In China, revealing your birthday may be the quickest way to disqualify yourself from some job opportunities. And it has nothing to do with age discrimination.
New research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that Chinese hiring managers discriminate on the basis of zodiac signs — and they are especially prejudiced against Virgos.
“Anecdotally, in China, there are personality stereotypes associated with the astrological signs,” state the authors of the research, led by Jackson Lu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “In particular, some people intentionally avoid Virgos (those born between August 23 and September 22) as friends, romantic partners, or employees, purportedly because Virgos (literally translated as “virgin” in Chinese) are stereotyped as having disagreeable personalities.”
To test whether this anecdotal evidence was reflective of reality, the researchers recruited 351 Chinese HR professionals from 24 different industries to participate in a short online experiment. In the experiment, they asked the hiring managers to review one of four resumes and to indicate their willingness to hire the job applicant depicted in the resume. The resumes were identical except in two ways: the researchers systematically altered the birthday, 1995-08-25 (Virgo) versus 1995-08-20 (Leo), and the gender of the job applicant.
Interestingly, they found that the hiring managers expressed a greater willingness to hire the applicant when he or she was portrayed as a Leo rather than a Virgo. Moreover, hiring managers were no more or less likely to hire female versus male candidates.
The researchers also asked HR professionals how frequently astrological signs were discussed when making hiring decisions at their company. They found that approximately 40% of hiring managers engaged in frequent discussions along these lines.
This research is important not only in that it identifies a discriminatory hiring practice, but also for shedding light on the cultural transmission of pseudoscientific beliefs. While Western astrology has been a fixture in the United States for decades, it is a relatively new phenomenon in China. A New York Times article, for instance, speculates that Western astrology began to seep into China in the 1990s, most likely through Taiwanese variety shows. As of 2013, the phrase “astrological sign” was the fifth most popular mobile search term on Baidu, China’s most popular search engine.
Just to be sure, the researchers conducted a follow-up study to refute the idea that the Virgo stereotype was perhaps grounded in reality. And, to ensure their methods were robust, they recruited a massive sample size; 173,309 Chinese adults participated in the experiment. They asked participants to report their birthday and to fill out a series of personality tests that contained personality characteristics that aligned with the various astrological sign descriptions — for instance, “critical” for Virgos and “temperamental” for Geminis.
The results? A whole lot of nothing. The authors write, “Despite its large sample size, [we] found that astrological signs did not significantly predict any of the personality traits. This null result was true for both believers and nonbelievers of astrological signs. These findings provide further evidence that the astrological stereotypes [are] groundless.”