Workers with non-mainstream accents earn lower wages: study

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CHICAGO, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- A study carried out by the University of Chicago (UChicago) found that workers with racially and regionally distinctive speech patterns earn lower wages compared to those who speak in the mainstream.

Researchers used data from audio collected during the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which is a large, nationally representative panel survey of the labor market behavior of people who were aged 12-16 in 1997. After reviewing each audio file, listeners were asked to specify the speaker's sex, race/ethnicity and region of origin, according to the study posted on the Uchicago website on Wednesday.

"By studying the dialects of African American and Southern white workers, we found that wages are strongly related to their speech patterns, with those who speak in a mainstream dialects paid more," said Jeffrey Grogger, a professor of the Harris School of Public Policy at UChicago.

For Southern whites, speech-related wage differences are largely due to location, with Southern-sounding workers who live in rural areas earning less than those in urban areas.

For the black community, the wage difference, which can be significant, is explained by what Grogger calls "a sorting model," a term referring to African Americans who speak with what are perceived as mainstream accents sort into jobs that involve intensive interactions with customers and coworkers, and earn a sizable wage premium in jobs including lawyers, psychologists, dietitians and social workers.

"For Southern whites, this is largely explained by family background and where they live," Grogger said. "For African Americans, however, speech-related wage differences are not explained by family background, location or personality traits. Rather, members of the black community who speak in a mainstream dialect work in jobs that involve intensive interactions with others, and those jobs tend to pay more."

Why mainstream speech is more valued in interaction-intensive jobs is less clear, since racially and regionally distinctive speech patterns remain intelligible to other dialect speakers. One potential explanation is customer and coworker discrimination: Evidence from social psychology suggests that listeners prefer mainstream speech, which could in turn limit opportunities for those who speak with other accents.

Grogger has observed similar "occupational sorting" in his research about workers' speech in Germany, a country with wide variation in regional dialects, where workers who speak with a distinctive regional accent experienced a reduction in wages by an amount that is comparable to the gender wage gap. In addition, workers with distinctive regional accents tended to sort away from occupations that demand high levels of face-to-face contact. Enditem

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