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Stanford study shows Muslim job discrimination in France

In France, a Christian citizen is two-and-a-half times more likely to get called for a job interview than an equally qualified Muslim candidate, according to new research by political science professor David Laitin.

L.A. Cicero David Laitin

Stanford political scientist David Laitin wants his research to help inform the debate over cultural diversity and nationalism.

BY ADAM GORLICK

When tensions flared over France's recent ban on burqas and face coverings, the government defended its decision on the grounds that wearing Islamic veils in public betrays the country's secular tradition. It wasn't an anti-Muslim move, officials insisted. It was only part of a longstanding effort to assimilate immigrants and minorities into French culture.

But despite France's commitment to republicanism – the notion of having a common citizenship that supersedes religion, race and ethnicity – discrimination is strong in French society.

In a study published online today by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford political scientist David Laitin shows that a Christian citizen with an African heritage is two-and-a-half times more likely to get called for a job interview than an equally qualified Muslim citizen with the same ethnic background.

Laitin's research is the first to identify religion – rather than race or country of origin – as the source of discrimination in France. And he's hoping that his findings help improve policies in France, where data about people's religious and ethnic backgrounds aren't collected by the government. Without that information, Laitin says, it's impossible to understand and fix situations where citizens are being discriminated against.

"The French have a very strong belief that their republican institutions are blind to ethnicity and religion, and that these institutions are an antidote to discrimination," Laitin said. "We can now tell them that the results of our work show that the society is not blind to religion and that their refusal to collect data will permit this discrimination to continue. Hiding behind the veil of republicanism is not a solution to the issue of discrimination in France."

Along with political scientist Claire Adida from the University of California-San Diego and economist Marie-Anne Valfort from Sorbonne University, Laitin analyzed data from a survey of more than 500 Senegalese Christians and Muslims living in France in 2009. They found that second-generation Muslim households made about 400 euros less a month than ethnically and socioeconomically similar Christian families.

Peter de Wit / Creative Commons Muslim women and girls at Le Jardin des Vestiges Park in Marseille.

Muslim women and girls at Le Jardin des Vestiges Park in Marseille.

The team also designed a test in which fictional job candidates competed for the same position requiring advanced secondary education and several years of experience.

The names on the resumes reflected different religious and national backgrounds.
"Marie Diouf" posed as a French-Senegalese with a Christian given name, while "Khadija Diouf" appeared to be a French-Senegalese with a Muslim given name.

Each competed against a third candidate, "Aurélie Ménard," whose name sounded like that of a typical descendant of a well-established French family with no assumed religion. (Forcing a comparison between Khadija and Marie would have run the risk of tipping employers off to the test.)

The resumes for the Dioufs were identical except for their first names and the addition of a few activities: Khadija had worked for Islamic Relief and was a member of a Muslim scouting group, while Marie had worked for Catholic Relief and was a member of Catholic scouts.

The researchers used the faux resumes to apply for 300 advertised job openings, making Khadija and Aurélie compete for one set of positions and Marie and Aurélie compete for another. For every 38 callbacks received by Khadija, Marie got 100 callbacks – two-and-a-half times more than Khadija. 

Laitin is now turning his attention toward the causes of religious discrimination in France and the rest of Europe. Meanwhile, he wants his research to help inform the debate over cultural diversity and nationalism.

"Just by finding discrimination doesn't tell us what the remedy is," Laitin said. "But we might be able to find what set of policies does better for social integration. I don't want to say the French have failed with republicanism. But it's clear they have not realized their ideals."