Category: Data Source

Why did the baby boom occur?

We should thank Clarence Birdseye.  Improvements in household technology, starting in the 1920s and 1930s, made kids easier to raise:

The mystery of the baby boom has not been cracked in economics.  The fact that the baby boom was an atypical burst of fertility that punctuated a 200-year secular decline adds to the enigma.  Conventional wisdom ascribes the baby boom to the effects of the Great Depression and/or World War II.  This story has several shortcomings.  First, for the U.S. and many OECD countries, it is hard to detect a strong structural break in fertility due to the Great Depression.  Second, fertility in the U.S. and many OECD countries started to rise before World War II.  Third, at the peak of the U.S. baby boom the most fertile cohort of women was just too young for the Great Depression or World War II to have had a direct effect on them.

The story told here attributes the secular decline in fertility to the tenfold rise in real wages that occurred over this time period.  This increased the cost, in terms of foregone consumption, of raising children.  The baby boom is accounted for by the invention of labor-saving household capital or other labor-saving household products and management techniques, which occurred during the middle of the last century…the increase in the efficiency of the household sector needed to explain the baby boom is not that large.

So let’s say you think demographic aging is a problem today.  What is the policy implication?  Subsidize complex robots?  Let people genetic engineer their kids?

The above passage is from "The Baby Boom and Baby Bust," by Jeremy Greenwood, Ananth Seshadri, and Guillaume Vanderbroucke, American Economic Review, March 2005.  Here is a free and earlier version of the paper.

Is Islam good for prosperity?

People of Arab descent living in the US are better
educated and wealthier than the average American of non-Arab descent.
That is one surprising conclusion drawn from data collected by the US
Census Bureau in 2000. The census also found that Arab Americans are
better educated and wealthier than Americans in general.

24 per cent of all Americans hold college degrees, 41 per cent of
Arab-Americans are college graduates. The median annual income of an
Arab-American family living in the US is $52,300 – 4.6 per cent higher
than the figure for all other American families. More than half of such
families own their home. Forty-two per cent of people of Arab descent
in the US work as managers or professionals, while the overall average
is 34 per cent.

My take: Islam is an excellent religion for motivating commercial success (yes I do know that many Arab-Americans are Christians).  It is less effective at supporting rule of law, democracy, and checks and balances.  For those features, the idea that Christ is an individual victim, tortured by the Roman state, comes in handy.  Here is the link for the data.

Names and education

Which girls’ names are most closely correlated with high levels of parental education?

1. Lucienne

2. Marie-Claire

3. Glynnis

4. Adair

5. Meira

How about negatively correlated with education?

1. Angel

2. Heaven

3. Misty

4. Destiny

5. Brenda

That is from the June issue of Atlantic Monthly, derived from the work of Steve Levitt.  By the way, boys’ names ending in "y" sounds — such as Cody and Ricky — are not altogether positive signals about whether the parents have read Remembrance of Things Past

How much sex tourism is there in Thailand?

More British citizens visit Thailand than those of any other non-Asian country. In 2003 (the last year for which full figures are available) some 545,000 British residents arrived on visits. If you remove the children, and the British citizens visiting for business or reasons other than a holiday, you arrive at about 489,000–314,000 men and 175,000 women. That is 139,000 more British men than women coming to Thailand for a holiday–a gap of 28 per cent. The French gender disparity–60,500 more men than women–is 32 per cent, about the same as that of visitors from the US. The Japanese, at 35 per cent, is the highest–over 300,000 more men. If you take Europe as a whole (though there are some countries, like Finland and Sweden, with virtually no disparity) the gap is 25 per cent–494,000 more men than women.

A look at the major rich-nation visitors–those from the US, Australia, Europe and Japan [TC: hey, try the Saudis, predicted ratio infinite]–shows that 952,000 more men than women visited Thailand on holiday in 2003, a disparity of 28 per cent…This pattern is unique among major tourist destinations. Take, for example, the Caribbean, another popular tropical destination for economy tourism. Here, the disparity runs at 2 or 3 per cent–the only country with a significant gap in favour of men, nearly 11 per cent, is Cuba, the Caribbean country most notorious for sex tourism.

Do nearly a million men from the rich world come to Thailand to buy sex every year?

Here is the full story.

My questions: If you go for two weeks, and it costs you $1000 from Europe, how many times must you "do it" to get your money back?  Or is the trip really about saving shame, since sex is so flaunted by Thai prostitutes? (TC: I have been to Thailand, but frankly was disgusted by the thought of partaking).  Is it so unusual that fear of shame drives one to an alternative that is ultimately more shameful?

What are the ten priciest neighborhoods in the world?

Here is the list:

1. Kensington Gardens, London (by the way, few of the homes here are owned by Brits)

2. Jupiter Island, Florida

3. Belle Haven, Greenwich, Connecticut

4. Pacific Heights, San Francisco

5. Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

6. Sea Island, Georgia (apparently the wealthy live here, I never would have guessed)

7. Shibuya, Tokyo

8. Tribeca, in Manhattan

9. La Jolla (California, near San Diego)

10. The Seventh Arrondissement in Paris, which contains both Invalides and the Eiffel Tower.

You will notice that careful definition of a neighborhood is important.  Furthermore it is easy to have the riff-raff keep down your average.  Who would have thought that Tribeca would beat out the Upper East Side?

Thanks to Newmarks’ Door for the pointer.  #1, 7, 8 and 10 appeal to me; I wouldn’t live on #2 or #6 for any price.

Pets vs. men — pets win

Pampered pets are becoming women’s priority vs. their partners, according to a study of 901 pet owners by BizRate Research for Shopzilla, the leading shopping search site on the Web, which has seen an increase in luxury pet product searches.

It’s no wonder that women are spoiling their pets. More than half of women (56%) feel that their pets are more affectionate than their partners (vs. 41% of men), and 45% of women think their pets are cuter than their partners (vs. 24% of men).

In the study, women said they had a deeper emotional connection with their pets than men did. Nearly all women respondents (99%) reported that they frequently talked to their pets (vs. 95% of men) and an astonishing 93% of women think that their pets communicate with them (vs. 87% of men) [TC:no more email on this last part, I am simply quoting somebody else here!].

Here is the story, and thanks to Andrew Roth for the pointer.

Rich Man, Poor Man; Rich State, Poor State

Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science is one of my favorite new blogs.  It is primarily written by Andrew Gelman, a professor in the Departments of Statistics and Political Science at Columbia University.

A recent post looks at the difference between red and blue states and red and blue individuals.  We all know that in the recent election poorer states tended to vote Republican while richer states tended to vote Democrat.  On the basis of the famous maps many people jumped to the conclusion that poorer individuals were voting Republican (Nascar Republicans) while richer individuals were voting Democrat (trust fund Democrats).  But the inference is a fallacy, the ecological fallacy.  In fact, high-income individuals, as opposed to high-income states, vote Republican with greater likelihood than low-income individuals (the effect is not huge and it may be declining but it is significant).   

It’s even true that rich counties tend to vote Republican with greater likelihood than poorer counties.  Gelman links to this graph which nicely illustrates the ecological fallacy.  The three lines show that within each state higher-income counties are more likely to vote Republican but when you look between states the correlation between income and voting Republican is negative.  (Click to enlarge).




What do we know about tipping?

1. Two studies show little relationship between quality of waiter service and size of tip.

2. Hotel bellboys can double the size of their tips, on average, by showing guests how the TV and air conditioning work.

3. Tipping is less prevalent in countries where unease about inequality is especially strong.

4. The more a culture values status and prestige, the more likely that culture will use tipping to reward service.

5. Tips are higher in sunny weather.

6. Servers can increase their tips by giving their names to customers, squatting next to tables, touching their customers, and giving their customers after-dinner mints. (query: how do lap dances fit into this equation?)

7. Drawing a smiley face on the check increases a waitress’s tips by 18 percent but decreases a waiter’s tips by 9 percent.

8. In one study, waitresses increased their tips by 17 percent by wearing flowers in their hair.  In general it pays to look distinctive albeit not freaky.

Here is the link.  Some of the information draws on studies by Michael Lynn of Cornell.  Here is his home page.  Here is his page on tipping.  Here is his advice on how to increase your tips; he asks that you tip him for it.  Here are his dogs.

My questions: Is tipping any harder to explain than why we don’t just leave the restaurant without paying?  Given that (almost) everybody tips, is the final incidence more or less neutral for the customers?  Do we tip, in part, to produce the illusion of control over how we are treated? 

China fact of the day

University of Alberta political economist Wenran Jiang calculates China spends three times the world average on energy — and seven times what Japan spends — to produce $1 of gross domestic product.  It also is far more inefficient than nations like Brazil and Indonesia…Chinese steelmakers on average use about twice as much energy as Japanese or Korean rivals per ton of output.  Only 5% of the country’s office and residential towers meet China’s own minimal energy-conservation standards.

That is from the 11 April Business Week, pp.50-51.

Economists and the FDA

Bottom line: The public thinks the FDA is great. Regular economists think it’s pretty good. And economists who specialize in the FDA think it’s pretty bad.

That is Bryan Caplan, read more here.

Addendum: I’ll grant that those who specialize in studying a particular agency may tend to be the critics.  That being said, the "man in the street" simply has not, in most cases, considered the economic criticisms of the FDA.

At this point, we all face a dilemma.  For instance Paul Krugman cites the predominance of academic Democrats as an argument against the Republican party.  Must he then accept this evidence on the FDA?  Must Caplan become a Democrat?  When is citing professional consensus opinion most persuasive?  What is the professional consensus on this question?

Rate your date

…you can pop over to and find out whether your prospective date is anything close to what the profile suggests.

TrueDater, not to be confused with, is a database of reviews written by people who met through online personals. It’s like, only instead of books, you’re reviewing people. More specifically, you are reviewing their ability to represent themselves online.

Here is the story; the prescient Michelle Boardman suggested this idea some time ago.

Addendum: Here is a sample review.

Sweden fact of the day

Sweden’s largest trade union admitted that the official 5.5 per cent unemployment rate is hiding a "real unemployment" of 20 to 25 per cent, which includes those claiming long-term sick pay or having taken early state retirement.

Here is the link, and thanks to Tim Worstall for the pointer.  Here is Alex’s earlier post on disability.  Here is my earlier post on disability in the Netherlands.

Africa fact of the day

…the four hundred richest U.S. taxpayers had a combined income in 2000 that exceeded the combined incomes of four of the countries of Mr. Bush’s tropical tour.  The difference was astounding: the $57 billion in combined income of Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Uganda [TC: Botswana and Senegal are relative success stories in Africa, and Nigeria has oil] was the income of 161 million people, who average $350 in income per year, whereas the $69 billion was the income of four hundred individuals.

That is from Jeffrey Sachs’s new The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time.  And you got it right, there is no typo, that is 400 people richer than 161 million people.

Left-wingers think: "My goodness, how can so few have so much?  They were lucky anyway.  Let us raise marginal tax rates." 

Randians think: "Hail the productive powers of capitalism!"

Rawlsians think: "They didn’t produce that wealth, we did."

Others think: "My goodness, Africa is screwed up."

The economist?  The economist wonders why there is not more trade between the two groups…