Transgender people report experiencing relatively high rates of discrimination throughout many facets of their everyday life. For example, in a recent Europe-wide survey, 37% of transgender people said that they have experienced discrimination when looking for work. 

A new study presents the first experimental evidence of hiring discrimination against transgender people in the labour market. The results verify the reported experiences and the authors also analyse how discrimination against transgendered applicants differs across differently ‘gendered’ occupations.

The experiment, conducted in Sweden, uses a correspondence testing design where 2,224 fictitious applications were sent out to real job openings. Transgender identity was randomly assigned to about half of the applications and was implied in the personal letter through the applicant having changed their name from a male name to a female name or vice versa.

The researchers show that there were substantial differences in the probability for trans- and cis-gendered applicants to receive positive responses to their applications. 

Figure 1 shows the estimated probability of a callback for each type of applicant in the experiment. Cisgender applicants received a positive response to about 40% of their job applications while transgender applicants only received positive responses to 34% of theirs. 

Figure 1.


The experiment targeted 12 low-skill jobs in Sweden with different gender ratios. Figure 2 shows that when graphing the response rates for different applicants across occupational gender ratios, some interesting patterns emerge. 

Looking first at occupations where the share of women exceeds two in three (67%), defined as women-dominated, women tend to receive a positive response more often than men, regardless of whether they were cis- or transgendered. In male-dominated occupations, defined similarly as occupations where the share of women is below one in three (33%), transgender people receive fewer callbacks, regardless of whether they are male or female. 

In Figure 2, this can be seen graphically through the distance between dashed and solid lines in male-dominated occupations and, in contrast, the distance between blue and red lines in women-dominated occupations. (in the mixed occupations, there were no differences in callback rates).

Figure 2.


These findings are interesting for a number of reasons. First, no matter how compelling an individual’s experience may be, unless there are overt statements about the employer’s motivations, it will always be difficult to prove hiring discrimination in individual cases because intent is hard to establish. Experiments such as this can give an aggregate picture that verifies and validates the experiences of individuals and also shows that there is still policy work to do to achieve equality of opportunity. 

Second, the results highlight the difficulty in establishing on what grounds one has been discriminated. An interpretation is that transgendered male applicants may be discriminated based on their transgender expression in male-dominated occupations and based on being male in women-dominated occupations. These are two distinct legal bases for discrimination and shows how, whenever an individual fits into several protected classes, it will be difficult to distinguish which one has led to discrimination. 

Third, even though legal protections have been extended to cover this growing minority group, they still experience discrimination in the Swedish labour market. From an economic perspective, this means that these labour markets may not be making efficient use of available human capital, and with such inefficiencies potential economic gains are never realised, resulting in a loss for all of society not to mention the transgender people directly affected.


Mark Granberg (mark.granberg@liu.se, +46733158315) is a third year PhD candidate in Economics at Linköping University.

The study is now published in Labour Economics: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.labeco.2020.101860