Emails signed with black-sounding names less likely to receive replies


Your name could be a key factor when it comes to whether or not you receive a response to a request for information from school districts, sheriffs’ departments, or other local institutions, a new study conducted by University of Southampton researchers has revealed.

In their report, the authors explained that a person with a distinctively African-American name is four percent less likely to receive a response to an identical email than those sent by an individual with a “white-sounding” name. The difference was most apparent in sheriffs’ offices, they added, where black-sounding names were seven-percent less likely to get a response.

The correspondence study, which involved soliciting information about public services from some 19,000 local offices nationwide, also found that people with African-American sounding names were less likely to receive a response that had a cordial tone (i.e. one in which they were addressed by name or greeted with a salutation) than those with white-sounding ones.

As co-author Corrado Giulietti from the Institute for the Study of Labor explained, “Despite the fact that prohibition of racial discrimination by the government is a central tenet of US law, our finding shows that not all citizens are treated equally by local public service providers.”

Racial gap stronger in rural areas, independent of socioeconomic background

Giulietti, University of Southampton professor Mirco Tonin and their colleagues sent emails to school districts, local libraries, law enforcement offices, county clerks, country treasurers and job offices in every US state. The used four correspondent names, two to represent each ethnicity, as most uniquely identifiable to each group based on previous research findings.

Emails that were signed by white-sounding names received replies 72 percent of the time while identical messages signed by black-sounding names only received a reply 68 percent of the time. In addition, 72 percent of responses sent to people with white-sounding names used a salutation or addressed the sender by name compared to 66 percent for those with black-sounding names.

“We find similar levels of discrimination in each of the four regions defined by the Census Bureau (northeast, midwest, south and west),” Tonin said. “We do find a stronger racial gap in rural rather than urban counties. Moreover, it appears that discrimination is not solely due to the perceived lower socioeconomic background of black senders,” as the results were similar when the same profession (real estate agent) was used for both black and white senders.

“Local services constitute the majority of interactions between government institutions and citizens and perform central functions, for instance in education,” added Giulietti. “The discriminatory attitude that our study uncovers could be one of the factors behind the disadvantaged position of black people in American society and could be a major obstacle towards addressing racial inequality.”


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