Student who fired off 300 fictitious resumés finds no barrier for gender or age

Economics student fired off over 300 resumés from fictitious male and female candidates to test response of employers

Young female workers – the most vulnerable category due to their maternal responsibilities – are not negatively discriminated against when compared to any other category of workers
Young female workers – the most vulnerable category due to their maternal responsibilities – are not negatively discriminated against when compared to any other category of workers

Maltese parents get free childcare to allow more women to enter the job market, and the government wants quotas to push for more women into parliament.

But does the Maltese economy also suffer from labour market discrimination when it comes to women? One student of economics doesn’t think so.

Ayrton Zarb fired over 300 CVs to prospective employers, advertising vacancies on the newspapers and online for his Master’s degree dissertation, and found that gender was not a statistically significant determinant.

Malta has the widest gender gap in full-time employment among EU states, with the widest discrepancy found in financial services and insurance.

The CVs, designed in ‘Europass’ style, were designed identically for two fictitious 28 and 44-year old candidates, both male and female candidates, without a photo attached to the CVs, and without any applicant having suffered any unemployment spells. “Certain employers perceive unemployment spells as a period where the candidate loses skills and becomes demotivated to work. The application of this assumption means that prime-aged workers (28 years) have less employment experience (human capital) than those passing the peak of their career (44 years),” Zarb said in his study.

A total of 330 résumés were sent in response to 165 employment advertisements over the entire sample period. 180 respondents received a positive reply for an interview while 23 candidates were told not to attend the interview. The remaining 127 applicants were not given any reply, whether positive or negative, leading the researcher to count such entries as a negative call-back following the expiry or CV submission date.

“The gender of the applicant had no influence on the candidate’s recruitment process,” Zarb says – as well the combination of age and gender, which he found to be non-significant.

“This leads this analysis to conclude that young female workers – the most vulnerable category due to their maternal responsibilities – are not negatively discriminated against when compared to any other category of workers,” Zarb said, saying his findings also converges with previous studies that employed his same methodology.

However, the study did find that the 44-year-old candidates had a higher probability for a positive call-back for an interview than 28-year-olds, as well as a marginal discrimination against mature females (44) and young males (28).

Zarb says his experiment shows that when there is strong economic growth, complemented by public policy proposals in favour of gender equality, the gender of the applicant is no longer a significant determinant for employers in their recruitment process.

Also, since the study took place at a time where demand for labour equals, and at times exceeds supply, both the gender and the age of the candidate are no longer significant.

“This phenomenon is especially significant for the surveyed category where unemployment is substantially low amongst professionals and managers,” Zarb said.

But his second interpretation suggests that even though employers are interviewing applicants of both genders, women are still losing out, as gender gap data collected by the European Commission shows.

“When candidates of both genders with identical skills apply for the same vacancy, in most cases both fictitious applicants are called for an interview at the same time. However, the gender employment gap persists – which could be attributed to discrimination happening at the hiring stage or on-the-job discrimination, an argument which was questioned by some scholars in the literature,” Zarb says.

“Employers might postpone the exercise of discrimination to a later stage,” Zarb suggests, but also asks whether women do not apply for employment positions, especially managerial roles, due to household commitments.

“The role of the primary child bearers in every family, as assigned to them by society, together with unequal split of domestic work, is leading females, some of whom are top graduates, to drop out of the labour market.

“Currently, individuals who are working on a part-time basis are experiencing minimal difficulties to start working on a full-time basis. Therefore, the gap is mainly due to lack of representation by women who are currently inactive.”

Zarb says his study is the first of its kind to have applied a naturally-occurring field experiment to investigate whether age and gender of job candidates have an effect on both the call-back rate and the duration of the call to attend the interview.

A contrasting study, set during a more stable economic climate or during a slowdown, could provide an interesting follow-up. “If these studies discover gender discrimination then the proposition that the degree for gender discrimination varies with the economic cycle is verified,” Zarb suggests, who hopes these kind of studies could be applied to assess other forms of negative discrimination against minority groups, including Maltese versus foreign workers, heterosexual versus homosexual workers, or workers with disability versus non-disabled workers.

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