Who deserves to be sanctioned? A vignette experiment of ethnic discrimination among street-level bureaucrats
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionActa Sociologica. 2023, . 10.1177/00016993231156486
To study discrimination in labour/housing markets, and among street-level bureaucrats in the welfare state, present both theoretical and methodological challenges. In the sociological study of discrimination, experiments have seldom been used to study how street-level bureaucrats make their decisions. The context of decision-making is different in the state and in markets, but experimental methods can provide new knowledge of how perceptions of deservingness may potentially lead to discrimination in the welfare state. Using a vignette experiment on Norwegian street-level bureaucrats (N = 645), we investigate if their perceptions of recipients’ ethnic background, and perceived ‘unfavourable’ behaviour, affect the propensity to impose a time-limited termination of unemployment beneﬁts due to non-compliance with activity requirements. The experiment ﬁnds that the propensity to terminate the unemployment bene-ﬁt was initially less for the recipient with an ethnic minority name, compared to the recipient with an ethnic majority name. However, when information about ‘unfavourable’ behaviour was added to the vignette, the propensity to sanction the ethnic minority recipient strongly increased. The results suggest that perceived deservingness-traits are crucial for understanding possible discrimination when street-level bureaucrats face ethnic minorities in the welfare state. Ethnic markers interact with markers of ‘deservingness’. Theoretical and methodological implications when studying potential discrimination among street-level bureaucrats are discussed.