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'Elite' degrees give African Americans little advantage in job market

March 10, 2015

'Elite' degrees give African Americans little advantage in job market

Topic: Research

Does having a college degree from a highly selective school make a difference in getting a well-paid job? Not if you're African American, says a U-M researcher.

A popular belief in U.S. society is that education is the great equalizer to overcoming social disadvantages and obtaining a good job. In his study, S. Michael Gaddis tests the value of different types of college degrees in the labor market for white and black candidates.

The results show that although a credential from an elite university results in more employer responses for all applicants, black candidates from these prestigious universities do only as well in getting the job as white candidates from less-selective universities.

A white candidate with a degree from an elite university can expect an employer response for every six resumes submitted, while an equally qualified black candidate must submit eight resumes to receive a response. White candidates with a degree from a less-selective university need to submit nine resumes to expect a response, while a similar black candidate needs to submit 15 resumes.

"These racial differences suggest that a bachelor's degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market," said Gaddis, a postdoctoral scholar in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Policy Scholars program at the School of Public Health. "Thus, both discrimination and differences in human capital contribute to racial economic inequality."

Gaddis used a unique field experiment to test the value of different types of college degrees in the labor market for white and black candidates. He created more than 1,000 fake job applicants through email addresses, phone numbers and resumes, and applied to jobs online.

Each candidate listed a degree from either an elite school (Harvard, Stanford, Duke) or a nationally ranked, but less-selective state university (University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of California-Riverside, University of North Carolina-Greensboro).

Additionally, the candidates had first names that likely identified their race: Jalen, Lamar and DaQuan (black/male); Nia, Ebony, and Shanice (black/female); Caleb, Charlie and Ronny (white/male); and Aubrey, Erica and Lesly (white/female).

White job applicants with a degree from an elite university had the highest response rate (nearly 18 percent), followed by black candidates with a degree from an elite university (13 percent) and white candidates with a degree from a less-selective university (more than 11 percent). Black job applicants with a degree from a less-selective university had the lowest response rate (less than 7 percent).

"Education apparently has its limits because even a Harvard degree cannot make DaQuan as enticing as Charlie to employers," Gaddis said.

He also says that race results in a double penalty. When employers responded to black candidates, it was for jobs with lower starting salaries and lower prestige than those of white peers. Black applicants received responses for jobs with a listed salary about $3,000 less than white candidates.

Overall, candidates with a degree from an elite university received responses for jobs with a listed salary $2,600 higher than applicants with a degree from a less-selective university, the study shows.

Tags: jobs, race

Comments

judy bonnell-wenzel
on 3/13/15 at 1:20 pm

Yes, when I studied in social work, white men were paid highest, next black men, next white women and black women next. A woman who has finished college is paid less than a man who finished high school. As you can see above, finishing college at a prestigious school doubles the response rate for blacks over a non-prestigious school, but whites are still privileged over blacks and men are still privileged over women.

judy bonnell-wenzel
on 3/13/15 at 1:27 pm

The first paragraph is wrong. It makes a big difference (100% more) but the white graduate at either type of college is still privileged over the black graduate. As blacks know, you have to work much harder if you are black because you do not get that privilege that whites get. In other words, institutional racism is still very much alive.

Dwayne Jones
on 4/03/15 at 8:06 am

Those were interesting statistics. I thought the statistics for hired white graduates were more than the statistics listed. I can count on one hand how many African Americans work, besides me, in our office. In fact, there are not that many African American workers at this institution that I've seen. I have a bachelor's degree and an associate's degree, the same degree that some of my white co-workers have, and their salaries are triple and quadruple what I make. The women, in a lot of cases (and some without degrees), get paid better than me. I work hard, I keep great attendance, and I'm a good learner. I am clean and I speak clearly. I am not the best at what I do, but I am always one of the good workers. I go the extra mile to serve people and they appreciate that. What is it that is missing? I guess you can't eat pie without a fork.

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