Stephen Wu, the Irma M. and Robert D. Morris Professor of Economics at Hamilton, recently teamed with former student Qi Ge ’06, assistant professor of economics at Vassar College, on the study “How Do You Say Your Name? Difficult-to-Pronounce Names and Labor Market Outcomes.”
The pair met in 2002 when Ge came to Hamilton as an international student. “Steve was actually the first American I met and spoke to in person,” Ge says. “He came to pick me up at Syracuse Airport when I first landed in the U.S. from China, a day I vividly remember.”
Wu recalls that day too. “Qi took several of my courses, and I also served as a supervisor for his summer research project through the Levitt Center for Public Affairs,” he adds. It was no surprise that their connection grew to one of academic collaborators. “Over the years, we discussed the idea of how names might affect people’s job prospects, so we decided to work on a project using data collected from economics Ph.D. students on the job market,” Wu says.
Ge affirmed how he often has his name mispronounced and sometimes relies on a fictitious name in public to avoid confusion. For example, he often relies on a “go-to name” in sandwich shops. Wu adds, “My Chinese name is Zhouxun, so Qi and I can relate to the ideas behind our names research question, and it seemed appropriate to ask him to collaborate.”
The researchers analyzed 1,500 economics Ph.D. job candidates and found that those with difficult-to-pronounce names — from the perspective of native English speakers — had a 10% lower chance of landing an academic or tenure-track position and were also placed at less prestigious institutions. Wu and Ge also found discrimination due to name fluency using experimental data from two prior studies that included Black candidates and Indian, Pakistani, and Chinese candidates. Even within particular racial and ethnic groups, people with difficult-to-pronounce names received fewer callbacks.
The researchers analyzed 1,500 economics Ph.D. job candidates and found that those with difficult-to-pronounce names — from the perspective of native English speakers — had a 10% lower chance of landing an academic or tenure-track position and were also placed at less prestigious institutions.
Their study has gained national recognition with articles in The Wall Street Journal and Inside Higher Ed as well as a radio spot on NPR. In one article, Wu noted that removing names on résumés to ensure candidates are evaluated based only on their qualifications is a potential solution. “Knowing [the bias] exists might help limit it,” he said in the interview.
Wu graduated from Brown University in 1995, majoring in applied mathematics and economics. He earned his master’s degree and doctorate at Princeton and came to Hamilton in 2000. Ge, an economics and mathematics double major at Hamilton, earned his doctorate in economics at Princeton in 2016. He taught at Skidmore College before moving to Vassar in 2019.
The two colleagues had previously co-published a paper titled “Sharing common roots: Student-graduate committee matching and job market outcomes” in the Southern Economic Journal in 2021. Their current paper is an offshoot of this prior project and is currently under review for publication in a professional journal.
“It is very gratifying as an educator to be able to see the progression of a student from their early days as a first-year undergraduate all the way to a colleague who is now a faculty member at a peer institution,” Wu says. “My career trajectory has been heavily influenced by Steve. I am still learning a lot from him in our collaboration, including his extensive knowledge and vision about the field, open-mindedness to new ideas and approaches, extreme attention to detail, and second-to-none work ethic,” Ge says.
Next for the collaborators and friends is a possible extension of their current project. “Steve and I share some common academic interests,” Ge says. “He is the best person to work with on these projects because of his expertise on related topics.”