Tag Archives: nation: Japan

Smarts vs. Struggle: Cultural Perceptions of Learning

Yesterday NPR’s Morning Edition included a segment by Alix Spiegel about cultural differences in approaches to teaching and learning. Researchers have found interesting differences in how teachers and parents in the U.S. and Japan encourage kids to learn.

Americans tend to focus on intelligence as the source of school success; you do well because you’re smart, kids learn. But Jim Stigler’s observations in Japan indicated that teachers focused more on effort, on letting kids publicly struggle with problems until they finally got the right answer. From this perspective, learning doesn’t occur because you’re inherently smart; it occurs because you keep working at a difficult problem until you figure it out. Jin Li has also found that parents tend to socialize kids in the U.S. into thinking of their successes as a sign of their intelligence more than their hard work, while Chinese parents focus more on persistence and concentration.

These lead to different perceptions of what it means to struggle to learn. As Stigler explains, in the U.S., we often assume that learning comes easily to you if you’re smart, and if you struggle to learn, that you lack ability. This can lead to fatalism; students who don’t easily grasp a concept can quickly see it as impossible. But as Spiegel says,

Obviously if struggle indicates weakness — a lack of intelligence — it makes you feel bad, and so you’re less likely to put up with it. But if struggle indicates strength — an ability to face down the challenges that inevitably occur when you are trying to learn something — you’re more willing to accept it.

It’s an interesting report on differences in cultural perceptions of learning, what it means if you struggle to grasp something, and the implications this might have for students’ experiences of their own learning process. It’s worth a listen.

I couldn’t get the audio file to upload; you can listen to it at the NPR site. You can read the full transcript here.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Honda Fit She’s and the Dodge La Femme: History Repeating Itself

About a gazillion twitterers and three readers — Andi, Ria, and Jenna B. – have asked us to comment on the new Honda Fit She’s begin marketed in Japan. It’s a car. For ladies. It’s pink.  It reduces wrinkles. The apostrophe in the logo is a little heart. Etc.

My only response to this is: “how very la femme!”  Dodge La Femme that is.

The Dodge La Femme  was sold for two years in the U.S. — 1955 and 1956 — and could be considered a fore mother to the She’s.  We originally posted about it in 2007.

Here is some of the advertising:

Here are some pictures of a restored La Femme:

Pink rosebud patterned upholstery:

It even came with matching accessories!  An umbrella and raincoat:

A compact:

A coin purse:

One of the reasons that the La Femme didn’t sell was because women were, frankly, offended.  Gender politics are different today, and they’re certainly different in Japan than they are in the U.S., so it’ll be fascinating to see how the She’s is received.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Price of Opportunity

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Back in June, Mitt Romney said:

I want to make sure that we keep America a place of opportunity, where everyone… get[s] as much education as they can afford

After all, Mitt got as much education as he (his parents, really) could afford, so he thought it best if everyone had that same opportunity.

Opportunity – How much is that in American money?

Yesterday, Planet Money  posted this graph showing the costs and benefits of a college education in several countries.

The title of the post summarizes the interpretation of the college-educated folks at Planet Money:

“College Costs More In America, But The Payoff Is Bigger”

But what if you look at the data from the other side?  Here’s the half-empty-glass title:

“College in the US Costs a Lot, and If You Can’t Afford It, You’re Really Screwed”

…or words to that effect.

What the chart seems to show is inequality — specifically, the inequality between the college educated and everyone else.  In advanced economies, like the those of the countries in the chart, education is important. But some of those countries, like the Scandinavian countries, have reduced the income sacrificed by non-college people relative to the college educated. Other countries favor a more unequal distribution of income.

To look a little closer, I looked at the relationship between the payoff of a BA degree for men and a country’s Gini coefficient, a measure of inequality.  I used the ten countries in the Planet Money chart and added another ten OECD countries.

The correlation is 0.44.  The US is the clear outlier.  In the land of opportunity, if you’re a male, either you pay the considerable price of going to college, or you pay the price for not going to college.

With this inequality come the kinds of social consequences that Charles Murray elaborates in his latest book about non-educated Whites — disability, divorce, demoralization, death.

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Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University.  You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Reducing Poverty: Where There’s a Will…

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

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):

Three  points:

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.

Vacation in International Perspective

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

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.

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* 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.

Extremism and National Character

Cross-posted at Neuroskeptic.

“Personality differences” between people from different countries may just be a reflection of cultural differences in the use of “extreme” language to describe people.

That’s according to a very important paper just out from an international team led by Estonia’s René Mõttus.

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

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Neuroskeptic blogs anonymously here.  You can also follow him on Twitter.

Comparison of Health Care Spending

U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently traveled to Britain, Israel, and Poland, presumably to shore up his foreign policy credentials. Among a number of other statements that got a lot of attention, Romney praised Israel’s health care system, comparing it positively to the U.S. He stressed the cost differences, pointing out that Israel spends significantly less of its GDP on health care. This drew media attention because Israel has universal coverage provided by the state, and the glowing statements seemed a little odd in light of the Republicans’ opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the demonizing of the program as socialism.

But all that aside, how much do Americans spend on health care? Well…a lot. Elizabeth McM. sent us a link to a story at The Atlantic comparing U.S. medical spending to a number of other nations:

What are we spending it on? Hospital care is the single largest expense, followed by the cost of doctor/clinic visits. Another 10% is prescription drugs. The remainder falls into a variety of categories:

With overall spending distributed among so many different sectors of the health care sector, reducing costs requires more than just increased efficiency by hospitals or lowered drug costs — it requires changes and savings throughout the system.

Declining Faith in Hard Work and Capitalism

Cross-posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

The Pew Research Center recently published a report titled “Pervasive Gloom About the World Economy.” The following two charts come from Chapter 4 which is called “The Causalities: Faith in Hard Work and Capitalism.”

The first suggests that the belief that hard work pays off remains strong in only a few countries: Pakistan (81%), the U.S. (77%), Tunisia (73%), Brazil (69%), India (67%) and Mexico (65%). The low scores in China, Germany, and Japan are worth noting. This is not to say that people everywhere are not working hard, just that many no longer believe there is a strong connection between their effort and outcome.

The second chart highlights the fact that growing numbers of people are losing faith in free market capitalism.  Despite mainstream claims that “there is no alternative,” a high percentage of people in many countries do not believe that the free market system makes people better off.

GlobeScan polled more than 12,000 adults across 23 countries about their attitudes towards economic inequality and, as the chart below reveals, the results were remarkably similar to those highlighted above.  In fact, as GlobeScan noted, “In 12 countries over 50% of people said they did not believe that the rich deserved their wealth.

It certainly seems that large numbers of people in many different countries are open to new ways of organizing economic activity.

Martin Hart-Landsberg is a professor of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.