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IDEAS

Social Studies: Having fun, the power of day care, crime-fighting churches

A tennis court in Shreveport, La., which is among the states with the highest levels of income inequality.
A tennis court in Shreveport, La., which is among the states with the highest levels of income inequality.DYLAN HOLLINGSWORTH/NYT

Fun fair

A new study finds that residents of states with higher income inequality report spending more time on leisure and recreation, even controlling for the state’s median income, unemployment rate, and reported stress levels. Living amid higher inequality appears to make people more motivated to engage in pleasurable activities.

Hannay, J. et al., “Economic Inequality and the Pursuit of Pleasure,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

It takes a village

In the 1970s in North Carolina, some Black babies born to disadvantaged mothers were randomly assigned to receive five years of high-quality, full-time day care. This group and a control group of similar children also received enhanced health care and social services. Four decades later, when 47 of these individuals underwent brain scans, those who had been in the day care group had, on average, greater volume in parts of the brain that are thought to be particularly important for language skills and cognitive control. The phenomenon was more pronounced in the men.

Farah, M. et al., “Randomized Manipulation of Early Cognitive Experience Impacts Adult Brain Structure,” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (June 2021).

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Church is sobering

Using historical weather data, nationwide survey data, and Google location-tracking data, an economist found that precipitation on Sunday morning significantly reduces church attendance. In turn, lower attendance results in more drug- and alcohol-related crime and white-collar crime, even controlling for precipitation during other times of the week. Specifically, “an increase of 1 percent in the attendance rate would reduce drug-related crimes by 0.8 percent, alcohol-related crimes by 0.66 percent and white-collar crimes by 0.67 percent.”

Moreno-Medina, J., “Sinning in the Rain: Weather Shocks, Church Attendance and Crime,” Review of Economics and Statistics (forthcoming).

Send in the drones

In a survey experiment conducted before the current Afghanistan withdrawal, Americans were asked about four future scenarios: a strong US economy, a weak economy, a weak economy while “US drone strikes in Pakistan killed high-profile terrorists at a training camp,” or a weak economy while “the US deployed 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to help in the war on terror.” Approval for the hypothetical president was, unsurprisingly, highest in the strong-economy scenario and lowest in the weak-economy scenario, but it was significantly boosted in the weak-economy scenario by drone strikes and only marginally boosted by troops.

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Boddery, S. & Klein, G., “Presidential Use of Diversionary Drone Force and Public Support,” Research & Politics (May 2021).