The Effects of Race on Perceptions of Criminality and Employment

Awarded Scholars:
Robynn Cox, Spelman College
Jennifer Doleac, University of Virginia
Benjamin Hansen, University of Oregon
Sarah Jacobson, Williams College
Project Date:
Jul 2015
Award Amount:
Project Programs:
Future of Work

The overrepresentation of minorities within the criminal justice system and the negative effects of criminal justice involvement on employment outcomes have been well documented. In addition, many social psychology experiments and audit studies have found that race affects the perception of criminality. For instance, black and Hispanic male job applicants without a criminal record are no more likely (and may be less likely) to receive a callback from an employer than white applicants with a criminal record. These findings imply that the perception of criminality varies by race.

Economists Robynn Cox, Jennifer Doleac, Benjamin Hansen, and Sarah Jacobson will conduct lab experiments to understand how race affects the perception of a person’s criminality, and how that perception relates to the willingness to trust that person as an employee. The investigators will also conduct an observational study to estimate the real-world magnitude of the effects of such biases, if they exist. Central to both elements will be an examination of whether “ban the box” laws have negative spillover effects on minorities without criminal records. The team will address these questions: (1) Does discrimination by race or gender exist in crime-type settings and/or employment-type settings? (2) What is the net effect of “ban the box” policies on employment outcomes, and (3) does this depend on felony conviction status, race, age or gender?


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