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Principles of Microeconomics

15.2 Employment Discrimination

Principles of Microeconomics15.2 Employment Discrimination
  1. Preface
  2. 1 Welcome to Economics!
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 What Economics Is and Why It's Important
    3. 1.2 Microeconomics and Macroeconomics
    4. 1.3 How Economists Use Theories and Models to Understand Economic Issues
    5. 1.4 How Economies Can Be Organized: An Overview of Economic Systems
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. 2 Choice in a World of Scarcity
    1. Introduction to Choice in a World of Scarcity
    2. 2.1 How Individuals Make Choices Based on Their Budget Constraint
    3. 2.2 The Production Possibilities Frontier and Social Choices
    4. 2.3 Confronting Objections to the Economic Approach
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  4. 3 Demand and Supply
    1. Introduction to Demand and Supply
    2. 3.1 Demand, Supply, and Equilibrium in Markets for Goods and Services
    3. 3.2 Shifts in Demand and Supply for Goods and Services
    4. 3.3 Changes in Equilibrium Price and Quantity: The Four-Step Process
    5. 3.4 Price Ceilings and Price Floors
    6. 3.5 Demand, Supply, and Efficiency
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  5. 4 Labor and Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Labor and Financial Markets
    2. 4.1 Demand and Supply at Work in Labor Markets
    3. 4.2 Demand and Supply in Financial Markets
    4. 4.3 The Market System as an Efficient Mechanism for Information
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  6. 5 Elasticity
    1. Introduction to Elasticity
    2. 5.1 Price Elasticity of Demand and Price Elasticity of Supply
    3. 5.2 Polar Cases of Elasticity and Constant Elasticity
    4. 5.3 Elasticity and Pricing
    5. 5.4 Elasticity in Areas Other Than Price
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  7. 6 Consumer Choices
    1. Introduction to Consumer Choices
    2. 6.1 Consumption Choices
    3. 6.2 How Changes in Income and Prices Affect Consumption Choices
    4. 6.3 Labor-Leisure Choices
    5. 6.4 Intertemporal Choices in Financial Capital Markets
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  8. 7 Cost and Industry Structure
    1. Introduction to Cost and Industry Structure
    2. 7.1 Explicit and Implicit Costs, and Accounting and Economic Profit
    3. 7.2 The Structure of Costs in the Short Run
    4. 7.3 The Structure of Costs in the Long Run
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  9. 8 Perfect Competition
    1. Introduction to Perfect Competition
    2. 8.1 Perfect Competition and Why It Matters
    3. 8.2 How Perfectly Competitive Firms Make Output Decisions
    4. 8.3 Entry and Exit Decisions in the Long Run
    5. 8.4 Efficiency in Perfectly Competitive Markets
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  10. 9 Monopoly
    1. Introduction to a Monopoly
    2. 9.1 How Monopolies Form: Barriers to Entry
    3. 9.2 How a Profit-Maximizing Monopoly Chooses Output and Price
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  11. 10 Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly
    1. Introduction to Monopolistic Competition and Oligopoly
    2. 10.1 Monopolistic Competition
    3. 10.2 Oligopoly
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  12. 11 Monopoly and Antitrust Policy
    1. Introduction to Monopoly and Antitrust Policy
    2. 11.1 Corporate Mergers
    3. 11.2 Regulating Anticompetitive Behavior
    4. 11.3 Regulating Natural Monopolies
    5. 11.4 The Great Deregulation Experiment
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  13. 12 Environmental Protection and Negative Externalities
    1. Introduction to Environmental Protection and Negative Externalities
    2. 12.1 The Economics of Pollution
    3. 12.2 Command-and-Control Regulation
    4. 12.3 Market-Oriented Environmental Tools
    5. 12.4 The Benefits and Costs of U.S. Environmental Laws
    6. 12.5 International Environmental Issues
    7. 12.6 The Tradeoff between Economic Output and Environmental Protection
    8. Key Terms
    9. Key Concepts and Summary
    10. Self-Check Questions
    11. Review Questions
    12. Critical Thinking Questions
    13. Problems
  14. 13 Positive Externalities and Public Goods
    1. Introduction to Positive Externalities and Public Goods
    2. 13.1 Why the Private Sector Under Invests in Innovation
    3. 13.2 How Governments Can Encourage Innovation
    4. 13.3 Public Goods
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  15. 14 Poverty and Economic Inequality
    1. Introduction to Poverty and Economic Inequality
    2. 14.1 Drawing the Poverty Line
    3. 14.2 The Poverty Trap
    4. 14.3 The Safety Net
    5. 14.4 Income Inequality: Measurement and Causes
    6. 14.5 Government Policies to Reduce Income Inequality
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  16. 15 Issues in Labor Markets: Unions, Discrimination, Immigration
    1. Introduction to Issues in Labor Markets: Unions, Discrimination, Immigration
    2. 15.1 Unions
    3. 15.2 Employment Discrimination
    4. 15.3 Immigration
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  17. 16 Information, Risk, and Insurance
    1. Introduction to Information, Risk, and Insurance
    2. 16.1 The Problem of Imperfect Information and Asymmetric Information
    3. 16.2 Insurance and Imperfect Information
    4. Key Terms
    5. Key Concepts and Summary
    6. Self-Check Questions
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
    9. Problems
  18. 17 Financial Markets
    1. Introduction to Financial Markets
    2. 17.1 How Businesses Raise Financial Capital
    3. 17.2 How Households Supply Financial Capital
    4. 17.3 How to Accumulate Personal Wealth
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  19. 18 Public Economy
    1. Introduction to Public Economy
    2. 18.1 Voter Participation and Costs of Elections
    3. 18.2 Special Interest Politics
    4. 18.3 Flaws in the Democratic System of Government
    5. Key Terms
    6. Key Concepts and Summary
    7. Self-Check Questions
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
    10. Problems
  20. 19 International Trade
    1. Introduction to International Trade
    2. 19.1 Absolute and Comparative Advantage
    3. 19.2 What Happens When a Country Has an Absolute Advantage in All Goods
    4. 19.3 Intra-industry Trade between Similar Economies
    5. 19.4 The Benefits of Reducing Barriers to International Trade
    6. Key Terms
    7. Key Concepts and Summary
    8. Self-Check Questions
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
    11. Problems
  21. 20 Globalization and Protectionism
    1. Introduction to Globalization and Protectionism
    2. 20.1 Protectionism: An Indirect Subsidy from Consumers to Producers
    3. 20.2 International Trade and Its Effects on Jobs, Wages, and Working Conditions
    4. 20.3 Arguments in Support of Restricting Imports
    5. 20.4 How Trade Policy Is Enacted: Globally, Regionally, and Nationally
    6. 20.5 The Tradeoffs of Trade Policy
    7. Key Terms
    8. Key Concepts and Summary
    9. Self-Check Questions
    10. Review Questions
    11. Critical Thinking Questions
    12. Problems
  22. A | The Use of Mathematics in Principles of Economics
  23. B | Indifference Curves
  24. C | Present Discounted Value
  25. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
  26. References
  27. Index

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Analyze earnings gaps based on race and gender
  • Explain the impact of discrimination in a competitive market
  • Identify U.S. public policies designed to reduce discrimination

Discrimination involves acting on the belief that members of a certain group are inferior solely because of a factor such as race, gender, or religion. There are many types of discrimination but the focus here will be on discrimination in labor markets, which arises if workers with the same skill levels—as measured by education, experience, and expertise—receive different pay receive different pay or have different job opportunities because of their race or gender.

Earnings Gaps by Race and Gender

A possible signal of labor market discrimination is when one group is paid less than another. Figure 15.5 shows the average wage of black workers as a ratio of the average wage of white workers and the average wage of female workers as a ratio of the average wage of male workers. Research by the economists Francine Blau and Laurence Kahn shows that the gap between the earnings of women and men did not move much in the 1970s, but has declined since the 1980s. According to the U.S. Census, the gap between the earnings of blacks and whites diminished in the 1970s, but has not changed in 50 years. In both gender and race, an earnings gap remains.

The graph shows that the gap in earnings between different races is worse than the gap in earnings between different genders.
Figure 15.5 Wage Ratios by Sex and Race The ratio of wages for black workers to white workers rose substantially in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, but has not changed much since then. The ratio of wages for female to male workers changed little through the 1970s, but has risen substantially since the 1980s. In both cases, a gap remains between the average wages of black and white workers and between the average wages of female and male workers. Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

An earnings gap between average wages, in and of itself, does not prove that discrimination is occurring in the labor market. We need to apply the same productivity characteristics to all parties (employees) involved. Gender discrimination in the labor market occurs when women are paid less than men despite having comparable levels of education, experience, and expertise. (Read the Clear It Up about the sex-discrimination suit brought against Wal-Mart.) Similarly, racial discrimination in the labor market exists when racially diverse employees are paid less than their coworkers of the majority race despite having comparable levels of education, experience, and expertise. To bring a successful gender discrimination lawsuit, a female employee must prove that she is paid less than a male employee who holds a similar job, with similar educational attainment, and with similar expertise. Likewise, someone who wants to sue on the grounds of racial discrimination must prove that he or she is paid less than an employee of another race who holds a similar job, with similar educational attainment, and with similar expertise.

Clear It Up

What was the sex-discrimination case against Wal-Mart?

In one of the largest class-action sex-discrimination cases in U.S. history, 1.2 million female employees of Wal-Mart claimed that the company engaged in wage and promotion discrimination. In 2011, the Supreme Court threw out the case on the grounds that the group was too large and too diverse for the case to be considered a class action suit. Lawyers for the women regrouped and are now suing in smaller groups. Part of the difficulty for the female employees is that the court said that pay and promotion decisions were made by local managers and were not necessarily policies of the company as a whole. Consequently, female Wal-Mart employees in Texas are arguing that their new suit will challenge the management of a “discrete group of regional district and store managers.” They claim these managers made biased pay and promotion decisions. However, in 2013, a smaller California class action suit against the company was again rejected by a federal district court.

On other issues, Wal-Mart made the news again in 2013 when the National Labor Relations Board found Wal-Mart guilty of illegally penalizing and firing workers who took part in labor protests and strikes. Wal-Mart has already paid $11.7 million in back wages and compensation damages to women in Kentucky who were denied jobs due to their sex.

Investigating the Female/Male Earnings Gap

As a result of changes in law and culture, women began to enter the paid workforce in substantial numbers in the mid- to late-twentieth century. By 2014, 58.1% of adult women held jobs while 72.0% of adult men did. Moreover, along with entering the workforce, women began to ratchet up their education levels. In 1971, 44% of undergraduate college degrees went to women; by 2014, women received 56% of bachelor’s degrees. In 1970, women received 5.4% of the degrees from law schools and 8.4% of the degrees from medical schools. By 2014, women were receiving 47% of the law degrees and 48.0% of the medical degrees. These gains in education and experience have reduced the female/male wage gap over time. However, concerns remain about the extent to which women have not yet assumed a substantial share of the positions at the top of the largest companies or in the U.S. Congress.

There are factors that can lower women’s average wages. Women are likely to bear a disproportionately large share of household responsibilities. A mother of young children is more likely to drop out of the labor force for several years or work on a reduced schedule than is the father. As a result, women in their 30s and 40s are likely, on average, to have less job experience than men. In the United States, childless women with the same education and experience levels as men are typically paid comparably. However, women with families and children are typically paid about 7% to 14% less than other women of similar education and work experience. (Meanwhile, married men earn about 10% to 15% more than single men with comparable education and work experience.)

The different patterns of family responsibilities possibly could be called discrimination, but it is primarily rooted in America’s social patterns of discrimination, which involve the roles that fathers and mothers play in child-rearing, rather than discrimination by employers in hiring and salary decisions.

Link It Up

Visit this website to read more about the persistently low numbers of women in executive roles in business and in the U.S. Congress.

QR Code representing a URL

Investigating the Black/White Earnings Gap

Blacks experienced blatant labor market discrimination during much of the twentieth century. Until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was legal in many states to refuse to hire a black worker, regardless of the credentials or experience of that worker. Moreover, blacks were often denied access to educational opportunities, which in turn meant that they had lower levels of qualifications for many jobs. At least one economic study has shown that the 1964 law is partially responsible for the narrowing of the gap in black–white earnings in the late 1960s and into the 1970s; for example, the ratio of total earnings of black male workers to white male workers rose from 62% in 1964 to 75.3% in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, the earnings gap between black and white workers has not changed as much as the earnings gap between men and women has in the last half century. The remaining racial gap seems related both to continuing differences in education levels and to the presence of discrimination. Table 15.5 shows that the percentage of blacks who complete a four-year college degree remains substantially lower than the percentage of whites who complete college. According to the U.S. Census, both whites and blacks have higher levels of educational attainment than Hispanics and lower levels than Asians. The lower average levels of education for black workers surely explain part of the earnings gap. In fact, black women who have the same levels of education and experience as white women receive, on average, about the same level of pay. One study shows that white and black college graduates have identical salaries immediately after college; however, the racial wage gap widens over time, an outcome that suggests the possibility of continuing discrimination. Another study conducted a field experiment by responding to job advertisements with fictitious resumes with either very African American sounding names or very white sounding names and found out that white names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. This is suggestive of discrimination in job opportunities. Further, as the following Clear It Up feature explains, there is evidence to support that discrimination in the housing market is connected to employment discrimination.

White Hispanic Black Asian
Completed four years of high school or more 89.0% 65.0% 84.2% 88.9%
Completed four years of college or more 29.0% 14.0% 17.0% 52.0%
Table 15.5 Educational Attainment by Race and Ethnicity in 2012 (Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/education/data/cps/2014/tables.html)

Clear It Up

How is discrimination in the housing market connected to employment discrimination?

In a recent study by the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department, black homebuyers who ask to look at homes for sale are shown 18 percent fewer homes compared to white homebuyers. Asians are shown 19 percent fewer properties. Additionally, Hispanics experience more discrimination in renting apartments and undergo stiffer credit checks than white renters. In a 2012 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the nonprofit Urban Institute, Hispanic testers who contacted agents about advertised rental units were given information about 12 percent fewer units available and were shown seven percent fewer units than white renters. The $9 million study, based on research in 28 metropolitan areas, concluded that blatant “door slamming” forms of discrimination are on the decline but that the discrimination that does exist is harder to detect, and as a result, more difficult to remedy. According to the Chicago Tribune, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters, “Just because it’s taken on a hidden form doesn’t make it any less harmful. You might not be able to move into that community with the good schools.”

The lower levels of education for black workers can also be a result of discrimination—although it may be pre-labor market discrimination, rather than direct discrimination by employers in the labor market. For example, if discrimination in housing markets causes black families to live clustered together in certain poorer neighborhoods, then the black children will continue to have lower educational attainment then their white counterparts and, consequently, not be able to obtain the higher paying jobs that require higher levels of education. Another element to consider is that in the past, when blacks were effectively barred from many high-paying jobs, getting additional education could have seemed somewhat pointless, because the educational degrees would not pay off. Even though labor market discrimination has been legally abolished, it can take some time to establish a culture and a tradition of valuing education highly. Additionally, a legacy of past discrimination may contribute to an attitude that blacks will have a difficult time succeeding in academic subjects. In any case, the impact of social discrimination in labor markets is more complicated than seeking to punish a few bigoted employers.

Competitive Markets and Discrimination

Gary Becker (b. 1930), who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992, was one of the first to analyze discrimination in economic terms. Becker pointed out that while competitive markets can allow some employers to practice discrimination, it can also provide profit-seeking firms with incentives not to discriminate. Given these incentives, Becker explored the question of why discrimination persists.

If a business is located in an area with a large minority population and refuses to sell to minorities, it will cut into its own profits. If some businesses run by bigoted employers refuse to pay women and/or minorities a wage based on their productivity, then other profit-seeking employers can hire these workers. In a competitive market, if the owners of a business care more about the color of money than about the color of skin, they will have an incentive to make buying, selling, hiring, and promotion decisions strictly based on economic factors.

The power of markets to offer at least a degree of freedom to oppressed groups should not be underestimated. In many countries, cohesive minority groups like Jews and emigrant Chinese have managed to carve out a space for themselves through their economic activities, despite legal and social discrimination against them. Many immigrants, including those who come to the United States, have taken advantage of economic freedom to make new lives for themselves. However, history teaches that market forces alone are unlikely to eliminate discrimination. After all, discrimination against African Americans persisted in the market-oriented U.S. economy during the century between President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in 1863, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—and has continued since then, too.

So why does discrimination persist in competitive markets? Gary Becker sought to explain this persistence. Discriminatory impulses can emerge at a number of levels: among managers, among workers, and among customers. Consider the situation of a manager who is not personally prejudiced, but who has many workers or customers who are prejudiced. If that manager treats minority groups or women fairly, the manager may find it hurts the morale of prejudiced co-workers or drives away prejudiced customers. In such a situation, a policy of nondiscrimination could reduce the firm’s profits. After all, a business firm is part of society, and a firm that does not follow the societal norms is likely to suffer. Market forces alone are unlikely to overwhelm strong social attitudes about discrimination.

Link It Up

Visit this website to read more about wage discrimination.

QR Code representing a URL

Public Policies to Reduce Discrimination

A first public policy step against discrimination in the labor market is to make it illegal. For example, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 said that men and women who do equal work at a company must be paid the same. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibited discrimination on the basis of age against individuals who are 40 years of age or older. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 provides monetary damages in cases of intentional employment discrimination. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was aimed at prohibiting discrimination against women in the workplace who are planning to get pregnant, are pregnant, or are returning after pregnancy. Passing a law, however, is only part of the answer, since discrimination by prejudiced employers may be less important than broader social patterns.

These laws against discrimination have reduced the gender wage gap. A study by the Department of Labor in 2007 compared salaries of men and women who have similar educational achievement, work experience, and occupation and found that the gender wage gap is only 5%.

In the case of the earnings gap between blacks and whites (and also between Hispanics and whites), probably the single largest step that could be taken at this point in U.S. history to close the earnings gap would be to reduce the gap in educational achievement. Part of the answer to this issue involves finding ways to improve the performance of schools, which is a highly controversial topic in itself. In addition, the education gap is unlikely to close unless black and Hispanic families and peer groups strengthen their culture of support for educational achievement.

Affirmative action is the name given to active efforts by government or businesses that give special rights to minorities in hiring and promotion to make up for past discrimination. Affirmative action, in its limited and not especially controversial form, means making an effort to reach out to a broader range of minority candidates for jobs. In its more aggressive and controversial form, affirmative action required government and companies to hire a specific number or percentage of minority employees. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against state affirmative action laws. Today, affirmative action policies are applied only to federal contractors who have lost a discrimination lawsuit. This type of redress is enforced by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

An Increasingly Diverse Workforce

Racial and ethnic diversity is on the rise in the U.S. population and work force. As Figure 15.6 shows, while the white Americans composed 78% of the population in 2012, the U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that whites will be 69% of the U.S. population by 2060. The proportion of U.S. citizens who are of Hispanic background is predicted to rise substantially. Moreover, in addition to expected changes in the population, diversity is being increased in the workforce as the women who entered the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s are now moving up the promotion ladders within their organizations.

The graph shows how populations of various ethnicities are predicted to change by 2060. The percentage of whites is expected to drop from 78% to 69%. The number of blacks is expected to increase from 13% to 15%. The number of Asians is expected to rise from 5.1% to 8.2%. The number of NHPIs is expected to rise from 0.2% to 0.3%. The number of AIANs is expected to rise from 1.2% to 1.5%. Additionally, the number of people who identify with two or more races is expected to rise from 2.4% to 6.4%. The number of non-Hispanics is expected to drop from 63% to 43%. The number of Hispanics is expected to rise from 17% to 31%.
Figure 15.6 Projected Changes in America’s Racial and Ethnic Diversity This figure shows projected changes in the ethnic makeup of the U.S. population by 2060. Note that “NHPI” stands for Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander. “AIAN” stands for American Indian and Alaska Native. Source: US Department of Commerce

Fortune-telling is not economics, but it still can be clarifying to speculate about the future. Optimists argue that the growing proportions of minority workers will knock over remaining discriminatory barriers. The economy will benefit as an increasing proportion of workers from traditionally disadvantaged groups have a greater opportunity to fulfill their potential. Pessimists worry that the social tensions between men and women and between ethnic groups will rise and that workers will be less productive as a result. Anti-discrimination policy, at its best, seeks to help society move toward the more optimistic outcome.

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