CHICAGO – New research on hiring bias found résumés bearing names traditionally held by blacks and Hispanics are just as likely to lead to callbacks and job interviews as those bearing white-sounding names.
The findings, announced by the University of Missouri, diverge from the results of a famous study from more than a decade ago that found Lakishas and Jamals were far less likely to get job interviews than Emilys and Gregs.
But study co-author Cory Koedel, an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Missouri, cautions that it would "be crazy" to interpret the results to suggest hiring discrimination is a problem of the past.
"People should not overreact to this study, but I think it is a data point to be considered when thinking about discrimination in the labor market today," Koedel said.
The study is the first to apply the résumé test to Hispanic applicants, Koedel said, but most of the attention is on the black-white test.
The new study, in the journal Applied Economics Letters, has important differences from the research published in 2004 by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan. Namely, they used different names.
In the original study, Bertrand and Mullainathan sent nearly 5,000 résumés to 1,300 job ads they found in newspapers in Boston and Chicago from fictional applicants with "very white-sounding names" like Emily Walsh and Greg Baker and "very African-American sounding names" like Lakisha Washington and Jamal Jones. The names were randomly assigned to higher-quality and lower-quality résumés and submitted for administrative support, clerical, customer service and sales openings. The white names got 50 percent more callbacks than the black names, regardless of the industry.
One of the criticisms of that study was that Lakisha and Jamal can denote socioeconomic status, and that employers may have made assumptions about education and income rather than race.
Hoping to capture the effect of race alone, Koedel and his co-author, Rajeev Darolia, conducted their experiment using surnames that the U.S. Census shows overwhelmingly belong to whites, blacks and Hispanics, while using first names to signify gender.
In the new experiment, the researchers sent nearly 9,000 résumés to online job postings in seven cities for positions in sales, administrative assistance, customer service, information technology, medical assistance and medical office/billing. The résumés from the fictional black applicants bore the last names Washington and Jefferson, those from white candidates bore Anderson and Thompson, and those from Hispanic candidates bore Hernandez and Garcia.
On average, 11.4 percent of résumés received a response from an employer, and there were no statistically significant differences across race, ethnic or gender groups.
The study, which only measured the very first step in the hiring process, could suggest that racial discrimination is less prevalent than it was a dozen years ago, the researchers say in a policy paper. But it also could indicate that last names are a weak signal of race.
Though 90 percent of people with the last name Washington are black and 75 percent of those named Jefferson are black, "there is the fair criticism that maybe no one knows that," Koedel said. The first names likely didn't help strengthen the connection. Megan and Brian were used for the white candidates, and Chloe and Ryan for the black candidates.