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Race and Social Networks in the Job Search Process

December 19, 2019

RSF grantees David S. Pedulla (Stanford University) and the late Devah Pager (Harvard University) co-authored an article, “Race and Networks in the Job Search Process,” that was published in a recent issue of the American Sociological ReviewTheir research investigates the disparities African Americans face in terms of barriers to entering the labor market, focusing on the ways that social networks impact inequalities in accessing employment opportunities. Their research theories and data are designed to interrogate the factors that lead to racial labor market stratification.

Citing statistics that estimate approximately half of all jobs are found through informal search processes, including family, friends, and acquaintances who provide job leads, Pedulla and Pager discuss how employers, referrers, and job seekers are integral to the job search process, with a specific focus on the experiences of job seekers. The authors demonstrate that while African Americans have similar access to information about job openings through network-based channels, they experience fewer benefits, or “network returns” to job searches based in informal networks. 

Pedulla and Pager describe the effects of “network placement,” which refers to the importance of having strategically placed network ties, for example, those with hiring authority. Their results show that black job seekers are less likely to have contacts at the companies they apply to. They also reference the role of “network mobilization” and suggest that black job seekers’ network connections are less likely to mobilize on their behalf through referring them for positions or otherwise facilitating connections between black job seekers and openings. Due to these differing relationships to network placement and network mobilization, black job seekers are decidedly less likely than white job seekers to receive offers when applying for jobs heard about through their networks. The authors also identify areas for further research, including how the race, gender, and social status of those making job referrals may shape the effectiveness of job seekers’ searches. 

Pedulla and Pager’s research offers important insights into how racial inequalities and disadvantages persist in the labor market. 

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