Paper Talk: A Cool Experiment

This post is going to talk about my dream paper. One of the coolest papers I’ve read – a nifty idea that everyone’s curious about, an awesome research design, and some fascinating answers.

Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination

The basic idea – if your name is something very obviously ethnic, like Lakwandaniqua or something, will employers take notice, and make inferences about your ability that will negatively affect your job prospects? I feel like pop culture makes fun of names like that all the time, but this paper takes the question seriously.

The research design: the authors printed tons of resumes with varying traits (college degree, work experience, volunteer experience, technical skills, etc.) and sent them out for resume drop job opportunities where an in-person appearance was not required. They used signature “black” names and “white” names on the resumes, and recorded callback rates for the two sets.

The results are quite stark. White resumes receive 1.5 times the number of callbacks, and the marginal returns to valuable resume traits are also higher for white names than for black names.

I love this paper – it’s a naturally interesting question, a no-holds-barred research design targeted towards finding an answer to the question, and the results are quite informative. My only question is whether the bias that is found is really related to race, or something else – after all, the “black” names that they chose are quite rare. I have African-American friends named Hannah and Ashley, and I believe they would differ significantly from an African-American person named Moniqua or similar. The authors admit that this is an issue – but the names were chosen to make race salient in an employer’s evaluation of the resume, so I guess it’s an unavoidable issue. I’m reminded of a chapter from Freakonomics that discussed the various spellings of the name “Jasmine” and their strong correlations to the mother’s level of education. An employer who reads a resume with Jazzmyn at the top may not discriminate against it because of race, but maybe because he read Freakonomics or is subconsciously aware of the correlation between outlandish names and familial levels of education.

A small issue for an otherwise rockstar paper!


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