State governments are receiving homeland-security grants faster than they can spend them, according to the most recent figures from the Department of Homeland Security. Since 2002, the department has awarded $16 billion, but so far states have picked up only $11 billion; the remainder is sitting unspent in the nation’s capital. Even attractive targets for terrorists, like the District of Columbia and New York state—both of which have complained about grant cuts—haven’t been able to keep up with the federal government’s largesse; New York has spent only 52 percent of its grants, the District 62 percent. New Mexico has been the stingiest (or the most prudent, depending on your point of view), spending only half of its grants to date, while South Dakota has burned through 86 percent of the $96.5 million earmarked to thwart threats in the Badlands. The states say that matching-fund requirements, bidding and contracting procedures, and back-ordered goods have kept much of the money on ice.
—“Agency Roll-up,” Department of Homeland Security (Study not available online)
Does a fear of hellfire make women more religious than men? “Risk preference theory—which holds that because females are more risk-averse than males, they are, for example, more likely to attend church as a hedge against the possibility of spending eternity in hell—is the latest attempt to explain the piety gap between men and women. (Other proposed hypotheses suggest that women traditionally have had more time to attend church and that they’ve seen religion as a source of affirmation in male-dominated societies.) Now a study by two researchers at the University of Arizona aims to dispel the hellfire argument, noting that it presupposes that speculation about the afterlife determines people’s religiosity. Researchers studied people who believed in an afterlife and people who didn’t, and found not only that women who don’t believe in life after death are more religious than men who don’t expect an afterlife, but that the gap between the sexes was larger among those who don’t anticipate an eternal reward or punishment. Women who don’t believe in the afterlife are nearly twice as likely as men with similar beliefs to view the Bible as the literal word of God; women who do believe are only 1.27 times as likely to take the Bible literally. Similarly, women who don’t believe in hell attend church more frequently than men who share their skepticism, but women who do believe in hell don’t attend church much more often than their male counterparts.
—“Risky Business: Assessing Risk Preference Explanations for Gender Differences in Religiosity,” Louise Marie Roth and Jeffrey C. Kroll, American Sociological Review
Turns out Uncle Sam hasn’t done that much to stop teens from drinking and driving. The official story goes that the 1984 Federal Uniform Drinking Age Act, which threatened to withhold federal funds from states that didn’t raise their drinking age to 21, ended the glory days of teens driving to another state to get drunk and then careening home. According to federal estimates, pushing a uniform minimum drinking age nationwide saved 21,887 lives through 2002. New research argues that it wasn’t so: By studying state-by-state data, the authors found that most of the reduction in fatalities came from states that had raised the drinking age before the federal law went on the books; in states that raised the drinking age to comply with the federal pressure, there was little effect. Furthermore, fatalities in states that raised the age early dipped only briefly; in the other states, they either remained steady or increased after the age was changed. The authors conclude that the overall reduction in traffic deaths has had more to do with safer cars and better medical treatment for accident victims than with policies handed down from on high.
—“Does the Minimum Legal Drinking Age Save Lives?” Jeffrey A. Miron, Elina Tetelbaum, National Bureau of Economic Research
If you’re a Chinese refugee seeking asylum in the United States, what’s your best bet? First, move to San Francisco. Then try to find an immigration lawyer, prove that a dependent is counting on you, and pray for a female judge. According to a recent study by three law professors, factors like ethnicity, geography, and the gender of the judge—along with a healthy dose of luck—play a far bigger role than the merits of the case in determining whether a refugee is granted asylum in the United States. The authors analyzed hundreds of thousands of cases and found a huge geographic variance in the rates at which applicants prevailed. In 2005, for instance, the Houston field office granted asylum to only 17 percent of applicants; the Arlington, Virginia, office approved 52 percent. Between 2000 and 2005, 74 percent of Chinese refugees in San Francisco won asylum, whereas only 18 percent of their compatriots in Newark, New Jersey, did. Demographics may account for some of this variance, but they don’t explain the discrepancies that the authors found in the judgments of officials in the same buildings: At the federal immigration court in Miami, one judge granted asylum to 88 percent of Colombian applicants, yet another ruled in favor of just 5 percent. The researchers also discovered that asylum seekers with lawyers were granted refuge far more often than those without, that those with dependents had slightly better odds, and that female judges granted asylum at a substantially higher rate than their male counterparts.
—“Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication,” Jaya Ramji-Nogales, Andrew I. Schoenholtz, and Philip G. Schrag, Stanford Law Review