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Equal opportunity vs. Meritocracy (3/26). Cole: Limited Differences Reskin: Affirmative Action Buffers and Shunts. Is the U.S. institutionally sexist today? (review). There is a lot of gender inequality, and there are a lot of people who are, individually sexist?

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equal opportunity vs meritocracy 3 26

Equal opportunity vs. Meritocracy(3/26)

Cole: Limited Differences

Reskin: Affirmative Action

Buffers and Shunts

is the u s institutionally sexist today review
Is the U.S. institutionally sexist today? (review)
  • There is a lot of gender inequality,
  • and there are a lot of people who are, individually sexist?
  • But is the over-all playing field level?
    • Or even more than level?
    • Or are the differences “natural”
  • Should it be level?
    • If the inequalities are the result of a fair competition, then most Americans believe they should not be countered or compensated.
    • Experts disagree about whether the competition is fair
cole a theory of limited differences
Cole: “A Theory of Limited Differences”
  • The hard sciences are very unequal.
    • I.e. there is a high degree of concentration of resources, rewards and productivity.
  • They are very male-dominated.
    • More than 90% (often more than 99%) of the elite positions are held by men.
  • And they are very “meritocratic”
    • They make a much bigger effort than the corporate or legal elite to reward accomplishment fairly.
the mathew principle
The Mathew Principle
  • We have described any structure that tends to operate by the rule, “To him who hath, shall be given more, even to abundance, and from him who hath little, shall be taken away even what he hath”
  • As governed by the “Matthew Principle” whose logic is:


Access to further resources



the matthew principle in science
The “Matthew Principle” in Science
  • The concept of the “Matthew Principle” was invented by R. K. Merton to describe the process of reward in the sciences.
  • Specifically, it describes what happens when
    • there are a small number of resources (research grants, elite positions, space in intro texts),
    • and one allocates them strictly on the basis of previous accomplishment?
  • Those who have had access to resources in the past will have accomplishments, and so
  • The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.
the blind spot of the meritocratic principles
The blind spot of the “Meritocratic” Principles
  • Suppose Jane and John have equivalent accomplishments
  • Reward on the basis of “merit” prohibits:
    • Jane overcame greater obstacles; therefore she showed greater ability and should be preferred.
    • We know there are biases in one direction in one stage; therefore we will institutionalize biases in the other direction in other stages.
    • The society needs both male and female scientists, and so we will insure there are both.
  • Justifications of affirmative action depend on such principles.
the question addressed by the model of limited differences
The question addressed by the model of limited differences.
  • Cole’s model investigates the net result of a system that combines meritocratic processes with biased ones,
  • Or alternately, the effects of a meritocratic processes in a society that contains some gender (or race) bias and disadvantage.
    • Do the meritocratic elements counteract the bias?
    • Do they pass it on?
    • Do they amplify it?
the assumptions of the model of limited differences
The assumptions of the model of limited differences
  • Equal numbers of equally talented, equally motivated male and female college graduates
  • 25 “hurdles” to get to an elite position, such as finding a thesis mentor who is a star or publishing 6 refereed papers in the 1st 6 years as a junior faculty person, to get tenure.
  • 20 hurdles are entirely unbiased.
  • 5 hurdles have a moderate male bias (I.e. 66 women pass through the hurdle for every 100 men.)
are there equal numbers of talented men and women if not why not
Are there equal numbers of talented men and women?If not, why not?
  • The text notes that it is difficult to distinguish effects of nature and nurture.
  • It flirts with theories of the “female brain”
  • The SAT gender gap (*p.427) is about 50 points; more in math.
    • Most people’s intuition is that if that results from genes, then schools should accommodate to it.
    • But if it results from bias, schools should probably discount or compensate for the gap.
    • The more important biases are not question form, but the source of the different performance.
  • It is the whole system that generates bias.
is a system of limited differences mostly meritocratic biased
Is a system of “limited differences” (“mostly meritocratic”) biased?
  • A common intuition: since most of the stages are entirely unbiased, and since those that are, are only moderately so, therefore
  • the system will be mostly unbiased, with the unbiased components counteracting or outweighing the biased ones.
  • This intuition is incorrect. Cole shows that the “meritocratic” components of the system amplify and pass on the biased elements.
a simple filter representation
100 men

100 men

100 men

100 men

100 men

100 men

100 women

66 women

44 women

29 women

19 women

13 women

A simple filter representation:

In Cole’s actual model, the interactions between the particular biases and the unbiased hurdles eliminates nearly 99% of women, but even without such interactions, it is evident that 5 hurdles with a 2/3 bias will eliminate nearly 90% of women.

filter bias survival
3600 men

1600 men

800 men

400 men

200 men

100 men

1800 women

533 women

144 women

48 women

16 women

5 woman

Filter + bias + survival:
individual bias and structural sexism
Individual bias and structural sexism
  • As with “tipping point” residential segregation, the outcome is not unrelated to there being some biased people in the system.
  • But many of the hurdles of women may have to do with other things about the society.
  • Even senior faculty who do not mentor women may be practicing “statistical discrimination” or profiling.
  • And the problem is not with their motivation but the fact that virtually all women are eliminated.
policy implications and choices
Policy Implications and Choices
  • The cumulative effect of half a dozen small biases, if they all move in the same direction, and if there are no compensating forces, may be very large. This means we must either:
  • Accept a system that is largely biased.
  • Try to eliminate all residual biases in the system (usually impossible).
  • Buffer an organization against inequality outside.
  • Institute shunts or compensatory programs to bypass biased hurdles.
  • The army, Sun Oil, or Villanova cannot usually change the educational structure of the ghetto or the family structure,
  • and they may not want to.
  • But that does not mean that they have to ignore disadvantages from those areas and pass it on.
  • Sliding scales and compensatory programs may prevent those external inequalities from operating inside.
  • In fact, someone swimming the same speed upstream is swimming faster.
  • Often it is much easier to bypass a blockage than to change it.
  • For example, It would be very difficult to force senior physicists to advise on female graduate students,
  • or to make it equally possible for female junior faculty with children to write 6 refereed articles.
  • It is not very difficult to provide an alternate path.
reskin the realities of affirmative action in employment asa 1998
Reskin: The Realities of Affirmative Action in Employment (ASA 1998)
  • An ASA booklet
  • Reskin (president-elect of the ASA) argues that opponents of affirmative action have distorted it and made it a political football,
  • that there are many kinds of AA programs,
  • but that the kinds of procedures opposed as “preferences,” “quotas” or “reverse discrimination” are myths, neither required nor permitted by affirmative action programs.
reskin the reality
Reskin: the reality
  • Reskin argues that Affirmative Action programs are genuine efforts to broaden applicant pools to include more qualified minorities and women.
  • Studies such as Cole and Kanter show that there is a pervasively non-level playing field that needs to be leveled,
  • and this is corroborated by matched pair studies.
  • When people are asked whether they support policies to level the field, about 70% support them
  • Even when they oppose “affirmative action.”
  • The conflict is not between merit and affirmative action, but between “cronyism” and a genuinely level playing field.
is there unequal opportunity
Is there Unequal Opportunity
  • There is large amount of segregation and unequal pay by gender.
  • The main way of determining whether this is the result of discriminatory treatment, is audits, involving matched candidates.
  • There have been 1500 audits (usually of hires) demonstrating unequal treatment.
  • There are about 100,000 complaints of unequal treatment per year to the EEOC, which has a backlog of more than 100,000 cases,
  • Is understaffed, underfunded and without teeth.
how does affirmative action differ from anti discrimination law
Anti-discrimination law

After the fact

Responsibility of the victim to show wrong

Usually based on intent (which usually cannot be shown)

Affirmative action

Aims to alter institu-tional disadvantage.

Responsibility of employer

Equally applicable if the segregation results from day-to-day practices such as old-boy network recruitment.

How does Affirmative Action differ from Anti-discrimination law?
what are the main kinds of affirmative action
What are the main kinds of Affirmative Action?
  • There are 4 main kinds of affirmative action plan:
  • Executive orders mandate companies doing $50,000+ of business with the gov’t to have a plan
  • Federal and some state and local governments have some kind of affirmative action plan.
  • Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act allows the courts to mandate action (usually for non-compliance).
  • Some firms have voluntary A.A. plans
  • In the 1980’s similar laws and orders were passed for veterans and for the handicapped, but they have not, as yet, come under the criticism as those Re race and sex.
1 gov t mandated programs for businesses with gov t contracts
1. Gov’t mandated programs for businesses with gov’t contracts
  • About 3% of firms are involved,
  • but they are large and employ 25% of workers.
  • The programs are of different kinds;
  • they largely involve open recruitment and explicit, public policies of advancement.
  • The law and the guidelines expressly forbid quotas.
2 government programs
2. Government programs
  • Cover an additional 20% of the work force.
  • The programs are of different kinds;
  • they largely involve open recruitment and public policies of advancement.
  • The law expressly forbid quotas.
3 court mandated aa programs
3. Court-mandated AA Programs.
  • This is the only case where numerical goals, timetables, and even quotas may be used.
  • But only subject to other rulings that prohibit unduly disadvantaging dominant group members.
  • And only when no other remedy existed, as in the case of a sheet metal union that repeatedly defied court orders.
  • Rare
4 private voluntary programs
4. Private, voluntary programs
  • The programs are of different kinds;
  • they largely involve open recruitment and making policies and criteria for advancement public.
  • They are debarred from using quotas,
  • but they may use gender or race as a plus to redress substantial disparities resulting from past discrimination,
  • If and only if it does not unduly disadvantage dominant group members.
what kinds of firms have more equal opportunities
What kinds of firms have more equal opportunities?
  • Reskin’s own work shows which firms are more likely to have equal opportunities.
  • It is largely firms that have formal, explicit, public policies of hiring, recruiting, evaluation and advancement.
  • This is the reason that public firms are more likely to have equal opportunity than private ones.
  • Most employers hate such policies as “unnecessary paper work,” but the main fact is that they constrain employers’ and supervisors’ arbitrary favoritism and cronyism.
do affirmative action policies work
Do Affirmative Action policies work?
  • Reskin argues that no single set of programs can undo institutionalized inequality.
  • But the evidence is that affirmative action programs have made a large contribution to equalizing opportunities of men and women.
  • They do not unfairly disadvantage white males;
  • They do not replace merit by quotas, but “cronyism” by formal, open policies.
  • You do not necessarily have to change people’s networks to prevent them from being the main access to jobs and promotion.