Job applicants with ethnic minority sounding names are less likely to be called for interview

26 October 2015
What was claimed

People with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic sounding names.

Our verdict

In a 2009 experimental study, 10.7% of applicants with a white sounding name received a positive response, compared with 6.2% of applicants with an ethnic minority sounding name - making them 74% more likely to get a positive response.

Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names?

David Cameron, 7 October 2015

Job applications in British cities from people with white sounding names were 74% more likely to receive a positive response than applications from people with an ethnic minority name. That's according to 2009 research from NatCen Social Research, commissioned by the government.

The findings relate specifically to job applications so don't tell us about interviews or about discrimination in the workplace once someone has a job.

We've asked the Prime Minister's Office to confirm if this is the research behind his claim and we're waiting for it to get back to us.

Discrimination much more likely in CV-based applications

Of 987 applications with a white name, 10.7% received a positive response compared to 6.2% of the 1,974 applications with an ethnic minority name—making applications from white sounding names 74% more likely to have some success. At a stretch that can be read as being "nearly twice" as likely to get a positive response.

Three applications were sent to each job vacancy among nearly 1,000 vacancies. Ethnic identity was randomly assigned to each of the three applications using names widely associated with ethnic groups—one out of three was given a white name and the other two were given names from different minority ethnic groups. Each of the three applications were "closely matched" in terms of their education, skills and work history.

A positive response counted as either being called back to an interview, or some other form of positive response such as being asked for information on the amount of money you'd expect to be paid.

There was no significant difference in discrimination between ethnic minority groups or between areas.

The level of net discrimination—the proportion of ethnic minority applications receiving a positive response from employers subtracted from the proportion of white applications receiving a positive response—in favour of white names over equivalent applications from ethnic minority candidates was 29%.

Applications made using the employer's own form showed virtually no net discrimination (1%), compared to 38% where a CV had been sent. The study said this may be due to employer forms having a detachable section with personal details, which could be removed before the sifting process.

Lower levels of discrimination in the public sector could be due to greater use of employer forms, the study said.

The recession may have influenced the level of discrimination

The likelihood of getting positive responses to the applications may have been affected by the timing of the study, which took place during the recession.

The study says that one or more of the three applications to a particular vacancy received a positive response in 16% of the jobs applied for. This may have influenced the level of discrimination, "with some employers able to pick and choose applicants to a greater degree", the report said.

Applications were also less successful in some occupations, which the report said could be due to being less good at mimicking a good application in some sectors.

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