Uncommon Knowledge

I’ll be expecting my harassment bonus

Surprising insights from the social sciences

By Kevin Lewis
June 12, 2011

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Sexual harassment is an especially egregious form of gender discrimination, but can it also explain some of the earnings gap between men and women? Analyzing data obtained from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Freedom of Information Act, an economist found that both men and women actually receive an earnings boost from working in jobs with a high risk of harassment. Women earn an extra 25 cents an hour — and men earn an extra 50 cents an hour — for working in a job with an average level of harassment, compared to a job with no harassment. The author speculates that men earn a larger premium because harassment cases involving male victims are more unusual and thus reflect an especially insufferable industry to work in.

Hersch, J., “Compensating Differentials for Sexual Harassment,” American Economic Review (May 2011).

The curiously collective South In recent years, the South has emerged as the heartland of conservative Republican culture — which might lead you to think that Southerners are opposed to collectivism and in favor of rugged individualism. Nevertheless, research has shown that Southerners’ greater embrace of religion, family, honor, and hospitality actually make the South more collectivist than Northern culture. To further test this idea, researchers compared personal ads placed in newspapers in the North and South — including The Boston Globe — in early 1998, before the advent of Internet dating sites. Northerners tended to advertise and seek individual traits and accomplishments, whereas Southerners tended to advertise and seek socially oriented features and activities.

Lun, J. et al., “Self- and Other-Presentational Styles in the Southern and Northern United States: An Analysis of Personal Ads,” European Journal of Social Psychology (forthcoming).

You make me forget my geometry Psychologists have found that being stereotyped can subconsciously alter behavior. For example, subtle stereotypes of women being weaker in math and science can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, undermining women’s math and science aptitude. According to a new study, though, even supposedly innocent aspects of daily life can have a similar effect. Women who were briefly exposed to romantic images or a third-party conversation about a romantic relationship were subsequently less interested in math and science, and more interested in the humanities, than if they had been exposed to content related to intelligence or friendship. Men leaned in the opposite direction — towards math and science, and away from humanities — after being exposed to romantic content. Likewise, in a daily diary study, women who reported pursuing romantic goals on a given day were less engaged in math homework on that day or the next day.

Park, L. et al., “Effects of Everyday Romantic Goal Pursuit on Women’s Attitudes toward Math and Science,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (forthcoming).

Gifted programs may not help Public school districts across the country have enacted various forms of special education for “gifted and talented” students. The assumption, of course, is that an advanced curriculum, better teachers, and better peers will allow these students to excel beyond the normal classroom experience. However, new research suggests that isn’t necessarily the case. Comparing students who were accepted into a gifted and talented program to those who just missed out — because of a cutoff score or a lottery — the researchers found that neither an enhanced curriculum nor a magnet school produced a significant increase in achievement test scores.

Bui, S. et al., “Is Gifted Education a Bright Idea? Assessing the Impact of Gifted and Talented Programs on Achievement,” National Bureau of Economic Research (May 2011).

Mate with me. No, seriously! It has been widely noted that male comedians outnumber female comedians. Some of this may represent lingering bias among club owners or audience members, but there’s another potential explanation: natural selection. While men tend to choose women on the basis of physical appearance, women are more interested in social status, personality, and intelligence. Humor is associated with these characteristics, so funny men should be more successful at mating. Researchers at the University of New Mexico tested this proposition on 400 members of the student body. The researchers administered reasoning and vocabulary tests to the students and also asked them to write funny captions for New Yorker cartoons. Writers of funnier captions — as rated by independent judges — reported more lifetime sexual partners and more one-night stands. They also tended to be more intelligent, especially on the vocabulary test, and tended to be male.

Greengross, G. & Miller, G., “Humor Ability Reveals Intelligence, Predicts Mating Success, and Is Higher in Males,” Intelligence (July-August 2011).

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