The Discriminatory Power of a Photograph in the Job Market: A Field Experiment

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Doris WEICHSELBAUMER, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria
Julia SCHUSTER, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria
Internationally, it is unusual or even illegal to attach photographs to job applications. In the German-speaking world, however, it is a common and expected practice across all sectors of the labor market to send a portrait photo when applying for a job. This provides employers and human resource developers who hold racial stereotypes with an opportunity to discriminate not only based on foreign names but also based on skin color and other visual clues of ethnicity. Our paper investigates whether such discrimination occurs and if so, to what extent. We present first results of a correspondence testing experiment in which applications of a number of fictional characters were sent in response to job advertisements in Austria. The applicants had comparable resumes and qualifications but differed in their names (native, Nigerian, Chinese) and in their enclosed portraits that depicted Caucasian, African and Asian models. For comparison, we also sent applications without photos. Attaching a photograph should increase the success rate of applicants because they provide the full set of application material expected by employers. However, photos also make the ethnic background of an applicant more visible than a foreign name and therefore can increase the level of discrimination. Based on regression analyses, we find that attaching a photograph leads to different effects depending on the ethnicity depicted. Thus, visual clues enhance discriminatory tendencies in this early stage of the application process for some groups – before decision-makers have met applicants in person for a job interview. Our results, therefore, provide important insights for those who argue for policies that prohibit the attachment of photos to job application documents.