Lefties make more

Kai Ryssdal Aug 14, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: There’s Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Administrative Assistants Day. Even I.T. Systems Administrator’s Day. And we should all be thankful to them. But yesterday was one of my personal favorites. Left Handers Day. I’m in that special 10 percent of the population who always smudged the ink on my homework. Turns out, though, that we’re not always left behind by righties. At least when it comes to making money. Chris Ruebeck’s an economist at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. Chris, good to talk to you.

CHRIS RUEBECK: Yes, it’s good to talk to you, Kai.

RYSSDAL: So, listen, let me tell you. I’m a leftie. I’ve been hearing all my life that I’m going to die early, I’m going to have some terrible accident. Take your pick. But now it turns out I’ll die happy ’cause I have more money?

RUEBECK: It is a surprising result.

RYSSDAL: And what, exactly, did you find?

RUEBECK: We found that for college-educated men there’s a significant premium to being left-handed. Perhaps as high or higher than 15 percent in earnings.

RYSSDAL: So, do I need to go tell my boss that I should have a raise?

RUEBECK: You know, you might. But, there’s more to it than that.

RYSSDAL: Gimme the ammo I need to go in and ask for more money.

RUEBECK: Well, it is interesting. The result isn’t quite as simple as what I’ve stated. Although what I’ve stated is true, there’s another dimension to it. And, if we can think about it for a moment, think about dividing the population of men into two parts. One part that we would expect to have higher earnings, maybe because of their occupation, their college major; and the other group that we expect to have low earnings. Well, as it turns out, among those that we expect to have high earnings, left-handers and right-handers have about the same wages. Although, those that we would expect to have lower earnings, on the other hand, left-handers earn more than the similar right-handers.

RYSSDAL: Which is to say in English, what?

RUEBECK: Which is to say in English, who can we think of that might be expected to earn less than others? Well, as it turns out, previous studies have shown us that there are more left-handed artists, musicians, some disciplines – college professors – and these are folks who, although they may have high levels of education, earn less than others in other professions that have similar levels of education. And it’s here that we come up with some speculation about why this effet may occur.

RYSSDAL: What are some of the speculations, though. I mean, are there high-salaried outliers who happen to be lefties that skew the data?

RUEBECK: That’s a good question. We’ve tried to control for that by getting rid of folks that make about $100,000 or more. We’re trying to make sure that we don’t have a left-handed Major League Baseball pitcher in there, for example.

RYSSDAL: This seems to me sort of an econometric look at what is, in essence, a question about brain function, isn’t it really?

RUEBECK: It may be. And we certainly have to rely on other studies of brain function. And there’s been a great deal of research in this area. In fact, the paper itself is forthcoming in a journal that’s devoted exclusively to this question of laterality and what it means to biologist, psychologists, and now perhaps economists.

RYSSDAL: Chris, before I let you go . . . Are you a lefty?

RUEBECK: I’m not a lefty. Of the three of us, Robert Moffitt is the only lefty.

RYSSDAL: Chris Ruebeck’s an assistant professor of economics at Lafayette College. Chris, thanks a lot for your time.

RUEBECK: Thank you.

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