NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 12, 2005

"White-sounding" names on job applications draw significantly more callbacks from employers than those that are distinctively "black," according to a new study by economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan.

Do employers treat members of different races differently? Some argue that black-sounding names signal lower productivity, a different culture or a lower social status, while others argue affirmative action and the profit motive have made differential treatment a relic of the past.

To help answer this question, Bertrand and Mullainathan sent out thousands of job applications using similar, but fictitious resumes of which half were randomly assigned very white-sounding names (such as Emily Walsh) and the other very black-sounding names (such as Lakisha Washington). The researchers found:

  • Applicants with white names need to send about 10 resumes to get one callback, while those with black names need to send about 15 resumes -- a 50 percent difference.
  • It is estimated that a white name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience on a resume.
  • Neither "Equal Opportunity Employers" nor federal contractors treated black applicants more favorably.
  • Living in a wealthier, whiter or more educated neighborhood increases callback rates.

Additionally, employers seem to discount more the characteristics listed on the resumes with black-sounding names than they do with white ones, suggesting that blacks have fewer incentives to invest in higher skills.

The authors acknowledge some limitations to their study, namely, that one cares primarily about whether an applicant gets the job and the wage offered rather than the number of job offers. In addition, race-specific names are not representative of the average black person.

Source: Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, "Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," American Economic Review, September 2004.

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