Freakonomics | Study Guide

Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

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Freakonomics | Chapter 6 : Perfect Parenting, Part II; or: Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet? | Summary

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Key Takeaways

The authors again highlight that even though conventional wisdom points out some obvious correlations between the act of naming and success, the data shows that the causality goes much farther back than a name. The names most parents give their children are mirrors of their social classes and backgrounds. The decisions white and black parents make when it comes to naming their children also serve as lenses through which to view class divisions along racial lines.

  • Parents' belief in their power to determine who their child will become begins when they give the child a name.
  • Because names often are linked to cultures, different cultures have different connections to names.
  • Economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. studied how separate black and white cultures are, finding that blacks and whites consume different media, smoke different cigarettes, and give their children very different names.
  • Fryer questioned whether this distinctive black culture is a cause of the economic disparity between blacks and whites or simply a reflection of it.
  • Data from a California study revealed to Fryer "how dissimilarly black and white parents name their children."
  • The same data also revealed children with uniquely black names—a recent phenomenon beginning in the early 1970s—usually are given these names by a parent who also has a uniquely black name and comes from a low socioeconomic black neighborhood.
  • White parents give their babies names at least four times more common.
  • Studies have shown a consequence of these parental choices: résumés with more traditional "white" names at the top are more likely to be called for an interview, but conclusions based on résumés are unreliable.
  • Fryer's study of California data showed someone with a uniquely black name is likelier to end up with a lower income than someone with a white name—though not by fault of the name.
  • Rather, the association with names reflects socioeconomic backgrounds and opportunities—children with uniquely black names tend to come from less advantaged backgrounds.
  • Obvious relationships between income and names exist even among the most common "white" names.
  • One emerging pattern is that once a name becomes popular among wealthy parents, it then begins to descend through the socioeconomic ladder.
  • The data seem to suggest parents choose children's names with the hope a name can influence the kind of person their child will become, but in the end a name probably makes no difference.
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