Choice-Based Discrimination: Labor-Force-Type Discrimination Against Gay Men, the Obese, and Mothers


  • Tamar Kricheli-Katz

  • I thank Shelley Correll, David Grusky, Cecilia Ridgeway, and Paula Englnad for helpful comments and suggestions. Parts of the “motherhood” portion of this experiment were previously published. See Tamar Kricheli-Katz, “Choice, Discrimination, and the Motherhood Penalty,” Law and Society Review 46:557–87.

The Buchman Faculty of Law and the Department of Sociology, Tel-Aviv University, Ramat Aviv Tel Aviv 69978, Israel; e-mail:


Do perceptions of controllability and choice affect the nature and magnitude of discrimination? Many groups of people, who hold seemingly controllable devalued traits, including gay men, the obese, and mothers, are discriminated against both in the labor force and in other areas of life. In this article, I show that perceptions of choice and controllability generate discrimination against individuals with seemingly controllable stigmatized traits. I use a hiring experiment in a highly controlled setting to assess this argument. The results provide strong evidence for a causal relationship between perceptions of choice and labor-force-type discrimination against gay men, obese men, and mothers. When the traits were presented as voluntary, gay men, obese men, and mothers were penalized when compared to their equally qualified counterparts in terms of hiring, salary recommendations, and competence evaluations.