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CSDE Seminar Series

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Intermittent Labor Force Participation: a Source of Bias?: An Experimental Approach Examining Mechanisms and Types of Discrimination

Kate Weisshaar, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

12:30-1:30 PM PT

Employment interruption is a common experience in today’s labor market, most frequently due to unemployment from job loss and temporary lapses to care for family or children. Audit studies have documented that both unemployed job applicants and parents who “opted out” of work face disadvantages in re-gaining a job, relative to applicants with continuous employment histories. This paper examines mechanisms producing hiring penalties for applicants with intermittent employment. I use an original conjoint survey experiment to causally assess perceptions of job applicants with lapses in employment, comparing unemployed applicants to opt out applicants, who left work to care for family. I test multiple mechanisms by experimentally manipulating attributes of the applicants, including job performance, short- and long-term commitment, and interpersonal traits. I find that past job performance explains disadvantages faced by the unemployed, but opt out applicants remain disadvantaged even when respondents are provided additional positive information about performance, family intentions, and commitment outside of work. I argue that these findings suggest that opt out applicants face discrimination based on cognitive biases – rather than statistical discrimination, which is based on informational biases. This research highlights the significance of ideal worker norms leading to employer decisions, and suggests that the organization of work and family contributes to cognitive biases against caretakers. I then extrapolate from this example to propose that this type of experimental framework could be used to test types of discrimination for other groups as well.

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