The Effect of a Gmail vs. Yahoo Email Address on Professionalism
What does an email address say about a person? It can express our identity, professionalism, or wit. And once we use it long enough it's difficult to change. That may pose a problem for those who chose their email address several years ago, when personal email addresses weren't so professional and domains like Hotmail, AOL, and Yahoo were common.
Now, with Google's Gmail claiming a predominant share of the U.S. email market and social norms around email crystalizing, it makes us wonder whether non-Gmail email addresses look less professional.
We conducted an experiment with 400 people on Amazon Mechanical Turk to test the how professional a hypothetical email sender seemed when using a Gmail vs. Yahoo email address domain, and whether those perceptions differ between younger and older respondents.
Participants were told "Imagine you get an email from [firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com], a recent acquaintance asking if there are any job openings at the company you work for." Participants were randomly assigned to see either the Gmail or Yahoo email address. Participants were then asked, "How professional do you feel this person is?" (1 = Not at all, 7 = Extremely).
We didn't find a significant main effect between the Gmail condition (avg. = 4.63) and the Yahoo condition (avg. = 4.42), (p = 0.184). However, we did find a small yet marginally significant difference when age was considered (p = 0.048). Each year of age corresponded to a 0.027-point increase in perceived professionalism, such that a 20-year old email recipient would be expected to rate a Yahoo email address 0.72 points lower than Gmail, but a 60-year old email recipient would rate it 0.36 points higher.
For ease of interpretation, we've provided an interaction bar graph with younger participants included as anyone 35 years of age or less, and older participants as over 35 (about a 50-50 split in our sample).
Overall, if you're worried about being perceived as unprofessional with a non-Gmail email address, don't panic. The bump in perceived professionalism from jumping on the Gmail bandwagon probably wouldn't outweigh the pain of switching.
Daniel Brown is an award-winning researcher, social scientist, and founder of AB Labs. He holds a doctorate in Management from Harvard University and has conducted over 100 randomized controlled trials in social psychology.