Names, Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap

32 Pages Posted: 18 Apr 2005 Last revised: 5 Aug 2010

See all articles by David N. Figlio

David N. Figlio

Northwestern University; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: March 2005


This paper investigates the question of whether teachers treat children differentially on the basis of factors other than observed ability, and whether this differential treatment in turn translates into differences in student outcomes. I suggest that teachers may use a child's name as a signal of unobserved parental contributions to that child's education, and expect less from children with names that "sound" like they were given by uneducated parents. These names, empirically, are given most frequently by Blacks, but they are also given by White and Hispanic parents as well. I utilize a detailed dataset from a large Florida school district to directly test the hypothesis that teachers and school administrators expect less on average of children with names associated with low socio-economic status, and these diminished expectations in turn lead to reduced student cognitive performance. Comparing pairs of siblings, I find that teachers tend to treat children differently depending on their names, and that these same patterns apparently translate into large differences in test scores.

Suggested Citation

Figlio, David N., Names, Expectations and the Black-White Test Score Gap (March 2005). NBER Working Paper No. w11195. Available at SSRN:

David N. Figlio (Contact Author)

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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