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Make Earth great again

Conservatives and environmentalists are generally at odds these days, but new research suggests that much of this disagreement heals with time. In a series of experiments, conservatives were significantly more supportive of a pro-environment message that was framed as restoring the environment of the past, rather than improving the environment of the future. In fact, past-versus-future framing eliminated much of the difference between conservatives and liberals in support.

Baldwin, M. & Lammers, J., “Past-Focused Environmental Comparisons Promote Proenvironmental Outcomes for Conservatives,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (forthcoming).

The glass ceiling is contagious

Preventing infection is important for health, but it may also empower women. Researchers found that, in both the United States and Britain , reductions in the prevalence of infectious disease preceded improvements in women’s standing in politics, the labor market, and literature. This relationship was partially explained by a reduction in the teen birth rate — people pursue “slower life history strategies,” the researchers believe, when there’s less disease — but was not explained by changes in unemployment, climate, war, collectivist attitudes, or political conservatism.

Varnum, M. & Grossmann, I., “Pathogen Prevalence Is Associated with Cultural Changes in Gender Equality,” Nature Human Behavior (forthcoming).

Don’t keep it in the family

Regardless of genetic considerations, marrying your cousin is not in the public interest. A new study finds that the duration of the church’s ban on consanguineous marriage in a given region through the Middle Ages is associated with that region’s development by 1500 and the democratic quality of today’s government. By discouraging a clan-based society, the ban was crucial in furthering Europe’s economic and institutional development, the author says. Even today, in Italy, regional differences in consanguineous marriage are associated with criminal activity by the mafia. And around the world, the acceptability of marriage for reasons other than love — one indicator of a clan-based society — is associated with a weaker preference for democracy.

Schulz, J., “The Churches’ Bans on Consanguineous Marriages, Kin-Networks and Democracy,” Yale University (November 2016).

Child welfare

Critics often assume that handouts to poor people don’t really help, but an analysis of variation in the Earned Income Tax Credit across states and time suggests that handouts can at least help the kids. Among low-income families headed by single mothers, an extra $1,000 in EITC income was associated with approximately 8 to 10 percent less Child Protective Services involvement, even controlling for other factors.

Berger, L. et al., “Income and Child Maltreatment in Unmarried Families: Evidence from the Earned Income Tax Credit,” Review of Economics of the Household (forthcoming).

Second chances beget second chances

In a sample of low-income women with HIV who were studied before and after the introduction of anti-retroviral therapy in the 1990s, a team of researchers found that women whose white blood cell count was dropping — implying that they were about to get AIDS and were relatively close to death — when the therapy was introduced experienced a subsequent reduction in domestic violence and illegal drug use, compared to similar women who were not about to get AIDS at the time. In other words, by getting a second chance in life, the women who had nearly developed AIDS had more reason to look out for themselves.

Papageorge, N. et al., “Health, Human Capital and Domestic Violence,” National Bureau of Economic Research (December 2016).


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

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