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Measuring Racial Discrimination
categories within firms. The data showed that women were far more likely to be in poorly paid jobs. This finding suggests that if one were to look for possible gender discrimination, it would be important to look not just at wage differences within jobs but also at the mechanisms that allocate men and women to occupations within the firm.
As Smith points out, however, relying on government reports also has serious limitations. First, the data are collected to meet legal requirements, not to facilitate social science research. In other words, coverage is defined by law, and the information is collected largely for administrative rather than scientific purposes. Second, willingness to report discriminatory treatment may depend on the ease of reporting and the vigor with which an agency deals with complaints (Lucas, 1994). As these conditions vary over time, trends may be biased (Shivley, 2001). Finally, not all discriminatory practices are illegal (and thus covered by government enforcement mandates), and many acts of discrimination that are now illegal were not so several decades ago (Romero, 2000). The Anti-Defamation League (2001), for example, includes acts of anti-Semitic speech in its annual report on anti-Semitism, even though such speech is legal. Because of problems with the quality and completeness of administrative data, the usefulness of these data sets for research purposes is limited.6
In addition to government agencies, many private organizations maintain a record of discriminatory complaints. However, complaints in such cases are made to internal grievance boards governed by formal procedures within an organization; an example is complaints filed with an employer or labor union. Internal data from for-profit organizations have many of the same limitations as those from governmental agencies. Companies establish procedures to serve legal and business purposes, not to further a scientific research agenda. In addition, company reports are typically not made public, and their nature and specifics vary considerably across organizations.
Racial grievances may also be lodged with independent nonprofit organizations whose mission is to promote racial or ethnic equality, such as the Anti-Defamation League or the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Reports to nongovernmental third parties have the advantage that they are publicly accessible, typically cover many different types of discrimination in various venues, and draw from across the nation. However, the resulting data are often compiled by highly self-interested organizations that are not scientifically motivated. Moreover, as with government
See Ross and Yinger (2002) for a detailed discussion of issues that arise for scholars and enforcement officials when collecting and analyzing data to study discrimination.