Friday, November 23, 2007

What's In an Initial?

C_cookie Orly Lobel (San Diego) over at PrawfsBlawg has an interesting post on the importance of a person's initials in predicting their success in school and the workplace. Here are some of the highlights:

A couple of years ago, MIT/Univ of Chicago economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan tested the effects of names that prime race on the labor market prospect of job candidates. In Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination they describe an experiment they responded with fictitious resumes to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers, manipulating only the perception of race,  randomly assigned either a very African American sounding name or a very White sounding name. Their results were clear: White names received 50 percent more callbacks for interviews. A new study suggests that naming your kids may affect not only the reactions of others, but also their own behavior. In a forthcoming article in Psych Science, Business School Profs  Leif Nelson (UCSD) and Joseph Simmons (YALE) find that although most students want As in school, those whose names begin C or D have lower grade point averages than students whose names begin with A and B—with an even greater effect if they say they like their initials . . . .

Here is the abstract of Moniker Maladies: When Names Sabotage Success.

The authors conclude that, "these findings provide striking evidence that unconscious wants can insidiously undermine conscious pursuits."

I understand the outcome in the first study concerning typical white and black names, but why the initials of your first name should indicate your success in school or later in work makes little sense to me. Does the same thing happen in other countries with different grading scales and different common names or is this a uniquely American phenomenon?


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