Thursday, May 21, 2009

Discrimination: the name game

Readers will recall some spirited conversation with sometime National Post writer "Raphael Alexander" on the subject of Canadians vs. "Canadians." The latter are folks with the misfortune to have funny-sounding names, and who "will never be wholly Canadian because no person born abroad can ever fully understand what it is to be Canadian."

As it turns out, Canadian employers tend to agree with "Alexander" that names are important. It seems as though those "Canadians in law only" have been falling to the bottom of the hiring pile. UBC economics professor Philip Oreopoulos has prepared a working paper, released yesterday, showing conclusively that equally-qualified Canadians are unequally treated--based upon name discrimination. (Oreopolous discusses his findings in a video, here.)

Young people entering the labour market are 40% more likely to be called to an interview, Oreopolous indicates, if their names are (say) "Brenda Martin" or "Bob Smith" instead of (say) "Abousfian Abdelrazik" or "Abdihakim Mohamed." And this onomastic prejudice is visited upon the Canadian-born descendants of immigrants as well. Says Oreopoulos:
"The findings suggest that a distinct foreign-sounding name may be a significant disadvantage on the job market even if you are a second- or third-generation citizen."

Given the learned professor Tom Flanagan's bald-faced assertion two days ago that the wise and benign market will cure the discrimination problem, this study is timely indeed. Rather than eliminating discrimination, the market appears to be thriving on it. What's in a name? More job opportunities--if you have the right one.

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