Your name could determine your success, says CU research

9NEWS at 6 p.m. 2/17/17.

The first letter of your last name could determine your life's path, if teachers follow the standard protocol of doing just about everything in alphabetical order.

Two University of Colorado economics professors have crunched the numbers on 3,100 Wisconsin men who graduated in 1957, and determined that the earlier in the alphabet your last initial falls, the more likely or to have success.

"Right now it's a research paper," said CU Economics Professor Jeffrey Zax. "Our paper demonstrates that the initial of your last name can have a substantial impact on the course of your life, at least through early adulthood."

Read the paper here (fair warning, it reads like stereo instructions).

The research by Zax and his colleague, Alexander Cauley, took into account how smart someone is, how ambitious their friends were and even how good looking they might be considered.

"Appearance by itself didn't play any role in the outcomes that we were looking at, but it did affect whether or not your initial mattered. People who were distinguished, so to speak, either by an attractive appearance or a very unattractive appearance, for them, it didn't matter what their initial was. The initial only mattered for people who were undistinguished in terms of appearance," said Zax.

Now, the photos of these 1957 Wisconsin high school graduates were not put through a "hot or not" website. There was some independent analysis done by researchers to pull out "average looking" men.

"What were you like in high school? What was your IQ? What was your class rank? What was your family like? Who were your friends? What was your ambition? If we take two men who look the same; same IQ, same everything, except one has a last name that begins with 'W' and the other has a last name that begins with 'G,' is there anything different about their experience? And the answer, we found, somewhat to our surprise, is not only is there a difference, but there can be a lot of difference," said Zax. "We are, by no means, saying that your surname initial is all that matters. On the contrary, in our research we already are taking account of the fact that some people have higher IQs than others and that's really important. We're taking account of the fact that some people perform better in high school than others and that's really important."

The research paper summed up the results with bad news for those with initials later in the alphabet.

"Surnames whose initials were farther from the beginning of the alphabet were significantly associated with less distinction and satisfaction in high school, lower final educational attainment, more military service and less attractive first civilian jobs. These effects were concentrated among those who were not distinguished by cognitive ability or appearance. The effects of surname initial appear to dissipate by age 35, presumably because other observable characteristics become sufficiently informative so as to supersede the correlates of surname initial."

"For the last 15 years, when I call the roll in my classes, I always go in a way that you would think of as backwards, I start at the 'Zs,'" said Zax. "Your initial matters a lot if you're not distinguished in any other way. I was basically a good student in school, so that was enough to get me the attention that I would have needed."

He even used math equations that looked like something out of the movie "A Beautiful Mind" to determine how significant your initial could impact your life.

"The chance of being designated as an outstanding student drops by about 10 percent if you go from, say, 'B' as your initial to 'L' or 'M,'" said Zax.

This research only focused on men and should not be used to make any correlations with women.

"We didn't look at the women, so we're not really sure what we'd expect to see there," said Zax.

So what's the end result of this research?

"The obvious response is don't always order alphabetically. Do that often enough and I think you've counteracted the effects that we experience from being consistently ordered in one direction only," said Zax. "The way to stop putting them at this disadvantage is to pay a little more attention to them, and the natural way to pay a little more attention to them is, now and again, go from Z-to-A when you're going through an alphabetical listing."

He even had a review of Next anchor Kyle Clark, based on the "C" in his last name.

"Clark, you're a damn good looking guy and you are really, really smart. Since those are both true about you, you don't have to worry about your initial," said Zax.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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