Multiple Discrimination against Female Immigrants Wearing Headscarves
In Germany, female job applicants with Turkish names received callbacks at lower rates than those with German names, despite comparable qualifications. This effect was particularly significant for applicants with Turkish names who wore headscarves.
Over the course of the past two decades, anti-Muslim sentiments and violence have risen in the United States and European countries. As these Western countries experience influxes of Muslim immigrants, the Muslim headscarf, or hijab, a veil worn by Muslim women, has emerged as particularly controversial, with attitudes of non-Muslims often more negative toward the headscarf than toward Muslims as a whole. Several European countries have banned wearing Muslim headscarves in public places, and although courts have routinely overturned these bans, discussions around regulating Muslim women’s clothing have remained a heated topic for public debate.
Previous studies of anti-Muslim discrimination in the job market have revealed lower call back rates for Muslim job candidates than their non-Muslim counterparts when a candidate's religion is indicated through volunteer experience with faith-based organizations. No economic study, however, has empirically evaluated the role of Muslim headscarves in the labor market, and in particular, the effect on Muslim women’s job applications.
This study examines the effects of wearing a Muslim headscarf on job candidates' success in Germany, with the aim of testing whether wearing a headscarf increases discrimination and whether applicants with a headscarf encounter compounding discrimination based on both religion and ethnicity. The author employed the correspondence testing method, in which application materials for fictitious job applicants are sent to real companies, to compare the employment chances of female candidates with a German name and no headscarf, a Turkish name and no headscarf, or a Turkish name with a headscarf.
The fictitious female job applicants with a Turkish name received interview invitations at lower rates than the applicant with a German name. This effect increased substantially when the applicant with a Turkish name wore a headscarf.
- The positive response rate from companies was 18.8% for the applicant with the German name and no headscarf, 13.5% for the applicant with the Turkish name and no headscarf, and 4.2% for the applicant with the Turkish name and a headscarf.
- The applicant with the Turkish name and a headscarf would have to send 4.5 times the number of applications as the applicant with the German name and no headscarf and 3.2 times the number of applications as the applicant with the Turkish name and no headscarf to receive the same number of interview invitations.
- Discrimination rates differed among the vacancy types: the applicant with the Turkish name and a headscarf would have to send almost 7.6 the number of applications as the German applicant with no headscarf to receive the same number of interview invitations for chief accountant roles and 3.5 the number of applications for secretary roles.
- Discrimination rates also differed among firms: the applicant with the Turkish name and a headscarf had an increased likelihood of a callback by 37-39 percentage points while the applicant with the Turkish name and no headscarf had an increased likelihood of a callback by 27 to 32 percentage points among firms that asked for cross-cultural competence or noted they were an intercultural team.
- Smaller firms were also found to discriminate more, although the effects were significant by 10% at best.
- Attaching a positive reference letter increased the relative interview invitation rates of the applicants with a Turkish name.
These findings suggest that immigrant applicants who wear headscarves face discrimination based on both their ethnicity and their religion. This study underscores the importance of implementing institutional strategies to reduce such forms of discrimination in Western countries where recent immigration patterns have introduced many Muslim women into the labor market. The author suggests diversity programs and firms with “intercultural” teams may assist in removing biases from hiring processes. Organizations can debias their hiring procedures and ensure that unconscious bias and discrimination are removed from their talent management procedures.
The use of Germany as the research location was advantageous for evaluating the impact of Muslim headscarves, as the German job application process commonly requires applicants to submit large amounts of material, including photographs.
Popular job sites were combed for listings for secretary, accountant, and chief accountant positions across the six largest German cities, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich, and Stuttgart, as well as Dresden, selected to represent the former German Democratic Republic.
Application materials were developed for three fictitious female job applicants with identical qualifications. One applicant had a German name and no headscarf, one had a Turkish name and no headscarf, and one had a Turkish name and a headscarf. All three applications featured photographs of the same model, selected for her ability to pass as both German and Turkish. Each application consisted of a letter of application, a resume, a photograph, a high school diploma, and certification of completion for an apprenticeship. The applications for chief accountant roles also included a certificate of advanced training, and a small number of applications included a reference letter from the company at which the applicant was trained.
One application was sent to each firm advertising one or more relevant vacancies, with randomly assigned variations in the applicants' names and photographs. Ultimately, a total of 1,474 applications were submitted via email. Invitations for interviews and inquiries reflecting an interest in the applicant were coded as positive responses.