Written for smalltalkeconomics.com.
Unfortunately, we have not yet arrived to a time when people of all colors have the same opportunities. Numerous studies have shown that in the US, being an African American is strongly correlated with earning less money for the same work, having worse access to education, being more likely to be unemployed and so on. Nonetheless, there are areas in which one would not expect racism – like responding to CV submissions not including pictures of the person. However, as shown by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan in their field experiment, even your name can affect your chances.
The authors started by choosing typically white and typically African American sounding names, such as Emily Walsh and Jamal Jones, and sent out resumes randomly in response to help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston. In total, they responded to over 1 300 job offers, sending out more than 5 000 resumes. They randomly assigned previous work experience to these fake resumes and responded to a variety of jobs to get a sample as good as random.
The authors find large differences in callback rates. While applicants with a white-sounding name need to apply for, on average, 10 positions to receive a callback, it is 15 for applicants with an African American-sounding name. Moreover, the researchers also recorded and analyzed the applicants’ addresses and the perceived quality of the resume (in terms of previous work experience relevant to the job, education etc.). The results suggest that living in a wealthier neighborhood helps significantly, and a high quality resume helps more when you have a white-sounding name.
Reference: Bertrand, M., & Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A field experiment on labor market discrimination. The American Economic Review, 94(4), 991-1013. Available here. A freely accessible working paper version is available here.