Social class can be determined within just seven words, and it could have major implications in job interviews, researchers from Yale University believe.
In a new study, 274 people with hiring experience were asked to listen to audio recordings, or read transcripts, from the pre-interview discussions of people who applied for a lab manager position at the university.
The hiring managers were asked to assess the candidate’s professional qualities, starting salary, signing on bonus and social class, without reading CVs.
The findings showed that within the first seven words, hirers had made snap judgements of the candidates, based on class, which were later reflected in decisions to hire, as well as salary and bonus levels.
The average starting salary of those judged to be higher class started at around £45,260 ($58,750) compared to roughly £44,680 ($58,000) for those judged from a lower class.
Likewise the majority of the higher class candidates received a starting bonus above £1,925 ($2,500) while nobody from the lower classes reached that level.
“We rarely talk explicitly about social class, and yet, people with hiring experience infer competence and fitness based on socioeconomic position estimated from a few seconds of an applicant’s speech,” said said Dr Michael Kraus, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management.
“If we want to move to a more equitable society, then we must contend with these ingrained psychological processes that drive our early impressions of others.
“Despite what these hiring tendencies may suggest, talent is not found solely among those born to rich or well-educated families. Policies that actively recruit candidates from all levels of status in society are best positioned to match opportunities to the people best suited for them.”
The researchers found that speech which followed traditional grammar standards for English as well as digital standards, such as the voices used in tech products like the Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, was associated with both actual and perceived higher social class.
And they found it was pronunciation, rather than the content of the speech, which communicated social status, and that it took just seven words to draw a conclusion.
“Our study shows that even during the briefest interactions, a person’s speech patterns shape the way people perceive them, including assessing their competence and fitness for a job,” added Dr Kraus.
“While most hiring managers would deny that a job candidate’s social class matters, in reality, the socioeconomic position of an applicant or their parents is being assessed within the first seconds they speak – a circumstance that limits economic mobility and perpetuates inequality.”
The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).