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Devah Pager Award Statement

The ASA Dissertation Award honors the best PhD dissertation for a calendar year from among those submitted by advisors and mentors. The winner of this year’s award is Devah Pager, currently at Northwestern University. Pager took her degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The award committee declared her dissertation, The Mark of a Criminal Record, as being very timely and using an impressively ambitious methodology. The committee stated that is was executed with rigor and interpreted with deep insight.

The study makes an important contribution to the growing body of research on the effects of the increasing incarceration rate in the United States. While the study, an employment audit, itself is focused on entry-level jobs in a single metropolitan area (Milwaukee), it is designed to be more generalizable across a range of entry-level jobs than prior assessments.

The core result of the research is that callbacks to job applicants were received for 34% of White testers, 17% for Whites with prison records, 14% for Blacks without prison records, and 5% for Blacks with prison records. These figures demonstrate that a felony conviction reduces the employment chances of all young men, and that the effects are even stronger among Black than among White men. Given that these testers were matched on all other attributes, this demonstrates the continuing salience of racial discrimination in labor markets as well as the importance of prison records in structuring the opportunities of both Black and White ex-felons. The committee believed Pager’s analysis effectively demonstrates that incarceration has become a substantial determinant of life chances in contemporary America.