Academic Literature

Finland – Immigrant job applicants with equivalent qualifications are treated differently

A large body of research conducted in various countries has highlighted discrimination for its role in depressing immigrants’ effective integration into the labour market (e.g. Carlsson, 2010; Drydakis and Vlassis, 2010; Fibbi et al., 2006; Heath and Cheung, 2007; Kaas and Manger, 2011; McGinnity and Lunn, 2011; Midtbøen, 2015; Weichselbaumer, 2015). Immigrants’ disadvantaged status has been reported not only with regard to career advancement, job prestige and periods of employment and unemployment but also in terms of wage levels and permanent or short-term employment contracts (e.g. Andriessen et al., 2012; Brekke and Mastekaasa, 2008; Uhlendorff and Zimmermann, 2014). Immigrants of non-European backgrounds especially are said to suffer greater employment disparities (Branker, 2017; Pendakur and Pendakur, 2011). The differences in labour-market indicators still persist when factors related to human capital are held constant. However, it is not only first-generation immigrants who confront barriers in the labour market, but also second-generation immigrants with domestic qualifications face greater unemployment risks and low occupational attainment compared with their native counterparts (Birkelund et al., 2017; Rydgren, 2004; Verkuyten and Zaremba, 2005).

While discrimination has been commonly reported as one of the significant factors for dampening immigrants’ employment prospects, theoretical explanations of why there is discrimination vary with respect to different disciplinary approaches. In sociology, these explanations are often derived from conflict theory (Tilly, 1998; Tomaskovic-Devey, 1993), which regards discrimination as an attempt by the dominant group to protect and maintain its privileged access to scarce resources, such as jobs, by excluding members of the subordinate groups. Through strategic and self-interested actions, the members of the dominant group are said to strive to sustain a system of inequality in order to preserve their exclusive privileges (Reskin, 2000). Social psychological explanations for ethnic inequality in employment are generally rooted in social cognitive theory. According to this perspective, people have a tendency to automatically categorise others into in-groups and out-groups (e.g. Fiske et al., 1999). On the one hand, automatic categorisation may help people to process the vast amount of incoming information in a complex world (Fiske, 1998). On the other hand, social categorisation can potentially create biases in our understanding and evaluations of others.

In labour economics, two main theoretical explanations have often been put forward: pure discrimination and statistical discrimination models. The pure discrimination model assumes that certain employers, co-workers, or consumers belonging to the majority group have a ‘taste’ for discrimination and they will pay a premium to avoid members of some group that they dislike in order to cater to their prejudices (Becker, 1957; Kirschenman and Neckerman, 1991). In contrast, the statistical discrimination model claims that it is not prejudice that encourages employers to discriminate against immigrant workers, but, rather, it is imperfect information about these workers’ true productivity that compels them to engage in discriminatory practices. When faced with uncertain situations, employers are claimed to rely on their stereotypes or generalisations and they may use race, skin colour or group membership as a proxy for aspects of productivity that are relatively expensive or impossible to measure (Kirschenman and Neckerman, 1991; Phelps, 1972). The article will test some of the assumptions of these models in the light of the empirical data gathered for this study.

In addition to these conceptual explanations, a more recent theoretical framework, often called aesthetic labour, shifts attention to another form of labour-market discrimination. Stemming from the classic work on emotional labour, it suggests that the hireability of job applicants in interactive service work can also be affected by their physical appearance and attributes, and other corporeal dispositions (see Nickson et al., 2001; Warhurst et al., 2000). Employers prefer to hire workers who look good and sound right and who, in their perception, would more favourably appeal to their clients’ sensibilities (Nickson et al., 2012). These embodied attributes are then further mobilised, developed and commodified by organisations. Some studies suggest that even the accent of immigrant jobseekers can result in disparate outcomes. For example, Timming (2017) reports that while applicants with British-accented English received the most favourable response in telephone-based job interviews, managers actively discriminated against applicants speaking English with a Chinese, Mexican and Indian accent in jobs requiring face-to-face contact with customers.

Using a correspondence field experiment, the study reported in this article has investigated if immigrant job applicants with equivalent qualifications are treated differently in the Finnish labour market. The study consists of 5000 job applications that were sent out to 1000 advertised positions by five applicants of Finnish, English, Iraqi, Russian and Somali backgrounds, who differed only in their names. The findings show that applicants of immigrant origin receive significantly fewer invitations for a job interview than the native candidate, even if they possess identical language proficiency, education and vocational diplomas. However, the extent of discrimination is not equally distributed among the immigrant groups. Rather, job applicants from non-European backgrounds seem to suffer a significantly greater labour-market penalty. The findings clearly suggest that, despite anti-discrimination legislation and measures aimed at promoting equal employment opportunities, discrimination continues to remain a serious barrier to immigrants’ labour-market integration in a Nordic welfare society.

Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story @ Do Equal Qualifications Yield Equal Rewards for Immigrants in the Labour Market? – Akhlaq Ahmad, 2020


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