"Ban the Box, Criminal Records, and Statistical Discrimination: A Field Experiment"


“Ban-the-Box” (BTB) policies restrict employers from asking about applicants’ criminal
histories on job applications and are often presented as a means of reducing unemployment among
black men, who disproportionately have criminal records. However, withholding information about
criminal records could risk encouraging statistical discrimination: employers may make
assumptions about criminality based on the applicant’s race or other observable characteristics. To
investigate this possibility as well as the effects of race and criminal records on employer callback
rates, we sent approximately 15,000 fictitious online job applications to employers in New Jersey
and New York City, before and after each jurisdiction’s adoption of BTB policies. Our causal
effect estimates are based on a triple-differences design, which exploits the fact that many
businesses’ applications did not ask about records even before BTB and were thus unaffected by the
Our results confirm that criminal records are a major barrier to employment, but they also
support the concern that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination on the basis of race.
Overall, white applicants received 23% more callbacks than similar black applicants and employers
that ask about criminal records are 62% more likely to call back an applicant if he has no record.
However, we find that the race gap in callbacks grows dramatically at the BTB-affected companies
after the policy goes into effect. Before BTB, white applicants to BTB-affected employers received
about 7% more callbacks than similar black applicants, but BTB increases this gap to 45%.

Year of Publication
Date Published
Publication Language
Citation Key
Working Papers