HR Strange But True!
February 24, 2011

Do people subconsciously stereotype others by their accents, attributing traits to them that have nothing to do with their abilities or personalities? Yes, says a recent Harris Interactive® Poll, which also found that people subconsciously favor the accents of their own region.

These findings, of course, would certainly manifest themselves in the hiring process.

The poll found that people favor their own way of speaking so much that they think their regional accents would make them more desirable to an employer in this competitive job market.

However, when asked if four equally qualified applicants for a certain job were only differentiated by their accent, two in five adults (39%) say that the applicant with the Midwestern accent would get the job.

With regard to other regions, a quarter of Easterners say the job would go to the person with the New England accent (26%) compared to fewer adults from elsewhere who agree (between 17% and 9%). One in five Easterners (19%) also say it would go to the New Yorker (compared to between 14% and 7% of those from other areas), and one in five Southerners (18%) say it would go to their applicant, compared to very few adults from elsewhere who agree (between 7% and 3%). Easterners are also more likely than other regions to say the job would go to the person with the British accent (27%).

And Midwesterners themselves say that speakers with a Midwest accent are well-educated, intelligent, nice and honest more frequently than adults from other regions say the same. In fact, over half of Midwesterners (55%) say someone with a Midwestern accent is nice compared to 42% of Westerners, 36% of Easterners and just 31% of Southerners who say this, according to Harris Interactive.

However, this doesn’t mean that poll respondents thought Midwestern speakers would be smarter or nicer as employees. Actually, more people thought those with British (39%) or New England (31%) accents come off as more educated than those from the Midwest (18%).

Those with Midwest accents were also perceived as more honest (39%), while those with a New York accent scored a paltry (7%). New Yorker speakers did come in first—in perceived rudeness (51%) and dishonesty (34% versus 3% for Midwesterners).

Almost half of those who wanted to hire “nice” employees (49%) would definitely go with those with a Southern accent (guess they don’t remember what Dolly Parton did to her boss in the movie "9 to 5").

And for sophistication and intelligence in an employee, a British accent is favored by a landslide.

However, around 15% of respondents reported they just don’t hear regional accidents. Maybe these people should become hiring managers—maybe they wouldn’t succumb to this type of stereotyping.

To see all the results of this poll.


Harris Interactive

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