Race, Gender, and the Supply-Side Dynamics of Labor Market Placement

Awarded Scholars:
Devah Pager, University of Wisconsin, Madison
David S. Pedulla, University of Texas at Austin
Project Date:
Sep 2013
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work

The majority of recent social science research on labor market placement of disadvantaged groups in the population has focused on the demand side of the labor market, investigating the degree to which employer preferences shape the distribution of opportunities available to minority and female workers. Evidence from audit studies and other experiments, for example, suggests that racial discrimination continues to present a significant barrier to employment and a potentially important cause of persistent racial inequality in the labor market. But we know less about how job seekers respond to this reality. Do minority and female job seekers search for jobs in ways that disadvantage them in the labor market? Do they self-select into particular segments of the labor market in ways that allow them to avoid discrimination? What role do personal networks play in shaping the number and kinds of jobs to which minority and female job seekers apply?

Sociologist Devah Pager proposes to conduct a program of research involving original data collection and a nationally representative sample, to examine whether differences in approaches to the job search process among racial or gender groups influences the possibility of finding employment and the wage offers received. In a pilot 12-week panel study of Unemployment Insurance (UI) recipients in New Jersey, Pager found little evidence that black unemployed workers target or avoid particular job sectors. In fact, she found that blacks cast a wider net in the job search than their white counterparts. Although this broader search increased the likelihood of a job offer, it appeared to be costly in terms of wages and career trajectories, since lower quality, low-wage jobs were accepted.

Building on the New Jersey pilot project, Pager is fielding an online six-month panel survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,060 job-seekers (both employed and unemployed) between the ages of 18 and 65. Job-seekers are interviewed monthly and asked about their job search experience over the four weeks prior to the survey. The survey tracks job search intensity, strategy, and outcomes. It gathers detailed information on the respondents, as well as the jobs they apply for and the jobs they eventually accept, including employer name and job title. This information can then be linked to firm size, industry sector, and distance from home. In addition, the survey collects data on perceived discrimination and personal experiences of discrimination in the labor market. The longitudinal design of the survey allows the investigator to observe how search strategies shift with changes in employment status as well as other life events, like health problems, home foreclosure and/or changes in marital status. The survey is administered by Knowledge Networks (KN). With RSF's support, Pager will conduct a follow-up survey, to take place one year after the original baseline survey. This follow-up would enable the investigator to assess employment outcomes for those still unemployed at the time of the final survey and to assess job stability and satisfaction for those who do find work during the first six survey waves.

The first stage of the analysis would be descriptive, to map out and better understand how the number and kinds of jobs that job-seekers apply for are correlated with race, gender, and social networks. The second stage of the analysis would use standard multivariate methods to examine the consequences of the job search strategies employed by job-seekers in the sample.


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