A dark-skinned hand writing a job application
Photo: Aleksandr Davydov/Mostphotos

Researcher Anni Erlandsson, recently appointed doctor of sociology at Stockholm University, has together with colleagues investigated how successful men and women with foreign and Swedish-sounding names are in the first step of the recruitment process.

The study includes, over 5,000 fictitious job applications with identical qualifications for jobs in the same occupation. The names of the applicants were varied to signal different gender and ethnic background. The researchers also documented information on the gender of the recruiter, or contact person stated in the job advertisement.

The results show that ethnic discrimination of jobseekers with foreign-sounding names occurs among both male and female recruiters.

Researhcer Anni Erlandsson in a room at Stockholm University
Researcher Anni Erlandsson, PhD in sociology.
Photo: Daniel Rossetti / Stockholm university

“What I saw is that female recruiters favor female applicants with foreign-sounding names over male applicants with foreign names, and this occurs especially in professions that require higher education. Male recruiters seem to discriminate in the same way but in applications to male-dominated professions”, said Anni Erlandsson.

There is already some research evidence showing that men are at a greater risk than women of being discriminated against on the labour market due to a foreign background. This is also found in the current study, which is also one of the first major studies in Sweden on how the gender of the recruiter is linked to discrimination.

“The results indicate that recruiter's gender can be a contributing factor to this pattern, at least in certain occupational categories”, said Anni Erlandsson.


Gender norms and occupational context

That it is primarily in certain categories, male-dominated and highly qualified professions, that male and female recruiters respectively discriminate against applicants on the basis of gender in combination with ethnicity, may have different explanations, according to Anni Erlandsson.

“It may have to do with the conditions related to specific occupations, the occupational context probably plays a role here. For example, what are the gender norms regarding a certain profession, or what the gender composition, including the share of female and male recruiters, looks like in the occupation and in the specific workplace. The supply and demand of labour in the occupation can also be important. If you receive many qualified job applications, you have more roomto discriminate, said Anni Erlandsson.

Anni Erlandsson emphasizes that her study has not tried to explain why discrimination exist. The results indicate that ethnic discrimination in recruitment is a contributing factor to ethnic inequality in the Swedish labour market, both for women with foreign names and especially for men with foreign names.

“Further research would need to investigate the mechanisms behind discrimination and also study specific occupations, and what makes the discrimination different within the different categories.”


How the study was carried out

The researchers sent 5,641 fictitious job applications to advertised jobs in 20 different occupations in the Swedish labour market, between the years 2014 and 2020. One application for each job was sent, and the employers' responses to these were documented. The names of the applicants were used to signal gender and ethnicity (foreign background). The different names were randomly assigned to the applications. The qualifications, such as education and work experience, were identical for the same occupation. Information about the recruiter's or contact person's gender was documented based on the employer's response to the fictitious job applications, and from the job advertisements.


Read more about the research

Erlandsson , A. (2022). Gender, Parenthood, Ethnicity and Discrimination in the Labour Market: Experimental Studies on Discrimination in Recruitment in Sweden (PhD dissertation, Department of Sociology, Stockholm University).