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The impact of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcement on the wages of African American and white women, 1988–1996 (Wilhelm 2002)

Citation

Wilhelm, S. (2002). The impact of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforcement on the wages of African American and white women, 1988–1996. The Review of Black Political Economy, 30(2), 25-51.

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of employment discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on the wages of African American and white women.
    • The author used regression analyses to compare the effects of sex- and race-based discrimination charges within an industry in a given year on the wages of African American and white women from 1988 to 1996. Data came from the Current Population Survey and the EEOC National Database.
    • The study found that increases in employment discrimination charges based on sex were positively correlated with increases in wages for both African American and white women. 
    • The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low because the study did not adequately control for existing differences between the study groups. This means that we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to EEOC enforcement. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Enforcement

Features of the Intervention

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers are forbidden from discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin. The law prohibits discrimination in terms, compensation, working conditions, and other aspects of employment; mandates enforcement by courts, rather than juries; and provides civil penalties for violations, including mandatory remedial hiring policies for employers and reinstatement with back pay awards to victims. It also created the EEOC to bring class action litigation against employers for discrimination and to resolve individual claims of discrimination. The Civil Rights Act initially applied to private sector employers with more than 25 employees; since 1972, it has applied to those with more than 15 employees.

Features of the Study

This study used regression analyses to estimate wages separately for white and African American women and compared the effects of factors related to EEOC employment discrimination charges for each group. These factors, constructed using data from the EEOC National Database, included current and lagged measures of the number of discrimination charges per protected worker and measures of the resolution of the charges (for instance, the percentage with successful settlements). Models included these measures of industry-level EEOC charges on the basis of race and sex separately, as well as year, demographic, and labor market controls. The models also corrected for sample selection bias due to women choosing paid employment based in part on available wages. Results were based on a nationally representative sample of white and African American women from the Current Population Survey March Annual Demographic Files from 1988 to 1996.

Findings

    • The study found that increases in the number of sex discrimination charges within an industry in the current year and each of the lagged years were associated with significantly higher wages for both African American and white women.
    • The effects of lagged sex discrimination charges were larger for African American women than white women.

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors did not control for women’s previous earnings history in the analysis, so it is unclear whether women in industries with differing numbers of charges were similar before the filing of charges with the EEOC. For example, women in industries in which more discrimination charges were filed with the EEOC might have tended to be paid lower wages relative to women in other industries. Because the comparability of women across industries with different numbers of charges was not established, the relationship between charges and wages might reflect not only the effect of charges on wages, but also the effects of other factors.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence provided in this study is low because the study did not adequately control for existing differences between the study groups. This means that we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to employment discrimination charges filed with the EEOC. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2016

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