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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
    as

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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Devah Pager, 2003. "The mark of a criminal record," Natural Field Experiments 00319, The Field Experiments Website.
    2. David Neumark & Ian Burn & Patrick Button, 2019. "Is It Harder for Older Workers to Find Jobs? New and Improved Evidence from a Field Experiment," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 127(2), pages 922-970.
    3. 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.
    4. David Neumark, 2012. "Detecting Discrimination in Audit and Correspondence Studies," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 47(4), pages 1128-1157.
    5. Decker, Scott H. & Ortiz, Natalie & Spohn, Cassia & Hedberg, Eric, 2015. "Criminal stigma, race, and ethnicity: The consequences of imprisonment for employment," Journal of Criminal Justice, Elsevier, vol. 43(2), pages 108-121.
    6. 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.
    7. David H. Autor & David Scarborough, 2008. "Does Job Testing Harm Minority Workers? Evidence from Retail Establishments," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 123(1), pages 219-277.
    8. Lahey, Joanna N. & Beasley, Ryan A., 2009. "Computerizing audit studies," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 70(3), pages 508-514, June.
    9. Holzer, Harry J., 2007. "Collateral Costs: The Effects of Incarceration on the Employment and Earnings of Young Workers," IZA Discussion Papers 3118, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    10. 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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    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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