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Social Studies: More immigrants, please; climate change and togetherness; in praise of ugly fruit

A fruit stand at Back Bay Station in 2015.
A fruit stand at Back Bay Station in 2015.Lane Turner

Smarter immigration

A new study estimates that foreign high-school students who were International Math Olympiad medalists became much more successful math scholars as adults if they immigrated to the United States than if they immigrated elsewhere or remained in their native countries. While many such students want to come to this country to study, surveys indicate cost is a bigger deterrent than American immigration politics. The study estimates that if all could come, scholarly output of future generations would increase by 42 percent.

Agarwal, R. et al., “Why US Immigration Barriers Matter for the Global Advancement of Science,” UMass Amherst (January 2021).


Majority rules

A survey experiment asked people about a scenario in which a state Supreme Court justice announces that he will retire when an incoming governor takes office, but the outgoing governor (from the opposing party) announces that he will appoint a replacement preemptively. Approximately a third of people did not support the move and thought it was inconsistent with democracy even when they were in the same party as the outgoing governor. More surprisingly, though, approximately a quarter of people took the opposite view: They supported the move and thought it was consistent with democracy even when they were in the opposing party.

Grossman, G. et al., “The Majoritarian Threat to Liberal Democracy,” Journal of Experimental Political Science (forthcoming).

No country for old people

New research indicates that egalitarians who want to help women and minorities tend not to want to help old people, because old people are assumed to be blocking opportunities for others to rise. This isn’t just about associating “old” with old white men; the researchers found that this dynamic occurs to some extent even when study participants are asked to consider old Black women. This ageism was attenuated when the study participants were reminded that many old people cannot afford to retire.


Martin, A. & North, M., “Equality for (Almost) All: Egalitarian Advocacy Predicts Lower Endorsement of Sexism and Racism, but Not Ageism,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (forthcoming).

Trust in climate change

Economists found that the year-to-year variability of temperature and precipitation in local areas of Europe in the pre-industrial period (1500-1750) is associated with greater social trust in the same areas today, even controlling for the average climate and geography. The hypothesis is that farmers needed to rely on others in the community to cope with the unreliability of growing conditions. Climate variability is also associated with more inclusive local political institutions, then and now.

Buggle, J. & Durante, R., “Climate Risk, Cooperation, and the Co-Evolution of Culture and Institutions,” Economic Journal (forthcoming).

Ugly sells

A series of experiments found that people were more interested in buying less-than-ideal-looking, somewhat discounted produce if it was explicitly labeled “ugly,” as the labels enhanced expectations of quality by separating out the issue of appearance. An “ugly” label coupled with a 20 percent discount was just as effective as a 60 percent discount without the label. Nevertheless, grocery-store managers assumed that an “ugly” label wouldn’t work — a major oversight in an industry where billions of dollars’ worth of edible produce is discarded every year.

Mookerjee, S. et al., “From Waste to Taste: How ‘Ugly’ Labels Can Increase Purchase of Unattractive Produce,” Journal of Marketing (forthcoming).