Study: Hiring discrimination against African-Americans has not changed since 1989

When you send out a job application, getting a callback may, unfortunately, depend more on who you are than what you can do. Racism in hiring continues to persist, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds. The new meta-analysis of all available field experiments related to racial hiring discrimination found a sobering fact across decades: that hiring discrimination has not declined against African Americans in 25 years.

“Since 1989, whites receive on average 36% more callbacks than African Americans, and 24% more callbacks than Latinos,” the researchers from Northwestern University, Harvard, and the Institute for Social Research in Norway concluded. “We observe no change in the level of hiring discrimination against African Americans over the past 25 years, although we find modest evidence of a decline in discrimination against Latinos.”

How hiring bias continues to persist

To test bias, the researchers analyzed experiments that used résumé and in-person audits. In résumé audits, researchers send out fake applications with equivalent qualifications and different ethnically identifiable names. For in-person audits, researchers recruit people of different races to apply for jobs and measure bias based on which applicants get callbacks.

Even controlling for factors like geography, gender, education levels, and unemployment rates where the experiments took place, the researchers still found that progress in fighting hiring bias has been stalled since 1989 for African-Americans. For Latinos, the news does not get much better. The researchers found a “possible decline in discrimination” for Latinos but also noted that the trend is not statistically conclusive.

Names have long been known to be the difference in whether or not you will get a response in your career. Gatekeepers can make decisions on whether you merit networking advice based on the name you put down in an email. One study found that professors were more likely to answer unsolicited requests for advice from fictional “Brad Andersons” than any other race.

How you sound like can also be a deciding factor. Linguistics professor John Baugh got people with different ethnic dialects to answer a job advertisement in English, and found that those who “sounded white” were most likely to be told the job was still available.

Hiring discrimination is an insidious practice because its victims may never realize what exactly caused the hiring manager’s silence. Why did this person never answer me back? The job process is not structured to provide this feedback. The meta-analysis into racial hiring discrimination is an illuminating look into how bias excludes qualified candidates before they even have a chance to make their case.

To end hiring bias, the researchers recommend stronger oversight into how hiring decisions get made. “Our results provide a strong rationale for affirmative action policies,” the researchers told Harvard Business Review. “Whether conscious or not, bias continues to affect decision making, and we find little evidence that this pattern will diminish on its own.”