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Adversity and Exclusion

In a new experiment, Berkeley researchers found that racial “contact gaps” were highly concentrated in just a few companies.

May 31, 2024
by Katherine Blesie
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A new study from Berkeley researchers shows that the Brads and the Kristens of the world are still getting a leg up over the Lamars and Latonyas when it comes to job callbacks—although the difference is not as great as it once was.

In a continuation of the landmark University of Chicago study that, two decades ago, showed that fictitious applicants with white-sounding names got 50 percent more callbacks from help wanted ads than those with Black-sounding names, a team of Berkeley and University of Chicago researchers filed 83,000 fake job applications for entry-level positions at more than 100 Fortune 500 companies using “racially distinctive” names. Names were derived from the 2004 study and a database of speeding tickets from North Carolina. “Racially distinctive” names were defined as those where 90 percent of the people with that name had the same race.

The researchers found that employers called applicants with “white names” back roughly 9 percent more than Black ones. These so-called “contact gaps” were highly concentrated in a few companies, with organizations in the top quintile of racial discrimination accounting for almost half of lost contacts to
Black applicants. Auto dealers behaved worst, while federal contractors and more profitable companies showed significantly smaller gaps.

The researchers also released a report card assigning grades to the level of discrimination shown by each company in the experiment. Napa Auto Parts and AutoNation performed worst, calling Black applicants back around 24 percent less than they did white applicants.

“Putting the names out there in the public domain is to move away from a lot of the performative allyship that you see with these companies saying, ‘Oh, we value inclusivity and diversity,’” Pat Kline, a Berkeley economics professor who worked on the study, said in an interview with NPR.

The researchers also assessed whether male applicants were more likely to hear back than female applicants. While most firms showed negligible gender preference, significant preferences did crop up in some industries. Manufacturing, for example, exhibited a strong preference for male names, while apparel stores favored female names.

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