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Social Studies: Love for joint checking accounts; the power of labels; agitation by association

An analysis of State of the Union addresses, such as Barack Obama's in 2016, finds that most rhetoric about adversarial countries consists entirely of "unitary references."EVAN VUCCI

Banking on marriage

Couples that bank together may be more likely to stay together, according to researchers who say they performed the first experimental test of how joint bank accounts influence relationships. The study participants were heterosexual couples who were engaged or newlywed in their first marriage and who still had separate bank accounts. They were randomly assigned to either continue banking that way or to use a joint bank account. Over the next two years, the couples with a joint account reported better relationship quality, largely because of increasing financial harmony. Meanwhile, couples instructed to maintain separate accounts or given no instructions reported the declining relationship quality that is commonly observed in newlyweds.


Olson, J., et al., “Common Cents: Bank Account Structure and Couples’ Relationship Dynamics,” Journal of Consumer Research (forthcoming).

First-name basis

Analyzing a random sample of sentencing records in Florida of young Black male convicts, researchers found that those with more stereotypically Black names (e.g., Tyrone, Darius) received significantly longer sentences than those with less stereotypically Black names (e.g., Tyler, Daniel), even controlling for such factors as offense severity and criminal history. This was confirmed in an experiment in which people were given a subset of these cases — but with randomly changed first names — and asked to recommend a sentence.

Kenthirarajah, D., et al., “Does ‘Jamal’ Receive a Harsher Sentence Than ‘James’? First-Name Bias in the Criminal Sentencing of Black Men,” Law and Human Behavior (February 2023).

Bringing people together

Starting in the latter half of the 19th century, terrorism became prevalent around the world, eventually culminating in the infamous assassination that provoked World War I. Civic associations such as the YMCA also became prevalent around the world during this period, and a new study suggests that these two phenomena were linked: Civic associations helped enable the formation of terrorist groups. Cities where there was an early YMCA were significantly more likely to see the formation of terrorist groups — not because YMCAs in particular were likely meeting spots, but because the existence of a YMCA is a reasonable proxy for a city’s propensity to have associations.


Tschantret, J., “Social Origins of Modern Terrorism, 1860–1945,” Security Studies (forthcoming).

Making enemies

In experimental surveys, political scientists at New York University asked Americans how much they would support taking action against a foreign country accused of harboring terrorists. There was greater support for economic sanctions, and somewhat greater support for military strikes, if the entire country was portrayed as a single, unitary entity (e.g., simply “Pakistan”) than if it was portrayed in non-unitary terms (e.g., “the party currently in power in Pakistan”). And this effect is not lost on American politicians: An analysis of State of the Union addresses and presidential debates shows that most rhetoric about adversarial countries consists entirely of unitary references.

Altier, M. & Kane, J., “Framing States: Unitary Actor Language and Public Support for Coercive Foreign Policy,” International Studies Quarterly (March 2023).