Measuring employment discrimination through controlled experiments

Abstract

Race/ethnic discrimination in hiring can be measured under controlled conditions using matched pairs of minority and nonminority research assistants posing as applicants for the same job. In 149 inperson job applications in the Washington, D.C., labor market, African American applicants were treated less favorab ly than equally qualified nonminorities more than one-fifth of the time. Employer behavior during these interactions suggest that, within continued public and private efforts against discrimination, particular attention should be accorded to the cognitive underpinnings of bias.

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Notes

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    Annual Report, 1990–1992 (Washington: Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, Inc., 1993);Employment Testing Manual (Washington: Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, Inc., 1993). The same techniques are also applicable to demographic characteristics other than race and ethnicity. For example, using pairs of applicants age 32 and 57, testing has been applied to hiring discrimination based on age; see Marc Bendick, Jr., Charles Jackson, and Horacio Romero,Employment Discrimination Against Older Workers: An Experimental Study of Hiring Practices (Washington: Fair Employment Council of Greater Washington, 1993).

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    Tests might be conducted in a “double blind” format, that is, with testers not being told that discrimination is the subject of the study in which they are participating. This approach was implemented, for example, in a study of discrimination in auto sales practices; see Ian Ayres, “Fair Driving: Gender and Race Discrimination in Retail Car Negotiations,”Harvard Law Review, Vol.104, No. 4 (1991), pp. 817–872. However, it is unrealistic to assume that employment testers would not infer the subject of the study from the procedures they were following and the data they were asked to record. Instead, the FEC seeks to ensure the objectivity of tester-generated data by careful tester selection, extensive training, close supervision, data collection procedures that emphasize facts over judgments, and an organizational culture of social science objectivity.

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    The sources for Table 2 are the same as for Table 1 (see Footnote 10). James and DelCastillo,We May be Making Progress, report a testing study in the Denver labor market that estimated a two percent net rate of discrimination against African Americans compared to whites but a ten percent rate in favor of Hispanics over Anglos. These results are contaminated by methodological flaws, including inappropriate pairing of testers, inadequate supervision of field work, and compensation arrangements giving minority testers greater incentives to pursue job openings than nonminorities. These flaws led to differences in the level of effort expended by paired testers (e.g, different numbers of follow-up calls) and also raised general concerns about data validity and reliability; see Michael Fix and Raymond Struyk, eds.,Clear and Convincing Evidence: Measurement of Discrimination in America (Washington: Urban Institute Press, 1993), appendix. Accordingly, this study is not included in Table 2.

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    These examples, all involving African Americans, are drawn from FEC,Annual Report, pp. 5-6. Comparable incidents involving Latinos are presented in Bendick et al., “Discrimination Against Latinos,” p.475.

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    A second mechanism that may operate is that the behavior of interviewers may cause minority applicants to perform badly in interviews. In one social psychology experiment, white university students interviewed African American and white job applicants. When the applicant was African American, the interviewers sat further away, terminated the interview 25 percent sooner, and made 50 percent more speech errors than when the applicant was white. Then, in a second experiment, interviewers deliberately duplicated the behavior typical of interviews with African Americans and whites. Neutral judges rated the interview performance of job applicants of any race subjected to the “African American” treatment as more nervous and less effective than that of persons subjected to the “white” treatment; see CO. Word, M. P. Zanna, and J. Cooper, “The Nonverbal Mediation of Self-Fulfilling Prophesies in Interracial Interaction,”Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol.10, No. 1 (1974), pp. 109–120. See also C. G. Lord and D. S. Saentz, “Memory Deficits and Memory Surfeits: Differential Cognitive Consequences of Tokenism for Tokens and Observers,”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 49, No.4 (1985), pp. 918-926.

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Bendick, M., Jackson, C.W. & Reinoso, V.A. Measuring employment discrimination through controlled experiments. Rev Black Polit Econ 23, 25–48 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02895739

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Keywords

  • Labor Market
  • Employment Agency
  • Black Youth
  • Employment Discrimination
  • Urban Institute