Panel Paper: Alphabetism: The Effects of Surname Initial and the Risk of Being Otherwise Undistinguished

Sunday, April 9, 2017 : 12:05 PM
HUB 269 (University of California, Riverside)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jeffrey S. Zax and Alexander S. Cauley, University of Colorado, Boulder
A small literature demonstrates that names and initials are correlated with important economic outcomes for firms and individuals. This paper presents the first comprehensive examination of the relationship between alphabetic rank of surname initial and life outcomes. Those outcomes include male investments in human capital and labor market outcomes through middle age. These outcomes were, as expected, consistently better for individuals who performed better in high school, had higher IQ scores, whose high school friends were more ambitious and who received greater parental support. Perhaps surprisingly, they were unaffected by the “presentational characteristics” of appearance and body mass. However, surnames whose initials were farther from the beginning of the alphabet were significantly associated with less distinction and satisfaction in high school, lower final educational attainment, more military service and less attractive first civilian jobs. The effects of surname initial appear to dissipate by age 35, presumably because other observable characteristics become sufficiently informative so as to supersede the unobserved correlates of surname initial. These results are consistent with others demonstrating the relevance of “ordering effects”. They suggest that the common practice of relying on alphabetical listings is anything but innocuous.