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The importance of being beautiful, shifting blame, and bad calls on the baseball diamond

New research suggests baseball umpires make better calls when the game is on the line.Denis Poroy/Associated Press

Beauty pays

Using data from a nationally representative sample of young people, sociologists found that attractiveness — as rated by interviewers — was at least as consequential as race or gender in explaining earnings disparities, even controlling for age, body mass index, skin tone, and education. “The returns to attractiveness among Black women, for instance, are so immense, that the earnings of the most attractive Black women appear to converge or even overlap those of white women of similar levels of attractiveness,” the researchers wrote.

Monk, E. et al., “Beholding Inequality: Race, Gender, and Returns to Physical Attractiveness in the United States,” American Journal of Sociology (July 2021).


Throw ‘em under the bus

In a survey experiment in 2018, people read about the practice of separating families at the border and the Trump administration’s decision to end the practice. Some participants were told that either President Trump or Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen had initially claimed to lack the authority to end the practice but subsequently reversed himself or herself. When the statement was described as coming from Nielsen and not Trump, Trump avoided any negative effect on approval ratings. Likewise, in a survey experiment asking about a municipal administration that reversed itself after initially claiming not to have the authority to save a school lunch program from budget cuts, using the city manager to deliver the bad news cut the damage to the mayor’s approval rating in half.

Croco, S. et al., “The Face of the Problem: How Subordinates Shield Executives From Blame,” Journal of Experimental Political Science (forthcoming).

In the zone

Economists found that Major League Baseball umpires were more likely to make correct calls when those calls made a big difference in game outcomes, and less likely to get calls right if they had just made, or expected to make, a bunch of important calls. The findings suggest umpires have a depletable “budget” of attention they can pay to a game — and that they expend it at what they perceive to be the most important moments.


Archsmith, J. et al., “The Dynamics of Inattention in the (Baseball) Field,” National Bureau of Economic Research (June 2021).

Why conservatives reign Supreme

A recent study found that before the 2016 election Republican voters placed significantly more importance on Supreme Court appointments than Democratic voters, and that in 2018 Republicans were significantly more sensitive to whether an incumbent senator had supported conservative high court nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. A separate survey experiment asked people to rate Senate primary candidates who staked out different top priorities. While confirming conservative Supreme Court nominees was one of the few positions that conferred a substantial advantage in GOP primaries, the survey found, blocking conservative nominees was actually a losing position in Democratic contests.

Badas, A. & Simas, E., “The Supreme Court as an Electoral Issue: Evidence From Three Studies,” Political Science Research and Methods (forthcoming).

Getting past the tech bros

Researchers at Harvard Business School analyzed data from Product Hunt, a website for early adopters of technology products. Like many such websites, it’s dominated by men. The data reveal that female-focused products did worse in the market and with investors after launching on Product Hunt. This disparity was diminished if the product launched on days with higher female engagement on the website. The study suggests that underrepresentation of women on early-user digital platforms can lead to distorted impressions of a startup’s potential.


Cao, R. et al., “Biased Sampling of Early Users and the Direction of Startup Innovation,” National Bureau of Economic Research (June 2021).