Do gay men and lesbians face discrimination when applying for jobs? A Swedish experiment that was just published in the Southern Economic Journal indicates that they do.
In the experiment, researchers sent made-up e-mail inquiries to job openings throughout Sweden. The e-mail inquiries were identical--same wording and same age, schooling, occupation-specific experience, and surname for the fictitious candidates--except they randomly had a man's or woman's first name (Erik or Maria) and randomly included cues about the person's sexual orientation. E-mails meant to indicate heterosexual men mentioned having a wife, while e-mails for gay men mentioned a husband. Similar references to different- or same-sex spouses were constructed for heterosexual women and lesbians. Cues about sexual orientation were reinforced by a mention of participation in a civic activity (Swedish Red Cross for heterosexuals, Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights for gay men and lesbians). The researchers then tracked the responses to the inquiries.
Overall, 30 percent of the fictitious e-mails sent on behalf of heterosexual male candidates and 32 percent of the e-mails sent on behalf of heterosexual female candidates got a positive response--either an invitation to interview or an outright job offer. In contrast, only 26 percent of the e-mails sent on behalf of gay men and lesbians generated positive responses.
The differences in positive responses were larger for men and women applying to gender-stratified occupations. Gay men received proportionately fewer positive responses when applying to male-dominated occupations, and lesbians received proportionately fewer positive responses when applying to female dominated occupations. The differences by sexual orientation were also larger in private-sector jobs than public-sector jobs.
This type of "correspondence experiment" has previously been used to detect differences in the treatment of women and minorities in U.S. labor markets. The advantage of the approach is that all of the available information about candidates is kept constant, except for the possible discriminatory characteristic. The novel part of this particular experiment was the extension to sexual orientation.