Discrimination in a low-wage labor market: A field experiment

Devah Pager, Bruce Western, Bart Bonikowski

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Decades of racial progress have led some researchers and policymakers to doubt that discrimination remains an important cause of economic inequality. To study contemporary discrimination, we conducted a field experiment in the low-wage labor market of New York City, recruiting white, black, and Latino job applicants who were matched on demographic characteristics and interpersonal skills. These applicants were given equivalent résumés and sent to apply in tandem for hundreds of entry-level jobs. Our results show that black applicants were half as likely as equally qualified whites to receive a callback or job offer. In fact, black and Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison. Additional qualitative evidence from our applicants' experiences further illustrates the multiple points at which employment trajectories can be deflected by various forms of racial bias. These results point to the subtle yet systematic forms of discrimination that continue to shape employment opportunities for low-wage workers.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)777-799
    Number of pages23
    JournalAmerican sociological review
    Issue number5
    StatePublished - 2009

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science


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