Raj Ghoshal publishes research on teaching quantitative methods

Ghoshal's article, "Testing for Discrimination," showcases a method for teaching students to conduct audit studies of unequal treatment.

Raj Ghoshal, assistant professor of sociology, published a new article in the journal Teaching Sociology. Entitled “Testing for Discrimination,” the article demonstrates an original assignment he designed for his Quantitative Research Methods class.

In the exercise, students reply to dozens of “roommate wanted” ads online, while varying one trait across different fictitious identities to test for unequal treatment. For instance, students might send two messages that each represent the sender as college-educated, employed and polite, but in one case use the name “LaQuisha” and the other case “Madison,” to test the effects of race signals on reply rates. Traits students have chosen to vary in this assignment so far have included race, sexual orientation, extroversion, and age.

This research approach, in which “testers” who are identical on all but one trait apply for different opportunities, is known as an audit study. Audit studies flourished as a means to test for covert discrimination after the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s. In the last 15 years, audit studies have boomed as the movement online of job-seeking and housing-seeking has made data collection simpler. This is the first-ever published article to address teaching undergraduate students how to conduct audits.

The article presents the assignment itself, evidence of excellent work from students’ papers, and quantitative and qualitative survey data from students about what they learned in the assignment. Work on the manuscript was partially supported by Elon’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, Dean’s and Provost’s Offices, and Faculty Research & Development. The assignment grows out of Ghoshal’s own research, which uses the audit methodology as well.