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Taste-based Discrimination: Empirical Evidence from a Shock to Preferences during WWI

Jan 2009
Working Paper
By  Petra Moser
A significant challenge to empirically testing theories of discrimination has been the difficulty of identifying taste-based discrimination and of distinguishing it clearly from statistical discrimination. This paper identifies taste-based discrimination through a two-part empirical test. First, it constructs quantitative measures of revealed preferences, which establish that World War I created a persistent change in ethnic preferences that switched the status of German Americans from a mainstream ethnicity to an ethnic minority until the late 1920s. Second, the paper uses this shock to preferences to identify the effects of taste-based discrimination at the example of traders at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). A new data set of more than 5,000 applications for membership in the NYSE reveals that the War more than doubled the probability that applicants with German-sounding names would be rejected (relative to Anglo-Saxons).