Tag Archives: Marianne Bertrand

Brand You: Pronounceable Names are More Likeable, Maybe More Hireable

Simon Laham

Simon Laham

Personal names, like brands, evoke inferences about likability and specific characteristics, like gender, ethnicity, social class, intellectual competence, masculinity-femininity, and even personality characteristics, according to University of Melbourne’s Simon M. Laham, Peter Koval of University of Leuven, and NYU’s Adam L. Alter.

Peter Koval

Peter Koval

They argue that these assumptions affect impression formation and may lead to bias.

More than 20 years ago, UCLA’s Albert Mehrabian began investigating the impact of personal names and developed the Name Connotation Profile to assess attributions to specific names.

Albert Mehrabian

Albert Mehrabian

He concluded that “people with desirable or attractive names are treated more favorably by others than are those with undesirable or unattractive names,” base on findings from more than ten studies.

Personal names are also associated income and educational attainment, reported Saku Aura of University of Missouri, collaborating with Claremont McKenna College’s Gregory D. Hess.

Saku Aura

Saku Aura

They evaluated the relationship among “first name features” (FNF) including:

  • “Popularity” (frequency),
  • Number of syllables,
  • Phonetic features,
  • Scrabble score (?),
  • “Blackness” (fraction of people with that name who are African-American),
  • “Exogenous” background factors (sex, race, parents’ education).
Gregory Hess

Gregory Hes

In addition, Aura and Hess scrutinized associations between first names and “lifetime outcomes” including:

  • Financial status,
  • Occupational prestige,
  • Perceived social class,
  • Education,
  • Happiness,
  • Becoming a parent before age 25. 



First name features predicted education, happiness and early fertility, which were also related to labor market productivity.
However, workforce productivity can be reduced when discriminatory decisions about names reduce labor market participation, such as for names rated for “blackness.”

Marianne Bertrand

Marianne Bertrand

University of Chicago’s Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard documented this effect when they found that name discrimination affects hiring decisions. 
 Job applicants with “African American-sounding” names were less likely to be invited for a job interview than a person with a “White-sounding” name.

Sendhil Mullainathan

Sendhil Mullainathan

Bertrand and Mullainathan responded to help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers by sending fictitious resumes containing “African-American” or “White” names.

They found that “White name” candidate received 50% more interview invitations across occupation, industry, and employer size.
This bias was centered more on inferred race than social class, suggesting that discrimination in hiring practices persists but has become more subtle, and perhaps even unconscious.

Claire Etaugh

Claire Etaugh

Another form of name discrimination is women who take their husband’s surname.
They are typically seen as less “agentic” and more “communal” than those who retain their own names, noted Bradley University’s Claire E. Etaugh, Myra Cummings-Hill, and Joseph Cohen with Judith S. Bridges of University of Hartford.
These attributions are usually associated with stereotypic “feminine” attitudes and behaviors, which can slow career advancement.

David Figlio

David Figlio

Gender-based name discrimination can affect males as well:  Gender-incongruous names seem to invoke social penalties for boys, according to Northwestern’s David Figlio.

He reported that boys who had names usually associated with girls were more likely to be expelled from school after disruptive behavior beginning in middle school.

Daniel Y Lee

Daniel Y Lee

In related findings, Shippensburg University’s David E. Kalist and Daniel Y. Lee found that people with unusual names (less “popular”) were more likely to have juvenile delinquency experiences.

These finding suggest that unusual names may provoke negative and stigmatizing attributions, which can lead to confirmatory behaviors that lead to asocial acts.

Besides racial and ethnic associations with names, some are easier for English speaking people to pronounce.

Adam Alter

Adam Alter

Easy-to-say names are judged more favorably than difficult-to-pronounce names, in related findings by LahamKoval, and Alter.

In fact, they found that people with easier-to-pronounce surnames occupy higher status positions in law firms, demonstrating the importance of “processing fluency”- the subjective ease or difficulty of a cognitive task – when forming an impression.

Laham and team pointed to the “hedonic marking hypothesis,” that posits “processing fluency” automatically activates a positive emotional reaction, which is then attributed to the evaluated “stimulus object” – a person’s name.

They noted that pronouncability strongly influences likeability and other evaluations, and can lead to decision bias, as in hiring choices.

Names matter, whether for products or people, because they carry emotional and cognitive associations that may bias impressions and decisions.

-*How have you modified your name?

-*What have been the effects on how others perceive you?
Your occupational opportunities?

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Women’s Post-Business School Work-Life Issues

Claudia Goldin

Harvard Business School’s Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz showed the high price women pay if they choose careers in finance

Goldin and Katz’s survey of 6,500 Harvard and Radcliffe graduates from 1969 and 1992, found that women who had earned an M.B.A. were less likely to be employed and have children (30%) at their fifteenth class reunion than were female who earned M.D. degrees (45%).

Lawrence Katz

They concluded that female M.B.A.s with children select professions with shorter hours, compared to their male peers with children and childless peers of both genders.

The financial impact of this choice is significant: Goldin and Katz found that even after correcting for the amount of time out of work, female M.B.A.s who took a year and a half off made 41 percent less than their counterparts who had worked continuously.
The pay gap was somewhat less for J.D.s (29 percent) and M.D.s (16 percent).

Marianne Bertrand

Goldin and Katz collaborated with University of Chicago economist Marianne Bertrand on another survey of 2,500 male and female University of Chicago M.B.A.s graduating between 1990 and 2006, considered women M.B.A.s involvement in finance roles.

They found that only 8 percent of respondents working in venture capital were women, half the rate of women in investment banking.
In contrast, 59 percent worked in advertising and 71 percent held roles in human resources.

Again, this choice has a significant financial impact for women: Nine years after graduating, the Chicago M.B.A.s working in investment banking (both male and female) were making, on average, $700,000 a year (median was $470,000), compared to an average income for all respondents of $370,000 (median was $190,000).

Occupations with the highest numbers of men also had the highest average number of hours worked, with investment banking averaging 74 hours a week, and consulting averaging 61 hours per week.

In contrast, occupations with the highest numbers of women had the shortest hours: Human resources averaged 51 hours per week and advertising averaged 52 hours a week.
These occupations tend to have lower average pay in addition to requiring fewer average hours of work.

This trend was replicated in medical specialties, in which those with shorter and more predictable hours tend to have more females.
Women now make up 41 percent of new M.D.s in the U.S., but fewer than 30 percent of physicians under the age of 35 practice emergency medicine or general surgery, but 70 percent of gynecologists and nearly 60 percent of dermatologists in the same age cohort are women.

These studies demonstrate the relationship between income, hours worked, and gender-based occupational role choice.

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