Criminal Record Questions on Job Applications as a Self-Selection Mechanism for Applying for Employment
Over the past decade, “Ban the Box” movements across the United States have advocated for the removal of criminal history questions from employment applications based on knowledge of the deleterious impact of a criminal record on employability. With this increasing policy focus on job applications, we examine the influence of criminal record questions and background check warning statements on individuals with criminal records’ decision to apply for available employment. In other words, do applicants self-select out of applying for jobs due to having to expose their criminal record at the application stage, and what influences this decision? We describe a CJRC-funded seed grant that used a mixed-methods approach, featuring experimental and in-depth interview components, that quantitatively tests the probability of application by various possible ways that employers can ask about records and qualitatively inquires how those with records navigate this process. Relative to an application with no criminal record questions or background check statement, we find that background check statements are significantly more likely to deter those with records from applying, but criminal record questions are not. Our interviews confirm that applicants self-select out of certain jobs and in particular when confronted with a background check statement, that they view the criminal record question as an opportunity for identity management, and that they have more agency in the process than described in previous studies. We discuss both theoretical and policy implications of these findings.
Eric LaPlant is a PhD Level Graduate Student at Ohio State. He studies crime, law and deviance; collateral consequences; health; substance use; and neighborhoods.
Lesley Schneider is a second year graduate student at The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on inequality, law and punishment, the production of deviance, and stigma.
Mike Vuolo is Associate Professor of Sociology at Ohio State. He studies crime, law, and deviance; health; work and education; substance use; the life course; and statistics and methodology.