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Class Advantage, Commitment Penalty: The Interplay of Social Class and Gender in an Elite Labor Market, American Sociological Review


Research on the mechanisms that reproduce social class advantages in the United States has focused primarily on formal schooling and paid less attention to social class discrimination in labor markets. We conducted a résumé audit study to examine the effect of social class signals on entry into large American law firms. We sent applications from fictitious students at selective but non-elite law schools to 316 law firm offices in fourteen cities, randomly assigning signals of social class background and gender to otherwise identical résumés. Higher-class male applicants received significantly more callbacks than higher-class women, lower-class women, and lower-class men. A survey experiment and interviews with lawyers at large firms suggest that, relative to lower-class applicants, higher-class candidates are seen as better fits with the elite culture and clientele of large law firms. But, while higher-class men receive a corresponding overall boost in evaluations, higher-class women do not because they face a competing, negative stereotype portraying them as less committed to full-time, intensive careers. This commitment penalty faced by higher-class women offsets class-based advantages these applicants may receive in evaluations. Consequently, signals of higher-class origin provide an advantage for men but not women in this elite labor market.




Lauren Rivera, Andras Tilcsik

Date Published



Rivera, Lauren, and Andras Tilcsik. 2016. Class Advantage, Commitment Penalty: The Interplay of Social Class and Gender in an Elite Labor Market. American Sociological Review.: 1097-1131.


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