Primary Sources

Your gay neighbors (and their children); what's really behind France's headscarf ban; why people don't tell lies over e-mail; the illusion of order in suburban schools; the scientific secret of sex appeal

Ozzie and Harry

Whether gays will be permitted to marry is an open question; whether they will continue to do many of the things married people do is not. According to a pioneering study of gay demographics by Gary Gates and Jason Ost, researchers at the Urban Institute, some 1.2 million homosexuals report living together in America as "unmarried partners." (The actual number is doubtless much higher.) According to the authors, same-sex couples account for nearly one percent of households. Not surprisingly, male homosexual couples are likely to live in major urban areas, particularly along the East and West Coasts: San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Miami all score high on the study's "gay index." (In spite of its reputation, San Francisco—where 16 to 25 percent of adult males are thought to be homosexual—is only the tenth gayest town in the country, beaten out by Provincetown, Massachusetts, and other famous gay meccas, but also by more-obscure locales, including North Druid Hills, Georgia.) Lesbian couples, in contrast, tend to favor smaller cities, such as Portland, Maine, and Burlington, Vermont, and also bucolic college towns—Northampton, Massachusetts, for example. Such clustering aside, the study concludes that gay and lesbian couples are found virtually everywhere: in 99 percent of U.S. counties, according to the 2000 census. And more than a quarter of same-sex couples are raising children; these couples, like straight parents, have an average of two per family.

—Gary J. Gates and Jason Ost, The Gay and Lesbian Atlas, The Urban Institute

Lies, Damn Lies, and E-Mail

Recent research suggests that e-mail exchanges build trust more slowly than other forms of communication—but now a Cornell University study argues that the opposite should be true, because people are considerably more likely to lie over the phone and in face-to-face conversation than in e-mail. For the survey a set of Cornell students kept a week-long communications diary in which they noted the number of conversations and electronic interactions they had, and then counted up the number of lies (defined as attempts to intentionally mislead) they told in each exchange. The results: they lied in only 14 percent of e-mail exchanges, compared with 21 percent of instant-message "conversations," 27 percent of face-to-face interactions, and 37 percent of phone conversations. (No word on the propensity to lie in communications diaries.) The study's authors speculate that people lie more often when they are communicating synchronously—as in face-to-face, instant-message, and telephone chats—because most lies "emerge spontaneously from conversation." The authors also suggest that untruths are rarer when people know that an easily accessible record of their falsehoods exists. It's worth noting, however, that the more the study's subjects used e-mail, the likelier they were to lie while doing so—suggesting that familiarity with a technology may breed deception.

—"Deception and Design: The Impact of Communication Technology on Lying Behavior," Jeffrey T. Hancock, Jennifer Thom-Santelli, and Thompson Ritchie, Department of Communication, Cornell University

Nice VHI, Baby

What's the key to sex appeal? According to researchers at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University—who recently asked fifty-four men and women to rate the physical attractiveness of an alterable 3-D female model—it's the "volume/height index," or VHI. The formula is simple: body volume divided by the squared height (V/HC2). The researchers admit, however, that their sexiness formula has limitations: If VHI were the only determinant of attractiveness, a completely tubular body would be as sexy as a curvaceous one. And the formula itself seems to exclude some rather important data. To wit: "V is the volume of the female body excluding the head [italics added], HC is the chin height (the body height from chin to the bottom of the feet)." In other words, Helen would have needed an excellent VHI to launch a thousand ships, because her face would have been factored out.

"Visual Perception of Female Physical Attractiveness," J. Fan, F. Liu, J. Wu, and W. Dai, Institute of Textiles and Clothing, Hong Kong Polytechnic University

The Suburban Jungle

For city dwellers, migrating to the suburbs when it's time to have kids may sound like the sensible thing to do, but a new Manhattan Institute study suggests that the benefits of a suburban upbringing are vastly overestimated. Using data on high school students from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the authors find that urban and suburban high schools are virtually identical in terms of drug and alcohol use and sexual activity (though pregnancy rates are higher in city schools)—and that suburban kids are actually more likely than their urban peers to become regular smokers. Suburban teens are also more likely to drive while high or drunk—though the nature of life in the suburbs means that teens who live there are more likely to drive, period. Rates of fighting and stealing, too, are roughly comparable—and to no one's surprise, suburban teens are as likely as their urban counterparts to lie to their parents. No one is suggesting, of course, that urban schools (which tend to have fewer resources per pupil) are on average better than suburban schools, or that the typical student will be better off in an urban school. But overall, the study concludes, "the comforting outward signs of order and decency—shiny new schools armed with expensive textbooks and staffed by teachers who have mastered the latest educational fads—don't seem to be associated with substantial differences in student behavior."

"Sex, Drugs, and Delinquency in Urban and Suburban Public Schools," Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

The Facts of Death

It is widely believed that Texas is the nation's execution capital, and that blacks are overrepresented on America's death rows. The reality in both cases is more complicated, according to a study published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. Although Texas's death row is the largest in the nation, the overall percentage of murderers sentenced to death is actually lower in the Lone Star State than in fifteen others: for every thousand murders, Texas sentences twenty people to death, compared with fifty-one in neighboring Oklahoma and an average of twenty-five among the thirty-one death-penalty states included in the study. Texas's reputation as death-sentence-happy rests primarily on its high murder rate and on its willingness to carry out the sentences it imposes. (California, for instance, sentences nearly as many people to death as Texas, but as of this writing has executed only ten of them since 1977, whereas Texas has executed 319.) As for the supposed overrepresentation of blacks among those sentenced to death, blacks make up 41 percent of death-row inmates and commit about 50 percent of all murders nationally (in both death-penalty and non-death-penalty states). The study's authors are quick to note, however, that judges and juries are least likely to impose the death penalty in black-on-black murders (which make up the majority of murder cases involving blacks), more likely to do so in white-on-white cases, and most likely when the perpetrator is black and the victim is white.

"Explaining Death Row's Population and Racial Composition," John Blume, Theodore Eisenberg, and Martin T. Wells, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies

"Discrimination Positive"

The French government recently moved to ban Muslim headscarves in schools, but the controversy is overblown: according to a new report by the Institut Montaigne, a Paris-based think tank, there were only 160 formally reported incidents of girls' wearing headscarves in 2002, down from 400 in 1994. As the authors of this report point out, the ban is actually an indirect and inept way of dealing with France's race problem. Though France's African and Arab minorities now make up 10 to 12 percent of the populace, there are no minority politicians to speak of. (The few that exist sit chiefly on the weak regional councils—where, oddly enough, they often belong to the far-right National Front.) Schoolchildren are still introduced in class to "our ancestors, the Gauls," and French textbooks gloss over Algeria's 130-year history as an integral part of France—and also the brutal war for Algerian independence. Successful "integration" is measured by progress toward "the suppression of particularities connected to ... national origin." Even second-generation French people of Algerian ancestry are still referred to as immigrants—d'origine étrangère. Meanwhile, by the late 1990s nearly half of the country's foreign-born population under twenty-five was unemployed; many of these people live in the public-housing ghettos that ring major cities. But any discussion of minorities' problems is taboo, because under the country's strictly enforced republican principles of secularism and universalism, racial and religious minorities don't exist as public-policy categories—they're all just French people. To rectify this the authors suggest an ambitious program of "discrimination positive"—affirmative action. If observant Muslims are forced to choose between French and Islamic identities (for instance, if they have to forgo headscarves), the report warns, many will divorce themselves from the national culture and form separate communities within French society.

Les Oubliés de l'Égalité des Chances, Yazid Sabeg and Laurence Méhaignerie, Institut Montaigne