We all know — because we are being constantly reminded — that we are, collectively, getting fat. Americans are at the forefront of the trend, but it is a transnational one. Apparently, it is also transspecies: pets, wild animals, and laboratory animals are also gaining weight. Here’s some country-level data from the New York Times:
In an excellent review of the existing literature, David Berreby at Aeon skewers the idea that a simple, victim-blaming “calories in, calories out” model can explain this extraordinary transnational, transspecies rise in overweight and obese individuals. I won’t summarize his argument here, except to simply list the casual contenders for which there is good evidence:
Famine in previous generations
If you ever want to have an opinion on fat again, read Berreby now.
Paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld, there are things we know and things we don’t know, and things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t know we don’t know.
One thing many working people in American don’t know that they don’t know is how poor our social benefits are compare with those enjoyed by workers in other countries. No doubt one reason is the general media blackout about worker experiences in other countries. A case in point: vacation benefits.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research recently completed a study of vacation benefits in advanced capitalist economies. Here is what the authors found:
The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirements of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s rich countries offer at least six paid holidays per year.
Even though paid vacations and holidays are not legally required in the United States, some employers do provide them to their workers. The table below shows the paid vacations and paid holidays offered in the U.S. private sector based on data from the 2012 National Compensation Survey. The first two columns show the percentage of private sector workers that receive paid leave, vacation and holidays. The next two columns show the average number of paid vacation and paid holidays provided to those employees that receive the relevant benefit. The last two columns show the average number of paid vacation and paid holidays for all private sector workers, meaning those that receive and those that do not receive the relevant benefits.
Thus, on average, private-sector workers in the United States receive ten days of paid vacation per year and six paid holidays. This total still leaves U.S. workers last in the rankings even when compared with the legal minimums highlighted above. And many employers in these other countries also offer more paid leave than legally required.
Moreover, several countries require additional paid leave for younger and older workers, additions that are also not included in the legal minimums highlighted above. For example, “in Switzerland, workers under the age of 30 who do volunteer work with young people are entitled to an additional five days of annual leave. Norway offers an additional week of vacation to workers over the age of 60.”
And some countries provide additional leave for workers with difficult schedules. For example, “Australia offers some shift workers an additional work week of leave. Austria offers workers with ‘heavy night work’ two to three extra days of leave, depending on how frequently they do this shift work, and an additional four days of leave after five years of shift work.”
Several countries offer additional paid leave for jury service, moving, getting married, or community or union work. For example, “French law guarantees unpaid leave for community work, including nine work days for representing an association and six months for projects of ‘international solidarity’ abroad and leave with partial salary for ‘individual training’ that is less than one year. Sweden requires employers to provide paid leave for workers fulfilling union duties.”
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, and Sweden even require employers to pay workers at a premium rate while they are on vacation.
There is more to say, but the point should be clear. Ignorance of experiences elsewhere has narrowed our own sense of possibilities.
The Pew Research Global Attitudes Project recently released data on attitudes about homosexuality in 39 countries. Generally, those living in the Middle East and Africa were the least accepting, while those in the Americas, Europe, and parts of Asia (the Philippines, Australia, and to a lesser extent Japan) were most accepting:
Generally, the more religious a country, the less accepting its citizens are of homosexuality:
The proportion of people who support social acceptance of gays and lesbians ranged from a high of 88% in Spain to a low of 1% in Nigeria:
Attitudes about homosexuality vary widely by age. There is a pretty consistent global pattern of more positive attitudes among younger people, with a few exceptions:
Thus far, legalization of same-sex marriage has been largely confined to the Americas and Europe; New Zealand and South Africa are the two outliers:
The Pew Center points out that of the 15 nations that have fully extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, 8 have done so just since 2010. In the U.S., we’re currently awaiting a Supreme Court’s decision, which should arrive shortly, to know if we’ll be joining the list sooner rather than later.
Thanks to Peter Nardi at Pitzer College for the link!
Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.
What is interesting for our purposes, though, is this Chinese language example from Bangkok, Thailand:
Do you see it? In case you doubted it, the fact that the fourth panel includes a stick figure in a skirt (1) proves that the non-skirted stick figures are implicitly men and, on an entirely different note, (2) reminds us that men do not take care of children.
Similarly, these two pictures of warning signs for moving sidewalks (snapped in the Dublin airport) feature “neutral” stick figures, unless a child is involved:
Amanda C. sent in another example from a hotel in Sydney. When the stick figures are housekeepers, suddenly they sprout skirts!
Sophie pointed out that in Holland, bike traffic lights only include images of what most people would recognize as a “men’s” bike, with the bar across the top, thereby managing to gender the traffic signals without including any figures of people at all (images found here and here):
For what it’s worth, here’s a counter-example from Malmö, Sweden:
Emanuelle, who took the photo and submitted it, says it’s the only time she can remember that she’s seen a silhouette figure like this with a kid where the figure isn’t clearly marked as female. We’ve a fun collection of traffic lights featuring female stick figures.
The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has released new data on the incidence of invasive and non-invasive cosmetic procedures. The U.S. leads in sheer numbers of procedures but, accounting for population, we fall into 4th place. South Korea leads for the number of procedures per person, followed by Greece and Italy.
By far the most common kinds of surgical cosmetic procedures are lipoplasty and breast augmentation. Along with fat, breasts seem to be a particular concern: breast lifts and breast reductions for both men and women are also in the top ten. Abdominoplasty, nose jobs, eyelid surgeries, and facelifts are as well.
Likewise, we’ve posted about surgeries that create an epithelial fold, a fold of skin in the eyelid more common in people with White than Asian ethnic backgrounds. This surgery is a trend among Asians and Asian-Americans, as colonization has left us with an association between Whiteness, attractiveness, and power.
Breast augmentation, the second biggest surgical procedure, is most commonly performed in America and Brazil. Buttock implants are also a Brazilian specialty, as is vaginal rejuvenation. Asia is keen on nose jobs: China, Japan and South Korea are among the top five nations for rhinoplasty.
More on where and how many procedures are being performed, but nothing on why, at the ISAPS report.
The poverty rate in the US in the mid-2000s was about 17%. In Sweden, the poverty rate was 5.3%; in Germany, 11%. That was the rate after adding in government transfers. In Germany, the poverty rate before those transfers was 33.6%, ten points higher than that in the US. Sweden’s pre-transfer poverty rate was about the same as ours.
Jared Bernstein has this chart showing pre-transfer and post-transfer rates for the OECD countries (click to enlarge):
1. Governments have the power to reduce poverty, and reduce it a lot. European governments do far more towards this goal than does the US government.
2. It’s unlikely that America’s poor people are twice as lazy or unskilled or dissolute as their European counterparts. Individual factors may explain differences between individuals, but these explanations have little relevance for the problem of overall poverty. The focus on individual qualities also has little use as a basis for policy. European countries have fewer people living in poverty, but not because those countries exhort the poor to lead more virtuous lives and punish them for their improvident ways. European countries have lower poverty rates because the governments provide money and services to those who need them.
3. The amount of welfare governments provide does not appear to have a dampening effect on the overall economy.
As I speculated years ago (here and here), it may be hard for Americans to imagine a world where the law guarantees them at least 20 paid vacation days per year. But such a world exists. It’s called Europe.*
Americans are the lucky ones. As Mitt Romney has warned us “European-style benefits” would “poison the very spirit of America.” Niall Ferguson, who weighs in frequently on history and economics, contrasts America’s “Protestant work ethic” with what you find in Europe – an “atheist sloth ethic.”
The graph is a bit misleading. It shows only what the law requires of employers. Americans do get vacations. But here in America, how much vacation you get, or whether you get any at all, and whether it’s paid – that all depends on what you can negotiate with your employer.
Since American vacations depend on what the boss will grant, some people get more paid vacation, some get less, and some get none. So it might be useful to ask which sectors of our economy are beehives of the work ethic and which are sloughs of sloth. (Ferguson’s employer, for example, Harvard University, probably gives him three months off in the summer, plus a week or two or more in the winter between semesters, plus spring break, and maybe a few other days. I wonder how he would react if Harvard did away with these sloth-inducing policies.)
The Wall Street Journal recently (here) published a graph of BLS data on access to paid vacations; they break it up by industry near the bottom.
Those people who are cleaning your hotel room and serving your meals while you’re on vacation — only about one in four can get any paid vacation days. And at the other end, which economic sector is most indulgent of sloth among its workforce? Wall Street. Four out of five there get paid vacation.
How much paid vacation do we get? That depends on sector, but it also depends on length of service. As the Journal says,
Europeans also get more time off: usually a bare minimum of four weeks off a year. Most Americans have to stay in a job for 20 years to get that much, according to BLS data.
* The graph is from five years ago, but I doubt things have changed much. The US still has no federal or state laws requiring any paid vacation days.
There’s a write up of the study here. In a nutshell, they took 3,000 people from 22 places and asked them to rate the personality of 30 fictional people based on brief descriptions (which were the same, but translated into the local language). Ratings were on a 1 to 5 scale.
It turned out that some populations handed out more of the extreme 1 or 5 responses. Hong Kong, South Korea and Germany tended to give middle of the road 2, 3 and 4 ratings, while Poland, Burkina Faso and people from Changchun in China were much more fond of 1s and 5s.
The characters they were rating were the same in all cases, remember.
Crucially, when the participants rated themselves on the same personality traits, they tended to follow the same pattern. Koreans rated themselves to have more moderate personality traits, compared to Burkinabés who described themselves in stronger tones.
Whether this is a cultural difference or a linguistic one is perhaps debatable; it might be a sign that it is not easy to translate English-language personality words into certain languages without changing how ‘strong’ they sound. However, either way, it’s a serious problem for psychologists interested in cross-cultural studies.
I’ve long suspected that something like this might lie behind the very large differences in reported rates of mental illness across countries. Studies have found that about 3 times as many people in the USA report symptoms of mental illness compared to people in Spain, yet the suicide rate is almost the same, which is odd because mental illness is strongly associated with suicide.
One explanation would be that some cultures are more likely to report ‘higher than normal’ levels of distress, anxiety — a bit like how some make more extreme judgements of personality.
So it would be very interesting to check this by comparing the results of this paper to the international mental illness studies. Unfortunately, the countries sampled don’t overlap enough to do this yet (as far as I can see).
Source: Mõttus R, et al (2012). The Effect of Response Style on Self-Reported Conscientiousness Across 20 Countries. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin PMID: 22745332
Neuroskeptic blogs anonymously here. You can also follow him on Twitter.