Openly gay men need not apply

by on October 24, 2011  •  In Employment law, Social science

The American Journal of Sociology has published a new study that provides direct evidence of patterns of employment discrimination against openly gay men. Most prior studies of job discrimination have utilized either wage studies or surveys in which lgbt persons self-report incidents of discrimination. For this study, the author, András Tilcsik, a graduate student at Harvard, sent matched fictitious resumes, with one containing a signal that the applicant was gay, in response to more than 1,700 posted job openings.

The study found that gay applicants were 40 percent less likely to be granted an interview than their heterosexual counterparts. The differential was comparable to that between white and black applicants in a similar study conducted in Boston and Chicago.

Tilcsik also found dramatic geographic differences: the gap was twice the overall average in Texas and Ohio, while there was no statistically significant difference in California, Nevada, New York and Pennsylvania. The study included a concrete example of the impact of the findings: an openly gay job applicant would have a 3.7% likelihood of a callback in Texas, but a 10.2% chance of getting an interview for the same kind of job in California.

In essence, then, this study suggests that at least this form of anti-gay discrimination, in these types of jobs, may be sharply regional, a U-shaped rather than a bell curve.

The research also found that employers seeking stereotypically heterosexual male traits were more likely to discriminate gay men. Gay applicants had lower callback rates when the employer described the ideal candidate for the job as "assertive," "aggressive," or "decisive.

For the study, Tilcsik sent two fictitious but realistic resumes to more than 1,700 entry-level, white collar job openings — positions such as managers, business and financial analysts, sales representatives, customer service representatives, and administrative assistants. One resume for each opening stated that the applicant had been the treasurer of a gay organization in college, managing the organization's financial operations." The second resume Tilcsik sent listed experience in the "Progressive and Socialist Alliance" instead of the gay organization, in order to control for anti-progressive bias in general. 

This analysis is an enormous contribution to the literature on job discrimination, and I would bet that Tilcsik will be asked to testify in future legislative hearings and court cases.  


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