Research suggests that about half of all jobs are found through network-based job searching: receiving a job lead from family, friends, or acquaintances. This study examined how social networks affect racial disparity in employment opportunity. The researchers discovered that although Black and white job seekers use their social networks to find jobs at similar rates, Black job seekers are less likely to receive a job offer through their networks. This disparity occurs through two mechanisms: Black job seekers are less likely than white job seekers to know someone who works at the companies to which they are applying, and they are less likely to have their social network contact an employer on their behalf.
Among job seekers who used their social networks, Blacks were 5% less likely than whites to receive a job offer.
This study investigated why the networks of Black job seekers may be less effective than those of white job seekers in producing job offers. The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Job Search. Their sample consisted of 1,617 U.S. job seekers who responded to nine survey waves between February 2013 and November 2014. Respondents were between the ages of 18 and 64 and had looked for work in the four weeks prior to participation in the survey. Respondents gave detailed information on their demographics, employment histories, job search behaviours, and whether they had received job offers or not.
The authors discovered that Black and white job seekers used social networks to find jobs at similar rates. This indicates that the disparity in attaining a job through networks was not based on Blacks’ lack of access to networks. Researchers also found that using networks to find a job as opposed to a formal application process resulted in a higher chance of receiving a job offer, regardless of race. However, among job seekers who used their social networks, Blacks were 5% less likely than whites to receive a job offer.
The researchers predicted two mechanisms by which this disparity occurred:“network placement” and “network mobilization”. For network placement, Blacks may be less likely than whites to have contacts with hiring authority or in high status-positions, which could influence whether they receive a job offer. For network mobilization, Black applicants’ contacts in their social networks may be more hesitant than whites’ to mobilize their resources and contact companies on behalf of the applicant. This is because making a job referral can be risky, and in Black communities, individuals tend to have less secure employment.
Data analysis showed that the researchers’ predictions were correct: Black job seekers who used networks were less likely than white job seekers to know someone working at the company to which they applied. Specifically, white job seekers knew someone at the company for 65.2% of their network-based applications, compared to only 56.3% for Black job seekers. Black job seekers’ networks were also less likely to contact the company on their behalf than white job seekers’ networks: whites’ contacts contacted the company on their behalf 25.4% of the time, compared to 20.0% for Blacks. Together, these mechanisms can explain one-fifth of the disparity in job offers between Black and white job seekers.
- Network-based job search benefits Black job seekers less than white job seekers — This research demonstrates that Black and white job seekers use social networks to find jobs at similar rates. However, they do not receive job offers at similar rates, because Black job seekers’ networks are less well-positioned. Hiring managers should pay attention to who they are hiring based on referrals, and assess whether these networks are unfairly disadvantaging certain demographic groups.
- Diverse teams can facilitate further hiring from diverse groups — If Blacks and other marginalized groups were better represented in organizations, and particularly in positions of power rather than in insecure or low-paying jobs, they would likely use their social networks to facilitate more diverse hiring. Ensuring the retaining and promoting of employees from diverse groups is an important step to facilitate more diverse hires in general.
Research brief prepared by: CARMINA RAVANERA
Race and Networks in the Job Search Process
David S. Pedulla, Devah Pager
American Sociological Review