Business and Management INK

Exploring Discrimination Faced by Asian Nationals in the U.S. Labor Market

May 2, 2024 451

In this article, Amit Kramer, Kwon Hee Han, Yun Kyoung Kim, and Yun Kyoung Kim reflect on the hypotheses and observations that led to their article, “Inefficiencies and bias in first job placement: the case of professional Asian nationals in the United States,found in the Journal of Industrial Relations. Their reflection can be found below the paper’s abstract.

We study whether the quality of the first job is lower for professional Asian nationals than for non-Asian nationals in the USA. With over a million professionals from Asia entering the US labor market in the past decade, a potential under placement may be both inefficient and discriminatory. We collected data on all newly hired assistant professors of management in research-intensive (R1) universities in the USA between 2010 and 2021. We focus on the quality of the university into which first hires are placed and examine whether first-job placement quality is lower for individuals who were born in East, South and Southeast Asia. We find that the quality and quantity of publication record are positively related to the quality of the placement and that Asian nationals have higher performance. However, Asian nationals are placed at lower-quality universities relative to their peers. Further, Asian nationals require a strong performance signal, in the form of first or second authorship on a publication to narrow the placement gap. Our results are explained by a combination of direct bias against applicants of Asian nationality and a requirement of a higher performance “burden of proof” from these applicants, compared to peers who are non-Asian nationals.

This paper was motivated by an observation – Asian nationals seemed to be discriminated against in European and American labor markets, but there is little research that empirically test and validate this assertion. Studying discrimination is difficult. The most challenging part is observing and measuring performance. Specifically, in most occupations, is very difficult to quantify performance and to objectively measure it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Asians are being discriminated against. For example, Asians in the American labor market are overrepresented in the professional field (e.g., engineering) but are underrepresented in top management positions. Other anecdotal evidence suggests that top universities in the United States discriminate against Asians in admission decisions.

We wanted to test the hypotheses that Asian nationals are discriminated against in the labor market, but needed to find data that allows testing if such discrimination exist. We decided to focus on the entry point to the academic labor market in top research universities. This labor market is unique because the performance of newly graduated doctoral students in some fields (we focused on management) is observed: top research universities value publications in top journals above all (a publish or perish environment) and publication record is the most valued performance measure in hiring decisions. In addition, there are several rankings of research universities in the United States. Thus, the transparency of this market allows us to test if Asian nationals are being discriminated against: one can measure performance before a candidate is offered a job; the quality of the position is known; and other characteristics such as the pedigree and demographic attributes are also observable. These allow us to test whether Asian nationals are hired into lower ranked universities compared to their peers, conditional on their publication record and other characteristics.

We collected data on all newly hired assistant professors by business schools over a span of 11 years. We focused our attention on R-1 universities – those that are research intensive and value research productivity (publications) above all other measures of performance. We find that Asian nationals are placed at lower ranked universities relative to their peers conditioned on their publication record and other attributes. We suggest that this represents bias against Asian nationals that most likely exists in other industries and professions.

Amit Kramer (pictured) is the associate dean for online graduate education and an associate professor in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has a PhD in human resources and industrial relations from the University of Minnesota and has research interests in the relationship between work, family and health, family-friendly policies in organizations and their effect on employee and employer’s outcomes, and diversity and identity outcomes in teams and organizations. Kwonhee Han is a PhD student in the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He has research interests in intrapersonal, team and firm level diversity, social networks, and creativity and innovation. Yun Kyoung Kim is an assistant professor in the management department at Salisbury University. She teaches a handful of academic course — all dealing with human resources and organizational behavior. Karen Z. Kramer is an associate professor in the Labor Education Program (LEP) at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She earned her Ph.D. in Family Social Science from the University of Minnesota, Twin-Cities and her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Haifa, Israel.

View all posts by Amit Kramer, Kwon Hee Han, Yun Kyoung Kim, and Karen Z. Kramer

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