“Gayborhoods” and Heat Waves at This Year’s AEA Meetings

Jon Hilsenrath of The Wall Street Journal reports on the most offbeat papers of this year's American Economic Association meetings.   One of our favorites -- in light of our recent "Are Gay Men Really Rich?" podcast -- is this one:


Janice Madden of the University of Pennsylvania and Matthew Ruther of the University of Colorado studied census tract data and the American Community Survey to examine the locations of gay male and lesbian partnerships in 38 large U.S. cities. They found that census tracts that start the decade with more gay men experienced significantly greater growth in household incomes and, in the Northeast and West, also greater population growth over the next decade than those census tracts with fewer gay men. Census tracts with more lesbians at the start of the decade saw no difference in population or income growth.

Another favorite examines the long-term outcomes of children conceived during heat waves.

More Predictions, From Bad to Worse

Our "Folly of Prediction" podcast made these basic points:

Fact: Human beings love to predict the future.

Fact: Human beings are not very good at predicting the future.

Fact: Because the incentives to predict are quite imperfect — bad predictions are rarely punished — this situation is unlikely to change.

A couple of recent cases in point:

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted a particularly bad Atlantic hurricane season this year but, thankfully, were wrong, as noted by Dan Amira in New York magazine. It is hard to imagine that many people are unhappy about that. 

Here, as noted by Ira Stoll in the New York Sun, are the picks by ESPN experts at the start of the 2013 baseball season. How bad were their picks?

It's the Weather, Stupid

We've written in the past about how weather can have a surprisingly strong effect on things like civil war and riots. (Short story: rioters don't like getting rained on and droughts can start a war.)

The political scientist Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard has a new paper on the topic in Public Choice (abstract; PDF) called "It's the Weather, Stupid! Individual Participation in Collective May Day Demonstrations." The bolding is mine:

“We investigate the possible explanations for variations in aggregate levels of participation in large-scale political demonstrations. A simple public choice inspired model is applied to data derived from the annual May Day demonstrations of the Danish labor movement and socialist parties taking place in Copenhagen in the period 1980–2011. The most important explanatory variables are variations in the weather conditions and consumer confidence, while political and socio-economic conditions exhibit no robust effects. As such accidental or non-political factors may be much more important for collective political action than usually acknowledged and possibly make changes in aggregate levels of political support seem erratic and unpredictable.”

Who Suffers in Bad Weather?

The weather -- its effects on the environment, behavior, sports, and society -- has long been of interest to Freakonomics.  Now a new working paper from Warren Anderson, Noel D. Johnson, and Mark Koyama explores the effects of cold growing seasons on discrimination against Jewish communities between 1100 and 1800:

What factors caused the persecution of minorities in medieval and early modern Europe? We build a model that predicts that minority communities were more likely to be expropriated in the wake of negative income shocks. We then use panel data consisting of 785 city-level expulsions of Jews from 933 European cities between 1100 and 1800 to test the implications of the model. We use the variation in city-level temperature to test whether expulsions were associated with colder growing seasons. We find that a one standard deviation decrease in average growing season temperature in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was associated with a one to two percentage point increase in the likelihood that a Jewish community would be expelled. Drawing on our model and on additional historical evidence we argue that the rise of state capacity was one reason why this relationship between negative income shocks and expulsions weakened after 1600.

How We Perceive the Weather

A new study looks at how ideological and political beliefs affect people's perceptions of the weather. The authors surveyed 8,000 people across the U.S. between 2008 and 2011 and found that while floods and droughts were remembered correctly, temperature changes were a different story. From Ars Technica:

In fact, the actual trends in temperatures had nothing to do with how people perceived them. If you graphed the predictive power of people's perceptions against the actual temperatures, the resulting line was flat—it showed no trend at all. In the statistical model, the actual weather had little impact on people's perception of recent temperatures. Education continued to have a positive impact on whether they got it right, but its magnitude was dwarfed by the influences of political affiliation and cultural beliefs.

And those cultural affiliations had about the effect you'd expect. Individualists, who often object to environmental regulations as an infringement on their freedoms, tended to think the temperatures hadn't gone up in their area, regardless of whether they had. Strong egalitarians, in contrast, tended to believe the temperatures had gone up.

Should You Ignore the Weather When Buying a New House or Car?

An NBER working paper (full PDF here) by Meghan R. Busse, Devin G. Pope, Jaren C. Pope, and Jorge Silva-Risso explores the role of projection bias when choosing a new car or house. It turns out that weather conditions are a huge factor when consumers are debating big purchases like houses or cars. The abstract:

Projection bias is the tendency to overpredict the degree to which one’s future tastes will resemble one’s current tastes. We test for evidence of projection bias in two of the largest and most important consumer markets – the car and housing markets. Using data for more than forty million vehicle transactions and four million housing purchases, we explore the impact of the weather on purchasing decisions. We find that the choice to purchase a convertible, a 4-wheel drive, or a vehicle that is black in color is highly dependent on the weather at the time of purchase in a way that is inconsistent with classical utility theory. Similarly, we find that the hedonic value that a swimming pool and that central air add to a house is higher when the house goes under contract in the summertime compared to the wintertime.

In Case of Rain

In the town where we stay on the New Jersey shore the local movie theater advertises: In case of rain, we will have an extra show at 1PM on weekdays. Pretty clever. If it’s rainy, the demand curve for going to the movies shifts rightward—who wants to go to the beach in the rain. Accordingly, the theater increases the amount of showings supplied to the market. But why don’t they raise the price of tickets on bad-weather days? Presumably because it would create bad will among customers who might feel exploited, but perhaps there are other reasons. (I can’t imagine that it is difficult to alter prices on a daily basis.)

The New Yorker Geoengineers Itself

Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called "The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?"

Let me rephrase:

Michael Specter has written a good and interesting New Yorker article about the history and current state of geoengineering, called "The Climate Fixers: Is There a Technological Solution to Global Warming?," which is essentially a New Yorkerized version of Chapter 5 of SuperFreakonomics, all the way down to the Mount Pinatubo explosion and the reliance on scientists Ken Caldeira and Nathan Myhrvold.

Riots and Rain

May Day has already brought some rioting to San Francisco, and as Dashiell Bennett's Atlantic Wire piece points out, New York is bracing for the same:

Tensions are likely to be pretty high, especially in New York City, [where] some leading organizers were reportedly visited at home by New York police and FBI agents yesterday who interviewed them about their plans. (The high temperatures and 80% chance of rain won't help either.)

What If It Rained on the Tea Party Parade?

My latest Bloomberg View column with Betsey is all about the Tea Party.  Well, actually, it’s really about some superb research about the Tea Party, by Andreas MadestamDaniel ShoagStan Veuger and David Yanagizawa-Drott.  Their big question: “Do Political Protests Matter? Evidence from the Tea Party.”  We know that lots of people turn out to Tea Party rallies. But does it really change anything?