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Pervasive Prejudice?

Unconventional Evidence of Race and Gender Discrimination

If you’re a woman and you shop for a new car, will you really get the best deal? If you’re a man, will you fare better? If you’re a black man waiting to receive an organ transplant, will you have to wait longer than a white man?

In Pervasive Prejudice? Ian Ayres confronts these questions and more. In a series of important studies he finds overwhelming evidence that in a variety of markets—retail car sales, bail bonding, kidney transplantation, and FCC licensing—blacks and females are consistently at a disadvantage. For example, when Ayres sent out agents of different races and genders posing as potential buyers to more than 200 car dealerships in Chicago, he found that dealers regularly charged blacks and women more than they charged white men. Other tests revealed that it is commonly more difficult for blacks than whites to receive a kidney transplant because of federal regulations. Moreover, Ayres found that minority male defendants are frequently required to post higher bail bonds than their Caucasian counterparts.

Traditional economic theory predicts that free markets should drive out discrimination, but Ayres’s startling findings challenge that position. Along with empirical research, Ayres offers game—theoretic and other economic methodologies to show how prejudice can enter the bargaining process even when participants are supposedly acting as rational economic agents. He also responds to critics of his previously published studies included here. These studies suggest that race and gender discrimination is neither a thing of the past nor merely limited to the handful of markets that have been the traditional focus of civil rights laws.

445 pages | 19 maps, 35 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2001

Studies in Law and Economics

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Economics

Political Science: Public Policy, Race and Politics

Sociology: Race, Ethnic, and Minority Relations


"Perhaps the greatest contribution of Pervasive Prejudice is that it reminds us that the civil rights laws meant to protect women and minorities are still not fulfilling their promise. . . . As Ayres observes, the current legal structure has not combated or sufficiently curtailed discrimination in the marketplace. Could laws be drafted to eradicate these subtle and not so subtle forms of discrimination? If so, should they even be attempted? . . . It is in raising these questions that Ayres may prove to have an impact on the pervasive prejudice he describes."

University of Oklahoma Law Review

"Ayres presents empirical evidence that blacks and females are consistently at a disadvantage in a variety of markets. . . . Challenging traditional economic theory that free markets drive out discrimination, he uses game-theoretic and other economic methodologies to show how prejudice can enter the bargaining process even when participants are supposedly acting as rational economic agents."

Law and Social Inquiry

"Ayres suggests that race and gender discrimination is not limited to the handful of markets regulated by our civil rights laws. Discrimination can persist in any of the retail markets where minority consumers have imperfect information about how their white counterparts are treated-including retail car sales, kidney transplants, bail bonding, and FCC licensing."

“The sheer amount of new evidence [the book] brings together, its command of very disparate literatures and debates make it an impressive piece of work and clearly worth reading. I think it would provide a useful supplement to any course that focuses on racial discrimination.”

Caren G. Dubnoff, | Law and Politics

Table of Contents

1 "Untitled" Discrimination
Part I Disparate Treatment
2 Gender and Race Discrimination in Retail Car Negotiations (with Peter Siegelman)
3 Toward Causal Explanation
4 Discrimination in Consummated Transactions
5 Legal Implications
Part II Disparate Impact
6 Unequal Racial Access to Kidney Transplantation (with Laura G. Dooley and Robert S. Gaston)
7 A Market Test for Race Discrimination in Bail Setting (with Joel Waldfogel)
Part III Affirmative Action
8 How Affirmative Action at the FCC Auctions Decreased the Deficit (with Peter Cramton)
9 Expanding the Domain of Civil Rights Empiricism

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