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Social Studies: Diversity that’s more than skin deep; guilt by association; toy wars

A Toys "R" Us store in Omaha, Neb., in 2018. The brand began a comeback in the United States last year.Nati Harnik

Deeper diversity

A researcher argues that engaging in deeper conversations about cultural identity can help minorities gain more eager inclusion from majority co-workers. For example, in one experiment involving an online get-to-know-you session, white people took turns answering personal questions with someone they were led to believe was a Black woman but was in reality giving pre-scripted responses. One such question: What have you done in your free time lately? In a control group, the script for the Black woman had her saying she saw the movie “A Star Is Born,” while in another group the Black woman mentioned seeing “BlacKkKlansman” and added, “I remember crying . . . because it made me realize just how bad things were not too long ago.” White participants who encountered such deeper cultural self-disclosures rather than small talk or superficial disclosures appeared to be more interested in promoting the Black woman and interacting socially with her.

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Arnett, R., “Uniting Through Difference: Rich Cultural-Identity Expression as a Conduit to Inclusion,” Organization Science (forthcoming).

Domestic policy

A new study by Finnish economists and an MIT economist suggests that encouraging parents to care for young children at home is not necessarily the best policy. The economists used population-wide data over several decades from Finland to estimate the effects of municipal-level variation in the large monthly payments provided to mothers who stay home with young children. Higher payments — and thus more mothers staying home — were associated with worse performance on cognitive tests at ages 4-5, lower likelihood of being in the higher-level track in high school, and more teenage crime. The opposite effect was observed in families that benefited from a policy reform that lowered their day care fees.

Gruber, J. et al., “Paying Moms to Stay Home: Short and Long Run Effects on Parents and Children,” National Bureau of Economic Research (February 2023).

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Docket danger

An analysis of felony sentencing over the past decade in Cook County, Ill., reveals that in the 10 days after sentencing a first-degree murder, judges handed down sentences for other felonies that were several months longer than normal. The extra time was doubled, on average, if the defendant in the subsequent case was the same race as the person convicted of first-degree murder or was being sentenced for a serious felony, suggesting a sort of guilt-by-association effect.

Srinivasan, K., “Judicial Scarring,” University of Chicago (February 2023).

Prime competitors

By taking advantage of the fact that Toys “R” Us kept operating in Canada after shutting down in the United States for a while, economists figured out how competition from the toy chain affected prices on Amazon. Among their findings: The closure of Toys “R” Us increased the prices of toys on Amazon by a sales-weighted average of 4.7 percent. Amazon also changed the prices of toys less frequently, “which suggests that Amazon’s pricing algorithm tracked and reacted to price changes at Toys ‘R’ Us.”

He, L. et al., “Does Amazon Exercise Its Market Power? Evidence from Toys ‘R’ Us,” Journal of Law and Economics (November 2022).

Patronizing patronage

A political scientist found that a 2017 government project to upgrade thousands of Soviet-era apartment buildings in Moscow, especially for working-class government supporters, backfired in the subsequent municipal elections, even though residents of these buildings largely supported the project. Votes for the opposition tended to be higher at polling stations nearer to upgraded buildings, even controlling for past voting and socioeconomic status of the area. Apparently, “the blunt nature of the project created a wave of backlash from citizens either affected by its disruptive nature or excluded from new housing.”

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Norton, S., “Demolition and Discontent: Governing the Authoritarian City,” American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming).