There is a correlation between physical strength and views on redistribution (in men)

As the Economist explains:

The two researchers came to this conclusion after looking at 486 Americans, 223 Argentinians and 793 Danes. They collected data on their volunteers’ strength by measuring the circumference of the flexed biceps of an individual’s dominant arm. (Previous work has shown that this is an accurate proxy for strength.) They then measured people’s status with questionnaires about their economic situation. And they determined a person’s support for redistribution by asking the degree to which he or she agreed with statements like: “The wealthy should give more money to those who are worse off”; and “It is not fair that people have to pay taxes to fund welfare programmes.” They also asked about participants’ political ideologies.

Dr Petersen and Dr Sznycer found that, regardless of country of origin or apparent ideology, strong men argued for their self interest: the poor for redistribution, the rich against it. No surprises there. Weaklings, however, were far less inclined to make the case that self-interest suggested they would. Among women, by contrast, strength had no correlation with opinion. Rich women wanted to stay rich; poor women to become so.

This is an example of a depressingly common feature: not only are we not terribly rational about our politics but we’re also unaware of our own irrationality. I mean when did you last hear someone explain their views on the welfare state with reference to their biceps?


2 thoughts on “There is a correlation between physical strength and views on redistribution (in men)

  1. There’s a lot of this sort of thing around – as you know, I’m pretty sceptical of most of it. I’ve just had a look at the paper – my main criticism is that they’ve used an unjustified one-tailed F-test. They clearly can’t find an effect using a two-tailed test (they report the two-tailed test for women, so they must realise that’s the appropriate one!), so they don’t actually have a statistically significant result.

    My usual criticism is that these studies have a tiny effect size. In this one, the effect size varies from 0.03 in the US to 0.12 in Denmark. 0.03 is not big, but 0.12 is actually respectable. They might have been able to get a significant two-tailed result in Denmark, as well – p was 0.001.

    Interestingly, the Danish study was conducted very differently to the US and Argentinian studies. In the US and Argentina, all of their subjects were drawn from single university communities – how much political variation are you going to find in the University of California, Santa Barbara? However, in Denmark, they were drawn from an existing YouGov panel, and were chosen to be representative – you probably know more than me whether that’s actually the case. I can imagine that people from certain backgrounds are much more likely to sign up for that sort of thing? Unfortunately, the participants self-reported bicep size in Denmark, which I can imagine introduced a lot of bias.

    They checked that the regression held even when the number of hours of physical activity per week was included as a variable, but they didn’t check for the type of physical activity they did. If the actual conclusion of this study was that weight-lifters tend to have a more macho culture than joggers, I’m not very surprised by the result.

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