by Richard Morin

Who knew Satan worked at the local mall?

While bars, cheap hotels and similar places of low repute may remain America’s favorite spots to sin, two economists say that giving people an extra day to shop at the mall also contributes significantly to wicked behavior — especially among people who are the most religious.

Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Daniel M. Hungerman of Notre Dame discovered the malevolent Mall Effect by studying what happened when states and counties repeal so-called blue laws. Those statutes prohibited the sale on Sunday of certain non-essential items such as clothing, appliances, furniture and jewelry typically sold in shopping malls, as well as liquor and cigarettes.

Gruber and Hungerman found that when states eliminated blue laws, church attendance declined while drinking and drug use increased significantly among young adults. Even more striking, the biggest change in bad behaviors was concentrated among those who frequently attended religious services, they report in a working paper titled “The Church vs. the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

At one time all but eight states had blue laws. Today 13 still have statewide Sunday selling bans on some products or leave it up to local jurisdictions to decide, with mall owners among those leading the fight to get these statutes off the books.

These researchers examined what happened in the 16 states that repealed blue laws from the mid-1950s through the 1990s. They used three different national data sets to compare church attendance and substance abuse in the years before and after the states changed their statutes.

They found church attendance declined after blue laws were repealed, with the biggest drop occurring among those who went to church at least once a week. Before repeal, on average about 37 percent of people in a state attend religious services at least weekly, Hungerman said. “After the laws are repealed it falls to 32 percent.” — a drop “not driven by declines in religiosity prior to the law change.”

Instead of going to church, many of the faithful were apparently going astray. Marijuana use increased: Before the blue laws were repealed, about 9 percent of weekly church-goers smoked pot compared with 18 percent of those who didn’t regularly attend services. After the laws were repealed, “the gap completely closed,” Hungerman said.

Cocaine use increased by nearly 4 percentage-points and heavy drinking also rose by about 5.5 percentage points among church-goers compared with those who never went to services, with frequent attenders even more likely to go on benders.

Hmmm. Interesting, but why would the elimination of blue laws suddenly provoke such an outburst of sinning among the religious? After all, six other days of the week were already available to shop (or drink) until you drop. And buying cocaine or marijuana is illegal on any day of the week.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Hungerman said. He suspects that keeping business open on Sunday means that some religious young people have to work or choose to go shopping, which apparently increases their exposure to sinners or otherwise weakens their resistance to the dark side.

“Instead of being in church you’re working or shopping in the mall surrounded by ‘party animals,'” he speculated.

Does Diversity Training Help or Hurt?

Corporations have spent millions of dollars on diversity training programs to make managers more sensitive to minorities but these efforts have “roundly failed” to eliminate bias or increase the number of minorities in management, according to a team of sociologists headed by Frank Dobbin of Harvard University.

Dobbin and his colleagues Alexandra Kalev of the University of California-Berkeley and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota examined a sampling of reports submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by private sector establishments and surveyed the history of their diversity programs. Touchy-feely programs that emphasize mentoring and networking failed to reduce bias complaints or increase the number of minority mangers. Only targeted programs in which senior managers were held accountable for increasing the number of women and minorities in management worked, they reported in the latest issue of the American Sociological Review.

In fact, they found diversity training may actually reduce diversity: Such programs were followed by a 6 percent decline in the proportion of black women in management, they found.

Who Would Have Thought?

Dreamers, Lottery Winners and Folding Paper

“The Incidence of Having Dreamed and Conservative Political Attitudes” by Jerry Kroth et al. Psychological Reports Vol. 98 No. 3. A Santa Clara University psychologist and his colleagues find that politically conservative women were more likely to dream about falling, being chased or being famous than less conservative women.

“Money and Mental Wellbeing: A Longitudinal Study of Medium-Sized Lottery Wins” by Jonathan Gardner and Andrew J. Oswald. University of Warwick Economics Working Paper No. 754. British researchers find that people who won 1,000 pounds or more (about $1,900 U.S.) playing the lottery were significantly happier two years after winning than those who won less money or nothing at all.

“On the maximum number of folds of a piece of paper” by G. J. Rees. Philosophical Magazine Letters Vol. 86, No. 1. An engineering professor at the University of Sheffield finds that a piece of paper typically can be folded in half only six times.