The Labor Market Value of Taste: An Experimental Study of Class Bias in U.S. Employment


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

This article investigates cultural forms of class bias in the middle-income U.S. labor market. Results from an audit study of employment discrimination in four U.S. cities reveal that cultural signals of class, when included in résumés, have a systematic effect on the callback rates of women applying to customer-facing jobs. For these women, displays of highbrow taste—the cultural signals of a higher-class background—generate significantly higher rates of employer callback than displays of lowbrow taste—the cultural signals of a lower-class background. Meanwhile, cultural signals of class have no systematic effect on the callback rates of male and/or non–customer-facing job applicants. Results from a survey-experimental study of 1,428 U.S. hiring managers suggest that these differing patterns of employer callback may be explained by the positive effect of higher-class cultural signals on perceptions of polish and competence and their negative effect on perceptions of warmth.

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