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Social Studies: Partisan mistrust; taking chances in soccer; the legacy of malaria in America

Emma Hayes, the coach of Chelsea, looks on during a UEFA Women's Champions League match in England. Research indicates that female coaches in that league tend to take more risks.Warren Little/Getty

The other side is wrong

In an experiment conducted in early 2021 with several thousand Democrats and Republicans, MIT researchers asked participants to rate the veracity of nonpolitical news headlines. Next, participants were shown a veracity rating for the headline that supposedly had been given by an opposing partisan — but this rating actually came from independent fact-checkers. After being told of this rating that they thought came from someone in the other party, the study participants were asked to rate the headline again — and they significantly discounted the other rating. They admitted it was because it had (so they thought) come from someone across the ideological divide. This dynamic occurred even when the participants were offered a $10 incentive for coming up with a rating that could be deemed accurate. However, when told that opposing partisans had actually done a better job of matching the fact-checkers’ ratings, participants readily shifted their assessments. In other words, people genuinely believe that opposing partisans are more gullible, even when that stereotype is costly to them. On the other hand, that stereotype can be corrected with evidence.


Zhang, Y. & Rand, D., “Sincere or Motivated? Partisan Bias in Non-Political Information Processing,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (December 2021).

Zero-sum bigotry

Researchers at Harvard and Stanford found that the surge of Mexican immigrants between 1970 and 2010 can explain half of the improvement in how white people viewed Black people during the same period, because whites have viewed Hispanics more negatively than they have viewed Blacks. This shifting viewpoint has also led to more support for equality and affirmative action for Black people and a reduction in hate crimes against them. A survey experiment that simply asked white people to estimate the Hispanic share of the population — thereby calling attention to their presence — caused white people to view Black people more positively and as more “American.”


Fouka, V. & Tabellini, M., “Changing In-Group Boundaries: The Effect of Immigration on Race Relations in the United States,” American Political Science Review (forthcoming).

Women on offense

Analyzing data on soccer matches from 2009 to 2018 in the European Women’s Champions League, which has male and female coaches, economists found that female coaches tended to start matches with more offensive players — a measure of risk-taking, as it leaves fewer players on defense — and this was particularly true among older coaches. This contrasts with previous research that often finds women to be less inclined to take risks. The economists attribute older female coaches’ risk-taking to the fact that playing soccer was more stigmatized for them when they were younger; for them, playing the sport at all was more of a risk. There was no gender difference in the coaches’ winning percentage; however, only one-sixth of the coaches in this sample were women.

Rinne, U. & Sonnabend, H., “Female Workers, Male Managers: Gender, Leadership, and Risk-Taking,” Southern Economic Journal (forthcoming).

Creative destruction

London was bombed heavily by the Germans during World War II, particularly during the Blitz of 1940 and 1941. Because areas that were more heavily bombed were more likely to lose historic buildings, those areas later ended up with more permissive building regulations. Economists estimate that this greater permissiveness increased local employment density and that “if the Blitz had not occurred, the annual per capita economic output of present-day Greater London would now be about 10% (or £50 billion in aggregate) lower.”


Dericks, G. & Koster, H., “The Billion Pound Drop: The Blitz and Agglomeration Economies in London,” Journal of Economic Geography (December 2021).

Did infection cause the Civil War?

The percentage of Africans in the population of the American colonies increased dramatically after 1680. An economist shows that this can be largely explained by the arrival of falciparum malaria (the most severe form) in the 1680s in the South, where the environment was conducive to its spread. Because malaria was endemic to Africa, many Africans were already immune, and so farmers in the South shifted from European indentured servants to African slaves. Indeed, favorable conditions for falciparum malaria were the strongest predictor of the size of the local enslaved population, even considering other diseases and the suitability of the land for growing cotton or tobacco. And records of slave sales show that enslaved people from areas of Africa with more endemic malaria were worth more.

Esposito, E., “The Side Effects of Immunity: Malaria and African Slavery in the United States,” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics (forthcoming).