Study: Hiring Managers Discriminate on the Basis of Class

It’s not just where you grew up but how you grew up that influences your speech–and hiring managers take a mental note about it, according to a new study that will be soon published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Study author Michael Kraus, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, explained:

“Our study shows that even during the briefest interactions, a person’s speech patterns shape the way people perceive them, including assessing their competence and fitness for a job. While most hiring managers would deny that a job candidate’s social class matters, in reality, the socioeconomic position of an applicant or their parents is being assessed within the first seconds they speak–a circumstance that limits economic mobility and perpetuates inequality.”

If you come from a higher social class, you’re better able to replicate your parents’ lifestyle because you’re given better job opportunities. 

To keep reading, click here: Study: Hiring Managers Discriminate on the Basis of Class

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11 thoughts on “Study: Hiring Managers Discriminate on the Basis of Class

  1. I absolutely agree with the findings of this study. I am White, but was born into a very poor, Working-Class, family. I have fought discrimination all my — lengthy — life, both on behalf of myself and other individuals and groups. There is a lot of discrimination out there based on social class. In addition, social class affects many other factors that contribute to success, such as health, dental care, access to education, social connections, etc., so those coming from a lower-class background may find themselves competing with two strikes already against them. Personally, I believe that persons of color are — frequently — also discriminated against based on social class. I’ve been extremely fortunate — and lucky — and had intelligent, hard-working, parents who stressed education and sacrificed mightily to provide me the best one possible under our limited circumstances. As a result, I was not only the first one in my family to complete college, but also to go on to a professional degree and license that gave me a leg up on achieving personal and professional success. A good education can go a long way in helping to overcome social class discrimination.

    1. Grannybunny, your life saga sounds like a version of JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.” Vance hailed from Middletown Ohio: not geographically far, but a world apart, from my current residence in Cincinnati.

      I concur that “social class” drives a lot of racial tension in the US and elsewhere– like France.

      Janet McDonald, a black American lawyer living in Paris, discussed this in an “This American Life” episode: “…maybe Parisians prefer black people from America because only a certain class of black Americans usually comes to France– educated, cultured, interested in France… ”

      Indeed, McDonald said she purposefully spoke American-accented French when shopping in Paris: As a result she would be welcomed by shopkeepers, rather than viewed as a potential troublemaker, like the French-speaking blacks from Martinique who permeate Paris.

      I highly recommend skipping down to “Act Three: Notes From A Native Daughter” in the episode.

      1. Thank you for the “This American Life” cite. I checked it out and ended up listening to the whole thing. I was saddened to learn that Janet McDonald had died, and at such a young age.

        1. You’re welcome; I was so impressed by the episode that I borrowed and read her memoirs: “Project Girl”. Those memoirs, like Tara Westover’s “Educated”, I found both interesting… and disturbing.

  2. Language, class, economic and social backgrounds, and human-to-human communications individually are complex and complicated issues, and when mixed together as here are almost impossible to address in this short of an article (which by the way generated a lot of “food for thought” for me – so thank you). I want to limit my comments to the following two sentences:

    In the article we read: “We assign a higher socio-economic status to people who speak “standard” and “digital” English–like that done by Siri. And how we pronounce words is enough to clue people in … If you want people to succeed in life, try your best to evaluate based on skill and ignore their backgrounds–whether through social class or regional dialect. Your business will be better off.”

    When you say “We assign” do you mean the entire national population, or some sub-group of the population, or Caucasian women with a background in HR, or specifically who? For example, being from Columbus, Ohio, I speak “standard” English (in fact, by some reports, folks from Indiana and Ohio are the “model” for the rest of the nation). According to this article my language gives me a leg up, but is that in all cases or only in specific cases? As you suggest, if I am a computer programmer give me a technical test and see how I do. But if we’re talking retail or customer service, or financial management, or law enforcement (or HR) I think my language ability (or lack thereof) would be a significant factor in my ability to do the job successfully.

    Also, do different “levels” of language indicate social class, business acumen, educational achievement, regional/geographic differences, racial/ethnic differences, some, all, or none? If someone from Columbus, Georgia who speaks their “native dialect” comes to Columbus, Ohio it will (most likely) be immediately obvious that we are from different geographic locations. But is there more? If I immediately judge the other person (or they me) without digging deeper then shame on us, and we are being very unwise. But even with a willingness to dig deeper, I would argue that a person’s language usage should not be ignored and should be evaluated as part of the whole package (or the whole enchilada).

    The advice to ignore backgrounds and thus one’s business will be better off may be true, but then again, it may not. This is a sweeping generalization that would require a great deal more study before I would be willing to accept it at face value. But that’s just me; YMMV.

  3. I saw an article on PBS about how this works in Great Britain, where local accents are more widely varied than in the US. The amount of class assumptions that people made just on the basis of an accent, and the amount of discrimination faced by people with certain ones, was astonishing. It was quite eye-opening.

  4. This article reminded me of a Ken Follet book which usually addresses how someone from a selected geographic location is able to overcome it into a better lifestyle. Even in today’s “woke” generation, we still have this biased based on where you live. Like grannybunny, I come from a working-class family that emphasized getting an education (no C’s allowed). It is the home environment that determines one’s success in life, even if the parents work hard long hours to support the household but they encourage their children to develop their overall knowledge despite the pressure of social media. The development of a sense of self-worth is what gets people to succeed in matter where they start

  5. Speech pattern *is* a skill, and a good predictor of other skills you need to succeed in business. Those who demand we accept candidates whose speech implies at least partial illiteracy are the real racists. And it is parents’ job to make sure that their kids’ K-12 school makes them learn the correct pattern. If that doesn’t happen, the parents have set Junior up to be a failure.

    1. This is provably nonsensical. Forcing children to waste time and energy to mimic an arbitrary definition of “correct” to prove that they are competent is ridiculous. And I don’t believe that it comes from a place of good intention and good faith.

      1. Agreed. How could speech patterns possibly relate to literacy — the ability to read and write — which involves totally different skills? Insisting that there is only one “correct pattern” completely ignores that there are a variety of perfectly legitimate and valid dialects out there. As long as someone is able to adequately communicate, a variation from “standard” speech is immaterial for most jobs. Now, the content of ones speech — obviously — matters. If a job applicant started talking about how the Earth is really flat, that would probably be a total deal breaker for most hiring officials.

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