February 19, 2018

White Privilege: The Callback Myth

There was a time when I thought perhaps “White Privilege” had some substance to it, but the more I read about it the more I found that it’s just a re-labeling of “racial inequality” arguments. And every single one of them goes like this:

They find some way that whites have it better than blacks, and call that “White Privilege.” This seems compelling if you just assume that all inequality is the product of some unfairness.

I won’t bother with the more trivial and unfalsifiable “white privilege” claims, like white people touching poofy Afro hair, or how Nicki Minaj is called the “black Lady Gaga” or the existential horror of some white people wearing blackface.

I’m going to focus on things that are important and can be verified / falsified, such as police and court bias, employment opportunity, income, economic mobility and educational opportunities.

Employee competence by race and credential

One “White Privilege” argument is that blacks get fewer callbacks than whites for given credentials. This is assumed to be just bald “racism” on the part of employers, but consider that a given credential might mean less for a black person than for a white person.

From the 2002 National Adult Literacy Survey (test), on page 36 they have an interesting chart showing scores on document reading, prose (writing) and math for every level of eduction.

We can look at the result for document reading ability:

So in terms of ability to read and understand documents, a white college dropout will, on average, have an easier time understanding documents than a black person with some post-graduate degree. And the black post-grad won’t be that much better than a white guy with a GED.

Next we can look at prose (writing) ability:

A similar story, white college dropouts are better writers than black post-grads.

Next we can look at quantitative ability:

Here we have whites who didn’t even go to college doing almost as well as blacks with a 4-year degree.

So if you’re an employer, would you rather have a black with a post-grad degree, or a white college dropout?

The white college dropout is more competent and will expect less pay and less autonomy than the black post-grad. The black post-grad is also more likely to sue you for racial discrimination if you promote a white employee with worse “credentials” over him.

These numbers are from 2002. Unfortunately later reports don’t have these brilliant charts showing competence by race and education level, but this onedoes show competence by race and income level, which suggests that this is still true.

Callbacks for Criminals

One of the most salient “white privilege” factoids regarding employment is that white male ex-cons are more likely to get a callback than black males – period. My response is, “well, who makes a better employee?”

Regarding criminality, remember that 29% of black males go to prison at some time in their life.

BJS study on recidivism found that whites had a 39.9% recidivism rate in the 30 states they had data for. Meaning that white ex-cons had a 39.9%% chance of going to prison again.

Looking forward, a white ex-con is still more likely to go to jail than a random black person. But that higher criminality for the white ex-con may be offset by greater competence and better work ethic.

It’s not like white ex-cons are worlds more criminal than average blacks.

From an employer’s point of view: who is more likely to steal from the company – a white ex-con, or a random black person?

Well the white ex-con is 1.376 times more criminal than the black, BUT he probably has a higher IQ. We know this because the IQs of prisoners is around 90, while the IQ of blacks is 85. And so even if white ex-cons merely have the same IQ as the entire prison population, it’s going to be higher. But white prisoners probably have average IQs above 90, because some group is going to be offsetting the fact that black convicts certainly have IQs below 85 and well below 90.

And so it’s possible that the white ex-con is less likely to steal from his employer than the random black person, even though he’s more likely to steal overall, simply because he’s less stupid than the black person. Think about it – he’s only 37.6% more likely to steal in the first instance, and given his higher IQ, it’s shouldn’t be dismissed that the ex-con is LESS likely to steal from his employer in particular than a random black male.

In short, it’s not scandalous that employers are picking white ex-cons over blacks. It may be the wrong decision for employers, or it may be a smart decision for them. But it’s not immediately obvious.

IQ, work performance and income

Next we can look at race, IQ and income. Now you can believe whatever you want about IQ and “intelligence.” You can believe that IQ has nothing to do with intelligence if that makes you feel better. But IQ (also known as general mental ability or GMA) does predict work performance extremely well. And this is something very relevant to employers who want to hire people who can get the job done:

So IQ can basically be used as a proxy for work performance ability. If you have 50 people with an IQ of 100, and 50 people with an IQ of 85, the people with an IQ of 100 will probably have better work performance. And that’s what we have with blacks and whites.

So the relevant question regarding “white privilege” is: do blacks earn less than their IQ would predict? And the second question is, if so, what does it mean?

Well, according to business insider, in 2012 Black median income was $33,321 and White median income was $57,009. Thus black median income was 58.45% of white median income.

In 1993 in The Bell Curve, Charles Murray calculated the median incomes of people of various IQs. He found that people with an IQ of 85 earn 61.9% of what people with an IQ of 100 earn on average.

The median IQ of blacks has been 85 for as long as it has been measured, while the median IQ of whites is 100 (this is by design; whatever whites score on the test in absolute numbers is called 100).

So if you take these numbers literally, blacks earn 3.5% less than whites when IQ is controlled for. But remember we’re comparing data from 1993 to data from 2012. Perhaps a higher IQ was 3.5% more valuable in 2012 than it was in 1993.

But the real takeaway is that blacks and whites earn roughly what their IQs would predict, and any deviation from this for the whole populations is rather minor if it even exists at all.

Again, you don’t have to think IQ means “intelligence” to recognize that it corresponds with job performance, and employers seem to be discriminating on the basis of IQ as best they can, navigating the political minefields necessary to avoid employing over-credentialed blacks—which is the real problem, not “White Privilege.”

On the Studies Showing Obscene Callback Disparities

For the sake of understanding, imagine that a resume can be scored into a single value, from 1 to 100. This includes references, job experience and credentials.

Now say, to employers, because of the overcredentialization of blacks, being black costs 5 points.

Okay, now say you run an experiment in which you take two otherwise identical resumes, and send them to businesses. If being white is worth 5 points, how often will the business choose the white resume over the black resume? Well, we would expect them to take the white resume over the black one 100% of the time.

And so these studies showing that identical white resumes are basically ALWAYS picked over “equal” black resumes shouldn’t be surprising at all. But in reality, precisely equal resumes are not competing with each other. There are a lot of situations where no good white resumes are put in, and so in actuality whites only get callbacks about twice as often than blacks with equal credentials, not 20 times as often.

Blacks have to have more credentials than whites in order to get jobs, true, but it is easier for them to get those credentials due to affirmative action.

I certainly oppose this. It’s certainly unfair to require blacks jump through additional hoops to get the same thing. I say to bring back the IQ tests for jobs – it will save everyone a lot of time and money, and is a much better predictor of job performance than “education level”, work experience or references.

Facebook Comments
  • John Haves

    I have a correction. You state:

    “A BJS study on recidivism found that whites had a 39.9% recidivism rate in the 30 states they had data for. Meaning that white ex-cons had a 39.9%% chance of going to prison again.”

    39.9% is the percent of released prisoners who are white (page 5, table 4)
    the 1 and 5 year white recidivism rates is 39.7% and 73.1% respectively (page 13 table 15)

    Additionally comparison of a lifetime risk for blacks to a 1 year risk for whites is not valid

  • zerospacer

    I think it’s important to just look at the experience of employers with black male employees. They will base future hires on previous experience. This is anecdotal, but at the warehouse where I work, black males that have been hired tend to not work hard at all. I don’t mean average. I mean slower than average. They appear to be “on break” most of the time. The only black male who seemed very motivated was later fired for errors. Others were smoking marijuana on breaks, one black supervisor tried to get me to help him sell some cocaine over the weekend (another one was also a drug dealer) and he may have been fired. Another was the janitor, who left or was fired after having slept with an underage girl (I don’t necessarily agree with current statutory rape laws, but I am presenting this from the perspective of employers, who might be concerned or would at least pay attention to how long hires stay with the company). I’m not saying employees of other races didn’t do any of these things, but black men appear to exhibit these behaviors at a much higher percentage. Black men don’t represent a big number of our hires, so it’s odd that so many of them are memorable for these. And where I work, it’s pretty hard to get fired, and workers who aren’t great workers tend to not get called on it.

  • Marcus

    IQ tests should be utilised by HR departments around the world. It is preposterous that using them in the US is practically illegal. Judges, in particular, have a lot to answer for!