employment discrimination

Studies Find Top Law Firms Would Prefer to Hire Higher-Class Men

Photo: Shannon Fagan/Getty Images

A series of studies printed in the American Sociological Review finds that top law firms strongly prefer to interview higher-class men over higher-class women and lower-class applicants of both genders. Authors Lauren Rivera and András Tilcsik took to the Harvard Business Review to explain their methodology and findings.

They sent out résumés for fictitious applicants to summer associateships at 316 offices of 147 of the top law firms across the country; the résumés were identical achievement-wise and put the applicants in the top one percent academically, though they differed in gender as well as signifiers of social class. For instance, the fictitious applicants from a higher-class background expressed an interest in sailing and classical music, while their lower-class counterparts preferred pickup soccer and country music. The applicants all were said to attend second-tier law schools, as these firms are known to recruit on campus at top-tier law schools, eliminating the need for students at those schools to submit applications.

Here’s what the studies’ authors discovered:

Employers overwhelmingly favored the higher-class man. He had a callback rate more than four times of other applicants and received more invitations to interview than all other applicants in our study combined. But most strikingly, he did significantly better than the higher-class woman, whose resume was identical to his, other than the first name.

They also interviewed 200 lawyers, having them read the sample résumés the authors had submitted previously to law firms. There was a strong amount of classism at play: “lower-class candidates were seen as misfits and rejected,” or urged to go into a field of law that paid less. Also of note: Higher-class women fared much worse than their male counterparts, because they were viewed as more likely to leave the firm to start families. Here’s how one attorney explained it:

The perception, she said, was that higher-class women do not need a job because they “have enough money,” are “married to somebody rich,” or are “going to end up being a helicopter mom.”

So, as they discovered, “coming from an advantaged social background helps only men.”

Top Law Firms Prefer to Hire Higher-Class Men