The US has Relatively Low Rates of Hiring Discrimination

There have now been lots of resume-audit studies in which identical resumes but for the “minority-distinct” name are sent out to employers and callback rates are measured. A meta-study of 97 field experiments (N = 200,000 job applicants) in 9 countries in Europe and North America finds there is some discrimination in every county but, if anything, the USA has one of the lower rates of discrimination while France and perhaps also Sweden have very high levels. These result’s aren’t  that surprising to those who travel but they run counter to the narrative that the US is uniquely or especially discriminatory because of its history of slavery and capitalism. Capitalism, in fact, is likely to predict less discrimination. A picture summarizes. The US is here defined as 1 and these are relative levels after controlling for some basic differences across studies:

The authors make a number of interesting points:

…national histories of slavery and colonialism are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for a country to have relatively high levels of labor market discrimination. Some countries with colonial pasts demonstrate high rates of hiring discrimination, but several countries without extensive colonial pasts (outside Europe), such as Sweden, demonstrate similar levels. Likewise, the lower rates of discrimination against minorities in the United States than we find for many European countries seem contrary to expectations that emphasize the primacy of connection to slavery in shaping the contemporary level of national discrimination. These results do not suggest that slavery and colonialism do not matter for levels of discrimination, rather they indicate that they matter in more complex ways than suggested by theories that posit simple, direct influences of the past on current discrimination.


High discrimination in the French labor market seems inconsistent with claims made by some scholars that discourse or measurement of race and ethnicity itself will tend to produce more discrimination by promoting “groupism” and group stereotypes (Sniderman and Hagendoorn 2007). The efforts in France not to measure or formally discuss race or ethnicity do not seem to have led to less discrimination.

And, reminisicent of Agan and Starr’s work on ban the box policies:

…the cross-national differences we find should not be read as primarily reflecting national levels of prejudice or as indicators of national levels of racism. Our discrimination measures are specific to hiring, and some evidence suggests national levels in discrimination in other outcomes may be different. For instance,we find low hiring discrimination in Germany,15 but Germany has not been found to be low on housing discrimination (Auspurg, Schneck, and Hinz 2018), suggesting weak antiminority prejudice may not account for this result. More likely, low discrimination in Germany could be a result of distinctive hiring practices in Germany: Employees typically submit far more extensive background information at initial application than in most other countries—including, for instance, high school transcripts and reports from apprenticeships (Weichselbaumer 2016). This may reduce the tendency of employers to assume lower skills and qualifications among nonwhite applicants, which is one potential source of discrimination. If so, this suggests the importance of high levels of individual information about applicants as a method to mitigate discrimination (c.f., Wozniac 2015; Auspurg et al. 2018).

It’s notable that these studies have mostly been done in Western capitalist democracies. I would bet that discrimination rates would be much higher in Japan, China and Korea not to mention Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria or the Congo. Understanding why discrimination is lower in Western capitalist democracies would reorient the literature in a very useful way.

Hat tip: Jay Van Bavel.


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