The Consequences of Revealing First-Generational Status
Many would argue that college is the great equalizer. Once completed, individuals who hold a 4-year degree should be able to reap its rewards. This paper examines the pivotal transition from college to the labor market. How do candidates fare when they reveal to prospective employers that they are "first-gen"? Conventional wisdom suggests that revealing this information can have benefits. It makes applicants seem motivated, committed, responsible, and hardworking. It also makes for a compelling narrative; many Americans love stories of "bootstrapped" success. However, we contend that mainstream gatekeepers often evaluate first-gen students unfavorably. This is because mainstream gatekeepers often subscribe to deficit thinking: the tendency to view minoritized individuals primarily through their perceived inadequacies. Because of deficit thinking, gatekeepers adopt a narrow gaze. It causes them to focus on what first-gen students seem to lack rather than the strengths they can bring. We test this theory with a randomized resume audit study (N = 1,785) and two large follow-up experiments (N = 5,763). We find that first-gen applicants received fewer callbacks than non-first gen applicants. And consistent with our theory, they were evaluated unfavorably, but only by deficit thinkers. A final experiment (N = 750) offered a possible intervention. It showed that nudging gatekeepers to adopt a strengths-based mindset ameliorated the effects. Broadly, these findings suggest that crafting the narrative about first-gen students is important. The dominant narratives about first gen students often adopt a deficit lens. It is much more common to see their needs highlighted instead of their strengths. Although well-meaning, we contend this deficit lens can inadvertently contribute to their marginalization. Peter Belmi is a professor at the Darden School of Business and holds a courtesy appointment at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. His scholarship on the psychology of inequality has received several awards. He received the Wells Fargo Award for Most Outstanding Research Publication in 2020, the Best Article Award from the Academy of Management in 2016, the Best Paper Award from the Excellence in Ethics Research Conference in 2014, and the Outstanding Research Award from the Society of Personality and Social Psychology in 2012. Thinkers50 named Peter one of the "30 emerging thinkers with the potential to make lasting contributions to management theory and practice." He currently serves on the editorial board of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Event Type: 
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
Event Sponsor: 
Personality and Social Research, Institute of
Event Speakers: 
Peter Belmi