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Employment Lapses And Subsequent Hiring Disadvantages: An Experimental Approach Examining Types Of Discrimination And Mechanisms

Katherine Weisshaar

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Employment interruption is a common experience in today’s labor market, most frequently due to unemployment from job loss and temporary lapses to care for family or children. Although existing research shows that employment lapses cause disadvantages at the hiring interface compared to individuals with no employment disruptions, competing theories predict different mechanisms explaining these hiring penalties. In this study, the author uses an original conjoint survey experiment to causally assess perceptions of fictitious job applicants, focusing on a comparison of unemployed applicants and nonemployed caregiver applicants, who left work to care for family, to currently employed applicants. The author examines whether disadvantages for job applicants with employment gaps are receptive to positive information (and therefore represent a form of “informational bias”) or are resistant to information (reflecting “cognitive bias”) and further assesses which types of information affect or do not affect levels of bias in fictitious hiring decisions. Results show that positive information on past job performance and social skills essentially eliminates disadvantages faced by unemployed job applicants, but nonemployed caregiver applicants remain disadvantaged even with multiple types of positive information. These findings suggest that unemployed applicants face informational biases but that nonemployed caregiver applicants face cognitive biases that are rigid even with rich forms of positive or counter-stereotypical information. This study has implications for understanding the career consequences of employment disruption, which is especially relevant to consider in light of labor market disruptions during the recent pandemic.