Newsbeat: Job Discrimination

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News March 2016

Employers are more likely to discriminate against highly qualified job applicants who have disabilities than equally qualified candidates who don’t, according to a study by Rutgers University and Syracuse University

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The study was conducted in early 2015 and published last September.

In the first field study of its kind in the United States, researchers sent out more than 6,000 fictitious resumes and cover letters for advertised accounting jobs. The overall result: Employers expressed interest 26% less often in candidates who disclosed disabilities in cover letters.

“Field experimentation like this allows us to capture real-world experience,” says Mason Ameri, one of the researchers and a Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations doctoral candidate. 

Previous research on similar discrimination has centered on surveys of human resources personnel and company leaders and involved hypothetical scenarios, which researchers say may not always prompt honest responses.

The research team carefully crafted robust resumes and matched the experience to job openings on a major job-search website. No employer was applied to twice. There were two candidate profiles — one with six years of experience, the other about a year out of college. Candidates with and without disabilities were equally qualified. A third of the cover letters mentioned no disability, while a third revealed a spinal-cord injury (SCI) and the other third Asperger’s syndrome, both conditions chosen because they would not affect the accounting abilities required.

Overall, less than 5% of applicants mentioning disabilities were contacted by employers, while 6.6% of nondisabled applicants received expressions of interest. The 1.71% gap represents the 26% lower chance of employer interest for applicants with disabilities.

The drop in interest in disabled candidates was just about the same whether SCI or Asperger’s was mentioned. More surprising and troubling to researchers was that the more experienced applicants with disabilities were 34% less likely to get responses than their nondisabled counterparts, who received the most interest.

“People with disabilities are often told to get an education, get the qualifications needed for jobs,” says Lisa Schur, a Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations professor and research team member. “Our findings indicate that that’s not enough. The gap is greater for people with disabilities who have more education, experience and qualifications, which is a sobering finding.”

The study, The Disability Employment Puzzle: A Field Experiment on Employer Hiring Behavior, was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research and received some funding by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research.

Only 34% of working-age people with disabilities were employed in 2013, compared to 74% of those without disabilities, according to studies cited by the researchers. That employment gap hasn’t narrowed since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, though this study found that the law appears to be having a positive effect on medium and large companies that must adhere to it. Discrimination was more prevalent among private companies with fewer than 15 employees.

Up next for the research team is a look at how job applicants with disabilities seeking low-skilled jobs fare with employers. Plus, interviewing employers about what they’re concerned about when they assess applicants with disabilities.


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Newsbeat: Job Discrimination


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