While modern black names show up in modern empirical studies as an albatross around the neck of those possessing them, either because those with such names come from worse socioeconomic conditions or face discrimination later in life, historical black names conveyed a large advantage accumulating over an individual’s lifetime. Figlio (2005) suggests that discrimination on the basis of names takes place even earlier, with teachers setting lower expectations for pupils with black names and those lower expectations translating into lower test scores. Table 1. Extensive work has been carried out to explain the causes of racial gaps in socioeconomic outcomes and to identify effective policy solutions for closing those gaps. Bertrand and Mullainathan (2004) find that individuals with white-sounding names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than individuals with black-sounding names. (2014) have used historical federal census records and death certificates from Illinois, Alabama and North Carolina to identify a set of names commonly held among black males and disproportionately held by black males relative to white males. In the words of Fryer and Levitt, these findings suggest that “carrying a black name is primarily a consequence rather than a cause of poverty”. Modern evidence suggests that these effects are driven by two very different mechanisms with dramatically different policy implications for racial inequality. With the digitisation of historical census and death records, it is now possible to examine large samples of names and outcomes going back over a century to test whether black names are truly a modern phenomenon or whether they have much older historical roots. Share Flipboard Email Print ThoughtCo / Vin Ganapathy History & Culture. During this period, these names were only weakly correlated with socioeconomic status. Akerlof, G A, and R E Kranton (2000), “Economics and Identity”, Quarterly Journal of Economics: 715-753. Under this traditional narrative, distinctively black names emerge from the Civil Rights Movement. Empirical testing of this hypothesis and others is a daunting but necessary future task.
See how many you recognize: Irish, French, Russian, Spanish, Mexican, Brazilian, Portuguese, Italian, Japanese, Hawaiian, Jewish, British, and Korean last names… This column highlights a striking difference between the historical effects of having a black name and today’s effects. However, my curiosity about whether the last name "James" was more common among Black Americans than other Americans resulted in this pancocojams post on 100 most common Black American surnames. While modern black names show up in modern empirical studies as an albatross around the neck of those possessing them, either because those receiving black names come from worse socioeconomic conditions or face discrimination later in life, historical black names conveyed a large advantage accumulating over an individual’s lifetime. Before then, most names were heavily influenced by European-American culture. Now that we know distinctively black names existed in the past, we can investigate their effects on outcomes. A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination”, The American Economic Review 94(4): 991-1013. As Table 1 shows, the distinctively black names themselves, however, are quite different. I decided to publish this adapted "chart" about surname rankings in the United States after publishing a pancocojams post about Elmore James' Blues song "The Sky Is Crying"*. This is highlighted by the work of Fryer and Levitt (2004) documenting that, while black names are correlated with lower income, greater likelihood of single motherhood, having low-birthweight children, and a host of other indicators of worse adult outcomes, these correlations largely disappear once controlling for the childhood conditions of the individual.
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