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In Job Market, Social Contacts Help Men – Not Women

When it comes to finding a job, who you know is as important as what you know. Work experience generally helps people foster the kinds of personal contacts that can lead someone to new career opportunities, but a study from North Carolina State University shows that this is really only true for men. The study finds that work experience doesn’t improve women’s chances of finding a job through social contacts.

“The study finds that work experience is important, in large part because it helps us develop social connections that can help people learn about future job opportunities,” says Dr. Steve McDonald, an assistant professor of sociology at NC State and author of a paper describing the study. “However, while men reap the social benefits of work experience, women do not.”

Men, but not women, see significant advantages in finding work through their social contacts.

Using a national dataset of more than 12,000 people, McDonald examined the role work experience plays when people find new jobs through their social connections. McDonald found that men who had lots of specialized work experience were often recruited into a new job through their social contacts without having to look for a job. In fact, men with this kind of experience were 12 percent more likely to find a new job through informal recruitment than they were through a formal job search.

Women, however, did not see this benefit. They were no more likely to find a job through informal recruitment than they were through a formal job search.

“Previously, researchers have argued that women face lower-wage payoffs than men with similar work experience because the women have fewer opportunities to develop job skills,” McDonald says. “But this study suggests that a lack of useful social connections may also be driving the gender wage gap.”

This gender disparity is especially problematic for women who are vying for high-wage, managerial jobs – because these positions are often filled through the informal recruiting process that appears to favor men. “As a result,” McDonald says, “the more that can be done to institute formal hiring practices, the closer we will be to an equitable job market.

“We need to learn more about exactly why women don’t get the same benefits from their social connections that men do,” McDonald says. “But right now, we just don’t have the long-term data we need on these social networks to fully understand this phenomenon.”

The paper, “What You Know or Who You Know? Occupation-specific work experience and job matching through social networks,” is forthcoming from Social Science Research. The research was supported by a grant from NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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Note to editors: The study abstract follows.

“What You Know or Who You Know? Occupation-specific work experience and job matching through social networks”

Author: Steve McDonald, North Carolina State University

Published: forthcoming, Social Science Research

Abstract: While work experience is generally seen as an indicator of human capital, it may also reflect the accumulation of social capital. This study examines how work experience facilitates informal access to employment—that is, being matched with a new employer through an informal search or informal recruitment through the non-search process (without engaging in a job search). Results from fixed effects regression on panel data from the NLSY show that experience is related to informal entry into new jobs, though in a very specific way. The odds of being informally recruited into a new job improve as work experience in related occupations rises, but this relationship holds only among men. These findings highlight the social benefits of occupation-specific work experience that accrue to men but not to women, suggesting an alternative explanation for the gender disparity in wage returns to experience.

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