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Valar Qringaomis

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why résumés with black names get discriminated against and why that isn't really a bad thing

"There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction. The moment you are old enough to take the wheel, the responsibility lies with you." - J.K. Rowling

Does this apply for post-colonialism too?

***

THE CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF DISTINCTIVELY BLACK NAMES

"Cultural differences may be a cause of Black economic struggle if Black culture interferes with the acquisition of human capital or otherwise lowers the labor market productivity of Blacks (as argued in the culture of poverty paradigm in sociology, see Hannerz 1969, Lewis 1966, Riessman 1962, and implicitly, Anderson 1990). For instance, high-achieving Black children may be ostracized by their peers for “acting white,” potentially leading to lower investment in human capital (Fordham and Ogbu 1986, Austen-Smith and Fryer 2003). Speaking “Ebonics” may interfere with the ability to interact with White co-workers and customers, or disrupt human capital acquisition more directly...

A primary obstacle to the study of culture has been the lack of quantitative measures. In this paper, we focus on one particular aspect of Black culture --the distinctive choice of first names—as a way of measuring cultural investments...

More than forty percent of the Black girls born in California in recent years received a name that not one of the roughly 100,000 White girls born in California in that year was given. Even among popular names, racial patterns are pronounced. Names such as DeShawn, Tyrone, Reginald, Shanice, Precious, Kiara, and Deja are quite popular among Blacks, but virtually unheard of for Whites. Connor, Cody, Jake, Molly, Emily, Abigail, and Caitlin are distinctively White names. Each of those names appears in at least 2,000 cases, with less than two percent of the recipients Black. Overall, Black choices of first names differ substantially more from Whites than do the names chosen by native born Hispanics and Asians.

More surprising, perhaps, is the time series pattern of Black first names. In the 1960s, the differences in name choices between Blacks and Whites were relatively small, and factors that predict distinctively Black names in later years (single mothers, racially isolated neighborhoods, etc.) have much lower explanatory power in the 1960’s. At that time, Blacks who lived in highly racially segregated neighborhoods adopted names that were almost indistinguishable from Blacks in more integrated neighborhoods and similar to Whites. Within a seven-year period in the early 1970’s, however, a profound shift in naming conventions took place, especially among Blacks in racially isolated neighborhoods. The median Black female in a segregated area went from receiving a name that was twice as likely to be given to Blacks as Whites to a name that was more than twenty times as likely to be given to Blacks. Black male names moved in the same direction, but the shift was less pronounced. Among a subset of Blacks, encompassing about one-fourth of Blacks overall and one-half of those in predominantly White neighborhoods, name choices actually became more similar to those of Whites during this period.

We argue that these empirical patterns are most consistent with a model in which the rise of the Black Power movement influenced Black identity. Other models we consider, such as ignorance on the part of Black parents who unwittingly stigmatize their children with such names, simple price theory models, and signaling models, all contradict the data in important ways.

The paper concludes by analyzing the causal impact of distinctively Black names on life outcomes. Previous studies have found that distinctively black names are viewed negatively by others (e.g. Busse and Seraydarian 1977). Most persuasive are audit studies in which matched resumes, one with a distinctively Black name and another with a traditionally White name, are mailed to potential employers (Jowell and Prescott-Clarke 1970, Hubbick and Carter 1980, Brown and Gay 1985, Bertrand and Mullainathan 2002). Such studies repeatedly have found that resumes with traditional names are substantially more likely to lead to job interviews than are identical resumes with distinctively Black names. These results suggest that giving one’s child a Black name may impose important economic costs on the child. In our data, however, we find no compelling evidence of a causal impact of Black names on a wide range of life outcomes after controlling for background characteristics...

We conclude that the stark differences in naming patterns among Blacks and Whites is best explained as a consequence of continued racial segregation and inequality, rather than a cause that is perpetuating these factors...

White women are five times more likely to give birth to children with Black fathers than are Black women with White fathers...

Another difference between Black and White naming patterns is the greater usage of unique or nearly unique names in the Black community. Figures 4a and 4b report, by race and gender, the number of children born in California in that same year (regardless of race) with that child’s name. Remarkably, nearly 30 percent of Black girls receive a name that is unique among the hundreds of thousands of children born annually in California. Among Whites, that fraction is only five percent. Similarly, the fraction of unique names among Black boys is six times higher than for White boys, although only about half the rate of Black girls. The median Black child shares his or her name with 23 other children; the number is almost fifteen times greater for Whites (351)...

Among the Black babies given the least distinctively Black names (the bottom quartile), those born in White hospitals actually see a discernible decrease in how Black their names are, in contrast to the rest of the distribution...

In almost all cases, variables associated with low socio-economic status are also associated with Blacker names. Moreover, the link between low socio-economic status and Black names becomes much stronger over time. The coefficients on mother’s age, birth weight, and single mother are less than one-half as large in the first period (column 1) as they are in the last period (column 4). Father’s age has no impact in the early period, but does have a negative coefficient in the later periods. Note also that the Rsquared in the regressions increases steadily over time, meaning that these characteristics explain a growing fraction of the variation in names...

Blacker name choices are associated with residing in lower-income zip codes, lower levels of parental education, not having private insurance, and having a mother who herself has a Blacker name...

Until the late 1970s, the choice of Black names was only weakly associated with socio-economic status; in the 1980s and 1990s distinctively Black names have come to be increasingly associated with mothers who are young, poor, unmarried, and have low education...

In the absence of controls for background characteristics, Blacker names are uniformly associated with worse adult outcomes. Given the correlation between Blacker names, growing up in segregated neighborhoods, and more difficult home environments, this relationship is expected. What is surprising, especially in light of the biases discussed above, is how limited the impact of a woman’s name is on her life outcomes once we control for other factors that are present at the time of her birth... we conclude that there is little evidence that how Black one’s name is causally impacts life outcomes...

An important question is how our results can be reconciled with the audit-studies that report lower interview rates for resumes with distinctively Black names (Jowell and Prescott- Clarke 1970, Hubbick and Carter 1980, Brown and Gay 1985, Bertrand and Mullainathan 2002). The first point to note is that it is unlikely that a Black name could have a large impact on one’s labor market success at any other step in the process. Once an employer has met a candidate in person, race is directly observable. A person’s manner of speaking, dress, interview responses, and on-the-job performance no doubt provide far better signals of productivity than a name. A second important point is that it is not that costly to change one’s name, either legally or with respect to what name is put on a resume. If job applicants understand the costs of having distinctively Black names, one would expect to frequently observe name changes of this kind, and yet they appear to be rare. Third, even if some employers select interview candidates based on Black names, there are other employers who do not. In an efficient market with sufficiently many non-discriminatory employers, the presence of discrimination need not result in worse outcomes for Blacks (Becker 1957). Fourth, in the face of a discriminatory employer, it is actually beneficial for the Black worker to signal race with a name. Job interviews are time consuming and potentially involve missing work for those searching while employed. If a discriminatory employer will not hire the Black applicant anyway, it is more efficient to make one’s race apparent prior to the interview stage. Blacks with distinctive names may actually do better than Blacks with traditional names by avoiding these needless interview costs. Finally, empirically a relatively small fraction of the jobs actually obtained are through this formal resume-based process. Granovetter (1974) reports that approximately 10% of respondents in a survey report obtaining their job through job advertisements.

A different, but related question is why employers less frequently give interviews to applicants with distinctively Black names. One possibility is animus towards Blacks involving racial discrimination unrelated to productivity differences. An alternative interpretation is that Black names, because of self-selection among Black parents, provide useful signals of human capital to employers, even controlling for race itself and other information available on resumes. Audit study data are equally consistent with either of these hypotheses...

The results in Table 4 suggest that a woman’s first name is indeed a useful predictor of the circumstances in which she grow up, which may in turn be correlated with labor productivity."
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