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

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Listed:
  • 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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    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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