NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

For Job Seekers, Names Can Mean Racial Branding

December 12, 2002

To test whether employers discriminate against black job applicants, Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago and Sendhil Mullainathan of M.I.T. conducted a unique experiment.

They selected 1,300 help-wanted ads from Chicago and Boston newspapers and submitted multiple resumes for phantom job seekers. They randomly assigned first names on the resumes -- choosing from one set that is particularly common among blacks and from another that is common among whites.

Apart from their names, the phantom applicants had the same experience, education and skills -- so employers had no reason to distinguish between them.

  • Applicants with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be called for interviews than those with black-sounding names.
  • Interviews were requested for 10.1 percent of applicants with white-sounding names and only 6.7 percent of those with black-sounding names.
  • Within racial groups, applications with men's or women's names were equally likely to result in calls for interviews -- providing little evidence of discrimination based on sex.
  • Moreover, the findings held true for both Boston and Chicago.

Source: Alan B. Krueger (Princeton), "Economic Scene: Sticks and Stones Can Break Bones, but the Wrong Name Can Make a Job Hard to Find," New York Times, December 12, 2002.


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