Bad news for the Zeitlins:
Along with being last in every alphabetically ordered process from kindergarten through senior year of high school, those with childhood last names at the end of the alphabet also may be more likely to feel urgency around their spending decisions.
According to a study by business school professors Kurt A. Carlson and Jacqueline M. Conard, people who spent their childhoods at the end of the line are more prone to fall for promotional strategies such as limited-time offers. Carlson and Conard call this the “last name effect.”
“We find that the later in the alphabet the first letter of one’s childhood surname, the faster the person acquires items as an adult,” the authors write. “In addition to responding quicker, we find that those with late alphabet names are more likely to acquire an item when response time is restricted, and they find limited-time offers more appealing than their early alphabet counterparts.”
While the research doesn’t provide clear reasoning for this behaviour, Carlson theorized to Time that it has to do with control. “For years, simply because of your name, you’ve received inequitable treatment. So when you get to exercise control, you seize on opportunity.” Those who have always been last in line may be worried that goods will run out before they get their chance to claim some.
People with childhood last names near the beginning of the alphabet, however, are in no rush to buy.
Note that the researchers didn’t find the same pattern with adult last names — it’s the one that determined your place in the classroom that similarly defines your adult habits. You can see the researchers’ methodology with a free download of their paper.
The downside is clear: If you’re jumping on limited-time offers and opportunities to spend, you’re often spending more than you would if you didn’t find the opportunity irresistibly tempting. Of course, Yardleys and Zabars aren’t going to be the only ones lured by a quickly expiring offer — we’ve all fallen for them from time to time.
There’s no real way to combat this tendency, other than to recognise sales strategies that impart urgency (concert tickets assigning seating, this-weekend-only sales) and to choose when you’ll be exercising the bulk of your self control.
And that will be different for everyone, from Anderson to Wyman.