Ethnic discrimination in hiring decisions: a meta-analysis of correspondence tests 1990–2015

Eva Zschirnt and I have undertaken a meta-analysis of correspondence tests in OECD countries between 1990 and 2015. It is now available on the website of JEMS. We cover 738 in 43 separate studies conducted in OECD countries between 1990 and 2015. In addition to summarizing research findings, we focus on groups of specific tests to ascertain the robustness of findings, emphasizing (lack of) differences across countries, gender, and economic contexts. Discrimination of ethnic minority and immigrant candidates remains commonplace across time and contexts.

Economic Downturn = Racist Attitudes

A new paper by David W. Johnston and Grace Lordan shows that self-declared attitudes towards people of other races are more negative during economic downturns (when unemployment is higher). This finding is reminiscent to what Marco Pecoraro and I found with regard to attitudes towards foreigners. While we did not make the link to the context and unemployment levels, our analysis demonstrates that the self-declared risk of unemployment is related to negative attitudes towards foreigners.

Now negative attitudes are not the same as discriminatory behaviour. Interestingly, in our meta-analysis of correspondence tests we found no systematic link between the economic situation and discrimination in the labour market. This would suggest that the impact of the economy is only indirect — or that we’re not doing good enough a job in capturing what’s going on.

Johnston, David W., and Grace Lordan. 2015. ‘Racial Prejudice and Labour Market Penalties during Economic Downturns.’ European Economic Review. doi:10.1016/j.euroecorev.2015.07.011.

Pecoraro, Marco, and Didier Ruedin. 2015. ‘A Foreigner Who Doesn’t Steal My Job: The Role of Unemployment Risk and Values in Attitudes towards Equal Opportunities.’ International Migration Review, 1–53. doi:10.1111/imre.12162.

Zschirnt, Eva and Ruedin, Didier, Ethnic Discrimination in Hiring Decisions: A Meta-Analysis of Correspondence Tests 1990-2015 (April 22, 2015). Available at SSRN:

Meta-Analysis on Discrimination: 2nd Place, Best Paper Award

10_DSC_3427I’m happy to announce that a paper I’ve drafted with Eva Zschirnt has won 2nd place for the IMISCOE Rinus Penninx Best Paper Award. In the paper we provide a proper meta-analysis of ethnic discrimination in hiring decision, summarizing the results of 627 correspondence tests carried out between 1990 and 2015. We show that despite the introduction of anti-discrimination legislation, discrimination against ethnic and racial minorities remains prevalent in the hiring process. What is more, there does not appear to be any systematic link between the economic situation and the incidence of discrimination.

Picture credit: © Andreas Perret and nccr – on the move, with permission.

Why Study Immigration?

While immigration in the sense of relocation is rather factual, the related concept of being of immigrant origin is socially constructed (some prefer references to having an immigrant background). How long is an individual who has moved to a different place considered an immigrant? By studying immigration, social scientists play a role in legitimizing and recreating these differences, thus help maintain arbitrary differences that can lead to discrimination. Should we stop? Let’s consider the alternative for a moment: without studying immigration we have no means of knowing whether there are problems, we do not know whether people perceived as immigrants tend to be discriminated in the labour market, and so on. So no, looking away is not the solution.

What we need to remind ourselves from time to time is taking care not to essentialize, not insisting on seeing migrants everywhere – especially not when we’re really looking at class, or gender. It means being precise about the words we use, and resisting the temptation to go with a topic just because it is high on the political agenda.

Migration-Related Jobs in Switzerland Plus a Comment

The newly established NCCR “On the Move” (previously mentioned) is now recruiting postocs and PhD students to work on migration-related topics. Quite a few of them, actually.

This leads to a vaguely related comment: discrimination of immigrants. Consider this, a job advert requiring the following:

German or French mother tongue; as English will be the project language, good written and oral command of English is required

I opposed this, since it technically excludes applicants such as those from the Italian-speaking area, or many international applicants, such as someone from Denmark. It does matter, because (unfortunately) there are employers who use expressions such as “mother-tongue” to signal that they only want to hire Swiss (i.e. no immigrants). It can lead to qualified candidates not applying: a problem when it comes to matching jobs and job-seekers. Now, this is not the case here, and I suggested highlighting that an excellent command of the languages is required.