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Perceived Criminality, Criminal Background Checks, and the Racial Hiring Practices of Employers


  • Holzer, Harry J
  • Raphael, Steven
  • Stoll, Michael A


In this paper, we analyze the effect of employer-initiated criminal background checks on the likelihood that employers hire African Americans. We find that employers who check criminal backgrounds are more likely to hire African American workers, especially men. This effect is stronger among those employers who report an aversion to hiring those with criminal records than among those who do not. We also find similar effects of employer aversion to ex-offenders and their tendency to check backgrounds on their willingness to hire other stigmatized workers, such as those with gaps in their employment history. These results suggest that, in the absence of criminal background checks, some employers discriminate statistically against black men and/or those with weak employment records. Such discrimination appears to contribute substantially to observed employment and earnings gaps between white and black young men.

Suggested Citation

  • Holzer, Harry J & Raphael, Steven & Stoll, Michael A, 2006. "Perceived Criminality, Criminal Background Checks, and the Racial Hiring Practices of Employers," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(2), pages 451-480, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:y:2006:v:49:i:2:p:451-80

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Devah Pager, 2003. "The mark of a criminal record," Natural Field Experiments 00319, The Field Experiments Website.
    2. Ihlanfeldt, Keith R & Young, Madelyn V, 1996. "The Spatial Distribution of Black Employment between the Central City and the Suburbs," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(4), pages 693-707, October.
    3. Carrington, William J & Troske, Kenneth R, 1998. "Interfirm Segregation and the Black/White Wage Gap," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 16(2), pages 231-260, April.
    4. Lundberg, Shelly J & Startz, Richard, 1983. "Private Discrimination and Social Intervention in Competitive Labor Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 73(3), pages 340-347, June.
    5. Raphael, Steven & Stoll, Michael A. & Holzer, Harry J., 2000. "Are Suburban Firms More Likely to Discriminate against African-Americans?," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 485-508, November.
    6. David H. Autor & David Scarborough, 2004. "Will Job Testing Harm Minority Workers?," NBER Working Papers 10763, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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