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Uncommon Knowledge

Everyone’s marrying money

And other surprising insights from the social sciences

Anthony Schultz/Globe staff

We ain’t saying you a gold digger

We don’t like to think of ourselves as gold diggers. Nevertheless, a recent analysis by a Princeton sociologist suggests that we still see assets as a prerequisite for marriage, whether we’re black or white, educated or uneducated, female or male. Men who owned a car or had financial assets were significantly more likely to marry, even controlling for income, employment, education, religion, family background, and location. Assets also explained a large fraction of the marriage gap across race and education--more than was explained by income or employment. And women who had assets were more likely to marry, too.


Schneider, D., “Wealth and the Marital Divide,” American Journal of Sociology (September 2011).

The human toll of climate change

As politicians clash about the importance of climate change, a useful task for researchers is to see how past changes in climate have affected human experience. A new analysis by Chinese scholars finds that the fate of pre-industrial society (1500-1800) closely tracked average temperatures. From 1500-1560, temperatures were above average and things were relatively good, but, from 1560-1660, temperatures fell, curtailing food supply, sending grain prices spiking, and precipitating a surge of deaths from war, famine, and plagues. After 1660, however, temperatures and food supply recovered. Perhaps not coincidentally, this later period is known as the Enlightenment.

Zhang, D. et al., “The Causality Analysis of Climate Change and Large-Scale Human Crisis,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

Obesity’s gift to medicine

One reason people object to bad health habits--aside from altruistic concern for others--is that we all end up paying for those habits, especially when it comes to taxpayer-funded health insurance. However, a recent analysis suggests that the public cost of bad habits is offset by a public benefit: Demand for treatment spurs the health care industry to innovate. In the context of obesity and the pharmaceutical industry, the authors conclude that the benefit to drug innovation from obesity-related demand is much larger than the cost to Medicare from obesity-related drug spending.


Bhattacharya, J. & Packalen, M., “The Other Ex-Ante Moral Hazard in Health,” Journal of Health Economics (forthcoming).

Why tough guys win tough negotiations

Liberals have been wondering whether President Obama, with his cool-headed, conciliatory reasonableness, is tough enough to negotiate with Republicans. Maybe not, according to a new study. People whose personalities didn’t fit the tenor of a negotiation--agreeable personalities in a zero-sum negotiation, or disagreeable personalities in a positive-sum negotiation--were less engaged (including having a lower heart rate) in the negotiation and, as a result, came away with less.

Dimotakis, N. et al., “The Mind and Heart (Literally) of the Negotiator: Personality and Contextual Determinants of Experiential Reactions and Economic Outcomes in Negotiation,” Journal of Applied Psychology (forthcoming).

For better behavior, consider your values

Parents and teachers spend a lot of time trying to get kids to be nice to each other, so they might appreciate the short and sweet intervention highlighted by a new study. Seventh-graders were randomly assigned to write a few sentences about their most important values. For example, one boy wrote: “Rap music is an important part of who I am and what I stand for.” Students repeated this assignment six weeks later. Compared to a control group who wrote about values that weren’t important to them, the students who wrote about important values exhibited more pro-social sentiments and behavior weeks after the writing assignments, an effect that was most pronounced among the most antisocial students.


Thomaes, S. et al., “Arousing ‘Gentle Passions’ in Young Adolescents: Sustained Experimental Effects of Value Affirmations on Prosocial Feelings and Behaviors,” Developmental Psychology (forthcoming).

Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at