Identifying Discrimination at Work: The Use of Field Experiments

J Soc Issues. 2012 Jun;68(2):221-237. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.2012.01746.x.


Antidiscrimination law offers protection to workers who have been treated unfairly on the basis of their race, gender, religion, or national origin. In order for these protections to be invoked, however, potential plaintiffs must be aware of and able to document discriminatory treatment. Given the subtlety of contemporary forms of discrimination, it is often difficult to identify discrimination when it has taken place. The methodology of field experiments offers one approach to measuring and detecting hiring discrimination, providing direct observation of discrimination in real-world settings. In this article, we discuss the findings of two recent field experiments measuring racial discrimination in low wage labor markets. This research provides several relevant findings for researchers and those interested in civil rights enforcement: (1) it produces estimates of the rate of discrimination at the point of hire; (2) it yields evidence about the interactions associated with discrimination (many of which reveal the subtlety with which contemporary discrimination is practiced); and (3) it provides a vehicle for both research on and enforcement of antidiscrimination law.