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How Race and Unemployment Shape Labor Market Opportunities: Additive, Amplified, or Muted Effects?

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The manner in which social categories combine to produce inequality lies at the heart of scholarship on social stratification. To date, scholars have largely pointed to two primary ways that negatively stereotyped categories may aggregate: 1) additive effects, whereby one category has similar consequences across the other category, and 2) amplified congruence, whereby a secondary category exacerbates the negative effects of the first category. This article develops an alternative potential aggregation pattern—muted congruence—which posits that when individuals evaluate others that occupy multiple social positions about which stereotypes are highly congruent, such as being black and being unemployed, the additional category membership will have limited influence over the ultimate evaluation. Using evidence from a field experiment, where fictitious applications were submitted to real job openings, I examine which aggregation pattern most accurately reflects how race and unemployment shape actual hiring decisions. In line with predictions from the “muted congruence” perspective, the findings indicate that racial discrimination is prominent, but that there are limited additional negative effects of unemployment for African American workers. I conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for understanding the aggregation of social categories in the production of inequality.

David S. Pedulla