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People Link Career Success With Names, Study Finds

Contact: James Bruning, (740) 593-2553, bruningj@ohio.edu

Attention editors, reporters: For a copy of the journal article on which this release is based, contact Andrea Gibson at (740) 597-2166 or Charlene Clifford at (740) 593-0946.

ATHENS, Ohio (June 6, 2000) -- Who would more likely be successful as a plumber, Marge or Susan? As a construction worker, Jack or Wesley? A new study on names and occupations suggests that people subconsciously predict career success for those with names that more closely match the gender stereotype associated with a profession.

In this era of political correctness, gender stereotypes for names and occupations remain, says James Bruning, Trustee professor of psychology at Ohio University and lead author of the study.

"Grouping is one of the ways our brains work," he says. "So I think stereotyping is an example of the way we tend to think -- it's a natural tendency."

Though employers weigh several factors when judging job candidates, the gender match between an applicant's name and the occupation could have a subconscious impact, he says. In Bruning's latest study, 20 young adults were asked to predict the success of 16 people entering new careers, based on information provided about those job applicants.

Study participants forecasted that women with more feminine names- Emma, Marta, Irma and Winifred - would be more likely to have successful careers if they pursued traditional female occupations -- such as nurse, hair stylist and interior decorator. Men with more masculine names -- Howard, Boris, Hank and Bruno -- were expected to be successful with traditional male careers -- such as plumber, truck driver and electrician, according to the research, which was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Social Psychology.

Those whose names least matched the occupation stereotypes might have a harder time landing particular jobs, the study suggests. A woman named Garret pursuing a job in day care or a man named Hank contemplating a career as a hair stylist, for example, might be searching for that dream position longer than an Emma planning to be a flight attendant or a Bruno seeking construction work.

In an earlier project, Bruning, who has spent 20 years studying the psychology of names, found that these types of name stereotypes begin as early as kindergarten age. And this new study suggests those assumptions follow kids into adulthood.

"I wouldn't overestimate the impact of names, but at the same time, names are an important part of first impressions," Bruning says about the implications of name stereotyping.

The names chosen for the recent study, though perhaps unusual or unpopular in this era, were chosen to minimize other influences on the predictions of success. They were drawn from a larger Bruning study that tested the masculinity/femininity, activity/passivity and popularity/unpopularity of 1,320 names. He suspects that if the occupation study had used more popular or trendier names, the connection between name gender, job stereotype and career success would have been even more pronounced.

The study was co-authored by Natalie Polinko, Jennifer Zerbst and Justin Buckingham, former Ohio University doctoral students in psychology. Bruning holds an appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences.

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