How does hiring managers’ exposure to violent crime events affect employment discrimination? This study sent 368 hypothetical job applications from men to 184 employers in Oakland, California, and tested the effect of race, criminal record, and exposure to violent crime on callback rates. Data show that Black applicants had an 11.6% lower callback rate than white or Hispanic applicants did. Applicants with criminal records (of all races) had an 11.9% lower callback rate than those without one. Employers that had recent exposure to violent crimes in their neighbourhood reduced callback rates for all Black applicants by 10%, regardless of whether they had a criminal record or not. White and Hispanic applicants did not experience this effect, even those with a criminal record. These results suggest that social context – both time and place – have an important impact on employment discrimination, specifically racism against Black applicants.
Research suggests that having a criminal record affects callback rates for job applicants, particularly if the applicant is Black. However, the time and place in which employment discrimination happens is rarely examined. This research investigates how the social context of employers impacts callback rates for job applicants who are often subject to discrimination. Specifically, the author argues managers’ exposure to violent crime events amplifies negative stereotypes.
The study used an original field experiment and archival data. From August 2014 to December 2014, the author sent 368 hypothetical resumes to 184 real job postings and measured employer callbacks. Jobs were all in the food, beverage and hospitality industry in Oakland, California, and were found through Craigslist. Two applications were sent per posting. The author randomly assigned two dimensions to job applications: first, the perceived race of the job applicant was adjusted through the applicant’s name, and second, the applicant indicated whether he had a criminal record. Otherwise, resumes showed virtually identical employment-relevant characteristics, such as work experience, education, and gender (applicants were characterized as men).
The author also varied employers’ recent exposure to violent crime (such as assault and robbery) through the use of archival data of over 5000 crime events in Oakland. Data analysis counted an employer as recently exposed to a violent crime if the employer was located within 450m of a violent crime event that occurred up to 70 days before the job applicant’s resume submission. Some employers had higher counts of exposure compared to others, allowing for comparison.
The findings show that in general, employers’ callback rates for Black job applicants was 11.6% lower than for white or Hispanic applicants. Further, having a criminal record reduced callback rates by 11.9% for job applicants, regardless of race.
When employers were exposed to a greater than average level of violent crime, the callback rate was reduced by 10% for Black applicants, irrespective of whether they had a criminal record. In comparison, employers’ high exposure to crime did not significantly affect white or Hispanic job applicants’ callback rates, even for those with a criminal record.
Specifically, after high exposure to violent crime:
- Employers’ callback rates for Black job applicants were 10.4% for someone with a criminal record and 11.4% for those without.
- In contrast, for white applicants without a criminal record, the callback rate was 48.1%. For white applicants with a criminal record, the callback rate was 26.0%, more than twice that of Black applicants without a criminal record.
For white applicants with a criminal record, the callback rate was still 26.0%, more than twice that of Black applicants without a criminal record.
This suggests that employers in neighbourhoods with more violence preferred white applicants. Further, it suggests racist stereotypes linking Blackness and criminality are closely connected: Black job seekers in this study were disadvantaged because of their race by the events that occurred in proximity to employers. Note, however, that this effect did not hold for crime occurring over a longer time horizon (e.g., one year prior) and at further distances (e.g., a kilometer or more away).
Hiring managers must actively recognize how current and local events may activate discriminatory practices—This study shows that indirect exposure to violent crime may cause hiring managers to enact racism against Black applicants. To achieve equity and inclusion, hiring managers should understand how current and/or local events can activate their own discriminatory behaviours and actively work to counteract these effects.
Employment discrimination does not happen in a bubble, but is influenced by social contexts—While research has shown that Black job seekers consistently face employment discrimination, this study suggests that the manifestation of racial discrimination in hiring is affected by time and location. To eliminate racism, then, it is vital to address not only workplace practices, but also public policy, media, and other areas that perpetuate racial stereotyping.
Research brief prepared by: CARMINA RAVANERA