Tall or Taller, Pretty or Prettier: Is Discrimination Absolute or Relative?

Daniel S. Hamermesh

NBER Working Paper No. 18123
Issued in June 2012
NBER Program(s):   LS

Using several microeconomic data sets from the United States and the Netherlands, and the examples of height and beauty, this study examines whether: 1) Absolute or relative differences in a characteristic are what affect labor-market and other outcomes; and 2) The effects of a characteristic change when all agents acquire more of it—become taller or better-looking. Confronted with a choice among individuals, decision-makers respond more to absolute than to relative differences among them. Also, an increase in the mean of a characteristic’s distribution does not alter market responses to differences in it.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18123

Published: IZA Journal of Labor Economics 2012, 1:2 doi:10.1186/2193-8997-1-2 citation courtesy of

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