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Measuring Racial Discrimination
educational success and, subsequently, his or her socioeconomic success as an adult.
Across processes within a domain. Within a domain (e.g., housing, the labor market, health care, criminal justice, education), discrimination at an earlier stage may affect later outcomes. For instance, discrimination in elementary school may negatively affect outcomes in secondary school and diminish opportunities to attend college. Even single instances of discrimination at a key decision point can have long-term cumulative effects. For example, discriminatory behavior in teacher evaluations of racially disadvantaged students in early elementary school may increase the probability of future discrimination in class assignments or tracking in middle school. Similarly, in the labor market, discrimination in hiring or performance evaluations may affect outcomes (and even reinforce discrimination) in promotions and wage growth.
Across domains. Discrimination in one domain may diminish opportunities in other domains. For example, families that live in segregated neighborhoods may have limited access to adequate employment and health care.
This chapter is necessarily quite speculative. Very little research has attempted to model or estimate cumulative effects. In part, this is because modeling and estimating dynamic processes that occur over time can be extremely difficult. The difficulty is particularly great if one is trying to estimate causal effects over time. That is, we are ideally interested in measuring the presence and effects of racial discrimination at multiple points in a dynamic process.
Chapters 6 and 7 address the difficulties involved in credibly measuring the presence and effects of racial discrimination within one domain at a point in time, including the difficulty of estimating how discriminatory behavior contributes to a difference in observed outcomes. Measuring the impact of discrimination on outcomes over time is even harder. Although some research attempts to track cumulative disadvantage, there is a paucity of studies that credibly measure an effect of discrimination and trace its causal effects over time.
Because the cumulative question has rarely been discussed, this chapter begins by fleshing out the concept of cumulative effects of discrimination that we first introduced in Chapter 3. We then provide a more detailed discussion of the three avenues listed above through which cumulative discrimination may occur (across generations, across processes within a domain over time, or across domains over time). Next, we briefly describe three existing approaches (in three distinct literatures) to modeling the dynamic processes of cumulative disadvantage and discrimination. Finally, we turn to issues involved in trying to measure the magnitude and importance of cumulative disadvantage and trace out the effects of racial discrimination