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Hot, cranky journalists

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

-Greg Klee / Boston Globe/-

Rich dad, unsatisfied dad

Money, famously, can’t buy you love. According to a new study, it won’t buy you parental satisfaction, either. When asked to evaluate their previous day’s activities, affluent parents reported experiencing less meaning and purpose in life than less affluent parents did during child-care activities, controlling for overall experience of meaning and purpose. Likewise, in an experiment at a children’s festival, parents who filled out a questionnaire that contained an image of money reported less meaning and purpose in life during their time at the festival, compared to filling out a questionnaire with an image of flowers.

Kushlev, K. et al., "Does Affluence Impoverish the Experience of Parenting?" Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (forthcoming).

The economics of veiling

Since the 1970s, it has become common for women to wear veils in many Islamic communities. The trend appears to have been led by educated, working, urban women, whom you’d think would be the most reluctant. In a forthcoming paper, one economist uses “behavioral economics and modern game theory” to try to explain this pattern. Increasing urbanization, education, and globalization create environments ripe with temptation, and veiling is a way for a woman to signal her commitment to religious norms in the face of such environments. Ironically, though, compulsory veiling laws like those in Iran and Saudi Arabia can ultimately backfire on religious leaders, by making people take religious norms for granted. This may be why Egypt, which doesn’t have compulsory veiling, seems to have stronger religious values than Iran. On the other hand, a ban on veiling, as in France, can backfire on a secular government, by preventing assimilation and enhancing private religious values.

Carvalho, J.-P., "Veiling," Quarterly Journal of Economics (forthcoming).

Hell vs. crime

In every society, a lot of effort goes into controlling crime. It turns out, though, that the most important factor may be spiritual. Analyzing data on religious beliefs and crime rates for countries around the world, psychologists found that the prevalence of belief in heaven significantly increases crime, while belief in hell significantly reduces crime. In fact, belief in heaven and hell were among the strongest factors associated with crime rates, relative to other factors like GDP per capita, inequality, imprisonment, urbanization, and personality.

Shariff, A. & Rhemtulla, M., "Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates," PLoS ONE (June 2012).

Hot, cranky journalists

It’s summer, and it’s getting hot. And if this column sounds a bit cranky, that may be no coincidence. At least, that’s the implication of a recent analysis of newspaper coverage of the Olympics during August 2008. As pollution and temperature increased in Beijing, reporters for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal filed stories with more negative words. However, weather didn’t seem to affect USA Today’s reporting.

Zhong, B. & Zhou, Y., "'Under the Weather': The Weather Effects on U.S. Newspaper Coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics," Mass Communication and Society (July/August 2012).

9/11: hard on fetuses, too

Thousands of people lost their lives on 9/11. But a recent study suggests that the attack affected even people who were not yet born: Because of maternal stress, fetuses suffered, too. Women in New York City who were in their first or second trimester on 9/11 were somewhat more likely to experience complications of pregnancy and labor, to deliver a smaller baby, and to deliver sooner. In addition, male offspring were more likely to be in special education or held back in school at the age of 6. These effects were mitigated among the affluent and were not apparent for children born outside of New York City, but they do not appear to be the result of air pollution, as the effects were the same even outside of lower Manhattan and western Brooklyn, where pollution concentrated.

Eccleston, M., "In Utero Exposure to Maternal Stress: Effects of 9/11 on Birth and Early Schooling Outcomes in New York City," Harvard University (November 2011).


Kevin Lewis is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at kevin.lewis.ideas@gmail.com.

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