Working Papers

Taking a Pass

How Proportional Prejudice and Decisions Not to Hire Reproduce Sex Segregation


We propose and test a theory of how decisions not to hire reproduce sex segregation through what we term proportional prejudice. We hypothesize that employers are less likely to hire anyone when the applicant pool contains a large proportion of gender atypical applicants – that is, applicants from a different gender than the typical job holder – because they view this as a signal of a poor quality applicant pool. Analyses, of over seven million job applications for over 700,000 jobs by over 200,000 freelancers on an online platform for contract labor support our contention. A survey experiment isolates the mechanism: Applicant pools with a larger proportion of gender atypical applicants were perceived as less likely to contain people who “seemed skilled enough for the job.” We conclude by demonstrating how our theory explains the mixed findings as to whether gender atypical job seekers are disadvantaged in the hiring process.