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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Gerald Jaynes and Robin M. Williams, eds.,A Common Destiny, Blacks and American Society (Washington: National Academy of Sciences Press, 1989), chapters 2 and 3; Reynolds Farley, Charles Steeh, Tara Jackson, Maria Krysan, and Keith Reeves, “Continued Racial Segregation in Detroit: Chocolate City, Vanilla Suburbs’ Revisited,”Journal of Housing Research, Vol. 4, No.1 (1993), pp. 1–38.; Joe R. Feagin and Melvin P. Sikes,Living with Racism, The Black Middle Class Experience (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994); Louis Harris,The Unfinished Agenda on Race in America (New York: NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 1989); Tom Smith,Ethnic Images (Chicago: National Opinion Research Center, 1990).
Andrew Gill, “The Role of Discrimination in Determining Occupational Structure,”Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol.42, No. 4 (1989), pp. 610–623; Jaynes and Williams,Common Destiny, pp. 146-147; K. I. Wolpin, “The Determinants of Black-White Differences in Early Employment Careers: Search, Layoffs, Quits, and Endogenous Wage Growth,”Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 100, No. (1992), pp. 535-60; Glen Cain, “The Economic Analysis of Labor Market Discrimination: A Survey,” in Orley Aschenfelter and Richard Layard, eds.,Handbook of Labor Economics (New York: Elsevier, 1986), pp. 694-785; Craig Zwerling and Hilary Silver, “Race and Job Dismissal in a Federal Bureaucracy,”American Sociological Review, Vol. 57, No. 5 (1992), pp. 651–660.
Combined Annual Report, Fiscal Years 1986, 1987, and 1988 (Washington: U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1988).
EEOC,Annual Report; see also Jomills Braddock and James M. McPartland, “How Minorities Continue to be Excluded from Equal Employment Opportunities: Research on Labor Market and Institutional Barriers,”Journal of Social Issues, Vol. 43, No.1 (1987), pp. 5–39.
Kenneth Arrow, “The Theory of Discrimination,” in Orley Aschenfelter and Albert Rees, eds.,Discrimination in Labor Markets (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), p. 3.
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).
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.
Dictionary of Occupational Titles (Washington: U.S. Department of Labor, 1991);Occupational Outlook Handbook (Lincolnwood, IL: VGM Career Horizons, 1990).
The core design is set forth in Marc Bendick, Jr.,Auditing Race Discrimination in Hiring: A Research Design (Washington: Bendick and Egan Economic Consultants, Inc., 1989). For alternative designs, see Jerome Culp and Bruce Dunson, “Brothers of a Different Color: A Preliminary Look at Employer Treatment of Black and White Youth,” in Richard Freeman and Harry Holzer, eds.,The Black Youth Employment Crisis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986), pp. 233–259; P. A. Riach and J. Rich, “Measuring Discrimination by Direct Experimental Methods: Seeking Gunsmoke,”Journal of Post-Keynesian Economics, Vol. 14, No.2 (1991–92), pp. 143-50.; Frank Bovenkerk,A Manual for International Comparative Research on Discrimination on the Grounds of “Race” and Ethnic Origin (Geneva: International Labour Organisation, 1992), and George Galster et al.,Sandwich Hiring Audit Pilot Program (Washington: The Urban Institute, 1994). Table 1 is based on the following sources: Column (a): FEC,Annual Report, chapter 3; Column (b): Margery Austin Turner, Michael Fix, and Raymond Struyk,Opportunities Diminished, Opportunities Denied (Washington: Urban Institute, 1991); Columns (c) and (f): Franklin James and Steve DelCastillo,We May be Making Progress Toward Equal Access to Jobs: Evidence From Recent Audits (Denver: University of Colorado, 1992); Column (d): Marc Bendick, Jr., Charles Jackson, Victor Reinoso, and Laura Hodges, “Discrimination Against Latino Job Applicants: A Controlled Experiment,”Human Resource Management, Vol. 30, No.4 (1991), pp. 469–484; Column (e): Harry Cross, et al.,Employer Hiring Practices: Differential Treatment of Hispanic and Anglo Job Seekers (Washington: Urban Institute, 1990).
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.
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.
Marc Bendick, Jr., “Matching Workers and Job Opportunities, ” in D. Bawden and F. Skidmore (eds.),Rethinking Employment Policy (Washington: Urban Institute Press, 1989), pp. 81–108; Harry Holzer, “Informal Job Search and Black Youth Unemployment,”American Economic Review, Vol. 77, No.3 (1987), pp. 446–452; Steven M. Bortnick and Michele Harrison Ports, “Job Search Methods and Results: Tracking the Unemployed, 1991,”Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 115, No.12 (1992), pp. 29–35.
R. Roosevelt Thomas,Beyond Race and Gender (New York: American Management Association, 1991); Susan Jackson and Associates,Diversity in the Workplace (New York: Guilford Press, 1992); Mary Lou Egan and Marc Bendick, Jr.,Managing Greater Washington’s Changing Workforce (Washington: Greater Washington Research Center, 1991).
Freeman and Holzer,Black Youth; Marc Bendick, Jr., and Mary Lou Egan,Jobs: Employment Opportunities in the Washington Metropolitan Area for Persons with Limited Employment Qualifications (Washington: Greater Washington Research Center, 1988).
See Footnote 14.
Gary Becker,The Economics of Discrimination (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971); Susan Hanson and Geraldine Pratt, “Dynamic Dependencies: A Geographic Investigation of Local Labor Markets,”Economic Geography, Vol. 68, No.4 (1992), pp. 610-623.
Joleen Neckerman and Kathryn Kirschenman, ‘“We’d Love to Hire them, But...’: The Meaning of Race for Employers,” in Christopher Jencks and Paul E. Peterson, eds.,The Urban Underclass (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1991), pp. 203–234; Freeman and Holzer,Black Youth Employment.
J. M. Darley and P. H. Gross, “A Hypothesis-Conforming Bias in Labelling Effects,”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol.44, No. 1 (1983), pp. 20–33. See also J. Krueger and M. Rothbart, “Use of Categorical and Individuating Information in Making Inferences About Personality,”Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 55, No.1 (1988), pp. 187–195, and R. D. Arvey and J. E. Campion, “The Employment Interview: Survey and Review of Recent Research,”Personnel Psychology, Vol. 35, No.2 (1982), pp. 281–322.
Dennis J. Aigner and Glen Cain, “Statistical Theories of Discrimination in Labor Markets,”Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol.30, No. 2 (1877), pp. 175–87; M. A. Spence, “Job Market Signaling,”Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 87, No.3 (1973), pp. 355-74.
Smith,Ethnic Images; Joseph E. Trimble, “Stereotypical Images, American Indians, and Prejudice,” in Phyllis A. Katz and Dalmas A. Taylor (eds.),Eliminating Racism (New York: Plenum Press, 1988), pp. 181-201; Neckerman and Kirschenman, “We’d Love to Hire Them.”
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.
John T. Molloy,Dress For Success (New York: Warner Books, 1988).
Roderic Boggs, Joseph Sellers, and Marc Bendick, Jr., “Use of Testing in Civil Rights Enforcement,” in Michael Fix and Raymond Struyk (eds.),Clear and Convincing Evidence: Measurement of Discrimination in America (Washington: Urban Institute Press, 1993), pp. 345–376; FEC,Annual Report, pp. 10-13; Michael Yelnosky, “Filling an Enforcement Void: Using Testers to Uncover and Remedy Discrimination in Hiring for Lower-Skilled, Entry-Level Jobs,”University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 26, No.2 (1993), pp. 404–459.
Harris,Unfinished Agenda; see also J. R. Kluegel and E. R. Smith,Beliefs about Equality: Americans’ Views of What Is and What Ought to Be (Hawthorne, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1986).
Women Employed,Compilation of EEOC District Office Reports (Chicago: Women Employed, 1992); Claudia Withers and Judith A. Winston, “Equal Employment Opportunity,” inOne Nation Indivisible: The Civil Rights Challenge for the 1990s (Washington: The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights, 1989), pp. 190–214.
Walter Olson,The Litigation Explosion (New York, NY: Truman Talley Books, 1992).
Thomas,Beyond Race and Gender; Jackson,Diversity; Egan and Bendick,Managing. Several social psychological studies have found that, in laboratory simulations of employment selections, individuals often discriminated in favor of minorities [Arvey and Campion, “The Employment Interview”; Braddock and McPartland, “How Minorities”]. These results contrast with the findings of testing studies involving actual job selections in firms. To understand this contrast, further research is needed to differentiate between discrimination reflecting the attitudes of individual staff members and that reflecting the policies and organizational culture of the firms that employ them.
About this article
Cite this article
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
- Labor Market
- Employment Agency
- Black Youth
- Employment Discrimination
- Urban Institute