Employers Discriminate against Job Applicants with Black-Sounding Names, Study Indicates

By Tom Porter

In a study published earlier this year, Assistant Professor of Economics Martin Abel found employers are less likely to call back job applicants with Black-sounding names when presented with identical resumes.

Martin Abel - economist
Martin Abel

The research paper was coauthored by Abel and fellow economist Rulof Burger and was based on a hiring experiment. 

“Using nationally representative data,” write the two scholars, “we find widespread beliefs that people with names perceived to be Black possess lower levels of education, productivity, and noncognitive skills.” Specifically, they concluded that participants were some 30 percent more likely to hire workers perceived to be white compared to Black.

“We found that participants systematically discriminated against job candidates with names they associated with Black people, especially when put under time pressure," wrote Abel in a piece published in The Conversation in September. "We also found that white people who oppose affirmative action discriminated more than other people against job candidates with distinctly Black names, whether or not they had to make rushed decisions,” he continued.

To conduct the study, Abel explained, they recruited a group of 1500 people from across the US. “The group,” he added, “was nationally representative in terms of race and ethnicity, age, and gender.” The experiment involved collecting data about attitudes within that group toward the “race and ethnicity, education, productivity, and personality traits” of names selected from a pool of workers previously hired for a particular task.

Furthermore, after being presented with pairs of names, participants were also offered incentives for selecting the worker they thought would be more productive in a particular task. “The chance that they would choose job candidates they perceived to be white because of their names was almost twice as high than if they thought the candidates to be Black,” wrote Abel. “This tendency to discriminate against people with Black-sounding names was greatest among men, people over 55, whites, and conservatives.”

The first step toward reducing this type of discrimination, he suggested, might be to slow down the initial assessment of applicants as part of the hiring process.

Abel’s Conversation article was republished in a number of media outlets, including Fortune, Boston Business Journal, and The Good Men Project. The study was also recently covered by The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.