Discrimination of Social Welfare Applicants in the German Bureaucracy


Theoretical background and objectives

Many studies have examined discrimination against minorities, analyzing behavior from corporations, politicians, and individuals alike. Most studies focus exclusively on one individual-level trait, such as ethnicity, class or gender. Taken together, we lack evidence whether state bureaucracies, too, discriminate, and to what degree this discrimination changes from one individual-level trait to another.

Research design, data and methodology

Using a conjoint correspondence trial involving all 408 German employment agencies, we investigate whether five different traits—ethnicity, gender, skill, education, and legal support—face discrimination. Importantly, by leveraging a legal loophole, we are able to analyze the qualitative dimension of discrimination.


Our results demonstrate that heretofore salient measures of discrimination—including response rates, response lengths, and grammatical mistakes—yield no statistically discernible effects across the five traits. However, ethnic-sounding applicants receive qualitatively inferior responses: their questions are more likely to be ignored or even answered incorrectly. The results highlight the importance of measuring discrimination on qualitative grounds.

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Hemker, Johannes/Rink, Anselm (2017): "Multiple Dimensions of Bureaucratic Discrimination. Evidence from German Welfare Offices". In: American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 61, No. 4, S. 786–803. (vorab online publiziert 30.06.2017)