Uncommon Knowledge

Would you get married for health insurance?

Applying for a Health Insurance, Health Insurance application form with a pen on a desk
Karen Roach/Fotolia

First comes love, then Obamacare

Do young people marry just for the health insurance? An economist who worked at the Census Bureau recently found that the Affordable Care Act provision allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance also allowed them not to get or stay hitched. Specifically, it was estimated that around 60,000 fewer 23- to 25-year-olds got married each year because of the provision — a sizable percentage of the number of people in that age group who gained coverage because of the provision (around a million). Cohabitation rates also went down, while divorce rates went up. This outcome may seem like a downer, but the economist notes that having fewer hasty weddings makes the marriage market more efficient.

Abramowitz, J., “Saying, ‘I Don’t’: The Effect of the Affordable Care Act Young Adult Provision on Marriage,” Journal of Human Resources (Fall 2016).

Fools for clients

Justice may be blind, but it sure looks down on nonlawyers. Researchers from Indiana University presented a detailed gender-discrimination case to nonlawyers, law students, and practicing employment-discrimination lawyers. Some participants read that the plaintiff was representing herself, while others read that she had a lawyer. Even though the facts of the case were identical, and even though participants perceived the same degree of merit, law students and especially practicing lawyers stereotyped the unrepresented plaintiff as less competent and thought she should get a lower settlement offer. Nonlawyers thought the unrepresented plaintiff should get a higher settlement offer.

Quintanilla, V. et al., “The Signaling Effect of Pro se Status,” Law & Social Inquiry (forthcoming).

Majors for men

College students need unbiased advice when picking their majors. An economist sent surveys asking about hypothetical male and female students to advisers at four-year colleges. Advisers thought male students would do better in both math and English. Male advisers were particularly optimistic about male students in math and were more likely to recommend math as a major to all students.

Thompson, S., “College Advising and Gender,” Economic Inquiry (forthcoming).

Proceeds, not donations

Note to charities: Don’t just offer an enticement to donors; how you describe it makes a big difference. Stanford researchers found that framing a request as a purchase opportunity (e.g., “You can pay $15 for a tin of mixed nuts, and all of the money will go to the United Way”) generated more donations than framing the request as a donation opportunity (“You can donate $15 to the United Way, and in return you will receive a free tin of mixed nuts”). According to the researchers, this is because adding material self-interest to a proposition that started out as pure charity taints it, while adding charity to a proposition that started out as pure material self-interest elevates it.

Zlatev, J. & Miller, D., “Selfishly Benevolent or Benevolently Selfish: When Self-Interest Undermines versus Promotes Prosocial Behavior,” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (November 2016).

Invariably hot


What do we look for in a mate? If you said low-variability neurological function, you’re right! British researchers administered a test of mental reaction time and photographed the faces of the individuals who took the test. Photos of individuals with highly variable reaction times were morphed into one composite image; photos of those with the least variation were combined into another. When these faces were shown to other people, the face representing low variability in reaction time was perceived to be more attractive. This makes sense from a Darwinian standpoint, since other research has shown that high variation in reaction time is associated with impaired neurological performance.

Butler, E. et al., “Physical Attraction to Reliable, Low Variability Nervous Systems: Reaction Time Variability Predicts Attractiveness,” Cognition (January 2017).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at