(And Race Matters)
Anyone who has ever looked for a job knows the importance of social networks. Now institutionalized by job search sites like LinkedIn, the power of outreach to contacts for job seekers is well documented. Existing estimates suggest that approximately half of all jobs are found through informal, network-based search processes. It turns out, however, that a social network-based job search does not benefit black job seekers as much as white ones, and that both knowing those already working at a company and the likelihood of their helping a job seeker out appear to contribute to unequal outcomes.
New research in the December issue of the American Sociological Review demonstrates that social networks do shape racial disparities between black and white individuals seeking employment opportunities. While white and black individuals hear about job openings from their social networks at similar rates, this network-based job search is significantly more likely to lead to job offers for whites than for blacks. Research by David Pedulla, Associate Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, and the late Devah Pager, formerly Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Harvard University, “advance[s] the understanding of racial labor market stratification by bringing new theoretical insights and data to bear on the ways race and the use of social networks in the job search process shape disparities in employment opportunities.”
In “Race and Networks in the Job Search Process,” Pedulla and Pager used in-depth, panel survey data that focused on the experiences of job seekers in finding jobs as well as the outcomes of their search efforts. In the data, “… respondents indicated, at the application level, through what search method they heard about an opening (e.g., network-based versus formal), whether someone in their network mobilized to assist them, whether they knew someone at the company to which they applied, and whether the application resulted in a job offer.”
The researchers tested whether black job seekers were less likely than white job seekers to hear about job openings from their social networks (“network access”), and whether hearing about a job opening from social network contacts was equally effective for blacks and whites in producing job offers (“network returns”). Drawing on data that followed a national sample of more than 2,000 job-seekers over an 18-month period, Pedulla and Pager found that black and white job seekers heard about job openings through social networks at similar rates. But, hearing about job openings from networks was related to better outcomes for whites than for blacks. In other words, network-based job search increased the probability of whites receiving a job offer more so than for black job seekers.
Pager and Pedulla offer two mechanisms that help account for the better outcomes of network-based search for whites: network placement and network mobilization. They found that – among network-based job applications – black job seekers were less likely to know someone at the company to which they were applying than their white counterparts (“network placement”), and less likely to have their networks contact the employer on their behalf (“network mobilization”). Further, the authors find that knowing someone where you want to work or having a network contact mobilize resources on your behalf assists in explaining the black-white job offer gap among network-based job applications.
“Drawing on original and detailed panel data tracking respondents’ application pools, we identified important pathways and mechanisms through which network-based job search disadvantages black job seekers relative to white job seekers, providing new insights about key drivers of racial labor market disparities,” the authors concluded. “Ultimately, these findings shed important light on the ways racial inequalities are perpetuated and disadvantages in the labor market are reinforced.”
About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non‐profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.