Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 02/2015

Collective Reputation and the Dynamics of Statistical Discrimination

Glenn C. Loury, Young-Chul Kim

April 2014

Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University


Economists have developed theoretical models identifying self-fulfilling expectations as an important source of statistical discrimination practices in labor markets (Arrow, 1973). The static models dominating the literature of statistical discrimination, however, may leave the false impression that a bad equilibrium is as fragile as a "bubble" and can burst at any moment when expectations flip. Such models thus understate the adversity that disadvantaged groups face in seeking to escape bad equilibria. By developing a dynamic version of a statistical discrimination model based on Coate and Loury's (1993) original setup, we clarify the limits of expectations-related fragility. We show that when a group is strongly affected by negative reputational externalities, the group cannot escape a low skill investment trap, regardless of how expectations are formed. By examining the evolution of stereotypes in this way, we also provide new insights into egalitarian policies.