Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Unfortunately I never studied with Steve Levitt when I was at Chicago, but I follow his work and am looking forward to this new book outlining his research.

Among other things, Levitt was involved in research that demonstrated 1) black families often give their children names unique to black people and 2) employers discriminate against resumes featuring black names.

Let's take the second finding first. This behavior could be outright racism, in which case the employer is not considering black people for employment because they are black (at a loss to the business, I might add). It also suggests further discrimination all the way up the hiring process. Alternatively, this behavior could be efficient because names carry information resumes do not, and the information carried by a name is pertinent to whether or not someone could be a good employee. I would add that a company might rationally avoid hiring a black person for fear of wrongful termination suits in case that person didn't work out. A perverse example of well-meaning legislation gone wrong.

As intriguing is why parents give their children names that will handicap them later in life. They may be consuming pride (yes, my daughter will earn less but she will be proud of her heritage with this name), it may be ignorance (I didn't know it would make a difference), it may be wishful thinking (this will no longer happen when she grows up), or it may be efficient (she will be discriminated elsewhere, so why bother picking a name I don't like as much). At any rate, it seems that black folks who pick black names are more likely to
have been born to a teenage mother and 9 percentage points more likely to have been born out-of-wedlock than a Black woman living in the same zip code with the same age and education, but carrying a name that is equally common among White and Blacks. The woman with a Black name is also more likely to have been born in a Black neighborhood and to herself be unmarried.
I believe that conscientiousness, not intelligence or creativity, is a more important and desirable trait in an employee. You don't have to be Einstein or Picasso, you just have to show up for work on time and do what you're supposed to do to be a good employee. Perhaps a black name signals lower conscientiousness? Or maybe employers are just being out-and-out racist. (via Marginal Revolution)


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