The Mortality Consequences of Distinctively Black Names

Lisa Cook, Trevon Logan, John Parman

NBER Working Paper No. 21625
Issued in October 2015
NBER Program(s):Development of the American Economy

Race-specific given names have been linked to a range of negative outcomes in contemporary studies, but little is known about their long term consequences. Building on recent research which documents the existence of a national naming pattern for African American males in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Cook, Logan and Parman 2014), we analyze long-term consequences of distinctively racialized names. Using over three million death certificates from Alabama, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina from 1802 to 1970, we find a robust within-race mortality difference for African American men who had distinctively black names. Having an African American name added more than one year of life relative to other African American males. The result is robust to controlling for the age pattern of mortality over time and environmental factors which could drive the mortality relationship. The result is not consistently present for infant and child mortality, however. As much as 10% of the historical between-race mortality gap would have been closed if every black man were given a black name. Suggestive evidence implies that cultural factors not captured by socioeconomic or human capital measures may be related to the mortality differential.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21625

Published: Cook, Lisa D. & Logan, Trevon D. & Parman, John M., 2016. "The mortality consequences of distinctively black names," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 114-125. citation courtesy of

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