible remedies for discrimination.

Most explanations for discrimination in the literature center around two rivalling theories: taste-based discrimination (preference) and statistical discrimination (uncertainty and information). 

Please answer the following questionnaire based on the videos and reading.

Questionnaire 8.1

But is discrimination a consciuou or an unconscious decision? Methodological innovations in research on brain and cognitive processes have made it possible to measure people’s underlying mental processes and, more specifically, their implicit attitudes . As a consequence, instead of (only) examining explicit interethnic attitudes, researchers are increasingly studying implicit interethnic attitudes and how these kind of attitudes affect behavioural outcomes.

In fact, racism stems from the human brain’s tendency to engage in prejudice, a process that allows our brains to make judgements based on visual information in milliseconds. These preconceived opinions about other people are not based on reason or experience but on instinct — and they have a basis in neuroscience. But why does the brain do this? And, can we use what we know about the neuroscience of prejudice to overcome this reaction, potentially developing methods to combat prejudice and end racism?

In the video below Dr Larry Sherman (full video here) explains how our brains react to people who are “different” and explores possible ways to overcome the automatic prejudice that contributes to racism in our society. Racism exists when one group dominates, excludes, or seeks to eliminate another group on the basis of differences that it believes are inherent, hereditary, and unalterable. 

Activity 8.2: Please look at this webpage of the Project Implicit. Please take one of their tests (of course we will not see your answers) and familiarize how reserachers elicit biases and prejudices. 

Then answer this short questionnaire:

Questionnaire 8.2

And here an interview with Paolo Falco, Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Copenhagen. Paolo talks about his current and future research on discrimination.

Discussion: Listen (or watch) the podcast What Can Uber Teach Us About the Gender Pay Gap? (lenght: 42:32). The gig economy offers the ultimate flexibility to set your own hours. That’s why economists thought it would help eliminate the gender pay gap. A new study, using data from over a million Uber drivers, finds the story is not so simple.


Summary of Module :

  • Discrimination occurs when people with similar economic characteristics experience different economic outcomes because of their race, sex, or other noneconomic characteristics.

  • To the extent that discrimination exists, a country will not be allocating resources efficiently; the economy will be operating inside its production possibilities curve.

  • Competitive markets should tend to reduce discrimination if enough individuals lack such prejudices and take advantage of discrimination practiced by others.

Suggested movie for tonight: Hidden Figures (2016)


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