Social Class and Job Hunting

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Social class refers to one’s relative economic standing in society. It includes income, education, occupation, and the power and privilege accompanying these factors. Social class has the potential to influences life chances and opportunities across a number of domains, including the jobs to which one has access. 

To examine these dynamics further, Lauren Rivera, of Northwestern University, and colleagues conducted a study to examine whether presumed social class would affect opportunities to work at large US law firms. The authors sent fictitious resumes to the law firms, and these varied based on the presumed social class and gender of the applicant. Social class was manipulated by altering the name (Clark versus Cabot), the scholarship received in school (need-based or not), volunteer work (peer mentoring of first generation students or peer mentoring of college students in general), and favored sport activities (track and field versus sailing). All other information was the same.

The authors found that applicants believed to be higher class men were most likely to receive an interview, followed by lower class women, lower class men, and higher class women. Higher class men were about three times more likely to get an interview request than the other applicants.

The authors then conducted two follow-up studies, one of which was another experiment and the other involved personal interviews, to further understand these effects. These studies showed that higher class men were considered a better fit to the law firm and their clientele, and more committed. Higher class women, on the other hand, were considered less committed to work, and thus, not an ideal worker.

In discussing the findings, the authors noted, “despite the myths of a classless society, social class of origin plays an enduring role in shaping individuals’ life chances and economic trajectories.”