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Social Studies: Bad news, human sacrifices, the other guys’ salaries

A newspaper headline in San Francisco in March announced the closure of large events because of the coronavirus.Eric Risberg/Associated Press

All the news that’s fit to stink

An analysis out of Dartmouth of coronavirus-related news coverage during the first seven months of this year found that print and TV outlets with rosier coverage were significantly less popular than those with more negative stories.

Sacerdote, B. et al., “Why Is All COVID-19 News Bad News?” National Bureau of Economic Research (November 2020).

Human sacrifice

In survey experiments with Americans, a country or group was perceived to have lower self-worth and deserve less respect if it received a greater number of its comrades than the other side in a fictional prisoner swap. This was also the case if it negotiated down a ransom payment, or if it decided against a rescue mission because it would risk more lives than it might save. In other words, paying a low price in lives or money for one’s countrymen — even if it seems like a good deal — discounts the value of those countrymen.

Dittmann, A. et al., “When Getting More Makes Groups Seem Worth Less: Negotiating a ‘Better’ Deal in Prisoner Swaps Can Ironically Signal Low Self-Regard and Engender Disrespect,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).


Faces of the neighborhood

Thousands of fictitious job applications, mostly for service jobs, were sent to employers in New York City and New Jersey. Applicants were described as young men and were randomly assigned a stereotypically Black or white name. White applicants got better response rates for jobs in predominantly white neighborhoods, while the opposite was true in predominantly Black neighborhoods, even controlling for other neighborhood and employer characteristics. However, because there were more jobs in whiter areas, white applicants had an overall advantage. In fact, “simulations project that white job-seekers in New York City will receive between 68 and 190 percent more callbacks than equally qualified Black job-seekers.”


Agan, A. & Starr, S., “Employer Neighborhoods and Racial Discrimination,” National Bureau of Economic Research (November 2020).

What are those guys getting?

Men, especially those without a college degree, have been increasingly likely to drop out of the labor force in the past several decades. Various explanations have been considered, but a new analysis finds that inequality may play an underappreciated role. While decreases in median earnings in a blue-collar man’s occupation unsurprisingly increased his likelihood of dropping out of the labor force, there was a stronger effect from increases in the average and top-percentile earnings of other workers in his state, even controlling for state unemployment, housing cost, poverty, and occupational-employment trends. As the study’s author points out, a job “also affirms a worker’s social status, which is tied to his relative position to his age-range peers.”

Wu, P., “Wage Inequality and the Rise in Labor Force Exit: The Case of US Prime-Age Men,” University of Michigan (November 2020).