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    Uncommon Knowledge

    Does homeownership make unemployment worse?

    Embracing reality—for a price

    Democrats and Republicans have different political philosophies, but they also often adopt different—and convenient—versions of the facts. What does it take to bring them back to reality? Just a small payoff, according to new research. In two experiments, political scientists asked Americans to answer factual questions that nevertheless tend to elicit partisan responses. Offering a small expected payment (a matter of cents) for each correct answer reduced the partisan bias by over half, and offering an even smaller extra payment to answer “don’t know” eliminated much of the remaining bias.

    Bullock, J. et al., “Partisan Bias in Factual Beliefs about Politics,” National Bureau of Economic Research (May 2013).

    Cities: All sexual orientations may apply

    The tide of social acceptance has moved quickly on gay and lesbian Americans in the last 10 years, with same-sex marriage now legalized in 12 states and the military having lifted its ban on openly gay personnel. Do other employers still discriminate against gay people? A new study suggests that the answer is no—at least, not in cities. Sociologists sent fake resumes for job openings in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, and San Francisco as listed on in the spring of 2010. Some of the resumes mentioned a leadership position in a gay or lesbian student organization, implying gay or lesbian sexual orientation. Interestingly, “Dallas, a southwestern city with a popular image of hostility toward gay men and lesbians, displays the least prejudicial patterns of any of the cities, showing approximately equal response rates.” More generally, the sociologists “found little evidence that employers discriminate in their first contact with job applicants on the basis of their sexuality. The single, statistically significant effect we did find—that female lesbian applicants in San Francisco were significantly more likely to receive first phone calls—is probably just a statistical aberration.”

    Bailey, J. et al., “Are Gay Men and Lesbians Discriminated against When Applying for Jobs? A Four-City, Internet-Based Field Experiment,” Journal of Homosexuality (June 2013).

    Online romance: it works!

    With more relationships beginning online, inquiring minds want to know how these relationships stack up against those that begin offline. To find out, dating website eHarmony commissioned a nationally representative survey of thousands of people who got married between 2005 and 2012. Data were analyzed by psychologists at the University of Chicago and statisticians at Harvard. They found that over one-third of these relationships began online, and that online-first marriages maintained higher satisfaction and were less likely to break up, even controlling for year of marriage, age, ethnicity, religion, education, income, and employment. In fact, more recent online-first marriages had even higher satisfaction and durability.

    Cacioppo, J. et al., “Marital Satisfaction and Break-Ups Differ across On-Line and Off-Line Meeting Venues,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

    Does home-owning worsen unemployment?


    Where are the jobs? That’s a question many are asking these days, but here’s an answer few have considered: Employment is higher where more people rent homes rather than buy them. Two economists found that “a doubling of the rate of home-ownership in a US state is followed in the long-run by more than a doubling of the later unemployment rate”—a pattern that’s also found overseas. Areas with high homeownership also have lower labor mobility, longer commutes, and fewer new businesses. So why hasn’t this gotten much attention before? The effect builds slowly over time: “High levels of home-ownership do not destroy jobs this year; they tend to do so, on our estimates, the year after next.”

    Blanchflower, D. & Oswald, A., “Does High Home-Ownership Impair the Labor Market?” National Bureau of Economic Research (May 2013).

    Pious and gentle...till drunk

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    Are religious people gentler than other, more godless souls? Apparently it depends whether they’ve been drinking. In an experiment by psychologists at the University of Kentucky, several hundred social drinkers from the Lexington, Ky., area were randomly assigned to consume an alcoholic drink or a placebo with just enough alcohol to taste and smell like an alcoholic drink. Participants then engaged in a competitive task where they had the opportunity to administer electric shocks to an opponent. The least aggressive participants (i.e., those administering smaller shocks) were the religious people who were sober. The most aggressive were the religious people who were drunk.

    Duke, A. & Giancola, P., “Alcohol Reverses Religion’s Prosocial Influence on Aggression,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (June 2013).

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