Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not-So-Great Moments in Not-So-Objective Research

As I'm sure you've noticed, I've been pretty busy lately. Today, I'm going to link you over to The Sports Economist, where Phil Miller links a new paper claiming there is discrimination against women in college sports.

First, I want to say that I think women should have every chance that men have to play sports. If there's a female that can hit home runs consistently off of Tim Lincecum, I want to see her in MLB. If there's a girl that can dunk on LeBron, I want to see her on the Lakers. But discrimination is a tricky thing, and the researchers in this paper seem to completely miss the ball to the point of absurdity.

We can divide discrimination into a few categories from a labor market perspective: consumer discrimination (which I mentioned in my previous post on hockey), co-worker prejudice (similar to consumer but with coworkers not wanting to work with certain groups), employer prejudice (the employer just plain not liking women), and statistical discrimination (sort of like how car insurance companies charge higher premiums--this is NOT prejudice, but gets very convoluted and is often misinterpreted).

So let's check out each one of these.

Statistical Discrimination: This one probably brings us to market forces and the laws of supply and demand. If people are more willing to pay to see men play (is it totally outlandish to think that most fans find the men's games more exciting to watch?) then the prices are going to be higher. The historical statistics tell us this is true.

This also happens in hirings, where employers know the productivity of females is more likely to be hindered because of pregnancy, etc. This can cause problems, however, and create a vicious circle in which employers' beliefs are simply self-sustaining. I think we could debunk this in ticket price 'vicious circle' by simply looking at attendances at men's and women's games and understanding that low attendance at a women's game won't increase with price (unless women's basketball has lots of things in common with potatoes in Ireland).

Employer Prejudice: Well, this doesn't really apply if you ask me. The entire basketball team is a women's team and proving something like this is really difficult. We could look at coach salaries between men and women basketball, but this gets us into the same argument about supply and demand. In fact, there's precedent for this at USC and the female coach lost. The idea was that her and the men's coach had the exact same duties and responsibilities, worked just as many hours, but she got paid way less. Her frustration is understandable, but the market to which she coaches is much smaller, resulting in less revenue to pay her with. She also claimed she got fewer benefits than the men's coach (that one is a little sketchy). She lost the case. (Here's another link at USC)

Consumer Discrimination: This could be a very real phenomenon. However, disentangling it from just plain preferences for playing style or quality of play is difficult. Perhaps it's a completely misguided evaluation by fans, but I don't think we can know the answer to that unless the women's and men's team play one another in the same league.

Co-Worker Discrimination: I'm not sure how this would apply. If you count the men's team as co-workers and they're prejudiced against the women's team (definitely not unlikely), then fine. But there IS a women's team, and the men have no bearing on ticket prices of the women's games. So I think, at least in the discussion of ticket prices, this point is moot.

Most likely, if it's any of these, it's consumer discrimination. There very well could be some of that, but to suggest charging higher ticket prices for the women's games will just result in less fans. So that's stupid. As for bringing down men's prices, that would supply the department with less money to subsidize the women's team. Charging low ticket prices does not necessarily CAUSE people to de-value the sport (though the authors apparently cite studies that show this effect can happen--I'm not convinced that is going on here). The causation is probably reversed: low interest causes athletic departments to charge less in order to get more butts in the seats.

Stacey Brook has a discussion here

As for whether or not a non-profit should act like one in order to support all groups equally, that could be up for ethical/moral/political debate. I'm not convinced ticket prices should all be the same. That will simply leave athletic departments with much less than they had before. Football and basketball programs at many large NCAA school support the entire athletic department. The women's teams actually benefit from this. The whole thing seems to be backwards.

Hat Tip: The Sports Economist

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