By Bryan Caplan
I teach the economics of discrimination every chance I get. Why? Because the analytical framework, launched by the great Gary Becker in 1957, mightily illuminates so many questions that we care so much about. When you see that almost all garbage collectors are male, for example, what should you conclude? Perhaps women and men are equally able and interested in collecting garbage, but employers in the industry dislike women. Perhaps male garbage collectors don’t like working alongside women. Or perhaps customers don’t want women to touch their trashcans. Alternately, perhaps men are better at collecting garbage than women. (Statistically!) Or maybe women dislike this line of work more than men. (Again, statistically!)
One of these stories might be the whole truth; all five could have some merit; or anything in between. The analytical framework can’t tell you the breakdown; you need empirics (and good judgment) for that. Yet without Becker’s analytical framework, empirical researchers wouldn’t even know where to start.