Ethnic-sounding names a barrier in the Canadian labour market

So says a new paper by UBC economist Phil Oreopoulos, Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with Six Thousand Resumes.

As a skilled immigrant with a non-Anglo sounding name I find this quite disturbing. As should native-born Canadians who like to think that their country is tolerant and welcoming to all.

The paper examines the issue of labour market discrimination against immigrants and ethnic minorities in Canada using an experimental approach, which offers many advantages to the standard econometric methods. (I got to struggle with the limitations of the traditional approaches while working on my MA project, which examined the evidence of wage discrimination against Canadian-born ethnic minorities with the typical for the field regression analysis and Blinder-Oaxaca decompositions.)

The study was clearly inspired by the work of US economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendil Mullainathan whose 2004 paper “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment in Labour Market Discrimination” found that resumes sent to blue-collar jobs in Boston and Chicago with white-sounding names generated callbacks about 50 percent more often than the same resumes sent with black-sounding names.

Oreopoulos adapted the methodology to fit the Canadian labour market better and extended it to ask several important questions regarding employers’ valuation of foreign education and job experience as well as ethnic-sounding names. Here are the main findings:

1) Interview request rates for English- named applicants with Canadian education and experience were more than three times higher compared to resumes with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani names with foreign education and experience (5 percent versus 16 percent), but were no different compared to foreign applicants from Britain.

2) Employers valued experience acquired in Canada much more than if acquired in a foreign country. Changing foreign resumes to include only experience from Canada raised callback rates to 11 percent.

3) Among resumes listing 4 to 6 years of Canadian experience, whether an applicant’s degree was from Canada or not, or whether the applicant obtained additional Canadian education or not had no impact on the chances for an interview request.

4) Canadian applicants that differed only by name had substantially different callback rates: Those with English- sounding names received interview requests 40 percent more often than applicants with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani names (16 percent versus 11 percent). Overall, the results suggest considerable employer discrimination against applicants with ethnic names or with experience from foreign firms.

The Vancouver Sun reported on the paper’s findings in its Business section today.

One comment

  • I remember reading in the International Herald Tribune almost three years ago that people who lived in France and had a postal code that ended in 93 had a very difficult time getting employment. Employers didn’t want to hire people living in the poor banlieues of Paris.

    Thankfully in Ontario, we don’t have problems with ghetto-dudes trying to get work with the provincial government. That would be unthinkable if this were true. Cough-cough!

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