Are Emily and Greg more Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?

Brooke C
Brooke C
May 27, 2017 · 4 min read

Economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan study how race, ethnicity and racism affect hiring decisions. In their 2004 study, “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal: A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” Bertrand and Mullainathan randomly assigned names and quality to resumes and sent them to over 1300 employment advertisements. (Ferguson, p. 361) “Their results revealed statistically significant differences in the number of callbacks each resume received based on whether the name sounded white or African American.” (Ferguson, p. 361)

According to the Council of Economic Advisers, in comparison to whites, African Americans are two times as likely to be unemployed. (Ferguson, p. 362) In response, Bertrand and Mullainathan attempt to answer one question with their study, “When faced with observably similar African American and white applicants do they (employers) favor the white one?” (Ferguson, p. 362)

Bertrand and Mullainathan decided to measure the callback for interviews for each resume sent in response to newspaper employment ads in Chicago and Boston. (Ferguson, p. 362) “We randomly assign very white-sounding names (such as Emily Walsh and Greg Baker) to half the resumes and very African American-sounding names (Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones) to the other half. The researchers also varied the quality of resumes. A higher-quality resume would have more experience, certifications and honors than a lower-quality one. Two higher-quality and two lower-quality resumes were sent to each employer for a total of nearly 5000 resumes covering a vast array of jobs within the fields of sales, clerical, administrative support and customer services. (Ferguson, p. 362).

First, Bertrand and Mullainathan created the resumes and then using data calculated from birth certificates, they assigned fictitious names. The names were publicly surveyed for distinctiveness in Chicago. Any ambiguous name was removed from the study. (Ferguson, p. 363)

Researchers found that white names had a 9.65% chance of receiving a callback, whereas African American names had a 6.45% chance. (Ferguson, p. 364) “Put in other words, these results imply that a white applicant should expect on average one callback for every 10 ads he or she applies to; on the other hand, an African American applicant would need to apply to about 15 different ads to achieve the same result.” (Ferguson, p. 364) Results were nearly identical in both cities.

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Regarding quality, higher-quality resumes did receive more callbacks. However, for African Americans the difference was only a .51% improvement, from a 6.2% chance of callback to 6.7%. Researchers advised this difference was not statistically significant. So essentially, African American applicants experienced no gains from a higher quality resume. (Ferguson, p. 365)

Similarly, in 2002, Sociology PhD candidate Devah Pager conducted two studies for her dissertation called “The Mark of a Criminal Record.” In it she examined the effects of incarceration on employment rates for black and white job-seekers. Her findings showed “that blacks without a criminal record fared no better, and perhaps worse, than did whites with criminal records.”

In the video below, she talks about her study in an interview with Dalton Conley.

Bertrand and Mullainathan raised an important question when interpreting their results. Does a higher callback rate for whites imply employers are discriminating against African Americans? Bertrand and Mullainathan concluded that, yes, the employers were in fact being discriminatory. Considering the resume review process was neutral, due to the randomization of naming and assignment of skills, whites and African Americans should have received equal callbacks. (Ferguson, p. 365)

Although, this study was conducted in 2004, more recent research suggests that there is still a bias. Just last month the Canadian government in Ottawa rolled out a pilot project to help reduce bias in hiring. It’s called ‘name-blind recruitment’, and it removes names from the applications.

There is even twitter hashtag called #blindhiring where one can follow the various conversations being sparked about this program.

Why is this topic important to the field of LIS?
If librarians wish to increase the diversity within the field it is essential that we take special care to recognize any inherent biases we may have, especially in regard to hiring. Awareness is the first step. It is also important that we as librarians understand the types of obstacles that our patrons are facing, especially when considering the popularity of the library as a place for seeking employment. Although, this study would indicate additional skills and certifications were not significantly helpful in increasing callbacks, librarians should still provide resources for people to use to increase their skills however marginal a difference it makes.


Arends, Brett. (2014, November 4) In hiring, racial bias is still a problem. But not always for reasons you think. Fortune. Retrieved from:

Bertrand, M. and Mullainathan, S. (2004). Are Emily and Greg more Employable than Lakisha and Jamal: A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination. In S. Ferguson (2nd). Race Gender Sexuality and Class (2nd), (pp. 361–367). Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage Publications.

#blindhiring. (2017, May 25) Retrieved from:

[Kerwin Kaye] (2013, June 3) Devah Pager — Racism and the Stigma of Criminal Record. [Video File]. Retrieved from:

Pager, D. (2003). Mark of a Criminal Record. American Journal of Sociology, 108 (5), pp. 937–75.

Staff. (2017, April 20). Name-blind hiring process rolled out to reduce bias against job seekers. Toronto Metro. Retrieved from:

Walton, Alice G. (2014, December 16). Think you’re not racist? Research uncovers our secret prejudices, and ways to overcome them [graph]. Chicago Booth Review. Retrieved from:

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