Testing Theories of Discrimination: Evidence from "Weakest Link"

Steven D. Levitt

NBER Working Paper No. 9449
Issued in January 2003
NBER Program(s):Law and Economics, Labor Studies

In most settings, it is difficult to measure discrimination, and even more challenging to distinguish between competing theories of discrimination (taste-based versus information-based). Using contestant voting behavior on the television game show Weakest Link, one can in principle empirically address both of these questions. On the show, contestants answer questions and vote off other players, competing for a winner-take-all prize. In early rounds, strategic incentives encourage voting for the weakest competitors. In later rounds, the incentives reverse, and the strongest competitors become the logical target. Controlling for other observable characteristics including the number of correct answers thus far, both theories of discrimination predict that in early rounds, excess votes will be made against groups targeted for discrimination. In later rounds, however, taste-based models predict continued excess votes, whereas statistical discrimination predicts fewer votes against the target group. Empirically, I find some evidence of information-based discrimination towards Hispanics (i.e., other players perceive them as having low ability) and taste-based discrimination against older players (i.e., other players treat them with animus). There is little in the data to suggest discrimination against women and Blacks.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9449

Published: Levitt, Steven D. "Testing Theories Of Discrimination: Evidence From Weakest Link," Journal of Law and Economics, 2004, v47(2,Oct), 431-452. citation courtesy of

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