NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

A Pollution Theory of Discrimination: Male and Female Differences in Occupations and Earnings

Claudia Goldin

Chapter in NBER book Human Capital in History: The American Record (2014), Leah P. Boustan, Carola Frydman, and Robert A. Margo, editors (p. 313 - 348)
Conference held December 7-8, 2012
Published in October 2014 by University of Chicago Press
© 2014 by the National Bureau of Economic Research

Occupations are segregated by sex today, but were far more segregated in the early to mid-twentieth century. It is difficult to rationalize sex segregation and "wage discrimination" on the basis of men's taste for distance from women in the same way differences between other groups in work and housing have been explained. Rather, this paper constructs a "pollution" theory model of discrimination in which occupations are defined by the level of a single-dimensional productivity characteristic. Because there is asymmetric information regarding the value of the characteristic of an individual woman, a new female hire may reduce the prestige of a previously all-male occupation. The predictions of the model include that occupations requiring a level of the characteristic above the female median will be segregated by sex and those below the median will be integrated. The historical record reveals numerous cases of the model's predictions. For example in 1940 the greater is the productivity characteristic of an office and clerical occupation, the higher the occupational segregation by sex. "Credentialization" that spreads information about individual women's productivities and shatters old stereotypes can help expunge "pollution."

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This paper was revised on November 1, 2013

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w8985, A Pollution Theory of Discrimination: Male and Female Differences in Occupations and Earnings, Claudia Goldin
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Cecilia Elena Rouse
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