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Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Statistical Discrimination: A Field Experiment

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  • Amanda Agan
  • Sonja Starr

Abstract

"Ban-the-Box" (BTB) policies restrict employers from asking about applicants' criminal histories on job applications and are often presented as a means of reducing unemployment among black men, who disproportionately have criminal records. However, withholding information about criminal records could risk encouraging statistical discrimination: employers may make assumptions about criminality based on the applicant's race (or other observable characteristics). To investigate BTB's effects, we sent approximately 15,000 fictitious online job applications to employers in New Jersey and New York City both before and after the adoption of BTB policies. These applications varied the race and felony conviction status of the applicants. We confirm that criminal records are a major barrier to employment: employers that ask about criminal records were 63% more likely to call back an applicant if he has no record. However, our results support the concern that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination on the basis of race: we find that the race gap in callbacks grows dramatically at the BTB-affected companies after the policy goes into effect. Before BTB, white applicants to employers with the box received 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants, but BTB increases this gap to 45%.

Suggested Citation

  • Amanda Agan & Sonja Starr, 2016. "Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Statistical Discrimination: A Field Experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00539, The Field Experiments Website.
  • Handle: RePEc:feb:natura:00539
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Devah Pager, 2003. "The mark of a criminal record," Natural Field Experiments 00319, The Field Experiments Website.
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    5. 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.
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    7. David Neumark & Ian Burn & Patrick Button, 2015. "Is It Harder for Older Workers to Find Jobs? New and Improved Evidence from a Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 21669, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Philip Oreopoulos, 2011. "Why Do Skilled Immigrants Struggle in the Labor Market? A Field Experiment with Thirteen Thousand Resumes," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 148-171, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jackson, Osborne & Zhao, Bo, 2017. "The effect of changing employers’ access to criminal histories on ex-offenders’ labor market outcomes: evidence from the 2010–2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform," Working Papers 16-30, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Mueller-Smith, Michael & Schnepel, Kevin T., 2016. "Avoiding Convictions: Regression Discontinuity Evidence on Court Deferrals for First-Time Drug Offenders," IZA Discussion Papers 10409, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Peter Blair & Bobby Chung, 2017. "Job Market Signaling through Occupational Licensing," Working Papers 2017-50, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    4. Jackson, Osborne & Zhao, Bo, 2017. "Does changing employers’ access to criminal histories affect ex-offenders’ recidivism?: evidence from the 2010–2012 Massachusetts CORI Reform," Working Papers 16-31, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    5. Amanda Agan & Matthew Freedman & Emily Owens, 2017. "Is Your Lawyer a Lemon? Incentives and Selection in the Public Provision of Criminal Defense," Working Papers 613, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    6. repec:aea:aecrev:v:108:y:2018:i:2:p:201-40 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. David Arnold & Will Dobbie & Crystal S. Yang, 2017. "Racial Bias in Bail Decisions," NBER Working Papers 23421, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Jennifer L. Doleac & Benjamin Hansen, 2016. "Does “Ban the Box” Help or Hurt Low-Skilled Workers? Statistical Discrimination and Employment Outcomes When Criminal Histories are Hidden," NBER Working Papers 22469, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Moshe A. Barach & John Horton, 2017. "How Do Employers Use Compensation History?: Evidence from a Field Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 6559, CESifo Group Munich.
    10. Roberto Galbiati & Aurélie Ouss & Arnaud Philippe, 2015. "Jobs, News and Re-offending after Incarceration," Sciences Po publications 41, Sciences Po.
    11. David Arnold & Will Dobbie & Crystal S. Yang, 2017. "Racial Bias in Bail Decisions," Working Papers 611, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    12. David Neumark & Ian Burn & Patrick Button & Nanneh Chehras, 2016. "Do State Laws Protecting Older Workers from Discrimination Reduce Age Discrimination in Hiring? Experimental (and Nonexperimental) Evidence," Working Papers wp349, University of Michigan, Michigan Retirement Research Center.
    13. Katharine G. Abraham & Melissa S. Kearney, 2018. "Explaining the Decline in the U.S. Employment-to-Population Ratio: A Review of the Evidence," NBER Working Papers 24333, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. repec:eee:socmed:v:199:y:2018:i:c:p:106-114 is not listed on IDEAS
    15. Amanda Y. Agan & Michael D. Makowsky, 2018. "The Minimum Wage, EITC, and Criminal Recidivism," Working Papers 616, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    16. Will Dobbie & Jacob Goldin & Crystal Yang, 2016. "The Effects of Pre-Trial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges," Working Papers 601, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    17. Will Dobbie & Jacob Goldin & Crystal Yang, 2016. "The Effects of Pre-Trial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges," NBER Working Papers 22511, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Baert, Stijn, 2017. "Hiring Discrimination: An Overview of (Almost) All Correspondence Experiments Since 2005," IZA Discussion Papers 10738, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    19. Jackson, Osborne & Sullivan, Riley & Zhao, Bo, 2017. "Reintegrating the ex-offender population in the U.S. labor market: lessons from the CORI Reform in Massachusetts," New England Public Policy Center Research Report 17-1, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    20. Mueller-Smith, Michael & Schnepel, Kevin T., 2016. "Avoiding Convictions: Regression Discontinuity Evidence on Court Deferrals for First-Time Drug Offenders," Working Papers 2016-16, University of Sydney, School of Economics.
    21. Boyd-Swan, Casey & Herbst, Chris M., 2017. "Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in the Labor Market for Child Care Teachers," IZA Discussion Papers 11140, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K14 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - Criminal Law
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J71 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - Hiring and Firing

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