Theories of discrimination

Whether you’re new to research on (ethnic) discrimination or have a couple of studies under your belt, you could do worse than reading Lauren Rivera‘s review article on employer decision-making.

While I’m not entirely convinced about the ostensible lack of studies on employers, the review really shines on summarizing different reasons for discrimination. Oddly enough, most of the article s I come across seem to highlight the distinction between taste-based discrimination and statistical discrimination (yes, our meta-analysis included), and largely neglect other theories. Lauren Rivera solves this by zooming out and drawing a distinction between competency-based, status-based, and social closure–based approaches. Much of the literature focuses on competency-based arguments, in which employers are almost absent other than picking the ‘best fit’ or the ‘most competent’.

In the review, Lauren Rivera highlights important differences within these three broad categories. For instance, within competency-based approaches, we have:

  • human capital theory — disparities are the result of skills and educational mismatches
  • signalling theory — disparities stem from not using the right signals of competence
  • social capital — disparities because workers do not have the same networks and ties to organizations that are valued by the companies
  • statistical discrimination — perceptions or actual average group performance is taken as a proxy, leading to disparities

We also have status-based approaches where disparities are the result of implicit or explicit views of the characteristics of groups, like warmth or ‘worth’. I guess we could speak of stereotypes here, but perhaps this is not helpful. Whatever we call these perceptions, they act as filters that disadvantage groups with low status. In this context, I missed a clearer position on the fact that some descriptions of ‘statistical discrimination’ in the literature are rather inaccurate.

There are also theories drawing on social closure. These include the ‘taste-based’ (overt or covert) dislike of minority groups. While this theory is very often invoked in publications, I have not come across many contributions that make explicit the link to social closure. This link is useful, because it allows us to see other approaches drawing on opportunity hoarding and preservation (these arguments seem more common in the literature on anti-minority attitudes than on discrimination): the desire to keep existing privileges and resources for the in-group, so employers exclude members of minority groups.

I liked the part on emotions, and decisions by ‘similarity’ in the review, but missed a more explicit link to the comparison of theories in table 1.

Rivera, Lauren A. 2020. ‘Employer Decision Making’. Annual Review of Sociology 46 (1): 215–32.

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.

What is a maître d’enseignement et de recherche (MER)?

Maître d’enseignement et de recherche (MER) are relatively rare positions which were apparently introduced in universities in the French-speaking area of Switzerland in the 1990s.

MER are part of the corps intermédiaire (German: Mittelbau) along with PhD researchers and postdoctoral researchers. They are very similar to the Maître-assistante (MA) positions, also unique to French-speaking universities in Switzerland, as far as I know, with the only difference that MER are open-ended after evaluation, whereas MA positions are fixed-term (this makes MER the only positions in the corps intermédiaire that can be open-ended).

As other positions of the corps intermédiaire, MER are not part of the decision-making in universities, normally have no assistants, and may be excluded from some internal resources. They are attached to a chair, which limits independence in teaching and research, and typically teach more than professors. Despite the R in the name, apparently some MER effectively teach full time. Compared to professors, MER and MA have a lower salary and are often employed part-rime. Unlike Lecturers in the British system, no promotion is foreseen for MER (at all). In this sense, the ‘official’ translation of MER (and MA) into ‘senior lecturer’ is inaccurate.

Image credit: CC-by Jeena Paradies

New Literature Study: Links between migration, integration and return

Today I present you a new literature study on the links between migration, integration, and return we (SFM, ICMPD) have carried out for the State Secretariat for Migration SEM.

The literature review is available as a report in German and in a French translation, with a summary by the government also available. The literature examines the interdependencies of migration, integration, and return with a focus on Switzerland.

We  cite research highlighting that waiting periods and unemployment in the asylum system in the long term lead to higher costs for the host society if asylum seekers will eventually stay — as is often the case for applicants from some countries of origin. Early language acquisition and learning job-related skills make sense in two respects: they open up greater prospects for asylum seekers if they remain in Switzerland, but also if they return to their country of origin.

We show that migrants leave their country of origin for many different reasons. Nowhere in the literature did we find clear indications that offering integration measures such as language courses or qualification measures would have a discernible influence on the decision to migrate to a particular country. While policies more generally may play a role, such specific active integration policies do not seem to affect work migration, asylum migration, or family reunification.

The reseearch literture is clear that early and intensive promotion of integration leads to long-term cost savings for those people who remain in Switzerland. The economy benefits from domestic workers who, thanks to good preparation, gain a foothold in working life more quickly and can pay for themselves. In addition, successful professional integration and economic independence in Switzerland can also help migrants to become involved in development in their country of origin. The decision to return, however, seems to depend on various factors, and in the case of asylum migration depends primarily on the situation in the country of origin.

Ruedin, Didier, Denise Efionayi-Mäder, Sanda Üllen, Veronika Bilger, and Martin Hofmann. 2019. ‘Wirkungszusammenhänge Migration, Integration und Rückkehr’. Eine Literaturanalyse im Auftrag des SEM in Erfüllung des Postulats 16.3790 «Migration. Langfristige Folgen der Integration». Bern: Staatssekretariat für Migration (SEM).

New paper on exposure in the job and attitudes to immigrants

I have the pleasure to announce our new paper on attitudes to foreigners. Marco and I wanted to move beyond the share of foreigners in geographically defined areas: We examined the share of foreigners in one’s job and how this is linked to attitudes. A key motivation for doing this was that many contributions on attitudes to immigrants seem to dismiss competitive threat in the labour market despite not providing a realistic test of such competition. Just think a moment: I’m not competing with (foreignany) workers in the construction sector, and I’m not competing with many of the highly educated immigrants workers either. We have segmented labour markets, and we should account for them in our analyses.

We find that a higher share of foreigners in one’s occupation correlates with more negative attitudes to immigrants. This suggests that workers react to competition with foreigners. When we dig deeper, we find that objective pressures in the labour market (we use the unemployment rate in each occupation) matter, just like contact with foreigners at work seem to alleviate negative attitudes. In fact, it turns out that sorting on job quality can probably account for these factors, especially objective pressures in the labour market.

Where does this leave us? It appears that workers react to immigrants at work in a differentiated manner. On the one hand, they dislike workers competing with them, on the other hand, they welcome them when they help overcome labour market shortages.

Pecoraro, Marco, and Didier Ruedin. 2019. “Occupational Exposure to Foreigners and Attitudes towards Equal Opportunities.” Migration Studies.

Skill Specificity and Attitudes toward Immigration

I am very happy to announce a second paper published from our SNIS project on attitudes to immigrants: “Skill Specificity and Attitudes toward Immigration” by Sergi Pardos-Prado and Carla Xena out now in AJPS. It develops some of the key tenets of the SNIS project to new levels and provides a clean application.

Similar to what Marco Pecoraro concluded when looking at the risk of unemployment, Sergi and Carla come to the conclusion that economic competition theories cannot be dismissed. Here they focus on skills specificity and the ability to avoid competition with immigrant workers, and highlight that highly educated people are not immune to anti-immigrant attitudes.

Pardos‐Prado, S., & Xena, C. (2018.). Skill Specificity and Attitudes toward Immigration. American Journal of Political Science, Online First.
Pecoraro, M., & Ruedin, D. (2016). A Foreigner Who Does Not Steal My Job: The Role of Unemployment Risk and Values in Attitudes toward Equal Opportunities. International Migration Review, 50(3), 628–666.