Sociologists at the University of Connecticut sent out 3,200 fake resumes of fictitious recent college graduates that either listed participation in a campus ministry of one of seven religious beliefs or a non-religious club.
They then recorded which resumes received responses from employers, and whether the responses were made via email or phone. A resume that resulted in a phone call was seen as being more valuable to the employer.
Of the 14 percent of "applicants" that were contacted by at least one employer, “religious applicants were 26 percent less likely to hear back at all, 24 percent less likely to receive emails, and 30 percent less likely to receive phone calls.”
Of the fictitious applicants who heard back from more than one employer, those with a religious affiliation on their resumes received ”31 percent fewer contacts, 29 percent fewer emails and 33 percent fewer phone calls” than those from the control group.
The study also showed that employers discriminated more against some faiths than others.
“Compared with the control group, who received responses 18.2 percent of the time, Muslims (10.7%), atheists (12.0%), and Catholics (13.0%) received significantly fewer responses,” the study said.
Evangelical resumes received less discrimination, getting a 15.8 percent response rate compared to the control group’s 18.2 percent. Pagans got a 13.3 percent response rate, and "Wallonians" - a made-up religion for purposes of the study - were tied with Catholics at 13 percent.
"Employers' least prejudiced views were reserved for Jews," the study noted. They "failed to show significantly lower results on any indicator," and in some cases even got preferential treatment.
Although these resumes were sent to employers near Southern cities, the researchers conducted a nearly identical study in the Northeast with slightly different results.
Similar to what happened in the South, religious resumes sent to employers in the Northeast received 25 percent less phone calls, but there were “no significant difference in e-mails received,” the study found.
Muslim applicants received around 33 percent less responses from employers, either as phone calls or emails, than did the control group. There was also significant discrimination seen against atheists, Catholics and pagans.
However, compared to the Bible Belt, where 45 to 63 percent of the people are regular church-goers, religious resumes actually faced less discrimination in the more secular New England, where only 23 to 35 percent of the population attends church weekly.
“With the exception of Muslims, [religious discrimination] is much less pronounced than in the South,” the report said.
Despite the geographic differences, results from both studies show an increased privatization of religion, bolstering the belief that religion does not belong in the public sphere alongside “politics, academia and the workplace.”
“Whether one professes to be overtly religious or irreligious,” the study says, “it violates the secular norm that one should not publically display one’s religious preferences for all to see.“
There has been more discussion of religion in the workplace in light of the Hobby Lobby decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the owners of closely held corporations could not be forced to pay for contraception for employees that violates their religious beliefs.
On an individual scale, the study's authors noted that “in the last 20 years, religious-based complaints filed by employees with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission increased from 1,388 in 1992 to 3,790 in 2010.”
Yet "despite increasing public awareness, religious discrimination in the workplace has received surprisingly little scholarly attention," they added.