Dahl, Malte. Detecting Discrimination: How Group-Based Biases Shape Economic and Political Interactions : Five Empirical Contributions. Cph: Dissertation. Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, 2019.
In this dissertation, I explore how group-based biases shape economic and political interactions between salient social groups. Specifically, I test if, when and how some individuals are treated differently because of their descriptive characteristics such as ethnicity or gender. I employ a series of experiments to uncover these questions. I apply a theoretical framework asserting that discrimination can be due to both personal preferences and strategic behaviour and draw upon insights from political behaviour and social psychology to better understand the theoretical underpinnings of discrimination. Specifically, I incorporate insights from a social cognition perspective, which offers a way to understand the cognitive processes by which people place others into social groups and how this shapes behaviour. From these perspectives, I lay out some propositions that I test in two empirical tracks across five research articles that all build on field or survey experiments. In the first track, I explore how social group categories shape citizens’ encounters with public managers and private employers during the hiring process in the Danish labour market. In two correspondence experiments in which equivalent job applications and cover letters with randomly assigned aliases were sent in response to job openings, I uncover differential treatment in hiring decisions. The experiments leave no doubt that immigrant-origin minorities are targets of significant discrimination. This differential treatment is startling considering the fact that applicants were highly qualified for the jobs they applied for. Going beyond existing work, I show that this is especially true when minorities are male or when female applicants wear a headscarf which suggests the importance of the intersection of ethnicity, gender and cues of cultural distinctiveness. Moreover, I find little evidence to indicate that immigrant-origin minorities can reduce this discrimination by indicating adherence to cultural norms. In the second track, I study the effect of group-based biases on the political representation of underrepresented groups. The research articles present compelling evidence that immigrant-origin minorities face significant barriers in obtaining substantive and descriptive political representation. In a field experiment, the third research article indicates the significant bias of incumbents in their direct communication with ethnic out-group constituents. This manifests itself directly in the legislator-constituent relationship: when constituents contact their local incumbents to retrieve information on the location of their polling station, minority voters are significantly less likely to receive a reply, and they receive replies of lower quality. Although the overall level of responsive- ness increases when politicians face strong electoral incentives, the bias persists. One important contribution is the discovery that immigrant-origin voters can identify more responsive politicians by paying attention to two types of heuristics regarding legislators: their partisan affiliation cues and their stated preferences on immigration policies. Departing from the finding that descriptive representation impacts substantive representation, the fourth research article explores reasons for the gap in political representation. Specifically, it investigates whether local political candidates with immigrant-origin names face barriers due to negative voter preferences. Building on a conjoint experiment, the article presents evidence indicat- ing that the electoral prospects of political candidates with immigrant-origin names are hampered because voters prefer ethnic in-group candidates. Strikingly, this is true in a high-information set- ting where voters are informed about candidates’ political experience, policy positions and party membership. Moreover, there is no evidence for a pro-male bias. Finally, in the last research article, I study the validity of the candidate conjoint experimental design. Specifically, I examine to what extent social desirability bias threatens validity and which tactics researchers can pursue to obtain reliable answers. The results indicate that social desirability bias may be a more minimal concern than what is often assumed. Taken together, the evidence from the five research articles provides insight into a deeply challenging social issue. There are often strong legal or normative arguments emphasizing why, in many socio-political interactions, individuals’ immutable group categories should be invisible. Inadequate representation and opportunities can have serious consequences and downstream electoral effects on a number of societal outcomes and have negative spill-over effects across social domains and time. The research articles indicate that discrimination appears to be hard to mitigate and immigrant- origin minorities have few tools at their disposal to reduce discrimination, which points to the need for institutional actions to eliminate barriers that inhibit individuals from attaining equal access.