Unexplored dimensions of discrimination in Europe: homosexuality and physical appearance

Abstract

We study labor-market discrimination of individuals with “specific” characteristics in Italy. We conduct a field experiment in two Italian cities: Rome and Milan, by sending “fake” CVs to real ads. We find that there is a strong penalty for homosexuals, i.e., about 30 % less chance to be called back compared to a heterosexual male and even more so if they are highly skilled. On the other hand, we find no penalty for homosexual females. We also find a beauty premium for females only but this premium is much lower when the “pretty” woman is skilled.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Indeed, economists have accumulated a large body of evidence on the existence of both gender and ethnic/racial discrimination using various empirical approaches ranging from traditional empirical data analysis (Kahn 1991; Knowles et al. 2001; Altonji and Pierret 2001) to field experiments (see Riach and Rich 2002 for an exhaustive survey of field experiments discrimination). Two main procedures of field experiments have been used to carry out tests for the extent of discrimination. A first procedure consists in matching two testers who attend job interviews or buy products, one from the majority group and the other from the minority. These experiments have provided strong evidence of discrimination in different contexts, including housing market (Galster 1990), sports car market (List 2004), car sales (Ayres and Siegelman 1995), or television shows (Levitt 2004). Another field approach to measure the extent of discrimination at the hiring stage consists in sending matched CVs that vary in only one variable (for example the name) to employers in response to job advertisements (see for instance, Neumark 1996; Bertrand and Mullainathan 2004).

  2. 2.

    See the overviews by Altonji and Blank (1999), Lang and Lehmann (2012), Kofi Charles and Guryan (2011), and Boeri and van Ours (2013).

  3. 3.

    Even though there is an important literature on earning differences (see, e.g., Ahmed and Hammarstedt 2010b, Ahmed et al. 2011), we focus here on employment outcomes since this is what we test in our experiments.

  4. 4.

    See also Ahmed and Hammarstedt (2010b).

  5. 5.

    For Austria (Weichselbaumer 2003) and Greece (Drydakis 2011), a heterosexual female applicant received 31 and 123 % more responses from employers than a lesbian applicant while for a heterosexual male, this figure was 186 % for Greece since Weichselbaumer (2003) only studied lesbians.

  6. 6.

    There is also a literature on the adverse-labor market outcomes of obese people that we do not review here since we focus in our experiment on attractive versus nonattractive persons.

  7. 7.

    In order to avoid generating false hope, candidates were notified by mail that the job vacancy they were applying for had already been filled.

  8. 8.

    These call back rates are in line with those of other fields experiments that consist in sending matched CVs to employers. For instance, in their experiment, Bertrand and Mullainathan (2004) obtain a total call back rate of 8.05 %.

  9. 9.

    Cameron and Miller (2014) consider explicitly the case of a small number of clusters and present Monte Carlo evidence showing that at least 10–15 clusters are needed in order to obtain tests with rejection rates close to the nominal ones.

  10. 10.

    Although we only report results for the linear probability model, the findings in this section are qualitatively and quantitatively similar when using a saturated model in which age and beauty score are discretized.

  11. 11.

    Ahmed et al. (2010a) also discuss the effects of adding positive information to applications in a field experiment.

  12. 12.

    One could argue that what is relevant from an economic point of view is not whether gays are called back at lower rate, but whether they are hired with lower probability. This is a common shortcoming of fake CVs studies as they can—by design—only provide answers to the question whether certain groups are discriminated in call backs and not whether they are then actually discriminated in the hiring decision. Yet, we believe that discrimination in the call back decision is still discrimination as it limits opportunity. This is especially relevant here as the magnitude of the penalties we found are very large.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the editor, Erdal Tekin, two anonymous referees as well as Tito Boeri, Alan Manning, and Jan van Ours for the very helpful comments. We are also grateful to Barbara Biasi, Paola Monti, and Rachele Poggi for excellent research assistance. We thank the Fondazione Rodolfo DeBenedetti for financial support.

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Correspondence to Yves Zenou.

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Responsible editor: Erdal Tekin

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Patacchini, E., Ragusa, G. & Zenou, Y. Unexplored dimensions of discrimination in Europe: homosexuality and physical appearance. J Popul Econ 28, 1045–1073 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-014-0533-9

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Keywords

  • Discrimination
  • Gays
  • Lesbians
  • Field experiment

JEL Classifications

  • I10
  • J16
  • J71