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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Employment Discrimination and Asperger

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss employment of people on the spectrum.

Mason Ameri and colleagues have a paper at NBER titled: "The Disability Employment Puzzle: A Field Experiment on Employer Hiring Behavior."  The abstract:
People with disabilities have low employment and wage levels, and some studies suggest employer discrimination is a contributing factor. Following the method of Bertrand and Mullainathan (2003), new evidence is presented from a field experiment that sent applications in response to 6,016 advertised accounting positions from well-qualified fictional applicants, with one-third of cover letters disclosing that the applicant has a spinal cord injury, one-third disclosing the presence of Asperger’s Syndrome, and one-third not mentioning disability. These specific disabilities were chosen because they would not be expected to limit productivity in accounting, helping rule out productivity-based explanations for any differences in employer responses. Half of the resumes portrayed a novice accountant, and half portrayed an experienced one. The fictional applicants with disabilities received 26% fewer expressions of employer interest than those without disabilities, with little difference between the two types of disability. The disability gap was concentrated among more experienced applicants, and among private companies with fewer than 15 employees that are not covered by the ADA, although comparable state statutes cover about half of them. Comparisons above and below disability law coverage thresholds point to a possible positive effect of the ADA on employer responses to applicants with disabilities, but no clear effects of state laws. The overall pattern of findings is consistent with the idea that disability discrimination continues to impede employment prospects of people with disabilities, and more attention needs to be paid to employer behavior and the demand side of the labor market for people with disabilities. [emphasis added]
From the paper:
Some level of social interaction is of course necessary (“communicating with supervisors, peers, or subordinates” is the seventh most important work activity), but the bulk of accountants’ work can be done independently, and the social interaction may primarily involve exchanging technical information where not much social and emotional reciprocity is required. In short, accounting may be particularly suitable for many people with Asperger’s. As will be seen, the results differ little between applicants with SCI—which does not impair either technical or social interaction skills—and those with Asperger’s. This points to employers’ general reluctance to hire people with disabilities rather than specific concerns over how potential social interaction deficits will affect the productivity of people with Asperger’s.