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Hiring Discrimination Is Greater in France and Sweden Than in the U.S.

But even in "low-discrimination countries," white applicants still fare better in job interviews, according to new research.
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"In high-discrimination countries, white natives receive nearly twice the callbacks of nonwhites; in low-discrimination countries, white natives receive about 25 percent more," researchers write.

Applying for a job is always a fraught process, and that can be especially true for ethnic minorities. Men and women of color often suspect—with good reason—that they're not taken as seriously as the white people they are competing against. It's enough to make a person fantasize about packing up and moving to somewhere less racist. Maybe Europe?

If that's your inclination, new research will inspire you to think twice. A new study finds that hiring discrimination in several major European nations is considerably greater than in the United States.

A research team led by Northwestern University sociologist Lincoln Quillian compared conditions in nine countries—Canada, the U.S., and seven European nations—and found that racism infested hiring processes in all of them.

"However, discrimination rates vary strongly by country," the researchers write in the journal Sociological Science. "In high-discrimination countries, white natives receive nearly twice the callbacks of nonwhites; in low-discrimination countries, white natives receive about 25 percent more."

The most discriminatory countries, per this research? France and Sweden.

Quillian and his colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 97 field experiments featuring more than 200,000 job applicants in the nine countries. They compared the percentage of callbacks received by minority job applicants against those received by members of the national majority group.

"In every country we consider, non-white applicants suffer significant disadvantages in receiving callbacks for interviews compared with white natives with similar job-relevant characteristics," the researchers report. "The difference is driven by race, not immigration status. The difference between white immigrants and white natives is often small and statistically insignificant."

They found that levels of discrimination did not vary widely between different minority groups, but some countries were considerably more egalitarian than others. "On average, whites receive 65 to 100 percent more callbacks in France and Sweden than non-white minorities," they report. "In Germany, the United States, and Norway, they receive 20 to 40 percent more."

The reasons for these differences are unclear. Frequently cited causes like the legacies of slavery or colonialism don't fully explain the higher levels of discrimination in a country like Sweden. Historical factors aside, the researchers argue that some of these differences are the result of current-day norms and policies.

In the U.S., the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission keeps track of the race and ethnicity of employees at larger firms. Knowing that their actions may be questioned could make American personnel offices more keen to interview applicants from a variety of backgrounds.

The researchers also cite the distinctive hiring process used in Germany, which had the lowest discrimination rates of the nine countries studied.

"Employers typically submit far more extensive background information at initial application than most other countries, including, for example, high school transcripts," they write. "This may reduce the tendency of employers to assume lower skills and qualifications among non-white applicants, which is one potential source of discrimination."

At the other end of the spectrum is France, which forbids employers to ask about an applicant's race. "The efforts in France not to measure or formally discuss race or ethnicity do not seem to have led to less discrimination," the researchers write.

This study was narrowly focused; racism takes many forms, and hiring statistics aren't the sole indication of the degree of prejudice that pervades a given country. But fair hiring processes are essential to a fair society, and these results suggest that avoiding the issue just makes things worse.