The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names


Empirical Micro Seminar
University of Pennsylvania

3718 Locust Walk
395 McNeil

Philadelphia, PA

United States

Joint with: Applied Micro

In the 1960's, Blacks and Whites chose relatively similar first names for their children. Over a short period of time in the early 1970's, that pattern changed dramatically with most Blacks (particularly those living in racially isolated neighborhoods) adopting increasingly distinctive names, but a subset of Blacks actually moving toward more assimilating names. The patterns in the data appear most consistent with a model in which the rise of the Black Power movement influenced how Blacks perceived their identities. Among Blacks born in the last two decades, names provide a strong signal of socio-economic status, which was not previously the case. We find, however, no negative causal impact of having a distinctively Black name on life outcomes. Although that result is seemingly in conflict with previous audit studies involving resumes, we argue that the two sets of findings can be reconciled.

For more information, contact Jere Behrman.

Steven Levitt

University of Chicago

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