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Social Studies: Police retaliation; outlier laws that stick around; the politics of bank loans

Surprising findings from the social sciences.

New York City's reliance on the tactic known as “stop and frisk" has been controversial.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

Getting close

A new study estimated the effect that neighborhood segregation has on marriages across class and race. This research was possible in part because people are more likely to marry someone who grew up nearby. Using tax and census data to measure parental income, location, and race, the study found that having more peers from other classes in one’s neighborhood results in a significant increase in cross-class marriage but that having more neighborhood peers from another race does not significantly increase cross-race marriage.

Goldman, B. et al., “Who Marries Whom? The Role of Segregation by Race and Class,” Harvard University (October 2023).


The aftermath of a complaint

An analysis of data from the New York Police Department found that stop-question-frisk incidents involving white suspects decreased significantly after complaints from white people increased. But an increase in complaints from Black people was followed by a significant increase in stops of Black suspects. Consistent with the hypothesis that this was racially motivated retaliation, increases in stops of Black suspects mostly occurred after complaints were filed against white officers, after officers were notified about complaints against them, and after complaints were substantiated. The stops that increased also tended to be ones that involved greater officer discretion and were ostensibly unproductive (e.g., no contraband uncovered, no arrest made).

Kraft, P. & Newman, B., “Complaints About Police Misconduct Have Adverse Effects for Black Civilians,” Political Science Research and Methods (forthcoming).

The legal multiverse

Why are laws sometimes very different across different jurisdictions? An obvious answer is that the values of constituents differ, but a new study suggests that accidents of political history also tend to leave a large lasting imprint on the law. This explains not just silly examples like New Jersey’s ban on self-serve gas stations (passed in 1949 and still in effect) but also major economic and social policies. The study compared the durability of policies that barely passed with those that barely failed in state referendums going back a century. Some referendums that narrowly failed were eventually approved one way or another, but those that barely passed were approximately 40 percentage points more likely to be operative decades later. Much of this can be explained by the fact that attention to an issue is high around the time of a referendum but then recedes. The durability of policies that barely passed was similar in Congress and in referendums in other countries.


Freitas-Groff, Z., “Persistence in Policy: Evidence From Close Votes,” Stanford University (November 2023).

Everything is political

The interest rate that banks charge corporations tends to be significantly higher if the banker who arranged the deal has a party affiliation different from that of the president of the United States. The researchers who made this finding controlled for characteristics of the loans, the corporations, and the banks. Depending on their party affiliation, bankers significantly raised or lowered the interest rates they charged right after the 2016 election. The bankers did not appear to charge different rates or disproportionately lend to corporations based on the party affiliation of the corporation’s CEO, suggesting that the bankers’ own partisanship colored their macroeconomic sentiment. The effect was amplified when bankers had more discretion, such as when they were lending to corporations with more speculative credit ratings, more intangible assets, and fewer alternatives for borrowing.

Dagostino, R. et al., “Partisanship in Loan Pricing,” Journal of Financial Economics (December 2023).