Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Freakonomics in an Age of Freakadmissions

I read Levitt and Dubner's book Freakonomics for a book club a few years ago.

Very interesting book.

One chapter that really got my head spinning was the chapter titled, "Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?"

At the time, my wife and I were trying to sort through thousands of names to find "the One name" for our 1st child.

The chapter was fascinating because it essentially espoused the idea that the name you give your baby not only reveals things about your child, but can also reward or penalize your child.

Levvit and Dubner argued that names often have a correlation to socioeconomic status. Level of education. Names even play in, consciously sometimes, subconsciously other times, in job employment.

An audit study was done that Levvit and Dubner use as their argument's impetus, in which a researcher sent two identical (and fake) resumes, one with a traditionally white name and the other with an immigrant or minority-sounding name, to potential employers. The "white" resumes always gleaned more job interviews. A Molly or Amy advanced in a job interview. The same with a Jake or Connor. But an Imani or Shanice, a DeShawn or DeAndre, that carried economic penalty.

In a recent Huffington Post article entitled "Some Asians Don't Identify as Asians in College Admissions", the writer makes essentially the same argument for college admissions.

Being of Asian ethnicity, in particular, with a clearly "Asian sounding name" disadvantaged you in higher college admissions.

Why? Well because there are more Perfect SAT and perfect 4.0 GPA Asian students applying to the Ivies and other highly competitive institutions than non-Asian.

The article reveals that some Asians - who don't sound too Asian in name - are changing their ethnicity (checking the "Caucasian" box).

It makes me wonder if we're not going to hear stories in the near future of families changing their last names to something more "white sounding" to advantage their children in selective college admissions.

In what we might go ahead and dub the "Age of Freakadmissions" (patenting that phrase), perhaps the writers of Freakonomics have hit the nail on the head. Names and ethnicity can advantage or disadvantage. Asians are clearly getting creamed. Ironically, however, it could also be pointed out that the "blacker" your name is in highly selective admissions, the better chance you have at gaining admissions. While Asians/Indians are being held to a higher standard (200 points higher on the SAT, for example), African-Americans are being held to a different standard (sometimes 200 points lower on the SAT, for example).

I don't know. Last year, though, I did wonder if our top student, who had a non-white last name, might have received different news from Stanford if his last name had been more white. Who knows? And maybe the freakish nature of college admissions is at a point where almost everyone, minus athletes, are up against the Nile River to get in. No matter their name. Ethnicity. Test score. Pedigree. Socio-economic status.

Indeed these are freakishly crazy times in higher college admissions.