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Racial Discrimination in the NBA

For Martin Luther King Day, Gregory Mankiw has published an excerpt from his textbook at his blog. The excerpt details research on the extent of discrimination in professional sports, specifically the NBA. Unfortunately, the latest study Mankiw lists comes from 1990.

Last year The Handbook of Sports Economics Research (edited by John Fizel) was published. For this book I was asked to review the literature on the NBA, which included a discussion of the many studies of discrimination in the sport. By my count, since 1990, 17 different studies have been published on this subject. In other words, the vast majority of the research in this area has been published since 1990.

For those interested in a quick summary, HERE is a table that summarizes the results from the studies that have looked at salary discrimination in the NBA. And HERE is a table that summarizes the studies that have looked at customer and hiring discrimination. And HERE are the citations of the twenty studies I reviewed.

What lesson do these studies teach? Here is how I summarized the literature:

What have has been learned from the study of racial discrimination in the NBA? The results are mixed. Recent work indicates little salary discrimination, ambiguous hiring discrimination, and probably some customer discrimination. Discrimination in all areas appears to be diminishing over time. One should be cautious, though, in comparing results. Because each new study examines new data and new methods (if it hopes to be published), comparisons are often between apples and oranges. More studies should consider taking the approach offered by Jenkins (1996) and compare data from both the 1980s and 1990s and now the 2000s with the same methodology. When such a practice becomes more common, our knowledge of how racial attitudes have changed over time will be improved.

In sum, there has been a fair amount of research in this area. But as so often is the case, more needs to be done.