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Meta-analysis of field experiments shows no change in racial discrimination in hiring over time

  1. Arnfinn H. Midtb?enf
  1. aDepartment of Sociology, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208;
  2. bInstitute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, Evanston IL 60208;
  3. cDepartment of Sociology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138;
  4. dKennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138;
  5. eSciences Po, Observatoire Sociologique du Changement (OSC), CNRS, 75007 Paris, France;
  6. fInstitute for Social Research, N-0208 Oslo, Norway
  1. Edited by Douglas S. Massey, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved August 8, 2017 (received for review April 14, 2017)

Significance

Many scholars have argued that discrimination in American society has decreased over time, while others point to persisting race and ethnic gaps and subtle forms of prejudice. The question has remained unsettled due to the indirect methods often used to assess levels of discrimination. We assess trends in hiring discrimination against African Americans and Latinos over time by analyzing callback rates from all available field experiments of hiring, capitalizing on the direct measure of discrimination and strong causal validity of these studies. We find no change in the levels of discrimination against African Americans since 1989, although we do find some indication of declining discrimination against Latinos. The results document a striking persistence of racial discrimination in US labor markets.

Abstract

This study investigates change over time in the level of hiring discrimination in US labor markets. We perform a meta-analysis of every available field experiment of hiring discrimination against African Americans or Latinos (n = 28). Together, these studies represent 55,842 applications submitted for 26,326 positions. We focus on trends since 1989 (n = 24 studies), when field experiments became more common and improved methodologically. Since 1989, whites receive on average 36% more callbacks than African Americans, and 24% more callbacks than Latinos. We observe no change in the level of hiring discrimination against African Americans over the past 25 years, although we find modest evidence of a decline in discrimination against Latinos. Accounting for applicant education, applicant gender, study method, occupational groups, and local labor market conditions does little to alter this result. Contrary to claims of declining discrimination in American society, our estimates suggest that levels of discrimination remain largely unchanged, at least at the point of hire.

Footnotes

  • ?1To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email: l-quillian{at}northwestern.edu.

Freely available online through the PNAS open access option.

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