How well do correspondence tests measure discrimination?

Correspondence tests are a useful field experiement to measure discrimination in the formal labour market. These correspondence tests are also known as CV experiements: Researchers send two equivalent applications to an employer, differening only in the quantity of interest — gender and ethnicity are common. If only the majority or male candidate is invited for a job interview, we probably have a case of discrimination. Once we aggreate across many employers, we’re pretty confident to have captured discrimination.

Most studies stop there, declining any offer to reduce the burden on employers. The hiring process, however, does not end there. Lincoln Quillian and his team have now compiled a list of studies that went further. They find that the first stage of screening is far from the end of discrimination, and the job interview can increase overall discrimination substantially. Correspondece tests focusing on the first stage will capture only some of the discrimination. Interestingly the discrimination at the job interview stage appears unrelated to discrimination at the first screening of applications.

Quillian, L., Lee, J., & Oliver, M. (2018). Meta-Analysis of Field Experiments Shows Significantly More Racial Discrimination in Job Offers than in Callbacks. Northwestern Workin Paper Series, 18(28). Retrieved from

Zschirnt, E., & Ruedin, D. (2016). Ethnic discrimination in hiring decisions: A meta-analysis of correspondence tests 1990–2015. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 42(7), 1115–1134.

Image: CC-by Richard Eriksson.

Discrimination in the Housing Market: In the Press

Our study on the discrimination of people with foreign-sounding names in housing market in Switzerland has been picked up by the press. The sunday tabloid SonntagsBlick run the story with many details. I was happy to see that the news report, as well as the press coverage that followed in other newspapers, was quite accurate.

I even ventured into the online comments, just curious to see what the self-select group of commenters had to say. A few offered their own experience of what we describe in the report: flats not being available when a person with a foreign name phones up, but still available when a person with a ‘native’ name phones up. Quite a few defended the right to discriminate and offered their own experience as landlords, hearsay, and stereotypes as justifications for what we would call statistical discrimination. (This kind of ‘evidence’ is also quite ‘funny’ in the sense that whether you had a good or bad experience with tenants from XYZ, there’s another commentator with the opposite experience.) I find this quite interesting, and we had similar reactions in a study on hiring discrimination: A substantial part of the population does not seem to understand that statistical discrimination is also discrimination. Quite interesting is that none of the comments I have seen picked up on the difference between having a ‘foreign-sounding’ name, and being a foreign citizen — the perception as ethnic groups. Our results hold irrespective of citizenship, so we show that some Swiss citizens are discriminated (too) because of their name.

Press coverage: SonntagsBlick, Tages-Anzeiger, Bluewin, Basler Zeitung,, 20 Minuten, Mieterverband

Auer, Daniel, Julie Lacroix, Didier Ruedin, and Eva Zschirnt. 2019. ‘Ethnische Diskriminierung auf dem Schweizer Wohnungsmarkt’. Grenchen: BWO.

Image: cc-by turkeychik

National Study on Ethnic Discrimination in the Housing Market

Today I’m giving you the first national field experiment on ethnic discrimination in the housing market. Financed by the Swiss Office for Housing and the NCCR on the move, we examined to what extent one’s name affects the likelihood to be invited to view an apartment. We covered the entire country, across language regions and across urban and rural areas.

Between March and October 2018, our diligent research assistants sent more than 11,000 enquiries to over 5,700 landlords in all parts of Switzerland. We varied the name of the person sending an enquiry (stimulus sampling) along with other features such as politeness or the family situation. Overall over 70% of the enquiries were answered positively in the sense of an invitation to view the apartment or steps in this direction.

We find no clear differences between commercial and private landlords. The response rate for women was around 1 percent higher, while highly qualified people had a 2 percent higher response rate, especially academics who use their doctoral title (we dind’t expect this to make such a big difference when we designed the study). As previous field experiments have shown, the quality of the message we sent affected the probability of a response: Compared to a standard text, the response rate for friendlier queries is about 5 percent higher, while queries with the default text from online portals show a 10 percent lower response rate.

We find evidence of ethnic discrimination in the sense of unequal treatment based on the name. Enquiries with names from neighbouring countries (Germany, Italy, France) were even invited somewhat more frequently to view apartments than those from Switzerland, but people with Kosovar (response rate just under 3 percent lower) or Turkish names (response rate about 5 percent lower) have significantly fewer chances of being invited for a viewing. Whether those interested were naturalised with foreign-sounding names or stated that they had a permanent residence permit was hardly a factor. The rate of discrimination we observe is similar in order of magnitude to that found in comparable studies in other Western countries.

With the national coverage, we can also observe variation in responses by local context where the property is located. In municipalities with higher rental prices, the positive response rate is higher for everyone, and a higher vacancy rate in the municipality is associated with a higher response rate, except for people with Kosovar names. In urban areas the probability of discriminating against people with foreign names is lower. We also find that people with foreign-sounding names are less likely to be invited in municipalities with restrictive political attitudes towards immigration (as measured in the results of popular initiatives and referendums).

Auer, Daniel, Julie Lacroix, Didier Ruedin, and Eva Zschirnt. 2019. ‘Ethnische Diskriminierung auf dem Schweizer Wohnungsmarkt’. Grenchen: BWO.

Ethnic discrimination in hiring: UK edition

The BBC report on a large correspondent test in the UK carried out by the excellent GEMM project. It’s good to see this reach a wider audience; it’s sad to see the results from our meta-analysis confirmed once again.

British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds have to send, on average, 60% more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts

What I really like about this short report by the BBC is that the essentials are covered. Yes we see discrimination, but no, it’s not so bad that none of the minority applicants would ever succeed. They also start the piece with an example of someone changing their name on the CV as a strategy to counter expected (or experienced) discrimination — and they highlight that discrimination has not declined despite policy changes, and indeed that discrimination affects native citizens who happen to have a ‘foreign’ name: they pay for an action of their parents or grandparents.

Are employers in Britain discriminating against ethnic minorities?, GEMM project: PDF of report

Zschirnt, Eva, and Didier Ruedin. 2016. ‘Ethnic Discrimination in Hiring Decisions: A Meta-Analysis of Correspondence Tests 1990–2015’. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42 (7): 1115–34.