Thursday, May 12, 2005

US Labor Market Discrimination

'Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination' by Marianne Bertrand (Professor of Econimics @Chicago) and Sendhil Mullainathan (Professor of Economics @Harvard) is a paper that gives a much needed (and practical) insight into the labor market discrimation in the US based on the applicant's race. Both these economists in collaboration (since their MIT days I suppose!!) have come up with several interesting papers.
In this particular paper, (statistical) results of labor market discrimation that are presented are based on fictious applicants with White-sounding names (Greg, Brad, Emily, etc.) and African American sounding names(Lekisha, Jamal, Jermaine, etc.). Realistic resumes are prepared for these fictitious names and they are sent to employers in four occupational categories: sales, administrative support, clerical services and customer services in two cities Boston and Chicago. The results are based on interpretation of data from average callback rates, returns to resume quality among others. From these results, the authors suggest that the race discrimation in the labor market in favor of White sounding names over African American sounding names may be a factor why African Americans fare poorly in the labor market. They also conclude that applicants with African American sounding names find it hard to overcome this hurdle in callbacks by improving their observable skills or credentials.
Some of the weaknesses of this study as the authors see it are - (i) outcome measure is crude, (ii) even though the names are chosen to be race salient, the employer didn't necessarily notice the names or the racial content and hence, the results might not be representative of an African American (iii) since newspaper job search is the only channel used in the study, if African Americans tend to find jobs through social networks, this results could be affected quantitatively.

However, by applying to 1300 REAL jobs posted in newspapers and adding 5000 NON-EXISTENT resumes during the period of study, maybe the study changed the hiring process of atleast a few jobs and thus affected the actual outcome of those jobs for a few REAL applicants!! I guess that would require a complete followup into the actual outcomes of the jobs, the mindset of the hiring authority in seeing a few extra (African American) resumes, etc. I wish the possibility for even one such event would be very low..


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