Study Suggest Very Little Change in Hiring Discrimination
Contrary to widespread assumptions about the declining significance of race, the magnitude and consistency of discrimination we observe over time is a sobering counterpoint. We note that our results do not address the possibility that hiring discrimination may have substantially dropped in the 1960s or early 1970s, during the civil rights era when many forms of direct discrimination were outlawed, as some evidence suggests. Further, we note that our results pertain only to discrimination at the point of hire, not at later points in the employment relationship such as in wage setting or termination decisions. Social psychological theories would predict hiring to be most vulnerable to the influence of racial bias, given that objective information is limited or unreliable Likewise, from an accountability standpoint, discrimination is less easily detected, and therefore less costly to employers, at the point of hire. It may be the case, then, that more meaningful reductions in discrimination have taken place at other points in the employment relationship not measured here. What our results point to, however, is that at the initial point of entry—hiring decisions—African Americans remain substantially disadvantaged relative to equally qualified whites, and we see little indication of progress over time.
These findings lead us to temper our optimism regarding racial progress in the United States. At one time it was assumed that the gradual fade-out of prejudiced beliefs, through cohort replacement and cultural change, would drive a steady reduction in discriminatory treatment. At least in the case of hiring discrimination against African Americans, this expectation does not appear borne out.
We find some evidence of a decline in discrimination against Latinos since 1989. The small number of audit studies including Latinos limits our ability to include controls and the precision of our estimates—the decline is marginally significant statistically (P = 0.099). More evidence is needed to establish the trend in hiring discrimination against Latinos with greater certainty.
Our results point toward the need for strong enforcement of antidiscrimination legislation and provide a rationale for continuing compensatory policies like affirmative action to improve equality of opportunity. Discrimination continues, and we find little evidence in regards to African Americans that it is disappearing or even gradually diminishing. Instead, we find the persistence of discrimination at a distressingly uniform rate.