Want A Job Down South? Sorry, Not Jewish Enough

Study looks at employment discrimination by religion

Recruiting Jews
AP Photo/Dave Martin
For decades, being Jewish and success in business did not necessarily go together. Many changed their names to sound more Anglo Saxon and, hopefully, have an opportunity at a career in an anti-Semitic atmosphere.

Looks like the shofar is on the other foot these days, at least down south. A set of experiments and new study in the journal Social Currents by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that a resume showing a religious affiliation meant 26 percent less chance to get a response from employers. The one exception was when applicants were presumed to be Jewish.

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Resumes that appeared to be from someone who was Jewish received the same level of response as ones with no affiliation. That meant they appeared to receive preferential treatment by employers compared to other religious groups, according to the researchers.

The researchers "submitted 3,200 resumes to 800 jobs within 150 miles of two major Southern cities." Each job received four resumes with comparable job qualifications. The resumes were supposedly from recent graduates of major state universities in the South. A control group showed no religious affiliation. Others were assigned affiliations as either atheist, Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, pagan, Muslim, or a fictitious religion the researchers called Wallonian. Religious affiliations were indicated by listing membership in appropriate campus extracurricular organizations.

The experiment expanded on one they had done in New England. At that time, the researchers found heavy discrimination against Muslims and less amounts against atheists, Catholics, and pagans, but the overall level of discrimination was "subdued owing largely to the relatively low levels of religiosity and the ethos of religious tolerance that characterize New England."

Calling the South "the most devout region," the question was how explicitly expressing religious affiliation would affect applicants. One theory in sociology suggested that overt expression that spills over into public life has developed a negative connotation. Another suggested that those identified as evangelical Christians and pagans would face the most discrimination, with Jews facing the least. Yet another theory would lead to the expectation of evangelical Christians meeting with the least discrimination.

The results were different. Muslims, pagans, and atheists ran into the greatest degrees of discrimination. Catholics and the fictitious religious groups faced moderate amounts. Evangelical Christians met with the least, but Jews received "no discernable discrimination."

The reason, thought the researchers was that "Jews, and especially the Jewish state of Israel, feature prominently in evangelical Christian theology." In fact, evangelical Christians are Israel's second strongest group of supporters in the U.S. after Jews. In addition, "Southern Jews have deep historical roots in the South and have more successfully assimilated into mainstream culture than Jews in other regions." In other words, the combination of familiarity, cultural influence, and theological importance made Jews the only religious class that experienced no hiring discrimination in the study.

Filed under: Employment News, Resumes
Erik Sherman

Erik Sherman

Contributor

Erik Sherman has written for the Wall Street Journal, Inc, Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications. He's a regular contributor to CBS MoneyWatch and Inc.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman.

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