Project 7

How organizations shape ethnic discrimination in the labour market


To study how the organizational context affects discriminatory behaviour of employers

Theoretical background

Existing research unequivocally shows that employers discriminate against ethnic minorities on the labour market. Researchers have focused on characteristics of job seekers, such as their skills, motivation, and work experience, in explaining discrimination in hiring decisions.

Recent theoretical thought in sociology, however, blends elements of these theories into an older concern with institutions. The ‘new institutionalist’ (NI) theory emphasizes that the behaviour of social actors is shaped by their national and organizational context (Brinton & Nee, 1998). The NI argument is that employers’ recruitment and reward behaviour depends on the institutional context in which they make their decisions. Thus, to understand discriminatory behaviour of employers, it is crucial to account for the context in which employers make their decisions.

However, such a link is currently lacking. Scholarly work on discrimination has been primarily concerned with individual-level explanations, thereby largely ignoring the role of the organization and the national institutional context (Midtbøen, 2015; Rooth, 2010). That is, scholarly work on discrimination has been too concerned with its individual-level explanations, thereby largely ignoring the role of the workplace (Reskin, 2000). While discrimination varies across organizations and countries, existing explanations of discriminatory behaviour cannot account for differential treatment across institutional settings.

Hence, a pressing question that has not been yet been sufficiently addressed is: how does the institutional context affect discriminatory decisions of employers? This project seeks to study how the organizational (i.e. firm) context affects discrimination in hiring behaviour of employers. The aim of the project is to hypothesize and empirically assess the ‘institutional circumstances’ under which ethnicity becomes decisive in hiring decisions.

Research design

The empirical analysis predominantly makes use of (field) experimental data. The candidate can make use of existing cross-national field experimental data on ethnic discrimination in hiring behaviour (UK, NL, DE, NO, ES; see Furthermore, there is the possibility to carry out a vignette study among employers, or to carry out laboratory experiments.

  • Brinton, M. C., & Nee, V. (1998). The new institutionalism in sociology. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Midtbøen, A. H. (2015). The context of employment discrimination: interpreting the findings of a field experiment. The British Journal of Sociology, 66(1), 193-214. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12098
  • Reskin, B. F. (2000). The proximate causes of employment discrimination. Contemporary Sociology, 29(2), 319-328.
  • Rooth, D.-O. (2010). Automatic associations and discrimination in hiring: Real world evidence. Labour Economics, 17(3), 523-534.
Project initiators

Bram Lancee (UvA)



Note: There will be maximally two of the three UvA projects funded.