August 8, 2006

Male Lefties Have More of the Right Stuff

by Richard Morin

Left-handed men who attended at least a year in college go on to earn significantly more than their right-handed classmates — one more reason they’ll be celebrating International Left-Handers Day this Sunday.

“Among the college-educated men in our sample, those who report being left-handed earn 13 percent more than those who report being right-handed,” report economists Christopher S. Ruebeck of Lafayette College and his research partners Joseph E. Harrington, Jr. and Robert Moffitt of Johns Hopkins University in a new working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

And lefties, stay in school: Those who finished all four years of college earned, on average, a whopping 21 percent more than similarly educated right-handed men. Curiously, the researchers found no wage differential between left- and right-handed women.

They also found that lefties were more likely to be found in certain kinds of jobs. “For example, 53 percent of those who are left-handed are in professional occupations, compared to 38 percent of those who are right-handed,” they reported.

They based their conclusions on an analysis of data from the federally-funded National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative survey of approximately 5,000 men and women first interviewed in 1993 when they ranged in age from 14 to 21 years old. Their analysis was based on a 1993 follow-up survey, when respondents were ages 28 to 35. Left-handers comprised about 10 percent of their sample, just as they comprise about 10% of the population as a whole.

While evidence of a wage gap was unequivocal, explanations for the disparity were more elusive. The authors suggested that greater innate ability, perhaps due to differences in biology and brain function are two possibilities. But they do not know why they didn’t see a similar effect among women.

“Gender discrimination may be obscuring the effects for higher-educated left-handed females,” Ruebeck wrote in an e-mail. “The biological literature also suggests differences in cognitive style across handedness in males that do not exist in females. If these differences are responsible for left-handers’ higher wages, then we would not expect to find the same result in females.”

The study is the latest to suggest there’s something special about lefties. Other researchers have found that left-handers are over-represented in some disciplines on university faculties, as well as among gifted students, artists and musicians. And as any pro baseball player will tell you, there are entirely too many southpaws pitching in the big leagues.

And for the record: Ruebeck and Herrington are right-handers while Moffitt throws and bats left. Here’s a smorgasbord of other famous lefties, present and past:

Ronald Reagan

Bill Clinton

Benjamin Franklin

H. Ross Perot

Mark Twain

Dave Barry

Jimi Hendrix

Paul McCartney

Kurt Cobain

Cole Porter

M. C. Escher


Charlie Chaplin

Marilyn Monroe

Keanu Reeves

Oprah Winfrey

Babe Ruth

Alexander the Great

Fidel Castro

Jay Leno

Bart Simpson

Kermit the Frog

Source: M.K. Holder, Indiana University

Baby Girls and the Year of the Horse

<p >What Do South Koreans Have Against Horses…or Girls? <p >“According to zodiac astrology, the Horse is generally believed to symbolize masculinity. It is energetic and optimistic and has high spirits. As such, the Horse implies undesirable traits for women as wives. In patriarchal and Confucian society, women are expected to be subservient to men. Women born in the year of the Horse are believed to suffer unhappiness and misfortune. Similar though less strongly held beliefs extend to women born in Tiger and Dragon years.”
– Jungmin Lee and Myungho Paik writing in Demography

Old superstitions die hard — and in South Korea, beliefs in astrology remain so strong in that fertility rates plummeted and thousands of abortions were performed in 2002 because parents didn’t want to give birth to a daughter in the dreaded Year of the Horse.

To South Koreans, the Year of the Horse is viewed as a particularly bad time to have a girl, Jungmin Lee and Myungho Paik report in the latest issue of Demography. Throughout parts of East Asia, people have believed since antiquity that an individual is destined to posses certain characteristics depending on when their birth year falls in the 12-year astrological cycle.

These beliefs remain so strong that couples avoid having children in a Horse year. And should a woman become pregnant, many couples either induce abortions if they believe their baby will be a girl or deliberately misreport their daughter’s birth year, the researchers found.

Between 1970 and 2003, the overall fertility rate dropped by about 8.9 percent in the Horse Years of 1978, 1990 and 2002, only to immediately return to normal, wrote Lee, who teaches at the University of Arkansas, and Paik, a graduate student at the University of Texas. Even in 2002, fertility declined by 7.5 percent.

“The decrease in fertility in 2002 is, by and large, due to birth timing,” they found. There are approximately 29,900 missing girls or female pregnancies: 86 percent by birth timing, 3 percent by misreporting and 11 percent by abortion — a positive sign, these authors suggest, since more than 20 percent of the fertility decline in 1990 was due to parents deciding to abort female fetuses.

“The large effect in 2002 has an important implication: zodiacal preferences have not disappeared, indicating that zodiacal preferences survive rapid social changes accompanied by economic development and social propaganda against the culture of the Horse,” they concluded.

And there’s little evidence that the aversion to the Year of the Horse will die out anytime soon in South Korea.

Zodiac astrology is widespread in South Korea even though it is a relatively recent import from Japan. “People read their fortunes in newspapers every day, and they often consult with fortune tellers for advice about their careers or family matters,” the authors wrote. “In 2003, there were 13,929 establishments in astrological services compared with 605,614 restaurants and 7,511 banks.”

Is The Racial IQ Gap Closing?

There’s new evidence that the disparities in the IQs of blacks and whites may have narrowed by about a third in the past three decades.

“The constancy of the black/white IQ gap is a myth,” William T. Dickens of the Brookings Institution and James R. Flynn of the University of Otago in New Zealand write in a Brookings working paper to be published in Psychological Science. “Blacks have gained 5 or 6 IQ points on non-Hispanic whites between 1972 and 2002,” they assert, suggesting that the differences in black and white IQ scores are due to environment and are not hard-wired into the races. The researchers analyzed nationally representative samples of blacks and whites on four different tests of cognitive ability. Not all researchers are convinced. Science News reports that several IQ experts say other studies show that the gap hasn’t budged in decades.

Who Would Have Thought?

Math Minors and First Impressions

“Can business and economics students perform elementary arithmetic?” by Lionel G Standing, Robert A Sproule, and Ambrose Leung. Psychological Reports. A group of 146 college business and economics majors were given ten questions from a third-grade arithmetic test; just 40 percent answered all 10 questions correctly.

“First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face” by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov. Psychological Science Vol. 17 No. 7. Princeton researchers find that individuals shown a photo of an individual for one one-tenth of a second and asked to judge an individual’s attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness made essentially the same judgments as they did when their viewing time was unlimited.