Patrick Simon

Director of Research, Patrick Simon works at INED since 1993 on immigration, discrimination, ethnic and racial studies, ethno-racial classification in statistics, social and ethnic division of space.

 (Interview from March 2014)

What is meant by the word discrimination?

Discrimination can be defined as unfavourable treatment based on an illegitimate and possibly illegal criterion. It can be assessed by comparison with the treatment received, or that would be received, by someone who does not have that particular characteristic (e.g., sex, ethnic or racial origin, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, disability or health problem, etc.).

Discrimination amounts to a penalty for characteristics that should not be taken into account in hiring or access to goods. The French legal definition of discrimination currently lists 20 such discriminatory criteria; the new law on cities of January 2014 added place of residence to the list.

What does the demographic approach contribute to the study of discrimination?

The sociological approach to discrimination is more analytical; one of its concerns is to take into account the systemic dimension of the phenomenon. Through detailed analysis of situations, procedures and interactions, we can deconstruct discrimination mechanisms and understand their workings and configurations. In situ observation and interviews with the different actors involved are well-adapted means to this end. But much discrimination escapes observation and can only be seen through its effects; i.e., unequal access to employment, housing or education and disparities in positions obtained, occupational segregation in connection with certain types of jobs, for example, or residential segregation in certain types of neighbourhoods. In such cases, quantitative approaches are needed for measuring differences and trying to determine what should be attributed specifically to the prejudicial characteristic (sex, origin, etc.). In this undertaking, demography offers well-suited tools, as do econometrics and experimental economics (used in testing for discrimination). Demography has also proven highly relevant for integrating and determining the time and space dynamics that shape the contexts in which discrimination occurs. There are different ways of investigating discrimination: we can directly collect the experience of people potentially exposed to it, or reproduce discrimination situations experimentally.

Could you give us some of the results of the TeO survey?

The "Trajectories and Origins" survey collected experiences of discrimination in two ways: explicitly asking respondents if they had been discriminated against in the previous five years and then collecting their perception of the motives for the discrimination; describing situations in which people are treated unfavourably when seeking employment or during their career, in school, or in connection with health, housing or public services. The most frequently cited motives for discrimination are origin and skin colour, and immigrants of North and sub-Saharan African, Turkish, and Asian origin and their offspring report the most discrimination. For more results see the survey website.