Andrew Leigh has released interesting research he and co-authors have been doing on ethnic prejudice and discrimination, using several tests: sending employers CVs that are identical except for the ethnicity of names and seeing how many applicants get a call back, seeing whether there are differences in how many mis-addressed letters are returned to sender depending on the ethnicity of the sender’s name, and the implicit association test which I encouraged people to take last year.
Compared to an Anglo control group, Chinese and Middle Eastern names particularly were received less favourably in all three tests. Italian and Indigenous names generally did better. Here is the The Age‘s write-up of the research.
While I think this research is valuable, I differ slightly with Andrew L in how I look at the issue. For example, in discussing the various methods of examining ‘racism and discrimination’ Andrew and his co-authors Alison Booth and Elena Varganova say:
… social researchers have often used surveys to measure the degree of racism in a society. But if respondents know the socially correct response, then this approach will also provide a biased estimate of true attitudes towards racial groups.
I’m not sure that this is as big an issue as it might seem, since survey after survey has found that plenty of people will admit to some prejudice. Indeed, if we are simply trying to measure ethnic attitudes just asking people has the advantage that it is not influenced by the other factors that come into play when behavioural tests are used. For example, employers may take into account the actual or presumed views of existing employees and customers as well as their own prejudices, and in face-to-face situations social norms on politeness will come into play (none of Andrew L’s methods involve face-to-face situations).
On the other hand, the behavioural tests provide more important information than the prejudice questions. The smooth and fair running of society depends far more on how people behave than what they think, and from a policy perspective behaviour is much easier to control than opinions. The people bashing and robbing Indian students should be threatened with jail, not lessons in celebrating diversity.