What makes employers discriminate by gender and parenthood?

Magnus Bygren. Foto: Leila Zoubir/Stockholms universitet
Magnus Bygren. Foto: Leila Zoubir/Stockholms universitet

Author: Amber Beckley 

Magnus Bygren, Professor of Sociology at the Department of Sociology, recently received funding from Forte for the project ”What makes employers discriminate by gender and parenthood?”. This was a great accomplishment as less than 9% of all submitted proposals were funded. I sat down to chat with Dr. Bygren about his upcoming projects.

Your project is called, ”What makes employers discriminate by gender and parenthood?” When exactly do employers discriminate?
Employers could discriminate at many stages during employment. For example, the hiring stage, when setting wages, or in job promotion or lay-off decisions. In this project we focus on the hiring stage, primarily for pragmatic reasons. It is much easier to measure, or prove, the existence of discrimination at this stage compared to later stages in the employment relationship.

It seems like it would be tricky to determine whether an employer is discriminating or just making decisions that result in unequal outcomes. How will you be sure you are studying employer discrimination?
This portion of the study is part of a larger study in which we sent out around 7000 non-authentic job applications. That is, job applications for people that didn’t exist. Batches of people were matched on education and job experience, or what we would call merit characteristics. We indicated differences in gender through common male and female names. We indicated whether or not someone was a parent by a sentence in the cover letter on how they spent their free time. We then recorded which applications got callbacks. If we find differences between callbacks by applicant characteristics, we have some degree of certainty that decisions on whom to hire aren’t based on merit alone.

What is the goal of this project?
This project grew out of a piece of research in which we found that, compared to fathers, mothers had lower chances of attaining workplace authority. That research was based on the Swedish Level of Living Survey, a survey of the general population of Sweden. The survey couldn’t tell us whether this gender difference was due to employee choice or employer discrimination. Our broader aim with this study will be to see how employer discrimination contributes to such differences in the labor market.

Dr. Bygren will be joined on this project by Dr. Michael Gähler, Associate Professor of Sociology at Stockholm University.


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