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Uncommon Knowledge: Migrants, multitasking, and urbanization

An offer they can’t refuse

In a survey of working adults, those who were more accepting of inequality also expected black job applicants to be less likely than whites to negotiate a job offer. This stereotype made them particularly aware of, and sensitive to, any negotiation actually done by a black applicant. Experiments with working adults involving real negotiations found that black applicants were perceived — at least by those who were more accepting of inequality — to be negotiating more than whites, even when they weren’t. In turn, being perceived as negotiating more resulted in lower salary offers for black applicants.


Hernandez, M. et al., “Bargaining While Black: The Role of Race in Salary Negotiations,” Journal of Applied Psychology (forthcoming).

Restrictionist immigration

You may recall that Arizona passed an infamous anti-illegal-immigration bill in April 2010 that was mostly put on hold a few months later by the courts. Presumably because of stress induced by the bill during this period, sociologists at Stanford found that babies born to Latina immigrants — but not US-born Latinas, blacks, or whites — were smaller in the second half of 2010, compared with babies born to Latina immigrants at other times and in other states, and controlling for other characteristics of the mother and the birth.

Torche, F. & Sirois, C., “Restrictive Immigration Law and Birth Outcomes of Immigrant Women,” American Journal of Epidemiology (forthcoming).

The more the merrier

A series of experiments by business-school professors found that simply being in a multitasking mindset boosts performance. For example, when participants were asked to watch a “Shark Week” video while transcribing it, they transcribed more words, and more words correctly, and did better on a quiz about the video, than when viewing and transcribing were portrayed as two separate tasks.

Likewise, participants were better at solving simultaneously presented word puzzles when they were presented in a graphically distinct way and described as being unassociated with each other. This effect appears to be due to greater attention, as the eyes of participants who thought they were multitasking were more dilated.


Srna, S. et al., “The Illusion of Multitasking and Its Positive Effect on Performance,” Psychological Science (forthcoming).

Enlisting China and Mexico

A political scientist at George Washington University found that trade-related job losses in a county were associated with an increase in US Army enlistment in that county, even controlling for other socioeconomic characteristics. A case study of Catawba County, N.C., which lost many furniture and textile jobs, confirmed that “young residents are aware of trade-related job losses in their county and respond to decreased employment opportunities by enlisting.”

Dean, A., “NAFTA’s Army: Free Trade and US Military Enlistment,” International Studies Quarterly (forthcoming).

More city, more government

Analyzing data on countries around the world covering many decades, economists found that urbanization was associated with big government — particularly in social spending — but not military spending. This relationship was also observed when analyzing regions within countries and worldwide survey data on preferences for government spending (people who live in bigger towns favored more government), all while controlling for other socioeconomic characteristics of the country, region, or individual.

Jetter, M. & Parmeter, C., “Does Urbanization Mean Bigger Governments?” Scandinavian Journal of Economics (October 2018).

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