Uncommon Knowledge: Fancy isn’t friendly

A collection of unusual insights from the social sciences.

Fancy isn’t friendly

In a series of experiments, people were more likely to think that driving a fancy car or wearing a fancy watch would make them more interesting as potential friends. Yet, when asked who they’d be interested in making friends with, people said the opposite, preferring the less fancy person. This wasn’t just rhetorical: When told they’d be engaging in an actual conversation with one of two different peers, people tended to choose the less fancy person. A fancy person was only preferred in the context of making a business contact.

Garcia, S. et al., “The Status Signals Paradox,” Social Psychological and Personality Science (forthcoming).

Firstborn feminism

Researchers at UMass Amherst found that fathers whose firstborn child was a girl are more in favor of gender equality in education and the workplace, compared to fathers whose firstborn child was a boy, regardless of the gender mix of subsequent children, and controlling for the father’s age, race, religiosity, education, income, political orientation, and whether the father had a sister. There was no such effect among mothers.

Sharrow, E. et al., “The First Daughter Effect: The Impact of Fathering Daughters on Men’s Preferences for Gender Equality Policies,” Public Opinion Quarterly (forthcoming).

Local jobs

An economist at Notre Dame sent thousands of bogus résumés to real job vacancies in Washington, D.C., that required no more than a high-school education. He found that the positive-response rate from the employer fell by about a percentage point for every mile the applicant’s address was from the job. Commuting distance was more important than the affluence of the applicant’s neighborhood, and the effect was such that living 5-6 miles further from the job generated about the same penalty as having a stereotypically black name.

Phillips, D., “Do Low-Wage Employers Discriminate Against Applicants with Long Commutes? Evidence from a Correspondence Experiment,” Journal of Human Resources (forthcoming).

Charismatic right-wing populists?


Political scientists in Germany conducted a detailed statistical analysis of the effect on local electoral results of Hitler’s many speeches during 1927-1933. There was no consistent effect. The political scientists conclude that the supposed charisma of right-wing populist leaders “overlooks the economic and political circumstances under which they succeed electorally: mass unemployment and economic despair . . . lack of support for democracy among elites and the public . . . popular detachment from established parties and their representatives . . . and weak institutions.”

Selb, P. & Munzert, S., “Examining a Most Likely Case for Strong Campaign Effects: Hitler’s Speeches and the Rise of the Nazi Party, 1927–1933,” American Political Science Review (forthcoming).

From each according to her ability

Get Today in Opinion in your inbox:
Globe Opinion's must-reads, delivered to you every Sunday-Friday.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Although similar before the Cold War, East and West Germany diverged in their employment and ideals for women, with East Germany more strongly promoting work outside the home. According to a new study, this institutional difference became a cultural difference that persisted even years after the end of the Cold War and the reunification of the country, such that the gender gap in math attitudes and standardized-test performance is smaller in the former East, controlling for present-day socio-economic characteristics. A similar reduction in the gender gap is also seen more broadly in Eastern Europe compared to Western Europe, including in participation in the International Mathematical Olympiad and among chess players.

Lippmann, Q. & Senik, C., “Math, Girls and Socialism,” Journal of International Economics (forthcoming).

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