IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/sza/wpaper/wpapers282.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The value of reference letters

Author

Listed:
  • Martin Abel

    (Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University)

  • Rulof Burger

    (Department of Economics, Stellenbosch University)

  • Patrizio Piraino

    (School of Economics, University of Cape Town)

Abstract

We show that reference letters from former employers alleviate information asymmetries about workers’ skills and improve both match quality and equity in the labor market. A resume audit study finds that using a reference letter in the application increases callbacks by 61%. Women disproportionately benefit. Letters are effective because they provide valuable information about workers’ skills that employers use to select applicants of higher ability. A second experiment, which encourages job seekers to obtain and use a reference letter, finds consistent results. In particular, employment rates for women who obtain letters double, fully closing the gender gap in our sample.

Suggested Citation

  • Martin Abel & Rulof Burger & Patrizio Piraino, 2017. "The value of reference letters," Working Papers 06/2017, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers282
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2017/wp062017/wp062017.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2017
    Download Restriction: no
    ---><---

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. David McKenzie, 2017. "How Effective Are Active Labor Market Policies in Developing Countries? A Critical Review of Recent Evidence," The World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 32(2), pages 127-154.
    2. Lori Beaman & Niall Keleher & Jeremy Magruder, 2018. "Do Job Networks Disadvantage Women? Evidence from a Recruitment Experiment in Malawi," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 121-157.
    3. Joseph G. Altonji & Charles R. Pierret, 2001. "Employer Learning and Statistical Discrimination," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 313-350.
    4. Gibbons, Robert & Katz, Lawrence F, 1991. "Layoffs and Lemons," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 9(4), pages 351-380, October.
    5. Mortensen, Dale & Pissarides, Christopher, 2011. "Job Creation and Job Destruction in the Theory of Unemployment," Economic Policy, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, vol. 1, pages 1-19.
    6. Volker Schöer & Neil Rankin & Gareth Roberts, 2014. "Accessing The First Job In A Slack Labour Market: Job Matching In South Africa," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 26(1), pages 1-22, January.
    7. Kory Kroft & Fabian Lange & Matthew J. Notowidigdo, 2013. "Duration Dependence and Labor Market Conditions: Evidence from a Field Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 128(3), pages 1123-1167.
    8. Montgomery, James D, 1991. "Social Networks and Labor-Market Outcomes: Toward an Economic Analysis," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1407-1418, December.
    9. Lori Beaman & Jeremy Magruder, 2012. "Who Gets the Job Referral? Evidence from a Social Networks Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(7), pages 3574-3593, December.
    10. Kaas Leo & Manger Christian, 2012. "Ethnic Discrimination in Germany’s Labour Market: A Field Experiment," German Economic Review, De Gruyter, vol. 13(1), pages 1-20, February.
    11. James J. Heckman, 1998. "Detecting Discrimination," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(2), pages 101-116, Spring.
    12. Linda Datcher Loury, 2006. "Some Contacts Are More Equal than Others: Informal Networks, Job Tenure, and Wages," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 299-318, April.
    13. Servaas van der Berg, 2007. "Apartheid's Enduring Legacy: Inequalities in Education-super- 1," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 16(5), pages 849-880, November.
    14. Jeremy R. Magruder, 2010. "Intergenerational Networks, Unemployment, and Persistent Inequality in South Africa," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(1), pages 62-85, January.
    15. Henry S. Farber & Robert Gibbons, 1996. "Learning and Wage Dynamics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(4), pages 1007-1047.
    16. Marcel Fafchamps & Alexander Moradi, 2015. "Referral and Job Performance: Evidence from the Ghana Colonial Army," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63(4), pages 715-751.
    17. Paul Resnick & Christopher Avery & Richard Zeckhauser, 1999. "The Market for Evaluations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(3), pages 564-584, June.
    18. Debra Shepherd, 2008. "Post-Apartheid Trends in Gender Discrimination in South Africa: Analysis through Decomposition Techniques," Working Papers 06/2008, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
    19. Lisa B. Kahn & Fabian Lange, 2014. "Employer Learning, Productivity, and the Earnings Distribution: Evidence from Performance Measures," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 81(4), pages 1575-1613.
    20. Yannis M. Ioannides & Linda Datcher Loury, 2004. "Job Information Networks, Neighborhood Effects, and Inequality," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1056-1093, December.
    21. Kevin Lang & Michael Manove, 2011. "Education and Labor Market Discrimination," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(4), pages 1467-1496, June.
    22. Volker Schöer & Murray Leibbrandt, 2006. "Determinants Of Job Search Strategies: Evidence From The Khayelitsha/Mitchell'S Plain Survey," South African Journal of Economics, Economic Society of South Africa, vol. 74(4), pages 702-724, December.
    23. 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.
    24. Amanda Pallais & Emily Glassberg Sands, 2016. "Why the Referential Treatment? Evidence from Field Experiments on Referrals," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 124(6), pages 1793-1828.
    25. Pissarides, Christopher A, 1985. "Short-run Equilibrium Dynamics of Unemployment Vacancies, and Real Wages," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(4), pages 676-690, September.
    26. Stephen V. Burks & Bo Cowgill & Mitchell Hoffman & Michael Housman, 2015. "The Value of Hiring through Employee Referrals," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(2), pages 805-839.
    27. Peter A. Riach & Judith Rich, 2004. "Deceptive Field Experiments of Discrimination: Are they Ethical?," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(3), pages 457-470, August.
    28. Amanda Pallais, 2014. "Inefficient Hiring in Entry-Level Labor Markets," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 104(11), pages 3565-3599, November.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Bosses face more discrimination if they are women – from employees of any gender
      by ? in DJG Blogger on 2019-10-17 11:41:53
    2. Why women bosses get different reactions than men when they criticize employees
      by ? in DJG Blogger on 2020-09-11 00:42:29
    3. Why female bosses get different reactions than men when they criticize employees
      by ? in DJG Blogger on 2020-09-11 00:42:29
    4. This one unconscious reaction may be holding women back at work
      by ? in Co.Exist on 2020-09-19 05:00:32

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Martin Abel & Rulof Burger & Eliana Carranza & Patrizio Piraino, 2019. "Bridging the Intention-Behavior Gap? The Effect of Plan-Making Prompts on Job Search and Employment," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(2), pages 284-301, April.
    2. David McKenzie, 2017. "How Effective Are Active Labor Market Policies in Developing Countries? A Critical Review of Recent Evidence," The World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 32(2), pages 127-154.
    3. Suresh de Mel & David McKenzie & Christopher Woodruff, 2019. "Labor Drops: Experimental Evidence on the Return to Additional Labor in Microenterprises," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 202-235, January.
    4. Calvin Mudzingiri & Sevias Guvuriro & Charity Gomo, 2021. "Exploring Association between Self-Reported Financial Status and Economic Preferences Using Experimental Data," JRFM, MDPI, vol. 14(6), pages 1-13, May.
    5. Chakravorty, Bhaskar & Arulampalam, Wiji & Imbert, Clement & Rathelot, Roland, 2021. "Can Information about Jobs Improve the Effectiveness of Vocational Training? Experimental Evidence from India," IZA Discussion Papers 14427, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    6. Daniela Sonedda, 2020. "Guess who's there: employment protection legislation and the degree of substitutability between labour contracts," IAAEU Discussion Papers 202007, Institute of Labour Law and Industrial Relations in the European Union (IAAEU).
    7. Beber, Bernd & Dworschak, Regina & Lakemann, Tabea & Lay, Jann & Priebe, Jan, 2021. "Skills Development and Training Interventions in Africa: Findings, Challenges, and Opportunities," RWI Projektberichte, RWI - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung, number 247426.
    8. Livia Alfonsi & Oriana Bandiera & Vittorio Bassi & Robin Burgess & Imran Rasul & Munshi Sulaiman & Anna Vitali, 2020. "Tackling Youth Unemployment: Evidence From a Labor Market Experiment in Uganda," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(6), pages 2369-2414, November.
    9. Chakravarty, Shubha & Lundberg, Mattias & Nikolov, Plamen & Zenker, Juliane, 2019. "Vocational training programs and youth labor market outcomes: Evidence from Nepal," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 71-110.
    10. Girum Abebe & A Stefano Caria & Marcel Fafchamps & Paolo Falco & Simon Franklin & Simon Quinn, 2021. "Anonymity or Distance? Job Search and Labour Market Exclusion in a Growing African City [Endogenous Stratification in Randomized Experiments]," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 88(3), pages 1279-1310.
    11. Abebe, Girum & Caria, Stefano & Fafchamps, Marcel & Falco, Paolo & Franklin, Simon & Quinn, Simon, 2017. "Anonymity of distance? Job search and labour market exclusion in a growing African city," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 86573, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    12. Laurel Wheeler & Robert Garlick & Eric Johnson & Patrick Shaw & Marissa Gargano, 2022. "LinkedIn(to) Job Opportunities: Experimental Evidence from Job Readiness Training," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 14(2), pages 101-125, April.
    13. Christopher Blattman & Stefan Dercon & Simon Franklin, 2019. "Impacts of Industrial and Entrepreneurial Jobs on Youth: 5-year Experimental Evidence on Factory Job Offers and Cash Grants in Ethiopia," NBER Working Papers 25788, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Crepon,Bruno Jacques Jean Philippe & Premand,Patrick, 2018. "Creating new positions ? direct and indirect effects of a subsidized apprenticeship program," Policy Research Working Paper Series 8561, The World Bank.
    15. Chakravarty, Shubha & Lundberg, Mattias & Nikolov, Plamen & Zenker, Juliane, 2019. "Vocational training programs and youth labor market outcomes: Evidence from Nepal," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 71-110.
    16. Martin Abel, 2017. "Labor market discrimination and sorting: Evidence from South Africa," SALDRU Working Papers 205, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
    17. Patrizio Piraino, 2020. "Drivers of mobility," WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2020-6, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    18. Aniceto C. Orbeta Jr. & Vicente B. Paqueo, 2018. "Countering the Discriminatory Impact of Minimum Wages Against Disadvantaged Workers: Literature Review and Experimental Design Development," Working Papers id:12861, eSocialSciences.

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Dariel, Aurelie & Riedl, Arno & Siegenthaler, Simon, 2021. "Referral hiring and wage formation in a market with adverse selection," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 109-130.
    2. Laurel Wheeler & Robert Garlick & Eric Johnson & Patrick Shaw & Marissa Gargano, 2022. "LinkedIn(to) Job Opportunities: Experimental Evidence from Job Readiness Training," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 14(2), pages 101-125, April.
    3. Dariel, Aurelie & Riedl, Arno & Siegenthaler, Simon, 2019. "Hiring through Referrals in a Labor Market with Adverse Selection," IZA Discussion Papers 12287, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    4. Benjamin Lester & David A. Rivers & Giorgio Topa, 2021. "The Heterogeneous Impact of Referrals on Labor Market Outcomes," Staff Reports 987, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
    5. Lena Hensvik & Oskar Nordström Skans, 2016. "Social Networks, Employee Selection, and Labor Market Outcomes," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 34(4), pages 825-867.
    6. Christian Dustmann & Albrecht Glitz & Uta Schönberg & Herbert Brücker, 2016. "Referral-based Job Search Networks," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 83(2), pages 514-546.
    7. Amanda Pallais & Emily Glassberg Sands, 2015. "Why the Referential Treatment: Evidence from Field Experiments on Referrals," NBER Working Papers 21357, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Arimoto, Yutaka & Machikita, Tomohiro & Tsubota, Kenmei, 2018. "Broker versus social networks in adverse working conditions: cross-sectional evidence from Cambodian migrants in Thailand," IDE Discussion Papers 686, Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization(JETRO).
    9. Rao, Neel, 2016. "Social effects in employer learning: An analysis of siblings," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 24-36.
    10. Lukas Bolte & Nicole Immorlica & Matthew O. Jackson, 2020. "The Role of Referrals in Immobility, Inequality, and Inefficiency in Labor Markets," Papers 2012.15753, arXiv.org.
    11. María Paz Espinosa & Jaromír Kovárík & Sofía Ruíz-Palazuelos, 2021. "Are close-knit networks good for employment?," Working Papers 21.06, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Department of Economics.
    12. Oyer, Paul & Schaefer, Scott, 2011. "Personnel Economics: Hiring and Incentives," Handbook of Labor Economics, in: O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (ed.), Handbook of Labor Economics, edition 1, volume 4, chapter 20, pages 1769-1823, Elsevier.
    13. Girum Abebe & A Stefano Caria & Marcel Fafchamps & Paolo Falco & Simon Franklin & Simon Quinn, 2021. "Anonymity or Distance? Job Search and Labour Market Exclusion in a Growing African City [Endogenous Stratification in Randomized Experiments]," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 88(3), pages 1279-1310.
    14. Nicoletta Berardi, 2013. "Social networks and wages in Senegal’s labor market," IZA Journal of Labor & Development, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 2(1), pages 1-26, December.
    15. Patrizio Piraino, 2020. "Drivers of mobility," WIDER Working Paper Series wp-2020-6, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    16. Beugnot, Julie & Peterlé, Emmanuel, 2020. "Gender bias in job referrals: An experimental test," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 76(C).
    17. Nicoletta Berardi & Marie Lalanne & Paul Seabright, 2019. "Professional Networks and their Coevolution with Executive Careers," Working papers 723, Banque de France.
    18. Morgane Laouenan & Roland Rathelot, 2017. "Ethnic Discrimination on an Online Marketplace of Vacation Rental," Working Papers hal-01514713, HAL.
    19. Berardi, Nicoletta & Lalanne, Marie & Seabright, Paul, 2018. "Professional networks and their coevolution with executive careers: Evidence from North America and Europe," SAFE Working Paper Series 243, Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE.
    20. Moshe A. Barach & John Horton, 2017. "How Do Employers Use Compensation History?: Evidence from a Field Experiment," CESifo Working Paper Series 6559, CESifo.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Unemployment; references; South Africa; active labor market policies;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • M51 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Personnel Economics - - - Firm Employment Decisions; Promotions

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers282. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: . General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/desunza.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Melt van Schoor (email available below). General contact details of provider: https://edirc.repec.org/data/desunza.html .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.