Does your name impact your chances to get a job? Short answer: Yes

What significance does your name have for your chances of getting a job? We ask Moa Bursell, a sociologist and research leader at the Institute for Futures Studies, who has researched discrimination in the job market for more than 15 years.

How do you study discrimination in the job market?

– We send out applications from fictional individuals to measure discrimination in the employer's response. These are real jobs that need to be filled, and real employers respond, with the only difference being the name. What we measure is the difference in response rates between applications with Swedish names and applications with foreign-sounding names.

What have you generally found?

– What we always find is a consistent discrimination of applications with foreign names. The specific names used don't seem to matter much. I've used Arabic names, African names, and Slavic names, and all these groups face discrimination, but there are not significant differences between these groups. However, we do not find clear gender discrimination, which may be surprising to some. This doesn't mean that there is no harassment or discrimination in career and wage development, just that it doesn't appear at this stage in the hiring process in the professions we are examining.

Why are women with foreign names not discriminated against as much as men?

– There are theories suggesting that stereotypes about women can mitigate stereotypes about other cultures. Most people perceive individuals from other cultures as threatening, and often, the stereotype about other cultures is represented by a male figure since we live in patriarchal societies. But in combination with stereotypes about women as less threatening and less aggressive, the perception of other cultures as threatening is lessened when it comes to women with a foreign background. These are important findings, in my opinion. Sometimes, this is overlooked in discussions about socially subordinate identities, where it is almost always assumed that different forms of subordination are cumulative. Being a woman and having a foreign name would be double burdens, but we don't see that in our studies.

In your latest study, you've looked at so-called ethnic niches. What are they?

– An ethnic niche is a profession in the job market that is ethnically segregated, meaning it has a disproportionately high percentage of native-born or foreign-born individuals compared to the general population. There can be various explanations for why these niches arise. Some argue that it has nothing to do with discrimination but rather with people's choices of different professions. For example, that men and women choose different educations and career paths. Similarly, different ethnic groups might choose different professions. In our latest study, we've looked into this and asked whether employers contribute to segregation and sorting through discrimination. If not, it should be because individuals themselves are seeking different professions.

And what was the answer - do employers contribute to this sorting in the job market?

– The short answer is yes. There is a linear relationship. The lower the percentage of foreign-born individuals in a profession, the higher the discrimination, and in professions with the highest percentage of foreign-born individuals, discrimination is almost non-existent. These differences mean that over time, the pattern of ethnic niches in the job market will be maintained and reinforced.

What could be the reasons for this?

– It's difficult to answer based on these studies alone. However, there are other studies, such as those from Norway, where researchers interviewed employers about various groups of employees. They found that employers in some physically demanding professions were hesitant to hire Norwegians. They could express the belief that Norwegians were spoiled and had high demands. A stereotype had developed about immigrants as hardworking, and Norwegians would not stay in the job because this applies to the most unattractive jobs in the job market with high turnover. These are where we find professions with a high percentage of foreign-born individuals.

How significant is the discrimination of applications with foreign names in the job market overall?

– When I started studying this, the figure was 1.9, which means that individuals with foreign names needed to send approximately twice as many applications to receive a positive response. In the latest study, that figure was 1.6. However, different methods are used in different studies, making comparisons challenging, but I would still say that discrimination has not increased since I began studying this.