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Published: 16 years ago

The Cost of Sounding Black


Which one is depressing these guys' wages more:(1) the fact that they sound black or (2) the vines wrapped around their curtain rods?


When I teach my Race and the Law course, I devote at least a day to the topic of accent discrimination, which I consider one of the most understudied and under-reported phenomena in the United States.  Thankfully, a new paper by University of Chicago Professor Jeff Grogger will help fill up my future syllabi.

Grogger researched whether different speech patterns between white and black people cause wage differences.

He concluded that black employees whose voices were distinctly identified as black by anonymous listeners earn 10% less than whites with similar skills.

In contrast, black people who were not vocally identified as black earn only 2% less than comparable whites.

As for whites, those who “sound black” earn 6% lower than those whites who don’t.

These conclusions controlled for intelligence, education, work experience, and other factors that affect one’s wages. (Those who are into statistics should definitely read the paper, especially if you have a fetish for regression analyses.)

Perhaps most interesting of all, Grogger’s charts indicate that the negative impact of “sounding black” on wages is nearly equal to the downside of “sounding Southern.”  This suggests, in my opinion, that classism might play a bigger role than racism in explaining the cause of the differential.

Grogger’s data on the likelihood of accurately identifying others’ race and gender through voice is equally as interesting.  When he asked listeners to attempt to identify the race and gender of speakers (who were all stripped of any other identifying information like their name), they correctly guessed the speaker’s gender 98% of the time, the white speakers’ race 84% of the time, and the black speakers’ race 77% of the time.

Bummer the study didn’t also include Chicano/Latinos and Asian Americans.

(Hat tip: Steven Levitt)

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