Southern Accents Could Cost Job Seekers

Southern Accents
Business workers communicating | Image by Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Employees with a regional accent have a higher likelihood of receiving a wage penalty compared to coworkers without a recognizable accent, a recent research study claims.

The study, titled “The Wage Penalty of Regional Accents,” was conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of Munich in 2020 and then published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In general, the research study sought to determine the impact on speakers with a distinctive regional accent and aimed to estimate the causal effect on workers’ wages.

The study found that workers with a distinctive regional accent — such as a Southern accent — had a higher probability of experiencing a wage penalty of up to 20% compared to those who spoke with a “standard accent.”

A typical Southern accent is generally characterized by its slow and relaxed delivery, elongated vowels, and the strong “r” sound at the end of certain words. Speakers with Southern accents will also use “y’all” as a plural form of “you.”

Besides the likelihood of a 20% wage reduction, the 2020 study also found that workers with distinctive regional accents tended to “sort away” from occupations with a high level of face-to-face contact, which the researchers noted was “consistent with various occupational sorting models.”

The University of Chicago and the University of Munich are not the only institutions that have conducted research into dialect discrimination. Over the past decade, similar research studies have shown a correlation link between dialect and wages.

A recent 2023 study by the Writing Tips Institute found that 38% of job seekers admitted to “softening” their regional accents during job interviews to avoid negative stereotypes. This phenomenon was most prominent among applicants from Western New England (51%), South Midland (50%), and New Jersey (47%), according to the institution’s research findings.

The top five industries in which employees were most likely to be “generalized” for their accents were real estate, tourism, public service, information technology, and engineering, according to Writing Tips’ 2023 study.

To conduct its study, Writing Tips surveyed 3,000 respondents based on age, gender, geography, and other internal data sources.

The Atlas of North American English, a multimedia reference tool for phonetics, phonology, and sound change, shows that the U.S. states most commonly associated with the Southern accent and dialect are:


  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • The Jacksonville area of Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • The Springfield area of Missouri
  • Southeastern New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Most of Texas
  • Virginia
  • Parts of southern West Virginia

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