Study reveals ethnic discrimination in recruitment of young workers

A study organised in six major French cities, under the supervision of the International Labour Organization, shows significant discrimination towards young workers of black or north African origin. Most of the discrimination is observed during the recruitment process, at the stage before the employer first meets the candidate for an interview. Moreover, the findings show that men with these ethnic origins are more discriminated against than women.


On 15 November 2007, the French Constitutional Council (Conseil constitutionnel) invalidated an article in a project of law that would have introduced ‘ethnic statistics’ in France. This decision is based on the principle that ethnic origins and race cannot be considered as eligible objective data to describe French society. Thus, an assessment of ethnic discrimination will not be possible through general statistics, and will only rely on surveys such as the one described in this article.

In 2006, the organisation Inter Service Migrants – Centre for the Observation and Research of Urban Life and its Development (Centre d’Observation et de Recherche sur l’Urbain et ses Mutations, ISM-CORUM) carried out a study in six major French cities: Lille in the north, Lyon in the southeast, Marseille in the south, Nantes in the west, the capital city of Paris and Strasbourg in the east. These cities were selected for the size and diversity of the active population and their geographical distribution. The research framework was defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and also used in other European countries. However, methodological adaptations which were necessary to ensure the relevance of the study prevent international comparison.

Research methodology

The test is based on effective job offers, to which two fictitious candidates reply. Both persons are similar with regard to most features: sex, age, French nationality, initial education and professional experience. They only differ in relation to the origin that could be attributed to them on the basis of their name, surname or physical appearance. In each case, a candidate presenting features of a ‘visible’ French origin is compared with another candidate of north or black African origin. The study focused on low and medium qualified jobs in economic sectors reporting a large volume of vacancies, which is mainly encountered in the hotels and restaurants, and retail trade sectors.

For this operation, 2,440 job offers were selected, resulting in 4,880 applications. In the end, 1,100 tests were fully validated. A summary of the study findings (in French) has been published by the Research and Statistics Department (Direction de l’Animation de la Recherche, des Études et des Statistiques, DARES) of the French Ministry of Labour, Social Relations, Family Affairs and Solidarity (Ministère du Travail, des Relations Sociales, de la Famille et de la Solidarité).

High rate of discrimination

In the hiring process, the 1,100 tests go through different stages according to the decisions of the employer. After the initial contact (step 1), either the employers take a decision immediately to hire, to reject or to invite the candidate for an interview, or else they defer a decision; in the latter case, this is identified as a second step known as the postponement phase (step 2). The final step of the hiring process is the job interview, which occurs either directly after the initial contact (step 3a), or after the postponement phase (step 3b). The following tables show the results of the tests at each of these stages.

Table 1: Step 1 – Initial contact
Number of tests 1,100 100.0%
More favourable to candidate with apparent French origin 507 46.1% (a)
More favourable to candidate with apparent north or black African origin 143 13.0% (b)
Identical proposal to both candidates 450 40.9%

Note: Net discrimination rate (a - b) = 46.1% - 13% = 33.1%.

Source: Survey by discrimination testing, ISM-CORUM / ILO, 2006, cited in Dares, 2008, p. 2

Table 1 shows that, in the first step of initial contact, of the 1,100 employers 507 companies were more favourable to the candidate with a French-sounding name. With 143 companies preferring the candidate of African origin, this corresponds to a net discrimination rate of 33.1%. In 450 cases, both candidates were treated equally: for 238 of these applicants, the process was postponed (Table 2) while, for the remaining 212 persons, an interview was proposed immediately (Table 3).

Table 2: Step 2 – Postponement phase
Number of tests 238 21.6%
More favourable to candidate with apparent French origin 167 15.2% (a)
More favourable to candidate with apparent north or black African origin 51 4.6% (b)
Identical proposal to both candidates 20 1.8%

Note: Net discrimination rate (a - b) = 15.2% - 4.6% = 10.6%.

Source: Dares, 2008, p. 2

Table 3: Step 3a – Interview directly after initial contact
Number of tests 212 19.3%
More favourable to candidate with apparent French origin 93 8.4% (a)
More favourable to candidate with apparent north or black African origin 13 1.2% (b)
Hiring of both candidates 29 2.7%
Both candidates rejected 77 7.0%

Note: Net discrimination rate (a - b) = 8.4% - 1.2% = 7.2%.

Source: Dares, 2008

Table 4: Step 3b – Interview after postponement phase
Number of tests 20 19.3%
More favourable to candidate with apparent French origin 3 0.3% (a)
More favourable to candidate with apparent north or black African origin 2 0.2% (b)
Hiring of both candidates 9 0.8%
Both candidates rejected 6 0.5%

Note: Net discrimination rate (a - b) = 0.3% - 0.2% = 0.1%

Source: Dares, 2008

The ILO also defines a ‘cumulated net discrimination rate’, obtained by adding the net discrimination rates observed at each step. In the French experiment, this cumulated net discrimination rate amounts to 51%.

Gender gap in discrimination levels

A noticeable gender difference may be discerned in the level of discrimination: for candidates with an apparent north African origin, the discrimination rate for men is 47% compared with 27% for women. For those with an apparent black African origin, the gender gap is smaller, but at a consistently high level of discrimination: 54% for men and 50% for women.


These results show that most of the discrimination takes place in the first steps of the hiring process, notably at the first contact. Indeed, 85% of the cumulated net discrimination rate (43.7% out of the 51% total) is observed before the employer first meets the candidate for an interview. The survey also shows that discrimination is higher towards north or black African men than women.

Reference and further information

Cédiey, E., Foroni, F. and Garner, H., Discrimination à l’embauche fondée sur l’origine à l’encontre des jeunes français(e)s peu qualifié(e)s, Premières Infos Premières Synthèses, No. 06.3, Dares, February 2008.

Further research, a 2001 study, based on a sample of 54,000 young people, found that integration into the labour market of young people of immigrant parents remains a major problem in France (FR0605019I).

Anne-Marie Nicot, ANACT

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