Uncommon Knowledge

The Catholic lotto connection

Surprising insights from the social sciences

By Kevin Lewis
August 7, 2011

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Perhaps it’s no accident that we use the word “denomination” to refer to both religious groups and units of money. According to a new study, differences between religious groups about the acceptability of gambling have wide-ranging effects on the local culture of financial decision-making. Specifically, a higher ratio of Catholics to Protestants--the latter are more opposed to gambling--is associated with more participation in state lotteries, more speculative stock market investments, and more companies implementing broad-based employee stock option benefits.

Stardom vs. victory Everyone wants to be a superstar, but is being famous really the most advantageous position? A new analysis of golfer and driver performance on the PGA Tour and in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series finds that success begets success only up to a point. At first, success brings desperately needed resources (e.g., money for equipment and staff). However, fame has its price, and the most successful golfers and drivers actually suffer a performance handicap--more strokes in golf rounds and lower qualifying speeds in races--ostensibly due to factors like complacency and distraction.

Bothner, M. et al., “How Does Status Affect Performance? Status as an Asset vs. Status as a Liability in the PGA and NASCAR,” Organization Science (forthcoming). Kumar, A. et al., “Religious Beliefs, Gambling Attitudes, and Financial Market Outcomes,” Journal of Financial Economics (forthcoming).

Sleeping in for better grades Although many high schools and colleges begin class early in the morning, it’s no secret that teenagers have a hard time being awake at that hour. Nevertheless, the case for delaying school start times hasn’t always been clear. Now, researchers think they have some hard evidence. They analyzed the effects of having an early class schedule on the grades of freshmen students at the Air Force Academy. Students had to take standardized core courses but were randomly assigned to different class sections. Not only were grades lower in early classes, but, for students with an early start time, grades were also lower in classes later in the day.

Carrell, S. et al., “A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Achievement of Adolescents,” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy (August 2011).

A $1 billion rounding error High-speed computers may be taking over stock market trading, but, to the extent that any human traders are left, they may want to check themselves against the findings of a new analysis of trading behavior from 2001 to 2006. When the decimal value of a stock price was one penny below a round number (e.g., .00, .05, .10, .15), there was a surge of buying; when the price was one penny above a round number, there was a surge of selling. This behavior was especially acute around whole numbers. Moreover, traders who bought right below, or sold right above, round numbers incurred losses estimated at around $1 billion per year.

Bhattacharya, U. et al., “Penny Wise, Dollar Foolish: Buy-Sell Imbalances On and Around Round Numbers,” Management Science (forthcoming).

Rise of the fameball tweens Today’s media culture gets plenty of criticism, but is it really all that different from the media culture of the past? A recent study out of UCLA says yes. A sample of adults of different ages rated the values of the two most popular TV shows for tween-age kids for each of the years 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997, and 2007. Up until this last decade, the shows generally emphasized community, tradition, and benevolence. However, by 2007, there was a stark reversal: Fame went from being one of the least important values to the most important, while communitarian values went from being the most important to the least important. As you might guess, online and social media are top suspects in this shift.

Uhls, Y. & Greenfield, P., “The Rise of Fame: An Historical Content Analysis,” Cyberpsychology (June 2011).

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