fb-pixel Skip to main content

Social Studies: Insurance instead of church; the trust we inherit; when housework really grates

Herders in Argentina captured this past May during their yearly transhumance, bringing cattle and sheep to their wintering area.FRANCISCO RAMOS MEJIA/AFP via Getty Images

Anti-social insurance

After the Great Flood of 1993 in the Midwest, Congress substantially increased subsidies for crop insurance. However, a new analysis finds that the surge of insurance coverage was associated with declines in churchgoing. This was particularly true in areas with poor soil quality, where churchgoing had been higher. The researchers attribute this pattern to what’s known as a substitution effect: Formal insurance substituted for the informal insurance provided in church congregations and other social networks.

Cronqvist, H. et al., “Does Finance Make Us Less Social?” Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis (forthcoming).

Pam Christian of Iowa is exhausted after working on sandbags during the flood of 1993 along the Mississippi River.

All-or-nothing lies

In laboratory experiments in 10 different countries, subjects who thought that small lies were just as socially unacceptable as big lies were more likely to make a big lie during an experimental task. Likewise, in countries where a higher fraction of people report that it’s never justifiable to cheat on public transportation, government benefits, and taxes, there’s a higher prevalence of electoral fraud and corruption and a larger underground economy. The logic here is that if small lies are seen to be just as bad as big lies, then you might as well go big if you’re going to lie at all.

Aycinena, D. et al., “Social Norms and Dishonesty Across Societies,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (August 2022).


Long-term harvest

Analysis of data from China reveals that areas with a history of paddy rice farming experienced significantly fewer COVID-19 cases per capita from spring 2020 through early 2021, even controlling for urbanization and the local economy, health care capacity, and testing policies. A similar analysis found the same pattern overseas: COVID cases and deaths through early 2021 were significantly lower in rice-farming countries, even controlling for various demographic, economic, and political factors, and correcting for testing rates and potential underreporting. The researchers suggest that rice-farming areas tend to have stronger social norms and social relationships.


Talhelm, T. et al., “How Rice Fights Pandemics: Nature-Crop-Human Interactions Shaped COVID-19 Outcomes,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

Herding trust

In worldwide survey data, countries and individuals with an ancestry of transhumant pastoralism (i.e., herders who don’t stay in one place) have more parochial attitudes, in that they trust close acquaintances much more than outsiders, especially in areas with a history of drought or conflict. Survey interviewers also found individuals with this ancestry to be less friendly and cooperative. This appears to be a legacy of having to rely on a tight-knit group for mutual assistance and protection. There was no similar association for sedentary pastoralist or migrating non-pastoralist groups. A consequence of this legacy is that in countries with higher rates of such ancestry — which primarily are in North Africa, the Middle East, and central Asia — businesses generally are smaller and use less objective criteria in promotion.

Le Rossignol, E. & Lowes, S., “Ancestral Livelihoods and Moral Universalism: Evidence from Transhumant Pastoralist Societies,” National Bureau of Economic Research (July 2022).

Symbolic housework

Surveys in several countries found that heterosexual women who reported more positive romantic relationships tended to view their share of the housework as being fair and, as a result, view the treatment of women in society as fair. To see if this correlation reflected causation, researchers asked women to write about a bad day in their relationship or to justify their share of the housework. Women who wrote about a bad day subsequently viewed their share of the housework as less fair, while women who were asked to justify their share of the housework subsequently viewed it as more fair. These changes in the perceived fairness of their own housework generated corresponding changes in the perceived fairness of treatment of women in society.


Sobol-Sarag, D. et al., “The Irony of (Romantic) Harmony: Heterosexual Romantic Relationships Can Drive Women’s Justification of the Gender Hierarchy,” Group Processes & Intergroup Relations (forthcoming).