Dissertation Abstracts

Determining Discrimination: A Multi-Method Study of Employment Discrimination among Descendants of Immigrants in Norway

Author: Midtbøen, Arnfinn H., ahm@socialresearch.no
Department: Department of Sociology and Human Geography
University: University of Oslo, Norway
Supervisor: Professor Grete Brochmann and Professor Lars Mjøset
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Discrimination , Ethnicity , Labour market , Field Experiment
Areas of Research: Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Migration , Organization


This dissertation studies discrimination against descendants of immigrants in the Norwegian labour market by employing a multi-method research design. In the first part of the study, a large-scale field experiment, in which hundreds of fictitious, paired résumés and cover letters were sent in response to real job openings, were used to measure the extent to which children of Pakistani immigrants are discriminated at the entrance to labour market in the greater Oslo area. Because the two fictitious job candidates in each pair were equally qualified in every productivity-relevant aspect, but were randomly assigned a Norwegian or a Pakistani name, the direct effect of ethnic background on job interview offers is isolated. Hence, the experimental approach offers a direct measure of ethnic discrimination in hiring processes.

The field experiment leaves little doubt that descendants of immigrants indeed suffer from discrimination in the access to employment in Norway: For the study in total, the probability of receiving a job interview offer is reduced by 25 per cent for the minority applicant compared to the equally qualified majority applicant. However, there are important differences within these overall results. For example, the discrimination rates are larger in the private sector than in the public sector, and there are significant differences across the occupations included in the study. These variations indicate that there are different processes of exclusion occurring at different locations in the labour market, pointing to the need for context-sensitive interpretations of the results from field experiments.

In the second part of the study, in-depth interviews with forty-two of the employers subjected to research in the experiment explores how, when, and why the ethnic background of job applicants comes to matter in decision-making processes. The interviews suggest the need for multi-level explanations. At the individual level, many employers use fixed images of the ‘immigrant’ when assessing the quality of applicants with foreign names, regardless of whether the applicants are of the first or second generation. Although economic models of statistical discrimination assume that employers use accurate depictions of the average productivity among different groups when considering job applicants, and there in fact are large differences in group-productivity between the generations, the tendency to equate a foreign name with stereotypes attached to the immigrant experience support social-psychological research on stereotypes and biases in recruitment.

However, the interviews also point to the relevance of explanations at the organisational level. The qualitative ‘tracing’ of recruitment processes reveals what seems to be an interaction between the context of employment and the outcome of hiring decisions, indicating that means of bureaucratisation (e.g. formalised recruitment procedures limiting the room for employers’ discretion) may serve as a lever against discrimination in hiring. These results are in line with insights from organisational-level theories of work place inequality, and illustrate the relevance of combining field experiments with qualitative methods to better grasp the factors shaping labour market opportunities in modern societies.

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