From the very first roll call of the school year, students whose last names start with letters at the beginning of the alphabet may be at an advantage. A recent paper out of CU Boulder found that teachers and professors may unconsciously label students with last names at the beginning half of the alphabet as outstanding.
Economics graduate student Alexander Cauley and CU Economics Professor Jeffrey Zax uncovered the phenomenon by looking at thousands of men with nearly identical IQs and academic performances, but with alphabetically diverse last names. Using over 50 years of data, they found that this unconscious bias can begin in grade school and last through college, affecting people’s academic and life outcomes.
"The differences were really dramatic," says Zax. "If you're a Clark, you're maybe 10 percent more likely to be identified as an outstanding student than your twin who happens to take on the last name of Norton."
The good news? As people reach mid-adulthood—and roll call becomes less common—the problem largely disappears.