Skip to main content

In Order Not to Discriminate, We Might Have to Discriminate

Simons Institute Newsletter, 12/22/17

We all want to be unbiased. We don’t want to hire people based on their gender; we don’t want people to be incarcerated because of the color of their skin. Laws explicitly forbid discrimination on the basis of a set of “protected categories” like sex, race, religion, or age. The conventional wisdom is that fairness is best achieved when you try to be as blind as possible to these categories – for example, by having people apply for a job without stating their name and age or attaching a photograph. Then the employer would pick candidates solely based on their qualification for the job. But this assumption – the essence of many equality laws and court decisions – might be wrong. Mathematically provably wrong