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

Author

Listed:
  • Amanda Agan

    (Princeton University)

  • Sonja Starr

    (University of Michigan)

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 this possibility as well as the effects of race and criminal records on employer callback rates, we sent approximately 15,000 fictitious online job applications to employers in New Jersey and New York City, before and after each jurisdiction's adoption of BTB policies. Our causal effect estimates are based on a triple-differences design, which exploits the fact that many businesses' applications did not ask about records even before BTB and were thus unaffected by the law. Our results confirm that criminal records are a major barrier to employment, but they also support the concern that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination on the basis of race. Overall, white applicants received 23% more callbacks than similar black applicants and employers that ask about criminal records are 62% more likely to call back an applicant if he has no record. However, 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 BTB-affected employers received about 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," Working Papers 598, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  • Handle: RePEc:pri:indrel:598
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David Neumark & Roy J. Bank & Kyle D. Van Nort, 1996. "Sex Discrimination in Restaurant Hiring: An Audit Study," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(3), pages 915-941.
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    9. 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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