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Social Studies: The wages of politics, sports specialization, and the problem with intercoms

Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders smiles on the sidelines. Sanders played both professional football and baseball in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. A new examination of dozens of studies suggests people who play multiple sports at a young age, rather than specializing in a single sport, are more likely to be elite athletes as adults.Rogelio V. Solis

Paid to vote

Political scientists at MIT found that voter turnout increased by several percentage points among municipal employees in New York City whose hourly wages were affected by increases in the minimum wage. Researchers found a similar effect when they analyzed county-by-county turnout in presidential elections over the past several decades after local increases in the minimum wage. Higher income may help workers avert the life difficulties that prevent them from voting, the researchers speculate. Or it could be that watching the government raise the minimum wage drives home the importance of political engagement or increases workers’ sense of political efficacy.


Markovich, Z. & White, A., “More Money, More Turnout? Minimum Wage Increases and Voting,” Journal of Politics (forthcoming).

Secular babies

A Cornell sociologist found that secularism in a country, “even in small amounts,” is associated with a significantly lower fertility rate. And it appears that secular people are influencing religious people; the most pronounced drops in fertility rates in secularizing countries are among religious people.

Schnabel, L., “Secularism and Fertility Worldwide,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World (July 2021).

The perils of specialization

An analysis of dozens of studies of athletic performance revealed that world-class youth and adult athletes take different routes to success. World-class youth athletes started in their sport at an earlier age, had more practice time with coaches, and reached milestones more quickly. World-class adult athletes, by contrast, started and reached milestones at later ages and accumulated less coach-led practice time in their main sport but more time in other sports. The findings suggest that playing several sports at a young age, rather than specializing in one, leads to more sustained success.

Güllich, A. et al., “What Makes a Champion? Early Multidisciplinary Practice, Not Early Specialization, Predicts World-Class Performance,” Perspectives on Psychological Science (forthcoming).


Students, interrupted

Research out of Brown University suggests that external interruptions of classroom instruction, such as intercom announcements and visits from staff, are a major drag on learning. Based on surveys and classroom observation in the Providence Public School District (PPSD), the researchers “estimate that, over the course of an academic year, PPSD high school students experience more than 2,000 instances of external interruptions,” resulting “in the loss of between 10 and 20 days of instructional time,” with students in some schools experiencing “three times as many interruptions as do students in other schools.” Researchers found that PPSD administrators significantly underestimate the scale of the problem.

Kraft, M. & Monti-Nussbaum, M., “The Big Problem With Little Interruptions to Classroom Learning,” AERA Open (July 2021).

Numbers don’t lie

Benford’s Law says that the digit 1 is most likely to appear at the start of a number in a real-world data set. A 2 is the second-most likely. A 3 is the third-most likely, and so on, down to 9. Deviations from the norm have been used to allege fraud in election results, for example. If the vote totals in many precincts start with the digit 9, that’s a sign that someone may have made up the totals. In a new study, researchers applied Benford’s Law to the monthly counts of use of force against inmates as reported by the California Department of Corrections. They found evidence “consistent with misreporting,” especially in high-security prisons.

Bond, K. et al., “Detecting Anomalies in Data on Government Violence,” Political Science Research and Methods (forthcoming).