Peter stands greater chance of landing job interview than Ali

And public employers are just as likely to reject Ali as employers in the private sector, despite Ali having the same qualifications as Peter. This is the result of new a new study from Aarhus BSS.


Model photo: Di Carlo Darsa

Applicants with Danish-sounding names such as Peter, Lars, Jens, Anne, Kirsten and Hanne must submit 10 job applications on average to land three job interviews. By contrast, Ali, Mohammad, Ahmed, Mariam, Fatima and Yasmin have to submit 15 applications on average to land the same number of interviews - even though they have the same backgrounds and qualifications as their Danish counterparts.

This is the result of a new study conducted by researchers from Aarhus BSS on the basis of 888 job applications for 222 jobs in four categories in both the public and private sector. The results will be published in the journal Academy of Management Discoveries.

53% better chance with a Danish name

In mathematical terms, this means that job applicants with typical Danish names are almost 53% more likely to land a job interview for the exact same jobs as identical applicants with typical Middle Eastern names.

“The study only shows that there’s a difference. Not what causes it. Whether it’s due to conscious discrimination or an unconscious elimination process, we can’t say. But it may be valuable in and of itself to demonstrate that the difference exists,” says Professor Anders Ryom Villadsen from the Department of Management at Aarhus BSS, who conducted the study together with Assistant Professor Jesper Wulff from the Department of Economics and Business Economics.

Public and private

Among other things, the study aimed to clarify whether public sector managers are better than their private sector colleagues at giving applicants with Middle Eastern names a chance. The study shows that they are not. Nor is there a difference between the chances of men and women.

It is just as difficult for Ali, Fatima and the other applicants with Middle Eastern names to land a job interview in the public sector as in the private sector.

“This was a surprise to us. Previously, several studies have shown that public workplaces are more inclusive and better reflect the surrounding community, because public managers think more in terms of social responsibility than their private sector colleagues. But that does not seem to be the case here,” states Anders Ryom Villadsen.

Training in awareness

As such, he is calling for greater awareness and recognition of the cause behind this.

“We don’t know if people are simply prone to employing those who resemble themselves as much as possible. But if you discard a group of people based on names alone, you also risk discarding the applicant who is best qualified, and this can be a costly affair for the organisation,” says Anders Ryom Villadsen, who is calling on companies - private as well as public - to review their recruitment procedures.

“In the US, HR staff typically receive training to become aware of the implicit stereotypes that we often tend to apply to other people and that form our perceptions of them. Once you are mindful of these stereotypes, you will be able to avoid the pitfalls they create more easily,” says the Aarhus BSS professor.

What the researchers did:

  • The researchers submitted 888 job applications across 222 different job ads using one Danish boy’s and girl’s name as well as one Middle Eastern boy’s and girl’s name respectively.
  • The researchers selected the names from Statistics Denmark’s list of the most common Danish and Middle Eastern names respectively.
  • The 222 jobs were divided into four categories which are in demand in the public as well as the private sector: School teacher, physiotherapist, administrative assistant and financial controller.
  • The researchers found all of the job ads, as well as an application template, on the website
  • The applications were then adapted to the actual jobs, all of which were located in Denmark’s two most densely populated areas: The Greater Copenhagen area and East Jutland.
  • All applications were given false addresses on existing streets and roads in existing, comparable neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the job.
  • All applicants had a relevant education in relation to the job and three to four years of relevant work experience.

Further information:

Professor Anders Ryom Villadsen

Department of Management, Aarhus BSS:

M: + 45 50 71 30 90