What's in a Surname? The Effects of Surname Initials on Academic Success


Einav L, Yariv L. What's in a Surname? The Effects of Surname Initials on Academic Success. The Journal of Economic Perspectives [Internet]. 2006;20(1):175-187.


In this paper, we focus on the effects of surname initials on professional outcomes in the academic labor market for economists. We begin our analysis with data on faculty in all top 35 U.S. economics departments. Faculty with earlier surname initials are significantly more likely to receive tenure at top ten economics departments, are significantly more likely to become fellows of the Econometric Society, and, to a lesser extent, are more likely to receive the Clark Medal and the Nobel Prize. These statistically significant differences remain the same even after we control for country of origin, ethnicity, religion or departmental fixed effects. As a test, we replicate our analysis for faculty in the top 35 U.S. psychology departments, for which co-authorships are not normatively ordered alphabetically. We find no relationship between alphabetical placement and tenure status in psychology. We suspect the "alphabetical discrimination" reported in this paper is linked to the norm in the economics profession prescribing alphabetical ordering of credits on coauthored publications. We also investigate the extent to which the effects of alphabetical placement are internalized by potential authors in their choices to work with different numbers of coauthors as well as in their willingness to follow the alphabetical ordering norm.