Primary Sources

Terrorism tallies; do good grades cost minority kids popularity?; the long-term benefits of nonviolence; why athletes should wear red


Anyone languishing in the shadow of a more financially successful sibling can take hope from a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, which concludes that siblings' incomes tend to converge over the course of their lifetimes. This tendency is weaker among siblings on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. But it is stronger among black siblings overall—a counterintuitive finding, the authors write, that "begs for further research." The study suggests that even when factors relating to shared background—similarities in education and occupational prestige—are taken into account, roughly 60 percent of the phenomenon is unexplained, and may be genetically based. The researchers note, however, that they used the relatively simplistic "years of schooling" as a marker of education; it may be that shared educational status (as in a family whose children all attend private rather than public colleges) is responsible for some of the correlation.

"Sibling Similarity and Difference in Socioeconomic Status: Life Course and Family Resource Effects," Dalton Conley and Rebecca Glauber, NBER

Adoption Options

Taking in a child from abroad is often perceived as riskier than domestic adoption, because orphans in countries from which Westerners adopt often suffer from poor medical care, malnutrition, or abuse. But some of those fears may be put to rest by a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Two researchers from Leiden University, in the Netherlands, reviewed medical literature on the behavioral problems of adoptees in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and elsewhere in the developed world from the 1950s to the present. They concluded that children adopted from other countries were less likely than domestic adoptees to experience behavioral problems or to be referred for mental-health treatment. They postulate that the explanation may lie in part with the adoptive parents: those willing to adopt a child from overseas may be more "highly motivated to raise children" than parents who adopt from within their own country. In addition, they theorize, obvious racial differences between parents and children, which are more likely to exist in families formed through international adoption, may prevent parents from trying to keep the fact of the adoption a secret from their child, "resulting in more communication and trust."

"Behavior Problems and Mental Health Referrals of International Adoptees: A Meta-analysis," Femmie Juffer and Marinus H. van Ijzendoorn, JAMA

Lonely at the Top

Social scientists have long debated whether a cultural bias against "acting white" affects academic performance among minority youths. A recent paper provides new fodder. For white teenagers it finds a correlation between higher grades and popularity among other whites. Same-race popularity also rises along with grades for black and Hispanic teenagers, up to a point; but above a certain achievement level the trend reverses. For blacks popularity peaks at a GPA of 3.5 (B+) and then declines; a black student with a 4.0 average, or straight As, has about as many black friends as a black student with a 2.9 GPA. The threshold for Hispanics is much lower: popularity begins to decline at a GPA of 2.5 (C+), and a Hispanic student with a 4.0 average is less popular among other Hispanics than one with a 1.0. These losses are not offset by cross-racial friendships; if anything, the study notes, higher grades appear to cost blacks and Hispanics white friends as well. The stigma attached to "acting white" appears more pronounced in racially mixed environments; in largely black schools it all but disappears, as if the presence of white students is required for minorities to be perceived as—and ostracized for—"acting like" them.

"An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White,'" Roland G. Fryer Jr. and Paul Torelli, Harvard University and the National Bureau of Economic Research

"G" Is for "Greenbacks"
primary sources chart

Would Hollywood make more money if it emphasized movies suitable for all ages over those containing sex and violence? This question was posed by the Dove Foundation, an organization that seeks to "promote the creation, production and distribution of wholesome family entertainment." The Dove study examined all movies released in U.S. theaters from 1989 to 2003. Those with a G rating made an average profit of nearly $80 million, compared with only $7 million for those with an R rating. Yet G-rated movies accounted for only four percent of all movies released during those years (123 of 2,982), while the 1,533 R-rated movies accounted for 52 percent. The Dove study doesn't mention that though R-rated films individually made a lot less money, collectively they won a lot more awards: of the fifteen Oscar winners for Best Picture during the years studied, eight were rated R, six were PG-13, and only one—Driving Miss Daisy (1989)—was sufficiently family-friendly for a PG.

"Profitability Study of MPAA-Rated Movies," the Dove Foundation

The Poor Get Poorer

It's a paradoxical fact that being poor frequently results in having to spend more, not less, than other people on goods and services, whether health care (which is costly without comprehensive insurance) or groceries (which are generally overpriced in inner-city supermarkets). Recently the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C., studied low-income families in Philadelphia in an effort to quantify these additional costs. Such families, the researchers found, pay at least $500 more than other families in the city for the same type of car, both because they are less likely to comparison shop and because poor consumers, being likelier to default, are charged higher rates on auto and other loans. And the annual cost of insuring that car and its driver is, on average, $400 higher for families living in the city's poor neighborhoods, where accident and theft rates are high. The poor often do not have bank accounts and instead must rely on check-cashing establishments, which in Pennsylvania may legally charge up to three percent to cash payroll checks—a fee that amounts to $450 a year for a household earning $15,000. They are less likely to be able to buy furniture and appliances outright, and the markup on installment plans can be staggering: in Philadelphia it averages 90 percent over the purchase price. And the poor are likelier than other people to take out short-term loans, which in Pennsylvania may have an annual interest rate of more than 450 percent.

"The Price Is Wrong: Getting the Market Right for Working Families in Philadelphia," The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program


Terror by Numbers

Most terrorists may regard America as the No. 1 enemy, but the majority of terrorist attacks have other targets, according to the National Counterterrorism Center, a recently created organization that analyzes terrorism for the U.S. government. Only 10 percent of last year's "international terrorist" incidents—acts of violence by politically motivated nongovernmental agents against noncombatants from another country—were aimed at a U.S. interest, and only 103, or about one percent, of the 9,321 people killed, wounded, or kidnapped in such acts were Americans. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of incidents took place in South Asia and the Near East. However, the extraordinary casualty rates in the Madrid bombings (in which 191 people died and some 1,900 were injured) and the Chechen hostage-taking incident in Beslan, Russia (331 killed and more than 600 injured), pushed Europe's total victim toll higher than that of any other region.

"A Chronology of Significant International Terrorism for 2004," National Counterterrorism Center


The Blush of Victory

In many animal species red coloration in males—a sign of high testosterone levels—is associated with fitness and dominance (in one study even red leg bands were enough to put male birds at the top of the mating order). The color may also be linked to prowess in human athletes. Two English academics examined four "combat sports" (boxing, tae kwon do, Greco-Roman wrestling, and freestyle wrestling) in the 2004 Summer Olympics; participants in these events were randomly assigned either blue or red attire. The athletes in red won 55 percent of all the competitions—and when contests in which the competitors were deemed unevenly matched were eliminated from the pool, more than 60 percent of the winners were found to have been wearing red. A similar phenomenon obtained in Euro 2004, a soccer tournament in which five teams alternated shirt color from game to game; all five did better when wearing their red shirts. The researchers speculate that because red is associated with anger and violence, competitors may be subconsciously intimidated by opponents dressed in it—and that wearing red may boost an athlete's testosterone levels and thereby improve his performance. None of this, of course, explains why the red-and-white-clad Red Sox spent so many years playing second fiddle to the blue-and-white-clad Yankees.

"Red Enhances Human Performance in Contests," Russell A. Hill and Robert A. Barton, Nature


Gandhi Was Right
primary sources chart

It is by now a truism that ousting an authoritarian regime is often far easier than sustaining freedom afterward. A recent study from the human-rights organization Freedom House argues that "people power," rather than top-down reform or armed revolt, has the best chance of achieving that result. Researchers examined sixty-seven such political transitions over the past thirty-three years, and found that those countries in which regime change was brought about by nonviolent civic resistance were more likely to be "free" or "partly free" today than countries in which political elites alone had launched the transition or opposition groups had used violence to topple the government. Five of the forty-seven countries that experienced generally peaceful transitions are currently rated "not free," compared with four of the twenty countries in which the opposition employed violence. As for Iraq's future, the study offers no guide: only three of the transitions examined were driven by external interventions, with one state (Panama) currently rated "free," one (Bosnia) "partly free," and one (Cambodia) "not free."

"How Freedom Is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy," Freedom House