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Social Studies: The healthy descendants of farmers; what Tinder didn’t change; how oil boosts religion

Surprising findings from the social sciences.

An oil pumpjack in Sweetwater, Texas.Getty Images North America

Ancestry of the pandemic

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, death rates and nonessential trips (as measured by cellphone activity) were lower in areas that had been primarily settled by people from countries with relatively high crop-growing potential, according to researchers who controlled for other demographic, economic, health, and political characteristics. Bountiful agricultural potential is hypothesized to have favored a more long-term-oriented culture that persists through descendants even if they migrate to new lands.

Roy, S. et al., “The Impact of Long-Term Orientation Traits on Pandemic Fatigue Behavior: Evidence From the Columbian Exchange,” Journal of Economic Growth (September 2023).

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Betting on policing

In a survey, economics researchers working on crime-related topics were asked to guess how the murder of George Floyd affected the stock prices of companies that contract with police departments. On average, the economists guessed that there had been no increase in the stock prices. That was incorrect. In reality, in the weeks following Floyd’s murder, such companies’ shares rose strongly, relative to companies in similar industries that weren’t major police contractors. Smaller but material increases in stock prices also followed incidents associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Sales among police contractors did increase substantially, with companies that supply surveillance technologies and body-worn cameras benefiting the most. The same companies’ stock prices were affected much less after white-supremacist or mass-shooting events.

Ba, B. et al., “Market Response to Racial Uprisings,” National Bureau of Economic Research (August 2023).

Swiping up

When the dating app Tinder was launched, the company behind it marketed it aggressively to college fraternity and sorority communities. A new study compared health-survey responses of Greek- and non-Greek-affiliated college students in the years before and after the availability of Tinder. Compared with their non-Greek-affiliated peers, Greek-affiliated students reported more sexual activity and better mental health in the years after the app became available. However, they reported no change in relationship status or quality, and they reported an increase in sexual assault and sexually transmitted diseases.

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Büyükeren, B. et al., “The Causal Effects of Online Dating Apps: Evidence From U.S. Colleges,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (August 2023).

Flocking to oil

Counties in and around Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana that experienced an oil field discovery in the early to mid 20th century also experienced increased church membership as a percentage of the population. This association was stronger when the price of oil was more volatile and weaker where there was more government social insurance, more sellers of private insurance, or more banks. This suggests that churches provided social insurance against drops in oil prices. Indeed, after such drops, unemployment rose less in such counties that had large church communities. This phenomenon may also have occurred in other oil-rich regions that the authors didn’t study as closely. They note that “America’s other oil epicenter, Southern California, also happens to be the birthplace of the national evangelical movement, which grew out of enclaves made up of Baptists and Pentecostals of Texas and Oklahoma origin.”

Ferrara, A. & Testa, P., “Churches as Social Insurance: Oil Risk and Religion in the U.S. South,” Journal of Economic History (forthcoming).