The Hidden Value of Highbrow Taste: How Cultural Signals of Class Shape U.S. Labor Market Outcomes

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Date and Time: 
Thursday, April 7, 2016
12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Kyla Thomas
Princeton University

In this talk, I provide experimental evidence of the cultural mechanisms through which social class patterns the hiring evaluations of U.S. employers and the labor market outcomes of U.S. workers. I propose that people in the U.S. commonly draw on cultural measures of status—namely, indicators of cultural taste—to discern the class positions of others.  Furthermore, I propose that these cultural signals of class are an important basis for employment discrimination in the U.S. labor market. Results from an audit study conducted in four major cities and a survey-experimental study of 1,428 hiring managers reveal the hidden value highbrow taste in the U.S. labor market and, simultaneously, its hidden cost.  I find that applicants with high status cultural tastes experience a significantly higher probability of employer callback if they are (1) women and (2) applying to customer-facing jobs.  However, this probability grows consistently negative and non-significant among male and/or non-customer-facing job applicants. Survey-experimental evidence suggests that these differing patterns of employer callback may be explained by the positive effect of high status cultural signals on perceptions of demeanor and their negative effect on perceptions of warmth.  Together, these survey and audit study findings offer insight into the cultural content of American class bias and the gendered nature of its labor market consequences.