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.
Our favorite economist, Martin Hart-Landsberg, has written a detailed account of what is causing the rise of income inequality around the world. Here I’d like to highlight just one of his really interesting observations.
While we usually think that rising income inequality is caused by the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, a more complex picture is emerging. The graph below plots the hourly wages of the 90th percentile (Americans who make more than 89% of the population) relative to the wages of the 50th percentile (the purple line) and the wages of the 50th compared to the 10th percentile (the dotted blue line).
In English: it asks how quickly the richest people (90th) are pulling away from the average person (50th) and how quickly the average person is pulling away from the poorest (10th). The answer? Income inequality has been increasing since the 70s but, since the late ’80s, rich people have continued pulling ahead of the average American, but the average American has not been gaining on the poor.
Another indicator that the middle class is shrinking is changes in the share of jobs that are low-, middle-, or high-paid. The next graph shows that, across a wide range of countries, high- and low-paying jobs are on the rise, but middle-paying jobs are on the decline. So, middle income jobs are disappearing, but there are more of both high- and low-income jobs.
Hart-Landsberg suggests that the reason for this shift in the economy involves the globalization of production. For more, visit Reports from the Economic Front.
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.
According to an op-ed in the Times, America is the global leader in broadband, with high speeds and great service. And it’s all because the government restrained “onerous” regulation and let companies like Verizon do what they want and charge what they want.
It was written by the CEO of Verizon, Lowell McAdam.
I pay Mr. McAdam’s company about $115 each month for my land line, wi-fi, and cable (all FIOS). Mr. McAdam compares the U.S. favorably with Europe, “where innovation and investment in advanced networks have stagnated under an onerous regulatory regime.” I asked a friend who lives in Paris what he pays for his FIOS phone, wi-fi, and cable. The monthly bill: 39.90€ ($52) or half of what I pay Verizon. Maybe there’s an upside to stagnant and onerous.
There’s nothing wrong with getting what you can afford, and it occurred to me that U.S. broadband is the best because we can afford more. Onerous regulations or no, most other countries are not as rich as the U.S. What if you looked at broadband and per capita GDP?
The OECD did just that with data from June 2012 (their several spreadsheets on this are here). The purple bars are broadband penetration and the bumpy red line is GDP per capita. Do you see a correlation?
Consider France: As of a year ago, the country had greater broadband penetration despite a lower per capita GDP than the U.S. ($35,133 vs. $46,588); that’s 25% more broadband on 33% less income and at half the cost to consumers.
If you re-rank the OECD countries factoring in per capita GDP, the line-up changes. Notably, the U.S. and Luxembourg drop well below the OECD average, despite being among the wealthiest countries.
Of course, not all broadbands are equally broad. Verizon sold me on fiber-optic with their assurance that it was dazzlingly faster than their DSL that I had been clunking along on. This graph breaks down broadband into its various incarnations.
The U.S. is slightly above average on all broadband, but when it comes to a high fibre diet, we are ahead of several other countries that have greater total penetration. On the other hand, the Scandinavian countries are ahead of us, as are, impressively, the Asian countries.
This is not to deny U.S. advances. TechCrunch summarizes more recent data from Akamai on these changes:
the U.S. is currently second in the price of broadband for entry-level users. The nation is also third in network-based competition, second in the fiber-optic installation rate, first in the adoption of next-generation LTE, ahead of Europe in broadband adoption, and doing quite well in Internet-based services.
Still, the U.S. lags behind other, less wealthy countries. InnovationFiles, using Akamai data for different variables, has a less congratulatory view.
The U. S. has picked up one place in the “Average Peak Connection Speed” that’s the best measurement of network capacity, rising from 14th to 13th as the measured peak connection speed increased from 29.6 Mbps to 31.5 Mbps.
In terms of the “Average Connection Speed,” widely cited by analysts who don’t know what it means, the U. S. remains in 8th place world-wide. but we’re no longer tied for it as we were in the previous quarter; Sweden is right behind us on this one.
In terms of “High Speed Broadband Adoption”, the proportion of IP addresses with an Average Connection Speed greater than 10 Mbps, we remain in 7th place, but now we’re tied with Sweden.
The title of CEO McAdam’s op-ed is “How the US Got Broadband Right.” Given the content, I guess “We’re Number 13!” wouldn’t have been appropriate. Even “We’re Number Seven (Tied With Socialist Sweden)!” doesn’t quite have that affirmative zing.
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.
Forty years ago Richard Easterlin proposed the paradox that people in wealthier countries were no happier than those in less wealthy countries. Subsequent research on money and happiness brought modifications and variations, notably that within a single country, while for the poor, more money meant fewer problems, for the wealthier people — those with enough or a bit more — enough is enough. Increasing your income from $100,000 to $200,000 isn’t going to make you happier.
It was nice to hear researchers singing the same lyrics we’ll soon be hearing in commencement speeches and that you hear in Sunday sermons and pop songs (“the best things in life are free”; “mo’ money mo’ problems”). But this moral has a sour-grapes taste; it’s a comforting fable we non-wealthy tell ourselves all the while suspecting that it probably isn’t true.
A recent Brookings paper by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers adds to that suspicion. Looking at comparisons among countries and within countries, they find that when it comes to happiness, you can never be too rich.
Stevenson and Wolfers also find no “satiation point,” some amount where happiness levels off despite increases in income. They provide US data from a 2007 Gallup survey:
The data are pretty convincing. Even as you go from rich to very rich, the proportion of “very satisfied” keeps increasing. (Sample size in the stratosphere might be a problem: only 8 individuals reported annual incomes over $500,000;100% of them, though, were “very happy.”)
Did Biggie and Alexis get it wrong?
Around the time that the Stevenson-Wolfers study was getting attention in the world beyond Brookings, I was having lunch with a friend who sometimes chats with higher ups at places like hedge funds and Goldman Sachs. He hears wheeler dealers complaining about their bonuses. “I only got ten bucks.” Stevenson and Wolfers would predict that this guy’s happiness would be off the charts given the extra $10 million. But he does not sound like a happy master of the universe.
I think that the difference is more than just the clash of anecdotal and systematic evidence. It’s about defining and measuring happiness. The Stevenson-Wolfers paper uses measures of “life satisfaction.” Some surveys ask people to place themselves on a ladder according to “how you feel about your life.” Others ask
All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?
The GSS uses happy instead of satisfied, but the effect is the same:
Taken all together, how would you say things are these days – would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?
When people hear these questions, they may think about their lives in a broader context and compare themselves to a wider segment of humanity. I imagine that Goldman trader griping about his “ten bucks” was probably thinking of the guy down the hall who got twelve. But when the survey researcher asks him where he is on that ladder, he may take a more global view and recognize that he has little cause for complaint. Yet moment to moment during the day, he may look anything but happy. There’s a difference between “affect” (the preponderance of momentary emotions) and overall life satisfaction.
Measuring affect is much more difficult — one method requires that people log in several times a day to report how they’re feeling at that moment — but the correlation with income is weaker.
In any case, it’s nice to know that the rich are benefitting from getting richer. We can stop worrying about their being sad even in their wealthy pleasure and turn our attention elsewhere. We got 99 problems, but the rich ain’t one.
The Washington Post has provided some data on medical costs across a selection of countries (Argentina, Canada, Chile, and India in grey; France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain in blue; and the U.S. in red). The data reveal that American health care is very expensive compared to other countries.
No wonder the US spends twice as much as France on health care. In 2009, the U.S. average was $8000 per person; in France, $4000. (Canada came in at $4800). Why do we spend so much? Ezra Klein quotes the title of a 2003 paper by four health-care economists: “it’s the prices, stupid.”
And why are US prices higher? Prices in the other OECD countries are lower partly because of what U.S. conservatives would call socialism – the active participation of the government. In the U.K. and Canada, the government sets prices. In other countries, the government uses its Wal-Mart-like power as a huge buyer to negotiate lower prices from providers. (If it’s a good thing for Wal-Mart to bring lower prices for people who need to buy clothes, why is it a bad thing for the government to bring lower prices to people who need to buy, say, an appendectomy? I could never figure that out.)
There may also be cultural differences between the U.S. and other wealthy countries, differences about whether greed, for lack of a better word, is good. How much greed is good, and in what realms is it good? Klein quotes a man who served in the Thatcher government:
Health is a business in the United States in quite a different way than it is elsewhere. It’s very much something people make money out of. There isn’t too much embarrassment about that compared to Europe and elsewhere.
So we Americans roll along, paying several times what others pay for medical procedures, doctor visits, and drugs.
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.