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Foreign Accents in the Early Hiring Process: A Field Experiment on Accent-Related Ethnic Discrimination in Germany

Referierte Aufsätze Web of Science

Miriam Schmaus, Cornelia Kristen

In: International Migration Review 56 (2022), 2, S. 562-593


Based on a field experiment conducted in Germany between October 2014 and October 2015, this article focuses on the disadvantages associated with the presence of a foreign accent in the early hiring process, when applicants call in response to a job advertisement to ask whether the position is still available. We examine whether a foreign accent influences employers’ behaviors via productivity considerations and/or whether foreign-accented speech is related to statistical discrimination or tastes among employers or customers that translate into differential treatment. To address these processes, we supplement our field-experimental data with information on job and firm characteristics from the texts of vacancy announcements and advertising companies’ homepages, on labor supply from the Federal Employment Agency, and on anti-immigrant attitudes from the German General Social Survey. Results suggest that while calling with a Turkish name did not result in a lower rate of positive replies, this rate was reduced for candidates who called with a Turkish accent. Turkish-accented applicants were told more often than the advertised position was already filled. Our findings suggest that the difference in response rates was not due to productivity considerations related to how well individuals understood foreign-accented speakers. Instead, results support the notion that the observed disadvantages were linked to discrimination based on employers’ ethnic tastes. While we found no indications pointing to the relevance of customer tastes or statistical discrimination, we cannot rule out these processes altogether. Our findings demonstrate that language cues can be more relevant than applicants’ names in shaping employers’ initial responses. They, thereby, highlight the need to consider multiple ethnic cues and different stages of the hiring process.

Cornelia Kristen

Senior Research Fellow in the German Socio-Economic Panel study Department

Keywords: foreign accent, discrimination, field experiment