Econstudentlog

What Do Europeans Think About Muslim Immigration?

Here’s the link. I don’t usually cover this sort of stuff, but I have quoted extensively from the report below because this is some nice data, and nice data sometimes disappear from the internet if you don’t copy it in time.

The sample sizes here are large (“The total number of respondents was 10,195 (c. 1,000 per country).”) and a brief skim of the wiki article about Chatham House hardly gives the impression that this is an extreme right-wing think tank with a hidden agenda (for example Hilary Clinton received the Chatham House Prize just a few years ago). Data was gathered online, which of course might lead to slightly different results than offline data procurement strategies, but if anything this to me seems to imply that the opposition seen in the data might more likely be a lower bound estimate than an upper bound estimate; older people, rural people and people with lower education levels are all more opposed than their counterparts, according to the data, and these people are less likely to be online, so they should probably all else equal be expected if anything to be under-sampled in a data set relying exclusively on data provided online. Note incidentally that if you wanted to you could probably sort of infer some implicit effect sizes; e.g. by comparing the differences relating to age and education, it seems that age is the far more important variable, at least if your interest is in the people who agree with the statement provided by Chatham House (of course when you only have data like this you should be very careful about making inferences about the importance of specific variables, but I can’t help noting here that part of the education variable/effect may just be a hidden age effect; I’m reasonably certain education levels have increased over time in all countries surveyed).

“Drawing on a unique, new Chatham House survey of more than 10,000 people from 10 European states, we can throw new light on what people think about migration from mainly Muslim countries. […] respondents were given the following statement: ‘All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’. They were then asked to what extent did they agree or disagree with this statement. Overall, across all 10 of the European countries an average of 55% agreed that all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped, 25% neither agreed nor disagreed and 20% disagreed.

Majorities in all but two of the ten states agreed, ranging from 71% in Poland, 65% in Austria, 53% in Germany and 51% in Italy to 47% in the United Kingdom and 41% in Spain. In no country did the percentage that disagreed surpass 32%.”

fig-1

“Public opposition to further migration from Muslim states is especially intense in Austria, Poland, Hungary, France and Belgium, despite these countries having very different sized resident Muslim populations. In each of these countries, at least 38% of the sample ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement. […]  across Europe, opposition to Muslim immigration is especially intense among retired, older age cohorts while those aged below 30 are notably less opposed. There is also a clear education divide. Of those with secondary level qualifications, 59% opposed further Muslim immigration. By contrast, less than half of all degree holders supported further migration curbs.”

fig-2

“Of those living in rural, less populated areas, 58% are opposed to further Muslim immigration. […] among those based in cities and metropolitan areas just over half agree with the statement and around a quarter are less supportive of a ban. […] nearly two-thirds of those who feel they don’t have control over their own lives [supported] the statement. Similarly, 65% of those Europeans who are dissatisfied with their life oppose further migration from Muslim countries. […] These results chime with other surveys exploring attitudes to Islam in Europe. In a Pew survey of 10 European countries in 2016, majorities of the public had an unfavorable view of Muslims living in their country in five countries: Hungary (72%), Italy (69%), Poland (66%), Greece (65%), and Spain (50%), although those numbers were lower in the UK (28%), Germany (29%) and France (29%). There was also a widespread perception in many countries that the arrival of refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism, with a median of 59% across ten European countries holding this view.”

February 15, 2017 Posted by | current affairs, data, demographics | Leave a comment

Random stuff

i. Fire works a little differently than people imagine. A great ask-science comment. See also AugustusFink-nottle’s comment in the same thread.

ii.

iii. I was very conflicted about whether to link to this because I haven’t actually spent any time looking at it myself so I don’t know if it’s any good, but according to somebody (?) who linked to it on SSC the people behind this stuff have academic backgrounds in evolutionary biology, which is something at least (whether you think this is a good thing or not will probably depend greatly on your opinion of evolutionary biologists, but I’ve definitely learned a lot more about human mating patterns, partner interaction patterns, etc. from evolutionary biologists than I have from personal experience, so I’m probably in the ‘they-sometimes-have-interesting-ideas-about-these-topics-and-those-ideas-may-not-be-terrible’-camp). I figure these guys are much more application-oriented than were some of the previous sources I’ve read on related topics, such as e.g. Kappeler et al. I add the link mostly so that if I in five years time have a stroke that obliterates most of my decision-making skills, causing me to decide that entering the dating market might be a good idea, I’ll have some idea where it might make sense to start.

iv. Stereotype (In)Accuracy in Perceptions of Groups and Individuals.

“Are stereotypes accurate or inaccurate? We summarize evidence that stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable findings in social psychology. We address controversies in this literature, including the long-standing  and continuing but unjustified emphasis on stereotype inaccuracy, how to define and assess stereotype accuracy, and whether stereotypic (vs. individuating) information can be used rationally in person perception. We conclude with suggestions for building theory and for future directions of stereotype (in)accuracy research.”

A few quotes from the paper:

Demographic stereotypes are accurate. Research has consistently shown moderate to high levels of correspondence accuracy for demographic (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender) stereotypes […]. Nearly all accuracy correlations for consensual stereotypes about race/ethnicity and  gender exceed .50 (compared to only 5% of social psychological findings; Richard, Bond, & Stokes-Zoota, 2003).[…] Rather than being based in cultural myths, the shared component of stereotypes is often highly accurate. This pattern cannot be easily explained by motivational or social-constructionist theories of stereotypes and probably reflects a “wisdom of crowds” effect […] personal stereotypes are also quite accurate, with correspondence accuracy for roughly half exceeding r =.50.”

“We found 34 published studies of racial-, ethnic-, and gender-stereotype accuracy. Although not every study examined discrepancy scores, when they did, a plurality or majority of all consensual stereotype judgments were accurate. […] In these 34 studies, when stereotypes were inaccurate, there was more evidence of underestimating than overestimating actual demographic group differences […] Research assessing the accuracy of  miscellaneous other stereotypes (e.g., about occupations, college majors, sororities, etc.) has generally found accuracy levels comparable to those for demographic stereotypes”

“A common claim […] is that even though many stereotypes accurately capture group means, they are still not accurate because group means cannot describe every individual group member. […] If people were rational, they would use stereotypes to judge individual targets when they lack information about targets’ unique personal characteristics (i.e., individuating information), when the stereotype itself is highly diagnostic (i.e., highly informative regarding the judgment), and when available individuating information is ambiguous or incompletely useful. People’s judgments robustly conform to rational predictions. In the rare situations in which a stereotype is highly diagnostic, people rely on it (e.g., Crawford, Jussim, Madon, Cain, & Stevens, 2011). When highly diagnostic individuating information is available, people overwhelmingly rely on it (Kunda & Thagard, 1996; effect size averaging r = .70). Stereotype biases average no higher than r = .10 ( Jussim, 2012) but reach r = .25 in the absence of individuating information (Kunda & Thagard, 1996). The more diagnostic individuating information  people have, the less they stereotype (Crawford et al., 2011; Krueger & Rothbart, 1988). Thus, people do not indiscriminately apply their stereotypes to all individual  members of stereotyped groups.” (Funder incidentally talked about this stuff as well in his book Personality Judgment).

One thing worth mentioning in the context of stereotypes is that if you look at stuff like crime data – which sadly not many people do – and you stratify based on stuff like country of origin, then the sub-group differences you observe tend to be very large. Some of the differences you observe between subgroups are not in the order of something like 10%, which is probably the sort of difference which could easily be ignored without major consequences; some subgroup differences can easily be in the order of one or two orders of magnitude. The differences are in some contexts so large as to basically make it downright idiotic to assume there are no differences – it doesn’t make sense, it’s frankly a stupid thing to do. To give an example, in Germany the probability that a random person, about whom you know nothing, has been a suspect in a thievery case is 22% if that random person happens to be of Algerian extraction, whereas it’s only 0,27% if you’re dealing with an immigrant from China. Roughly one in 13 of those Algerians have also been involved in a case of ‘body (bodily?) harm’, which is the case for less than one in 400 of the Chinese immigrants.

v. Assessing Immigrant Integration in Sweden after the May 2013 Riots. Some data from the article:

“Today, about one-fifth of Sweden’s population has an immigrant background, defined as those who were either born abroad or born in Sweden to two immigrant parents. The foreign born comprised 15.4 percent of the Swedish population in 2012, up from 11.3 percent in 2000 and 9.2 percent in 1990 […] Of the estimated 331,975 asylum applicants registered in EU countries in 2012, 43,865 (or 13 percent) were in Sweden. […] More than half of these applications were from Syrians, Somalis, Afghanis, Serbians, and Eritreans. […] One town of about 80,000 people, Södertälje, since the mid-2000s has taken in more Iraqi refugees than the United States and Canada combined.”

“Coupled with […] macroeconomic changes, the largely humanitarian nature of immigrant arrivals since the 1970s has posed challenges of labor market integration for Sweden, as refugees often arrive with low levels of education and transferable skills […] high unemployment rates have disproportionately affected immigrant communities in Sweden. In 2009-10, Sweden had the highest gap between native and immigrant employment rates among OECD countries. Approximately 63 percent of immigrants were employed compared to 76 percent of the native-born population. This 13 percentage-point gap is significantly greater than the OECD average […] Explanations for the gap include less work experience and domestic formal qualifications such as language skills among immigrants […] Among recent immigrants, defined as those who have been in the country for less than five years, the employment rate differed from that of the native born by more than 27 percentage points. In 2011, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that 35 percent of the unemployed registered at the Swedish Public Employment Service were foreign born, up from 22 percent in 2005.”

“As immigrant populations have grown, Sweden has experienced a persistent level of segregation — among the highest in Western Europe. In 2008, 60 percent of native Swedes lived in areas where the majority of the population was also Swedish, and 20 percent lived in areas that were virtually 100 percent Swedish. In contrast, 20 percent of Sweden’s foreign born lived in areas where more than 40 percent of the population was also foreign born.”

vi. Book recommendations. Or rather, author recommendations. A while back I asked ‘the people of SSC’ if they knew of any fiction authors I hadn’t read yet which were both funny and easy to read. I got a lot of good suggestions, and the roughly 20 Dick Francis novels I’ve read during the fall I’ve read as a consequence of that thread.

vii. On the genetic structure of Denmark.

viii. Religious Fundamentalism and Hostility against Out-groups: A Comparison of Muslims and Christians in Western Europe.

“On the basis of an original survey among native Christians and Muslims of Turkish and Moroccan origin in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, this paper investigates four research questions comparing native Christians to Muslim immigrants: (1) the extent of religious fundamentalism; (2) its socio-economic determinants; (3) whether it can be distinguished from other indicators of religiosity; and (4) its relationship to hostility towards out-groups (homosexuals, Jews, the West, and Muslims). The results indicate that religious fundamentalist attitudes are much more widespread among Sunnite Muslims than among native Christians, even after controlling for the different demographic and socio-economic compositions of these groups. […] Fundamentalist believers […] show very high levels of out-group hostility, especially among Muslims.”

ix. Portal: Dinosaurs. It would have been so incredibly awesome to have had access to this kind of stuff back when I was a child. The portal includes links to articles with names like ‘Bone Wars‘ – what’s not to like? Again, awesome!

x. “you can’t determine if something is truly random from observations alone. You can only determine if something is not truly random.” (link) An important insight well expressed.

xi. Chessprogramming. If you’re interested in having a look at how chess programs work, this is a neat resource. The wiki contains lots of links with information on specific sub-topics of interest. Also chess-related: The World Championship match between Carlsen and Karjakin has started. To the extent that I’ll be following the live coverage, I’ll be following Svidler et al.’s coverage on chess24. Robin van Kampen and Eric Hansen – both 2600+ elo GMs – did quite well yesterday, in my opinion.

xii. Justified by More Than Logos Alone (Razib Khan).

“Very few are Roman Catholic because they have read Aquinas’ Five Ways. Rather, they are Roman Catholic, in order of necessity, because God aligns with their deep intuitions, basic cognitive needs in terms of cosmological coherency, and because the church serves as an avenue for socialization and repetitive ritual which binds individuals to the greater whole. People do not believe in Catholicism as often as they are born Catholics, and the Catholic religion is rather well fitted to a range of predispositions to the typical human.”

November 12, 2016 Posted by | books, Chemistry, Chess, data, dating, demographics, genetics, Geography, immigration, Paleontology, papers, Physics, Psychology, random stuff, religion | Leave a comment

Some US immigration data

I have had a look at two sources, the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s annual reports to Congress for the financial years 2013 and 2014. I have posted some data from the reports below. In the cases where the page numbers are not included directly in the screen-caps, all page numbers given below are the page numbers of the pdf version of the documents.

I had some trouble with how to deal with the images included in the post; I hope it looks okay now, at least it does on my laptop – but if it doesn’t, I’m not sure I care enough to try to figure out how to resolve the problem. Anyway, to the data!

chart-ii-3
The one above is the only figure/chart from the 2014 report, but I figured it was worth including here. It’s from page 98 of the report. It’s of some note that, despite the recent drop, 42.8% of the 2014 US arrivals worked/had worked during the year they arrived; in comparison, only 494 of Sweden’s roughly 163.000 asylum seekers who arrived during the year 2015 landed a job that year (link).

All further images/charts below are from the 2013 report.

chart-i-5
(p. 75)

chart-ii-1

It’s noteworthy here how different the US employment gap is to e.g. the employment gap in Denmark. In Denmark the employment rate of refugees with fugitive status who have stayed in the country for 5 years is 34%, and the employment rate of refugees with fugitive status who have stayed in the country for 15 years is 37%, compared to a native employment rate of ~74% (link). But just like in Denmark, in the US it matters a great deal where the refugees are coming from:

table-ii-11

“Since their arrival in the U.S., 59 percent of refugees in the five-year population worked at one point. This rate was highest for refugees from Latin America (85 percent) and lowest for refugees from the Middle East (48 percent), while refugees from South/Southeast Asia (61 percent) and Africa (59 percent) were positioned in between. […] The highest disparity between male and female labor force participation rates was found for respondents from  the Middle East (64.1 percent for males vs. 34.5 percent for females, a gap of 30 points). A sizeable gender gap  was also found among refugees from South/Southeast Asia (24 percentage points) and Africa (18 percentage  points), but there was hardly any gap among Latin American refugees (3 percentage points).  Among all refugee  groups, 71 percent of males were working or looking for work at the time of the 2013 survey, compared with 49  percent of females.” (p.94)

Two tables (both are from page 103 of the 2013 report):

table-ii-16

table-ii-17

When judged by variables such as home ownership and the proportion of people who survive on public assistance, people who have stayed longer do better (Table II-16). But if you consider table II-17, a much larger proportion of the refugees surveyed in 2013 than in 2008 are partially dependent on public assistance, and it seems that a substantially smaller proportion of the refugees living in the US in the year 2013 was totally self-reliant than was the case 5 years earlier. Fortunately the 2013 report has a bit more data on this stuff (p. 107):

table-ii-21

The table has more information on page 108, with more details about specific public assistance programs.Table II-22 includes data on how public assistance utilization has developed over time (it’s clear that utilization rates increased substantially during the half-decade observed):

table-ii-22

Some related comments from the report:

“Use of non-cash assistance was generally higher than cash assistance. This is probably because Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing assistance programs, though available to cash assistance households, also are available more broadly to households without children. SNAP utilization was lowest among Latin Americans (37 percent) but much higher for the other groups, reaching 89 to 91 percent among the refugees from Africa and the Middle East. […] Housing assistance varied by refugee group — as low as 4 percent for Latin American refugees and as high as 32 percent for refugees from South/Southeast Asia in the 2013 survey. In the same period, other refugee groups averaged use of housing assistance between 19 and 31 percent.” (pp. 107-108)

The report includes some specific data on Iraqi refugees – here’s one table from that section:

table-iii-2

The employment rate of the Iraqis increased from 29.8% in the 2009 survey to 41.3% in 2013. However the US female employment rate is still actually not much different from the female employment rates you observe when you look at European data on these topics – just 29%, up from 18.8% in 2009. As a comparison, in the year 2010 the employment rate of Iraqi females living in Denmark was 28% (n=10163) (data from p.55 of the Statistics Denmark publication Indvandrere i Danmark 2011), almost exactly the same as the employment rate of female Iraqis in the US.

Of note in the context of the US data is perhaps also the fact that despite the employment rate going up for females in the time period observed, the labour market participation rate of this group actually decreased between 2009 and 2013, as it went from 42.2% to 38.1%. So more than 3 out of 5 Iraqi female refugees living in the US are outside the labour market, and almost one in four of those that are not are unemployed. A few observations from the report:

“The survey found that the overall EPR [employment rate, US] for the 2007 to 2009 Iraqi refugee group in the 2013 survey9 was 41 percent (55 percent for males and 29 percent for females), a steady increase in the overall rate from 39 percent in the 2012 survey, 36 percent in the 2011 survey, 31 percent in the 2010 survey, and 30 percent in the 2009 survey. As a point of further reference, the EPR for the general U.S. population was 58.5 percent in 2013, about 17 percentage points higher than that of the 2007 to 2009 Iraqi refugee group (41.3 percent). The U.S. male population EPR was nine percentage points higher than the rate for Iraqi males who arrived in the U.S. in 2007 to 2009 (64 percent versus 55 percent), while the rate for the Iraqi females who arrived in the U.S. in 2007 to 2009 was 24 points higher for all U.S. women (53 percent versus 29 percent). The difference between the male and female EPRs among the same group of Iraqi refugees (26 percentage points) also was much larger than the gap between male and female EPRs in the general U.S. population (11 points) […] The overall unemployment rate for the 2007 to 2009 Iraqi refugee group was 22.9 percent in the 2013 survey, about four times higher than that of the general U.S. population (6.5 percent) in 2013” (pp. 114-115).

September 10, 2016 Posted by | data, demographics, economics, immigration | Leave a comment

Random Stuff

i. On the youtube channel of the Institute for Advanced Studies there has been a lot of activity over the last week or two (far more than 100 new lectures have been uploaded, and it seems new uploads are still being added at this point), and I’ve been watching a few of the recently uploaded astrophysics lectures. They’re quite technical, but you can watch them and follow enough of the content to have an enjoyable time despite not understanding everything:


This is a good lecture, very interesting. One major point made early on: “the take-away message is that the most common planet in the galaxy, at least at shorter periods, are planets for which there is no analogue in the solar system. The most common kind of planet in the galaxy is a planet with a radius of two Earth radii.” Another big take-away message is that small planets seem to be quite common (as noted in the conclusions, “16% of Sun-like stars have an Earth-sized planet”).


Of the lectures included in this post this was the one I liked the least; there are too many (‘obstructive’) questions/interactions between lecturer and attendants along the way, and the interactions/questions are difficult to hear/understand. If you consider watching both this lecture and the lecture below, I would say that it would probably be wise to watch the lecture below this one before you watch this one; I concluded that in retrospect some of the observations made early on in the lecture below would have been useful to know about before watching this lecture. (The first half of the lecture below was incidentally to me somewhat easier to follow than was the second half, but especially the first half hour of it is really quite good, despite the bad start (which one can always blame on Microsoft…)).

ii. Words I’ve encountered recently (…or ‘recently’ – it’s been a while since I last posted one of these lists): Divagationsperiphrasis, reedy, architravesettpedipalp, tout, togs, edentulous, moue, tatty, tearaway, prorogue, piscine, fillip, sop, panniers, auxology, roister, prepossessing, cantle, catamite, couth, ordure, biddy, recrudescence, parvenu, scupper, husting, hackle, expatiate, affray, tatterdemalion, eructation, coppice, dekko, scull, fulmination, pollarding, grotty, secateurs, bumf (I must admit that I like this word – it seems fitting, somehow, to use that word for this concept…), durophagy, randy, (brief note to self: Advise people having children who ask me about suggestions for how to name them against using this name (or variants such as Randi), it does not seem like a great idea), effete, apricity, sororal, bint, coition, abaft, eaves, gadabout, lugubriously, retroussé, landlubber, deliquescence, antimacassar, inanition.

iii. “The point of rigour is not to destroy all intuition; instead, it should be used to destroy bad intuition while clarifying and elevating good intuition. It is only with a combination of both rigorous formalism and good intuition that one can tackle complex mathematical problems; one needs the former to correctly deal with the fine details, and the latter to correctly deal with the big picture. Without one or the other, you will spend a lot of time blundering around in the dark (which can be instructive, but is highly inefficient). So once you are fully comfortable with rigorous mathematical thinking, you should revisit your intuitions on the subject and use your new thinking skills to test and refine these intuitions rather than discard them. One way to do this is to ask yourself dumb questions; another is to relearn your field.” (Terry Tao, There’s more to mathematics than rigour and proofs)

iv. A century of trends in adult human height. A figure from the paper (Figure 3 – Change in adult height between the 1896 and 1996 birth cohorts):

elife-13410-fig3-v1

(Click to view full size. WordPress seems to have changed the way you add images to a blog post – if this one is even so annoyingly large, I apologize, I have tried to minimize it while still retaining detail, but the original file is huge). An observation from the paper:

“Men were taller than women in every country, on average by ~11 cm in the 1896 birth cohort and ~12 cm in the 1996 birth cohort […]. In the 1896 birth cohort, the male-female height gap in countries where average height was low was slightly larger than in taller nations. In other words, at the turn of the 20th century, men seem to have had a relative advantage over women in undernourished compared to better-nourished populations.”

I haven’t studied the paper in any detail but intend to do so at a later point in time.

v. I found this paper, on Exercise and Glucose Metabolism in Persons with Diabetes Mellitus, interesting in part because I’ve been very surprised a few times by offhand online statements made by diabetic athletes, who had observed that their blood glucose really didn’t drop all that fast during exercise. Rapid and annoyingly large drops in blood glucose during exercise have been a really consistent feature of my own life with diabetes during adulthood. It seems that there may be big inter-individual differences in terms of the effects of exercise on glucose in diabetics. From the paper:

“Typically, prolonged moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (i.e., 30–70% of one’s VO2max) causes a reduction in glucose concentrations because of a failure in circulating insulin levels to decrease at the onset of exercise.12 During this type of physical activity, glucose utilization may be as high as 1.5 g/min in adolescents with type 1 diabetes13 and exceed 2.0 g/min in adults with type 1 diabetes,14 an amount that quickly lowers circulating glucose levels. Persons with type 1 diabetes have large interindividual differences in blood glucose responses to exercise, although some intraindividual reproducibility exists.15 The wide ranging glycemic responses among individuals appears to be related to differences in pre-exercise blood glucose concentrations, the level of circulating counterregulatory hormones and the type/duration of the activity.2

August 13, 2016 Posted by | astronomy, demographics, diabetes, language, Lectures, mathematics, Physics, random stuff | Leave a comment

Random stuff

i. A very long but entertaining chess stream by Peter Svidler was recently uploaded on the Chess24 youtube account – go watch it here, if you like that kind of stuff. The fact that it’s five hours long is a reason to rejoice, not a reason to think that it’s ‘too long to be watchable’ – watch it in segments…

People interested in chess might also be interested to know that Magnus Carlsen has made an account on the ICC on which he has played, which was a result of his recent participation in the ICC Open 2016 (link). A requirement for participation in the tournament was that people had to know whom they were playing against (so there would be no ultra-strong GMs playing using anonymous accounts in the finals – they could use accounts with strange names, but people had to know whom they were playing), so now we know that Magnus Carlsen has played under the nick ‘stoptryharding’ on the ICC. Carlsen did not win the tournament as he lost to Grischuk in the semi-finals. Some very strong players were incidentally kicked out in the qualifiers, including Nepomniachtchi, the current #5 in the world on the FIDE live blitz ratings.

ii. A lecture:

iii. Below I have added some new words I’ve encountered, most of them in books I’ve read (I have not spent much time on vocabulary.com recently). I’m sure if I were to look all of them up on vocabulary.com some (many?) of them would not be ‘new’ to me, but that’s not going to stop me from including them here (I included the word ‘inculcate’ below for a reason…). Do take note of the spelling of some of these words – some of them are tricky ones included in Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right, which people often get wrong for one reason or another:

Conurbation, epizootic, equable, circumvallation, contravallation, exiguous, forbear, louche, vituperative, thitherto, congeries, inculcate, obtrude, palter, idiolect, hortatory, enthalpy (see also wiki, or Khan Academy), trove, composograph, indite, mugginess, apodosis, protasis, invidious, inveigle, inflorescence, kith, anatopism, laudation, luxuriant, maleficence, misogamy (I did not know this was a word, and I’ll definitely try to remember it/that it is…), obsolescent, delible, overweening, parlay (this word probably does not mean what you think it means…), perspicacity, perspicuity, temblor, precipitous, quinquennial, razzmatazz, turpitude, vicissitude, vitriform.

iv. Some quotes from this excellent book review, by Razib Khan:

“relatively old-fashioned anti-religious sentiments […] are socially acceptable among American Left-liberals so long as their targets are white Christians (“punching up”) but more “problematic” and perhaps even “Islamophobic” when the invective is hurled at Muslim “people of color” (all Muslims here being tacitly racialized as nonwhite). […] Muslims, as marginalized people, are now considered part of a broader coalition on the progressive Left. […] most Left-liberals who might fall back on the term Islamophobia, don’t actually take Islam, or religion generally, seriously. This explains the rapid and strident recourse toward a racial analogy for Islamic identity, as that is a framework that modern Left-liberals and progressives have internalized and mastered. The problem with this is that Islam is not a racial or ethnic identity, it is a set of beliefs and practices. Being a Muslim is not about being who you are in a passive sense, but it is a proactive expression of a set of ideas about the world and your behavior within the world. This category error renders much of Left-liberal and progressive analysis of Islam superficial, and likely wrong.”

“To get a genuine understanding of a topic as broad and boundless as Islam one needs to both set aside emotional considerations, as Ben Affleck can not, and dig deeply into the richer and more complex empirical texture, which Sam Harris has not.”

“One of the most obnoxious memes in my opinion during the Obama era has been the popularization of the maxim that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It is smug and self-assured in its presentation. […] too often it becomes an excuse for lazy thinking and shallow prognostication. […] Modern Western liberals have a particular idea of what a religion is, and so naturally know that Islam is in many ways just like United Methodism, except with a hijab and iconoclasm. But a Western liberalism that does not take cultural and religious difference seriously is not serious, and yet all too often it is what we have on offer. […] On both the American Left and Right there is a tendency to not even attempt to understand Islam. Rather, stylized models are preferred which lead to conclusions which are already arrived at.”

“It’s fine to be embarrassed by reality. But you still need to face up to reality. Where Hamid, Harris, and I all start is the fact that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims do not hold views on social issues that are aligned with the Muslim friends of Hollywood actors. […] Before the Green Revolution I told people to expect there to be a Islamic revival, as 86 percent of Egyptians polled agree with the killing of apostates. This is not a comfortable fact for me, as I am technically an apostate.* But it is a fact. Progressives who exhibit a hopefulness about human nature, and confuse majoritarian democracy with liberalism and individual rights, often don’t want to confront these facts. […] Their polar opposites are convinced anti-Muslims who don’t need any survey data, because they know that Muslims have particular views a priori by virtue of them being Muslims. […] There is a glass half-full/half-empty aspect to the Turkish data. 95 percent of Turks do not believe apostates should be killed. This is not surprising, I know many Turkish atheists personally. But, 5 percent is not a reassuring fraction as someone who is personally an apostate. The ideal, and frankly only acceptable, proportion is basically 0 percent.”

“Harris would give a simple explanation for why Islam sanctions the death penalty for apostates. To be reductive and hyperbolic, his perspective seems to be that Islam is a totalitarian cult, and its views are quite explicit in the Quran and the Hadith. Harris is correct here, and the views of the majority of Muslims in Egypt (and many other Muslim nations) has support in Islamic law. The consensus historical tradition is that apostates are subject to the death penalty. […] the very idea of accepting atheists is taboo in most Arab countries”.

“Christianity which Christians hold to be fundamental and constitutive of their religion would have seemed exotic and alien even to St. Paul. Similarly, there is a much smaller body of work which makes the same case for Islam.

A précis of this line of thinking is that non-Muslim sources do not make it clear that there was in fact a coherent new religion which burst forth out of south-central Arabia in the 7th century. Rather, many aspects of Islam’s 7th century were myths which developed over time, initially during the Umayyad period, but which eventually crystallized and matured into orthodoxy under the Abbasids, over a century after the death of Muhammad. This model holds that the Arab conquests were actually Arab conquests, not Muslim ones, and that a predominantly nominally Syrian Christian group of Arab tribes eventually developed a new religion to justify their status within the empire which they built, and to maintain their roles within it. The mawali (convert) revolution under the Abbasids in the latter half of the 8th century transformed a fundamentally Arab ethnic sect, into a universal religion. […] The debate about the historical Jesus only emerged when the public space was secularized enough so that such discussions would not elicit violent hostility from the populace or sanction form the authorities. [T]he fact is that the debate about the historical Muhammad is positively dangerous and thankless. That is not necessarily because there is that much more known about Muhammad than Jesus, it is because post-Christian society allows for an interrogation of Christian beliefs which Islamic society does not allow for in relation to Islam’s founding narratives.”

“When it comes to understanding religion you need to start with psychology. In particular, cognitive psychology. This feeds into the field of evolutionary anthropology in relation to the study of religion. Probably the best introduction to this field is Scott Atran’s dense In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. Another representative work is Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t. This area of scholarship purports to explain why religion is ubiquitous, and, why as a phenomenon it tends to exhibit a particular distribution of characteristics.

What cognitive psychology suggests is that there is a strong disjunction between the verbal scripts that people give in terms of what they say they believe, and the internal Gestalt mental models which seem to actually be operative in terms of informing how they truly conceptualize the world. […] Muslims may aver that their god is omniscient and omnipresent, but their narrative stories in response to life circumstances seem to imply that their believe god may not see or know all things at all moments.

The deep problem here is understood [by] religious professionals: they’ve made their religion too complex for common people to understand without their intermediation. In fact, I would argue that theologians themselves don’t really understand what they’re talking about. To some extent this is a feature, not a bug. If the God of Abraham is transformed into an almost incomprehensible being, then religious professionals will have perpetual work as interpreters. […] even today most Muslims can not read the Quran. Most Muslims do not speak Arabic. […] The point isn’t to understand, the point is that they are the Word of God, in the abstract. […] The power of the Quran is that the Word of God is presumably potent. Comprehension is secondary to the command.”

“the majority of the book […] is focused on political and social facts in the Islamic world today. […] That is the best thing about Islamic Exceptionalism, it will put more facts in front of people who are fact-starved, and theory rich. That’s good.”

“the term ‘fundamentalist’ in the context of islam isn’t very informative.” (from the comments).

Below I have added some (very) superficially related links of my own, most of them ‘data-related’ (in general I’d say that I usually find ‘raw data’ more interesting than ‘big ideas’):

*My short review of Theological Correctness, one of the books Razib mentions.

*Of almost 163,000 people who applied for asylum in Sweden last year, less than 500 landed a job (news article).

*An analysis of Danish data conducted by the Rockwool Foundation found that for family-reunificated spouses/relatives etc. to fugitives, 22 % were employed after having lived in Denmark for five years (the family-reunificated individuals, that is, not the fugitives themselves). Only one in three of the family-reunificated individuals had managed to find a job after having stayed here for fifteen years. The employment rate of family-reunificated to immigrants is 49 % for people who have been in the country for 5 years, and the number is below 60 % after 15 years. In Denmark, the employment rate of immigrants from non-Western countries was 47,7 % in November 2013, compared to 73,8 % for people of (…’supposedly’, see also my comments and observations here) Danish origin, according to numbers from Statistics Denmark (link). When you look at the economic performance of the people with fugitive status themselves, 34 % are employed after 5 years, but that number is almost unchanged a decade later – only 37 % are employed after they’ve stayed in Denmark for 15 years.
Things of course sometimes look even worse at the local level than these numbers reflect, because those averages are, well, averages; for example of the 244 fugitives and family-reunificated who had arrived in the Danish Elsinore Municipality within the last three years, exactly 5 of them were in full-time employment.

*Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal (“The report estimated that 1,400 children had been sexually abused in the town between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by gangs of British-Pakistani Muslim men […] Because most of the perpetrators were of Pakistani heritage, several council staff described themselves as being nervous about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist […] It was reported in June 2015 that about 300 suspects had been identified.”)

*A memorial service for the terrorist and murderer Omar El-Hussein who went on a shooting rampage in Copenhagen last year (link) gathered 1500 people, and 600-700 people also participated at the funeral (Danish link).

*Pew asked muslims in various large countries whether they thought ‘Suicide Bombing of Civilian Targets to Defend Islam [can] be Justified?’ More than a third of French muslims think that it can, either ‘often/sometimes’ (16 %) or ‘rarely’ (19 %). Roughly a fourth of British muslims think so as well (15 % often/sometimes, 9 % rarely). Of course in countries like Jordan, Nigeria, and Egypt the proportion of people who do not reply ‘never’ is above 50 %. In such contexts people often like to focus on what the majorities think, but I found it interesting to note that in only 2 of 11 countries (Germany – 7 %, & the US – 8 %) queried was it less than 10 % of muslims who thought suicide bombings were not either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ justified. Those numbers are some years old. Newer numbers (from non-Western countries only, unfortunately) tell us that e.g. fewer than two out of five Egyptians (38%) and fewer than three out of five (58%) Turks would answer ‘never’ when asked this question just a couple of years ago, in 2014.

*A few non-data related observations here towards the end. I do think Razib is right that cognitive psychology is a good starting point if you want to ‘understand religion’, but a more general point I would make is that there are many different analytical approaches to these sorts of topics which one might employ, and I think it’s important that one does not privilege any single analytical framework over the others (just to be clear, I’m not saying that Razib’s doing this); different approaches may yield different insights, perhaps at different analytical levels, and combining different approaches is likely to be very useful in order to get ‘the bigger picture’, or at least to not overlook important details. ‘History’, broadly defined, may provide one part of the explanatory model, cognitive psychology another part, mathematical anthropology (e.g. stuff like this) probably also has a role to play, etc., etc.. Survey data, economic figures, scientific literatures on a wide variety of topics like trust, norms, migration analysis, and conflict studies, e.g. those dealing with civil wars, may all help elucidate important questions of interest, if not by adding relevant data then by providing additional methodological approaches/scaffoldings which might be fruitfully employed to make sense of the data that is available.

v. Statistical Portrait of Hispanics in the United States.

vi. The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence. Autistics may be smarter than people have been led to believe:

“Autistics are presumed to be characterized by cognitive impairment, and their cognitive strengths (e.g., in Block Design performance) are frequently interpreted as low-level by-products of high-level deficits, not as direct manifestations of intelligence. Recent attempts to identify the neuroanatomical and neurofunctional signature of autism have been positioned on this universal, but untested, assumption. We therefore assessed a broad sample of 38 autistic children on the preeminent test of fluid intelligence, Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Their scores were, on average, 30 percentile points, and in some cases more than 70 percentile points, higher than their scores on the Wechsler scales of intelligence. Typically developing control children showed no such discrepancy, and a similar contrast was observed when a sample of autistic adults was compared with a sample of nonautistic adults. We conclude that intelligence has been underestimated in autistics.”

I recall that back when I was diagnosed I was subjected to a battery of different cognitive tests of various kinds, and a few of those tests I recall thinking were very difficult, compared to how difficult they somehow ‘ought to be’ – it was like ‘this should be an easy task for someone who has the mental hardware to solve this type of problem, but I don’t seem to have that piece of hardware; I have no idea how to manipulate these objects in my head so that I might answer that question’. This was an at least somewhat unfamiliar feeling to me in a testing context, and I definitely did not have this experience when doing the Mensa admissions test later on, which was based on Raven’s matrices. Despite the fact that all IQ tests are supposed to measure pretty much the same thing I do not find it hard to believe that there are some details here which may complicate matters a bit in specific contexts, e.g. for people whose brains may not be structured quite the same way ‘ordinary brains’ are (to put it very bluntly). But of course this is just one study and a few personal impressions – more research is needed, etc. (Even though the effect size is huge.)

Slightly related to the above is also this link – I must admit that I find the title question quite interesting. I find it very difficult to picture characters featuring in books I’m reading in my mind, and so usually when I read books I don’t form any sort of coherent mental image of what the character looks like. It doesn’t matter to me, I don’t care. I have no idea if this is how other people read (fiction) books, or if they actually imagine what the characters look like more or less continuously while those characters are described doing the things they might be doing; to me it would be just incredibly taxing to keep even a simplified mental model of the physical attributes of a character in my mind for even a minute. I can recall specific traits like left-handedness and similar without much difficulty if I think the trait might have relevance to the plot, which has helped me while reading e.g. Agatha Christie novels before, but actively imagining what people look like in my mind I just find very difficult. I find it weird to think that some people might do something like that almost automatically, without thinking about it.

vii. Computer Science Resources. I recently shared the link with a friend, but of course she was already aware of the existence of this resource. Some people reading along here may not be, so I’ll include the link here. It has a lot of stuff.

June 8, 2016 Posted by | books, Chess, Computer science, data, demographics, Psychology, random stuff, religion | Leave a comment

Civil Wars (II)

Here’s my first post about the book. In this post I’ll continue my coverage where I left off in my first post. A few of the chapters covered below I did not think very highly of, but other parts of the coverage are about as good as you could expect (given problems such as e.g. limited data etc.). Some of the stuff I found quite interesting. As people will note in the coverage below the book does address the religious dimension to some extent, though in my opinion far from to the extent that the variable deserves. An annoying aspect of the chapter on religion was to me that although the author of the chapter includes data which to me cannot but lead to some very obvious conclusions, the author seems to be very careful avoiding drawing those conclusions explicitly. It’s understandable, but still annoying. For related reasons I also got annoyed at him for presumably deliberately completely disregarding which seems in the context of his own coverage to be an actually very important component of Huntington’s thesis, that conflict at the micro level seems to very often be between muslims and ‘the rest’. Here’s a relevant quote from Clash…, p. 255:

“ethnic conflicts and fault line wars have not been evenly distributed among the world’s civilizations. Major fault line fighting has occurred between Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia and between Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka, while less violent conflicts took place between non-Muslim groups in a few other places. The overwhelming majority of fault line conflicts, however, have taken place along the boundary looping across Eurasia and Africa that separates Muslims from non-Muslims. While at the macro or global level of world politics the primary clash of civilizations is between the West and the rest, at the micro or local level it is between Islam and the others.”

This point, that conflict at the local level – which seems to be the type of conflict level you’re particularly interested in if you’re researching civil wars, as also argued in previous chapters in the coverage – according to Huntington seems to be very islam-centric, is completely overlooked (ignored?) in the handbook chapter, and if you haven’t read Huntington and your only exposure to him is through the chapter in question you’ll probably conclude that Huntington was wrong, because that seems to be the conclusion the author draws, arguing that other models are more convincing (I should add here that these other models do seem useful, at least in terms of providing (superficial) explanations; the point is just that I feel the author is misrepresenting Huntington and I dislike this). Although there are parts of the coverage in that chapter where I feel that it’s obvious the author and I do not agree, I should note that the fact that he talks about the data and the empirical research makes up for a lot of other stuff.

Anyway, on to the coverage – it’s perhaps worth noting, in light of the introductory remarks above, that the post has stuff on a lot of things besides religion, e.g. the role of natural resources, regime types, migration, and demographics.

“Elites seeking to end conflict must: (1) lead followers to endorse and support peaceful solutions; (2) contain spoilers and extremists and prevent them from derailing the process of peacemaking; and (3) forge coalitions with more moderate members of the rival ethnic group(s) […]. An important part of the two-level nature of the ethnic conflict is that each of the elites supporting the peace process be able to present themselves, and the resulting terms of the peace, as a “win” for their ethnic community. […] A strategy that a state may pursue to resolve ethnic conflict is to co-opt elites from the ethnic communities demanding change […]. By satisfying elites, it reduces the ability of the aggrieved ethnic community to mobilize. Such a process of co-option can also be used to strengthen ethnic moderates in order to undermine ethnic extremists. […] the co-opted elites need to be careful to be seen as still supporting ethnic demands or they may lose all credibility in their respective ethnic community. If this occurs, the likely outcome is that more extreme ethnic elites will be able to capture the ethnic community, possibly leading to greater violence.
It is important to note that “spoilers,” be they an individual or a small sub-group within an ethnic community, can potentially derail any peace process, even if the leaders and masses support peace (Stedman, 2001).”

“Three separate categories of international factors typically play into identity and ethnic conflict. The first is the presence of an ethnic community across state boundaries. Thus, a single community exists in more than one state and its demands become international. […] This division of an ethnic community can occur when a line is drawn geographically through a community […], when a line is drawn and a group moves into the new state […], or when a diaspora moves a large population from one state to another […] or when sub-groups of an ethnic community immigrate to the developed world […] When ethnic communities cross state boundaries, the potential for one state to support an ethnic community in the other state exists. […] There is also the potential for ethnic communities to send support to a conflict […] or to lobby their government to intervene […]. Ethnic groups may also form extra-state militias and cross international borders. Sometimes these rebel groups can be directly or indirectly sponsored by state governments, leading to a very complex situation […] A second set of possible international factors is non-ethnic international intervention. A powerful state may decide to intervene in an ethnic conflict for a variety of reasons, ranging from humanitarian support, to peacekeeping, to outright invasion […] The third and last factor is the commitment of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or third-party mediators to a conflict. […] The record of international interventions in ethnic civil wars is quite mixed. There are many difficulties associated with international action [and] international groups cannot actually change the underlying root of the ethnic conflict (Lake and Rothchild, 1998; Kaufman, 1996).”

“A relatively simple way to think of conflict onset is to think that for a rebellion to occur two conditions need to be satisfactorily fulfilled: There must be a motivation and there must be an opportunity to rebel.3 First, the rebels need a motive. This can be negative – a grievance against the existing state of affairs – or positive – a desire to capture resource rents. Second, potential rebels need to be able to achieve their goal: The realization of their desires may be blocked by the lack of financial means. […] Work by Collier and Hoeffler (1998, 2004) was crucial in highlighting the economic motivation behind civil conflicts. […] Few conflicts, if any, can be characterized purely as “resource conflicts.” […] It is likely that few groups are solely motivated by resource looting, at least in the lower rank level. What is important is that valuable natural resources create opportunities for conflicts. To feed, clothe, and arm its members, a rebel group needs money. Unless the rebel leaders are able to raise sufficient funds, a conflict is unlikely to start no matter how severe the grievances […] As a consequence, feasibility of conflict – that is, valuable natural resources providing opportunity to engage in violent conflict – has emerged as a key to understanding the relation between valuable resources and conflict.”

“It is likely that some natural resources are more associated with conflict than others. Early studies on armed civil conflict used resource measures that aggregated different types of resources together. […] With regard to financing conflict start-up and warfare the most salient aspect is probably the ease with which a resource can be looted. Lootable resources can be extracted with simple methods by individuals or small groups, are easy to transport, and can be smuggled across borders with limited risks. Examples of this type of resources are alluvial gemstones and gold. By contrast, deep-shaft minerals, oil, and natural gas are less lootable and thus less likely sources of financing. […] Using comprehensive datasets on all armed civil conflicts in the world, natural resource production, and other relevant aspects such as political regime, economic performance, and ethnic composition, researchers have established that at least some high-value natural resources are related to higher risk of conflict onset. Especially salient in this respect seem to be oil and secondary diamonds[7] […] The results regarding timber […] and cultivation of narcotics […] are inconclusive. […] [An] important conclusion is that natural resources should be considered individually and not lumped together. Diamonds provide an illustrative example: the geological form of the diamond deposit is related to its effect on conflict. Secondary diamonds – the more lootable form of two deposit types – makes conflict more likely, longer, and more severe. Primary diamonds on the other hand are generally not related to conflict.”

“Analysis on conflict duration and severity confirm that location is a salient factor: resources matter for duration and severity only when located in the region where the conflict is taking place […] That the location of natural resources matters has a clear and important implication for empirical conflict research: relying on country-level aggregates can lead to wrong conclusions about the role of natural resources in armed civil conflict. As a consequence of this, there has been effort to collect location-specific data on oil, gas, drug cultivation, and gemstones”.

“a number of prominent studies of ethnic conflict have suggested that when ethnic groups grow at different rates, this may lead to fears of an altered political balance, which in turn might cause political instability and violent conflict […]. There is ample anecdotal evidence for such a relationship [but unfortunately little quantitative research…]. The civil war in Lebanon, for example, has largely been attributed to a shift in the delicate ethnic balance in that state […]. Further, in the early 1990s, radical Serb leaders were agitating for the secession of “Serbian” areas in Bosnia-Herzegovina by instigating popular fears that Serbs would soon be outnumbered by a growing Muslim population heading for the establishment of a Shari’a state”.

“[One] part of the demography-conflict literature has explored the role of population movements. Most of this literature […] treats migration and refugee flows as a consequence of conflict rather than a potential cause. Some scholars, however, have noted that migration, and refugee migration in particular, can spur the spread of conflict both between and within states […]. Existing work suggests that environmentally induced migration can lead to conflict in receiving areas due to competition for scarce resources and economic opportunities, ethnic tensions when migrants are from different ethnic groups, and exacerbation of socioeconomic “fault lines” […] Salehyan and Gleditsch (2006) point to spill-over effects, in the sense that mass refugee migration might spur tensions in neighboring or receiving states by imposing an economic burden and causing political stability [sic]. […] Based on a statistical analysis of refugees from neighboring countries and civil war onset during the period 1951–2001, they find that countries that experience an influx of refugees from neighboring states are significantly more likely to experience wars themselves. […] While the youth bulge hypothesis [large groups of young males => higher risk of violence/war/etc.] in general is supported by empirical evidence, indicating that countries and areas with large youth cohorts are generally at a greater risk of low-intensity conflict, the causal pathways relating youth bulges to increased conflict propensity remain largely unexplored quantitatively. When it comes to the demographic factors which have so far received less attention in terms of systematic testing – skewed sex ratios, differential ethnic growth, migration, and urbanization – the evidence is somewhat mixed […] a clear challenge with regard to the study of demography and conflict pertains to data availability and reliability. […] Countries that are undergoing armed conflict are precisely those for which we need data, but also those in which census-taking is hampered by violence.”

“Most research on the duration of civil war find that civil wars in democracies tend to be longer than other civil wars […] Research on conflict severity finds some evidence that democracies tend to see fewer battledeaths and are less likely to target civilians, suggesting that democratic institutions may induce some important forms of restraints in armed conflict […] Many researchers have found that democratization often precedes an increase in the risk of the onset of armed conflict. Hegre et al. (2001), for example, find that the risk of civil war onset is almost twice as high a year after a regime change as before, controlling for the initial level of democracy […] Many argue that democratic reforms come about when actors are unable to rule unilaterally and are forced to make concessions to an opposition […] The actual reforms to the political system we observe as democratization often do not suffice to reestablish an equilibrium between actors and the institutions that regulate their interactions; and in its absence, a violent power struggle can follow. Initial democratic reforms are often only partial, and may fail to satisfy the full demands of civil society and not suffice to reduce the relevant actors’ motivation to resort to violence […] However, there is clear evidence that the sequence matters and that the effect [the increased risk of civil war after democratization, US] is limited to the first election. […] civil wars […] tend to be settled more easily in states with prior experience of democracy […] By our count, […] 75 percent of all annual observations of countries with minor or major armed conflicts occur in non-democracies […] Democracies have an incidence of major armed conflict of only 1 percent, whereas nondemocracies have a frequency of 5.6 percent.”

“Since the Iranian revolution in the late 1970s, religious conflicts and the rise of international terror organizations have made it difficult to ignore the facts that religious factors can contribute to conflict and that religious actors can cause or participate in domestic conflicts. Despite this, comprehensive studies of religion and domestic conflict remain relatively rare. While the reasons for this rarity are complex there are two that stand out. First, for much of the twentieth century the dominant theory in the field was secularization theory, which predicted that religion would become irrelevant and perhaps extinct in modern times. While not everyone agreed with this extreme viewpoint, there was a consensus that religious influences on politics and conflict were a waning concern. […] This theory was dominant in sociology for much of the twentieth century and effectively dominated political science, under the title of modernization theory, for the same period. […] Today supporters of secularization theory are clearly in the minority. However, one of their legacies has been that research on religion and conflict is a relatively new field. […] Second, as recently as 2006, Brian Grim and Roger Finke lamented that “religion receives little attention in international quantitative studies. Including religion in cross-national studies requires data, and high-quality data are in short supply” […] availability of the necessary data to engage in quantitative research on religion and civil wars is a relatively recent development.”

“[Some] studies [have] found that conflicts involving actors making religious demands – such as demanding a religious state or a significant increase in religious legislation – were less likely to be resolved with negotiated settlements; a negotiated settlement is possible if the settlement focused on the non-religious aspects of the conflict […] One study of terrorism found that terror groups which espouse religious ideologies tend to be more violent (Henne, 2012). […] The clear majority of quantitative studies of religious conflict focus solely on inter-religious conflicts. Most of them find religious identity to influence the extent of conflict […] but there are some studies which dissent from this finding”.

“Terror is most often selected by groups that (1) have failed to achieve their goals through peaceful means, (2) are willing to use violence to achieve their goals, and (3) do not have the means for higher levels of violence.”

“the PITF dataset provides an accounting of the number of domestic conflicts that occurred in any given year between 1960 and 2009. […] Between 1960 and 2009 the modified dataset includes 817 years of ethnic war, 266 years of genocides/politicides, and 477 years of revolutionary wars. […] Cases were identified as religious or not religious based on the following categorization:
1 Not Religious.
2 Religious Identity Conflict: The two groups involved in the conflict belong to different religions or different denominations of the same religion.[11]
3 Religious Wars: The two sides of the conflict belong to the same religion but the description of the conflict provided by the PITF project identifies religion as being an issue in the conflict. This typically includes challenges by religious fundamentalists to more secular states. […]
The results show that both numerically and as a proportion of all conflict, religious state failures (which include both religious identity conflicts and religious wars) began increasing in the mid-1970s. […] As a proportion of all conflict, religious state failures continued to increase and became a majority of all state failures in 2002. From 2002 onward, religious state failures were between 55 percent and 62 percent of all state failures in any given year.”

“Between 2002 and 2009, eight of 12 new state failures were religious. All but one of the new religious state failures were ongoing as of 2009. These include:
• 2002: A rebellion in the Muslim north of the Ivory Coast (ended in 2007)
• 2003: The beginning of the Sunni–Shia violent conflict in Iraq (ongoing)
• 2003: The resumption of the ethnic war in the Sudan [97% muslims, US] (ongoing)
• 2004: Muslim militants challenged Pakistan’s government in South and North Waziristan. This has been followed by many similar attacks (ongoing)
• 2004: Outbreak of violence by Muslims in southern Thailand (ongoing)
• 2004: In Yemen [99% muslims, US], followers of dissident cleric Husain Badr al-Din al-Huthi create a stronghold in Saada. Al-Huthi was killed in September 2004, but serious fighting begins again in early 2005 (ongoing)
• 2007: Ethiopia’s invasion of southern Somalia causes a backlash in the Muslim (ethnic- Somali) Ogaden region (ongoing)
• 2008: Islamist militants in the eastern Trans-Caucasus region of Russia bordering on Georgia (Chechnya, Dagestan, and Ingushetia) reignited their violent conflict against Russia[12] (ongoing)” [my bold]

“There are few additional studies which engage in this type of longitudinal analysis. Perhaps the most comprehensive of such studies is presented in Toft et al.’s (2011) book God’s Century based on data collected by Toft. They found that religious conflicts – defined as conflicts with a religious content – rose from 19 percent of all civil wars in the 1940s to about half of civil wars during the first decade of the twenty-first century. Of these religious conflicts, 82 percent involved Muslims. This analysis includes only 135 civil wars during this period. The lower number is due to a more restrictive definition of civil war which includes at least 1,000 battle deaths. This demonstrates that the findings presented above also hold when looking at the most violent of civil wars.” [my bold]

April 22, 2015 Posted by | anthropology, books, data, demographics, Geography, history, religion | Leave a comment

Stuff/Links/Open Thread

i. National Health Statistics Reports, Number 49, March 22, 2012 – First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth.

“This report shows trends and group differences in current marital status, with a focus on first marriages among women and men aged 15–44 years in the United States. Trends and group differences in the timing and duration of first marriages are also discussed. […] The analyses presented in this report are based on a nationally representative sample of 12,279 women and 10,403 men aged 15–44 years in the household population of the United States.”

“In 2006–2010, […] median age at first marriage was 25.8 for women and 28.3 for men.”

“Among women, 68% of unions formed in 1997–2001 began as a cohabitation rather than as a marriage (8). If entry into any type of union, marriage or cohabitation, is taken into account, then the timing of a first union occurs at roughly the same point in the life course as marriage did in the past (9). Given the place of cohabitation in contemporary union formation, descriptions of marital behavior, particularly those concerning trends over time, are more complete when cohabitation is also measured. […] Trends in the current marital statuses of women using the 1982, 1995, 2002, and 2006–2010 NSFG indicate that the percentage of women who were currently in a first marriage decreased over the past several decades, from 44% in 1982 to 36% in 2006–2010 […]. At the same time, the percentage of women who were currently cohabiting increased steadily from 3.0% in 1982 to 11% in 2006– 2010. In addition, the proportion of women aged 15–44 who were never married at the time of interview increased from 34% in 1982 to 38% in 2006–2010.”

“In 2006–2010, the probability of first marriage by age 25 was 44% for women compared with 59% in 1995, a decrease of 25%. By age 35, the probability of first marriage was 84% in 1995 compared with 78% in 2006–2010 […] By age 40, the difference in the probability of age at first marriage for women was not significant between 1995 (86%) and 2006–2010 (84%). These findings suggest that between 1995 and 2006– 2010, women married for the first time at older ages; however, this delay was not apparent by age 40.”

“In 2006–2010, the probability of a first marriage lasting at least 10 years was 68% for women and 70% for men. Looking at 20 years, the probability that the first marriages of women and men will survive was 52% for women and 56% for men in 2006–2010. These levels are virtually identical to estimates based on vital statistics from the early 1970s (24). For women, there was no significant change in the probability of a first marriage lasting 20 years between the 1995 NSFG (50%) and the 2006–2010 NSFG (52%)”

“Women who had no births when they married for the first time had a higher probability of their marriage surviving 20 years (56%) compared with women who had one or more births at the time of first marriage (33%). […] Looking at spousal characteristics, women whose first husbands had been previously married (38%) had a lower probability of their first marriage lasting 20 years compared with women whose first husband had never been married before (54%). Women whose first husband had children from previous relationships had a lower probability that their first marriage would last 20 years (37%) compared with first husbands who had no other children (54%). For men, […] patterns of first marriage survival […] are similar to those shown for women for marriages that survived up to 15 years.”

“These data show trends that are consistent with broad demographic changes in the American family that have occurred in the United States over the last several decades. One such trend is an increase in the time spent unmarried among women and men. For women, there was a continued decrease in the percentage currently married for the first time — and an increase in the percent currently cohabiting — in 2006–2010 compared with earlier years. For men, there was also an increase in the percentage unmarried and in the percentage currently cohabiting between 2002 and 2006–2010. Another trend is an increase in the age at first marriage for women and men, with men continuing to marry for the first time at older ages than women. […] Previous research suggests that women with more education and better economic prospects are more likely to delay first marriage to older ages, but are ultimately more likely to become married and to stay married […]. Data from the 2006–2010 NSFG support these findings”

ii. Involuntary Celibacy: A life course analysis (review). This is not a link to the actual paper – the paper is not freely available, which is why I do not link to it – but rather a link to a report talking about what’s in that paper. However I found some of the stuff interesting:

“A member of an on-line discussion group for involuntary celibates approached the first author of the paper via email to ask about research on involuntary celibacy. It soon became apparent that little had been done, and so the discussion group volunteered to be interviewed and a research team was put together. An initial questionnaire was mailed to 35 group members, and they got a return rate of 85%. They later posted it to a web page so that other potential respondents had access to it. Eventually 60 men and 22 women took the survey.”

“Most were between the ages of 25-34, 28% were married or living with a partner, 89% had attended or completed college. Professionals (45%) and students (16%) were the two largest groups. 85% of the sample was white, 89% were heterosexual. 70% lived in the U.S. and the rest primarily in Western Europe, Canada and Australia. […] the value of this research lies in the rich descriptive data obtained about the lives of involuntary celibates, a group about which little is known. […] The questionnaire contained 13 categorical, close-ended questions assessing demographic data such as age, sex, marital status, living arrangement, income, education, employment type, area of residence, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious preference, political views, and time spent on the computer. 58 open-ended questions investigated such areas as past sexual experiences, current relationships, initiating relationships, sexuality and celibacy, nonsexual relationships and the consequences of celibacy. They started out by asking about childhood experiences, progressed to questions about teen and early adult years and finished with questions about current status and the effects of celibacy.”

“78% of this sample had discussed sex with friends, 84% had masturbated as teens. The virgins and singles, however, differed from national averages in their dating and sexual experiences.”

“91% of virgins and 52 % of singles had never dated as teenagers. Males reported hesitancy in initiating dates, and females reporting a lack of invitations by males. For those who did date, their experiences tended to be very limited. Only 29% of virgins reported first sexual experiences that involved other people, and they frequently reported no sexual activity at all except for masturbation. Singles were more likely than virgins to have had an initial sexual experience that involved other people (76%), but they tended to report that they were dissatisfied with the experience. […] While most of the sample had discussed sex with friends and masturbated as teens, most virgins and singles did not date. […] Virgins and singles may have missed important transitions, and as they got older, their trajectories began to differ from those of their age peers. Patterns of sexuality in young adulthood are significantly related to dating, steady dating and sexual experience in adolescence. It is rare for a teenager to initiate sexual activity outside of a dating relationship. While virginity and lack of experience are fairly common in teenagers and young adults, by the time these respondents reached their mid-twenties, they reported feeling left behind by age peers. […] Even for the heterosexuals in the study, it appears that lack of dating and sexual experimentation in the teen years may be precursors to problems in adult sexual relationships.”

“Many of the virgins reported that becoming celibate involved a lack of sexual and interpersonal experience at several different transition points in adolescence and young adulthood. They never or rarely dated, had little experience with interpersonal sexual activity, and had never had sexual intercourse. […] In contrast, partnered celibates generally became sexually inactive by a very different process. All had initially been sexually active with their partners, but at some point stopped. At the time of the survey, sexual intimacy no longer or very rarely occurred in their relationships. The majority of them (70%) started out having satisfactory relationships, but they slowly stopped having sex as time went on.”

“shyness was a barrier to developing and maintaining relationships for many of the respondents. Virgins (94%) and singles (84%) were more likely to report shyness than were partnered respondents (20%). The men (89%) were more likely to report being shy than women (77%). 41% of virgins and 23% of singles reported an inability to relate to others socially. […] 1/3 of the respondents thought their weight, appearance, or physical characteristics were obstacles to attracting potential partners. 47% of virgins and 56% of singles mentioned these factors, compared to only 9% of partnered people. […] Many felt that their sexual development had somehow stalled in an earlier stage of life; feeling different from their peers and feeling like they will never catch up. […] All respondents perceived their lack of sexual activity in a negative light and in all likelihood, the relationship between involuntary celibacy and unhappiness, anger and depression is reciprocal, with involuntary celibacy contributing to negative feelings, but these negative feelings also causing people to feel less self-confident and less open to sexual opportunities when they occur. The longer the duration of the celibacy, the more likely our respondents were to view it as a permanent way of life. Virginal celibates tended to see their condition as temporary for the most part, but the older they were, the more likely they were to see it as permanent, and the same was true for single celibates.”

It seems to me from ‘a brief look around’ that not a lot of research has been done on this topic, which I find annoying. Because yes, I’m well aware these are old data and that the sample is small and ‘convenient’. Here’s a brief related study on the ‘Characteristics of adult women who abstain from sexual intercourse‘ – the main findings:

“Of the 1801 respondents, 244 (14%) reported abstaining from intercourse in the past 6 months. Univariate analysis revealed that abstinent women were less likely than sexually active women to have used illicit drugs [odds ratio (OR) 0.47; 95% CI 0.35–0.63], to have been physically abused (OR 0.44, 95% CI 0.31–0.64), to be current smokers (OR 0.59, 95% CI 0.45–0.78), to drink above risk thresholds (OR 0.66, 95% CI 0.49–0.90), to have high Mental Health Inventory-5 scores (OR 0.7, 95% CI 0.54–0.92) and to have health insurance (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.56–0.98). Abstinent women were more likely to be aged over 30 years (OR 1.98, 95% CI 1.51–2.61) and to have a high school education (OR 1.38, 95% CI 1.01–1.89). Logistic regression showed that age >30 years, absence of illicit drug use, absence of physical abuse and lack of health insurance were independently associated with sexual abstinence.

Conclusions

Prolonged sexual abstinence was not uncommon among adult women. Periodic, voluntary sexual abstinence was associated with positive health behaviours, implying that abstinence was not a random event. Future studies should address whether abstinence has a causal role in promoting healthy behaviours or whether women with a healthy lifestyle are more likely to choose abstinence.”

Here’s another more recent study – Prevalence and Predictors of Sexual Inexperience in Adulthood (unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate a non-gated link) – which I found and may have a closer look at later. A few quotes/observations:

“By adulthood, sexual activity is nearly universal: 97 % of men and 98 % of women between the ages of 25-44 report having had vaginal intercourse (Mosher, Chandra, & Jones, 2005). […] Although the majority of individuals experience this transition during adolescence or early adulthood, a small minority remain sexually inexperienced far longer. Data from the NSFG indicate that about 5% of males and 3% of females between the ages of 25 and 29 report never having had vaginal sex (Mosher et al., 2005). While the percentage of sexually inexperienced participants drops slightly among older age groups, between 1 and 2% of both males and females continue to report that they have never had vaginal sex even into their early 40s. Other nationally representative surveys have yielded similar estimates of adult sexual inexperience (Billy, Tanfer, Grady, & Klepinger, 1993)”

“Individuals who have not experienced any type of sexual activity as adults […] may differ from those who only abstain from vaginal intercourse. For example, vaginal virgins who engage in “everything but” vaginal sex – sometimes referred to as “technical virgins” […] – may abstain from vaginal sex in order to avoid its potential negative consequences […]. In contrast, individuals who have neither coital nor noncoital experience may have been unable to attract sexual partners or may have little interest in sexual involvement. Because prior analyses have generally conflated these two populations, we know virtually nothing about the prevalence or characteristics of young adults who have abstained from all types of sexual activity.”

“We used data from 2,857 individuals who participated in Waves I–IV of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and reported no sexual activity (i.e., oral-genital, vaginal, or anal sex) by age 18 to identify, using discrete-time survival models, adolescent sociodemographic, biosocial, and behavioral characteristics that predicted adult sexual inexperience. The mean age of participants at Wave IV was 28.5 years (SD = 1.92). Over one out of eight participants who did not initiate sexual activity during adolescence remained abstinent as young adults. Sexual non-attraction significantly predicted sexual inexperience among both males (aOR = 0.5) and females (aOR = 0.6). Males also had lower odds of initiating sexual activity after age 18 if they were non-Hispanic Asian, reported later than average pubertal development, or were rated as physically unattractive (aORs = 0.6–0.7). Females who were overweight, had lower cognitive performance, or reported frequent religious attendance had lower odds of sexual experience (aORs = 0.7–0.8) while those who were rated by the interviewers as very attractive or whose parents had lower educational attainment had higher odds of sexual experience (aORs = 1.4–1.8). Our findings underscore the heterogeneity of this unique population and suggest that there are a number of different pathways that may lead to either voluntary or involuntary adult sexual inexperience.”

iii. Association between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment, and income at 30 years of age: a prospective birth cohort study from Brazil.

“Breastfeeding has clear short-term benefits, but its long-term consequences on human capital are yet to be established. We aimed to assess whether breastfeeding duration was associated with intelligence quotient (IQ), years of schooling, and income at the age of 30 years, in a setting where no strong social patterning of breastfeeding exists. […] A prospective, population-based birth cohort study of neonates was launched in 1982 in Pelotas, Brazil. Information about breastfeeding was recorded in early childhood. At 30 years of age, we studied the IQ (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, 3rd version), educational attainment, and income of the participants. For the analyses, we used multiple linear regression with adjustment for ten confounding variables and the G-formula. […] From June 4, 2012, to Feb 28, 2013, of the 5914 neonates enrolled, information about IQ and breastfeeding duration was available for 3493 participants. In the crude and adjusted analyses, the durations of total breastfeeding and predominant breastfeeding (breastfeeding as the main form of nutrition with some other foods) were positively associated with IQ, educational attainment, and income. We identified dose-response associations with breastfeeding duration for IQ and educational attainment. In the confounder-adjusted analysis, participants who were breastfed for 12 months or more had higher IQ scores (difference of 3,76 points, 95% CI 2,20–5,33), more years of education (0,91 years, 0,42–1,40), and higher monthly incomes (341,0 Brazilian reals, 93,8–588,3) than did those who were breastfed for less than 1 month. The results of our mediation analysis suggested that IQ was responsible for 72% of the effect on income.”

This is a huge effect size.

iv. Grandmaster blunders (chess). This is quite a nice little collection; some of the best players in the world have actually played some really terrible moves over the years, which I find oddly comforting in a way..

v. History of the United Kingdom during World War I (wikipedia, ‘good article’). A few observations from the article:

“In 1915, the Ministry of Munitions under David Lloyd-George was formed to control munitions production and had considerable success.[113][114] By April 1915, just two million rounds of shells had been sent to France; by the end of the war the figure had reached 187 million,[115] and a year’s worth of pre-war production of light munitions could be completed in just four days by 1918.”

“During the war, average calories intake [in Britain] decreased only three percent, but protein intake six percent.[47]

“Energy was a critical factor for the British war effort. Most of the energy supplies came from coal mines in Britain, where the issue was labour supply. Critical however was the flow of oil for ships, lorries and industrial use. There were no oil wells in Britain so everything was imported. The U.S. pumped two-thirds of the world’s oil. In 1917, total British consumption was 827 million barrels, of which 85 percent was supplied by the United States, and 6 percent by Mexico.”

“In the post war publication Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War 1914–1920 (The War Office, March 1922), the official report lists 908,371 ‘soldiers’ as being either killed in action, dying of wounds, dying as prisoners of war or missing in action in the World War. (This is broken down into the United Kingdom and its colonies 704,121; British India 64,449; Canada 56,639; Australia 59,330; New Zealand 16,711; South Africa 7,121.) […] The civilian death rate exceeded the prewar level by 292,000, which included 109,000 deaths due to food shortages and 183,577 from Spanish Flu.”

vi. House of Plantagenet (wikipedia, ‘good article’).

vii. r/Earthp*rn. There are some really nice pictures here…

March 24, 2015 Posted by | Chess, demographics, history, IQ, papers | Leave a comment

Personal Relationships (4)

Here’s a previous post about the book, with links to other posts in the series.

I decided in this post to have a look at a few of the chapters in the first part(s) of the book. As earlier mentioned I lost my notes and highlights to these parts of the book due to computer trouble, making it much more difficult and time consuming to blog this stuff, but I wanted to cover some of that stuff even so because if I don’t I’ll forget the details (to the extent that I have not already – I should caution that this post provides relatively ‘lazy coverage’ as I felt it to be completely out of the question to select material from the book to talk about here using the same criteria I normally employ).

An obvious but important conclusion from the chapter on The Affective Structure of Marriage, which is a chapter that among other things covers multiple conceptual models dealing with relationship change, is that: “various models of marital change are useful because no single pathway describes changes in all, or even most, marriages. Even among couples sharing a similar outcome (e.g., divorce), there is considerable variation in the course toward that outcome. This implies that attempts to develop a single explanation or description of divorce are likely to be, at best, incomplete. Concluding that multiple models are useful is merely recognizing that there are multiple developmental processes in marriage.” Relationships may change for all sorts of reasons, and there is no full model out there which explains everything. This stuff is complicated. It’s noted in the chapter that some of the attempts people have made at trying to e.g. predict which couples divorced over a given time period turned out to perform really quite well on one sample (using longitudinal data – this is not just unsophisticated cross section analyses we’re dealing with), but then it turned out later that they perform really quite horribly on validation samples using the same type of data to predict outcomes in different couples. Similar stimuli may have different effects depending on how long people have been together. Different models deal with time frame aspects in different ways.

I’ll mention a few results from the literature covered in that chapter here. One is that couples who were initially more affectionate and less antagonistic were happier 13 years later than were other couples who were still together at that point in time but had lower initial levels of affection/higher antagonism. It’s also been found that couples which are high in antagonism early on in the relationship (‘lots of drama’) are more likely to divorce early on; disillusionment after a few years of marriage seems to be a better predictor of divorce years later, with initial affection being an important moderating variable in the sense that couples who were initially higher in affection were together for a longer period of time before they eventually divorced. Shorter relationship duration at the time of marriage seems to predict divorce. Personality characteristics such as (trait) (presumably also state-, US) anxiety and neuroticism are associated with relationship dissatisfaction and divorce risk. I should probably once again emphasize that the only reason why I’m not providing effect sizes here is that the authors do not, and so I’m not able to. Some conclusions from the chapter:

“one of the most exciting nascent trends in the marital literature involves the recognition that there is not a single unitary process leading to marital distress and divorce […]. Some couples begin marriage with lower marital satisfaction than most other couples but remain married indefinitely, whereas other couples begin marriage very satisfied but end up divorcing. Moreover, the predictors of dissatisfaction and divorce are not always the same; for instance, stable characteristics such as trait anxiety appear to be more strongly related to satisfaction than they are to divorce […]. Even the processes leading to divorce are not uniform, with some couples who eventually divorce beginning marriage with high levels of hostility and divorcing quickly, others beginning marriage with moderate amounts of both positive and negative elements before becoming quite low in affection, and still others beginning marriage with exceedingly high levels of affection that are not sustained over the early years of marriage. Also, the predictors of divorce are different for divorces that occur earlier in marriage compared with those that happen later in marriage. […] Being high in conscientiousness [for example] appears to diminish the chances that one will divorce early in marriage but does not appear to prevent eventual divorce”.

It should be noted, as they also do, that much of this research is based on what they in the book call ‘observational data’, which in this context means data obtained by actually observing the individuals, usually in a lab, and then coding specific behaviours in specific ways. They didn’t just ask people if they were affectionate towards each other; they tried to estimate whether or not they were, based on behaviours they could observe. There are problems with this sort of data and they talk about that in the chapter; for example it has been argued (I think I may have talked about this before in my coverage) that the most effective kind of support may well be invisible support (“actions that take place outside the recipients’ awareness”, or supportive actions which are provided “in such a skillful way that, although the information about the transaction is available to the recipient, the transaction is not coded as enacted support”) – and this sort of support is difficult to observe in a lab; whereas on the other hand the most visible sort of support, which is the easiest type to code by observers, may be counterproductive (such actions may provide a signal to the partner that the other party considers him/her too incompetent to handle the task on his/her own, which may lead to self-doubt etc. in the recipient), perhaps making interpretations slightly more difficult than one might think they are. A related problem seems to me to be that not providing support may in some situations be the optimal approach to take by the partner (‘my partner obviously doesn’t need my help right now, and if I were to provide support in this situation this would not be helpful’), and so such behaviours may be indicative of a strong relationship – yet that’s not how such behaviours will be coded in the studies. There are some problems here.

Next, a few observations dealing with divorce and postdivorce relationships. This data is old, but better than nothing: “Most divorced adults find another romantic partner. In the United States, the probability of cohabiting after the dissolution of first marriage is 70% after 10 years […] Census estimates project that in the United States nearly 85% of divorced people remarry […]. Although the remarriage rate is lower in other Western societies, most divorced people eventually cohabit or remarry […] It is an almost universal finding that children have more difficulty adapting to parental remarriage than do the adults.” I thought I should mention in a slightly unrelated context that I recently came across a Danish article about how children are dealt with here in the divorce context; I was not surprised to learn that women get custody in 90% of the cases – the politicians are thinking about changing this (this did surprise me), which has caused some organizations to argue that it’s a bad idea to change this state of affairs (again, not surprising). I’ve blogged US data on this stuff before – go have a look at the archives/use the search function if you’re curious, I’m too lazy to provide a link. I believe the US numbers are reasonably similar. An important observation made in the chapter is that parenting roles have evolved over time, and that the institutional setup had not really evolved with them at the time this book was written: “Child support policies have been predicated on the notion of fathers having only one set of children to support. In fact, increases in multiple marital and cohabiting relationships means that nearly 75% of remarried men have multiple sets of children to support (emotionally and financially) both inside and outside their current relationship.” It’s important to observe in this context that the proportion of all marriages which were remarriages was really high in the US, and that the remarried couples made up a big proportion of the total: “About half of all U.S. marriages are remarriages for one or both partners” (data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). Things may or may not be different today.

Some observations from the chapter about personal relationships in adolescence and early adulthood: “Friendships and romantic relationships are tightly interwoven in adolescence and early adulthood. Unsupervised mixed-gender peer groups during adolescence provide opportunities and supportive environments for “pairing off” between group members. By mid-adolescence, most individuals have been involved in at least one romantic relationship; by the early years of early adulthood, most are currently participating in an ongoing romantic relationship (Collins, 2003). […] Existing findings point to a shift in the qualitative characteristics of dating relationships between the ages of 15 and 17 years, and dating among early adults seems similar in key ways to dating among late adolescents. After age 17, the likelihood of being involved in a romantic relationship changes little […] Having a romantic relationship and the quality of that relationship are associated positively with romantic self-concept and, in turn, with feelings of self-worth […], and longitudinal evidence indicates that by late adolescence, self-perceived competence in romantic relationships emerges as a reliable component of general competence […]. Whether adolescent romantic relationships play a distinctive role in identity formation during adolescence is not known, although considerable speculation and some theoretical contentions imply a link […] The most widely studied patterns have to do with variations in the timing of involvement in both romantic relationships and sexual activity, typically showing that early dating and sexual activity are risk factors for current and later problem behaviors and social and emotional difficulties […] The social worlds of those involved in romantic relationships differ from those who are not because romantic partners quickly become dominant in the relationship hierarchy […]. Although romantic interconnections initially are predicated on principles of social exchange, commitment drives participants to transform this voluntary relationship into one that is more obligatory and permanent […]. Eventually, most early adults marry and reproduce, further transforming the relationship and marginalizing remaining friendships, thus effectively ending the peer group’s dominance of relationship experiences”.

And finally some data and observations from the chapter about close relationships in middle and late adulthood: “The majority of adults in the United States are married, but the proportion is smaller in old age than earlier in adulthood (ages 35 to 54 years = 71.3%, 55 to 64 years = 74.2%, and 65 or older = 56.7%), and a notable sex difference in the proportion married exists between men and women aged 65 or older (75.7% versus 42.9%, respectively). The majority of households comprise family households (68%), usually of married couples (52%), but 32% of adults live in non-family households, including the 26% who live alone [do keep in mind that many of those 26% are involved in romantic relationships as well, though the characteristics of the relationships they have are different]. Among persons aged 75 years or older, however, the proportion living alone is much higher (39.6%) because of the greater likelihood of being widowed (ages 35 to 54 years = 1.6%, 55 to 64 years = 6.7%, 65 to 74 = 19.6%, and 75 or older = 41%, U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). […] the proportion of householders with children of any age at home remains above 50% even in the 45- to 54-year-old age group (Russell, 2001). […] One of the key findings of research on the causes and consequences of relational difficulties in adulthood is that negative dimensions of interactions have stronger effects than positive ones on relationship quality and satisfaction.”

February 3, 2015 Posted by | books, demographics, Psychology | Leave a comment

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (4th edition) (III)

I read the first nine chapters of this very long book a while back, and I decided to have another go at it. I have now read chapters 10-18, the first seven of which deal with ‘Profiles of Vulnerable Populations’ (including chapters about: Gender and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (10), Adolescents and STDs Including HIV Infection (11), Female Sex Workers and Their Clients in the Epidemiology and Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (12), Homosexual and Bisexual Behavior in Men in Relation to STDs and HIV Infection (13), Lesbian Sexual Behavior in Relation to STDs and HIV Infection (14) (some surprising stuff in that chapter, but I won’t cover that here), HIV and Other Sexually Transmitted Infections in Injection Drug Users and Crack Cocaine Smokers (15), and STDs, HIV/AIDS, and Migrant Populations (16)), and the last two of which deal with ‘Host Immunity and Molecular Pathogenesis and STD’ (Chapters about: ‘Genitourinary Immune Defense’ (17) and ‘Normal Genital Flora’ (19 as well as ‘Pathogenesis of Sexually Transmitted Viral and Bacterial Infections’ (19) – I have only read the first two chapters in that section so far, and so I won’t cover the last chapter here. I also won’t cover the content of the first of these chapters, but for different reasons). The book has 108 chapters and more than 2000 pages, so although I’ve started reading the book again I’m sure I won’t finish the book this time either. My interest in the things covered in this book is purely academical in the first place.

You can read my first two posts about the book here and here.

Some observations and comments below…

“A major problem when assessing the risk of men and women of contracting an STI [sexually transmitted infection], is the differential reporting of sexual behavior between men and women. It is believed that women tend to underreport sexual activity, whereas men tend to over-report. This has been highlighted by studies assessing changes in reported age at first sexual intercourse between successive birth cohorts15 and by studies that compared the numbers of sex partners reported by men and by women.10,13,16, 17, 18 […] There is widespread agreement that women are more frequently and severely affected by STIs than men. […] In the studies in the general population that have assessed the prevalence of gonorrhea, chlamydial infection, and active syphilis, the prevalence was generally higher in women than in men […], with differences in prevalence being more marked in the younger age groups. […] HIV infection is also strikingly more prevalent in women than in men in most populations where the predominant mode of transmission is heterosexual intercourse and where the HIV epidemic is mature […] It is generally accepted that the male-to-female transmission of STI pathogens is more efficient than female-to-male transmission. […] The high vulnerability to STIs of young women compared to young men is [however] the result of an interplay between psychological, sociocultural, and biological factors.33

“Complications of curable STIs, i.e., STIs caused by bacteria or protozoa, can be avoided if infected persons promptly seek care and are managed appropriately. However, a prerequisite to seeking care is that infected persons are aware that they are infected and that they seek treatment. A high proportion of men and of women infected with N. gonorrhoeae, C. trachomatis, or T. vaginalis, however, never experience symptoms. Women are asymptomatic more often than men. It has been estimated that 55% of episodes of gonorrhea in men and 86% of episodes in women remain asymptomatic; 89% of men with chlamydial infection remain asymptomatic and 94% of women.66 For chlamydial infection, it has been well documented that serious complications, including infertility due to tubal occlusion, can occur in the absence of a history of symptoms of pelvic inflammatory disease.65

“Most population-based STD rates underestimate risk for sexually active adolescents because the rate is inappropriately expressed as cases of disease divided by the number of individuals in this age group. Yet only those who have had intercourse are truly at risk for STDs. For rates to reflect risk among those who are sexually experienced, appropriate denominators should include only the number of individuals in the demographic group who have had sexual intercourse. […] In general, when rates are corrected for those who are sexually active, the youngest adolescents have the highest STD rates of any age group.5

“Although risk of HPV acquisition increases with number of partners,67,74,75 prevalence of infection is substantial even with limited sexual exposure. Numerous clinic-based studies,76,77 supported by population-based data, indicate that HPV prevalence typically exceeds 10% among young women with only one or two partners.71

“while 100 years ago young men in the United States spent approximately 7 years between [sexual] maturation and marriage, more recently the interval was 13 years, and increasing; for young women, the interval between menarche and marriage has increased from 8 years to 14. […] In 1970, only 5% of women in United States had had premarital intercourse by age 15, whereas in 1988, 26% had engaged in intercourse by this age. However, in 1988, 37% of never married 15-17-year-olds had engaged in intercourse but in 2002, only 30% had. Comparable data from males demonstrated even greater declines — 50% of never married 15-17-year-olds reported having had intercourse in 1988, compared with only 31% in 200299

“Infection with herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2) is extremely common among FSWs [female sex workers], and because HSV-2 infection increases the likelihood of both HIV acquisition in HIV-uninfected individuals, and HIV transmission in HIV-infected individuals, HSV-2 infection plays a key role in HIV transmission dynamics.100 Studies of FSWs in Kenya,67 South Africa,101 Tanzania,36 and Mexico72 have found HSV-2 prevalences ranging from 70% to over 80%. In a prospective study of HIV seronegative FSWs in Nairobi, Kenya, 72.7% were HSV-2 seropositive at baseline.67 Over the course of over two years of observation […] HSV-2 seropositive FSWs were over six times more likely to acquire HIV infection than women who were HSV-2 seronegative.”

“Surveys in the UK133 and New Zealand134 found that approximately 7% of men reported ever paying for sex. A more recent telephone survey in Australia found that almost 16% of men reported having ever paid for sex, with 1.9% reporting that they had paid for sex in the past 12 months.135 Two national surveys in Britain found that the proportion of men who reported paying women for sex in the previous 5 years increased from 2.0% in 1990 to 4.2% in 2000.14 A recent review article summarizing the findings of various surveys in different global regions found that the median proportion of men who reported “exchanging gifts or money for sex” in the past 12 months was approximately 9-10%, whereas the proportion of men reporting who engaged in “paid sex” or sex with a sex worker was 2-3%.136

“There are currently around 175-200 million people documented as living outside their countries of birth.3 This number includes both voluntary migrants, people who have chosen to leave their country of origin, and forced migrants, including refugees, trafficked people, and internally displaced people.4 […] Each year about 700 million people travel internationally with an estimated 50 million originating in developed countries traveling to developing ones.98 […] Throughout history, infectious diseases of humans have followed population movements. The great drivers of population mobility including migration, economic changes, social change, war, and travel have been associated with disease acquisition and spread at individual and population levels. There have been particularly strong associations of these key modes of population mobility and mixing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. […] Epidemiologists elucidated early in the HIV/AIDS epidemic that there was substantial geographic variability in incidence, as well as different risk factors for disease spread. As researchers better understood the characteristics of HIV transmission, its long incubation time, relatively low infectivity, and chronic disease course, it became clear that mobility of infected persons was a key determinant for further spread to new populations.6 […] mobile populations are more likely to exhibit high-risk behaviors”

“Studies conducted over the past decade have relied on molecular techniques to identify previously noncultivable organisms in the vagina of women with “normal” and “abnormal” flora. […] These studies have confirmed that the microflora of some women is predominated by species belonging to the genus Lactobacillus, while women having BV [bacterial vaginosis] have a broad range of aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms. It has become increasingly clear that even with these more advanced tools to characterize the microbial ecology of the vagina the full range of microorganisms present has yet to be fully described. […] the frequency and concentration of many facultative organisms depends upon whether the woman has BV or Lactobacillus-predominant microflora.36 However, even if “normal” vaginal microflora is restricted to those women having a Lactobacillus-dominant flora as defined by Gram stain, 46% of women are colonized by G. vaginalis, 78% are colonized by Ureaplasma urealyticum, and 31% are colonized by Candida albicans.36 […] Nearly all women are vaginally colonized by obligately anaerobic gram-negative rods and cocci,36 and several species of anaerobic bacteria, which are not yet named, are also present. While some species of anaerobes are present at higher frequencies or concentrations among women with BV, it is clear that the microbial flora is complex and cannot be defined simply by the presence or absence of lactobacilli, Gardnerella, mycoplasmas, and anaerobes. This observation has been confirmed with molecular characterization of the microflora.26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35

Vaginal pH, which is in some sense an indicator of vaginal health, varies over the lifespan (I did not know this..): In premenarchal girls vaginal pH is around 7, whereas it drops to 4.0-4.5 in healthy women of reproductive age. It increases again in post-menopausal women, but postmenopausal women receiving hormone replacement therapy have lower average vaginal pH and higher numbers of lactobacilli in their vaginal floras than do postmenopausal women not receiving hormone replacement therapy, one of several findings indicating that vaginal pH is under hormonal control (estrogen is important). Lactobacilli play an important role because those things produce lactic acid which lowers pH, and women with a reduced number of lactobacilli in their vaginal floras have higher vaginal pH. Stuff like sexual intercourse, menses, and breastfeeding all affect vaginal pH and -microflora, as does antibiotic usage, and such things may play a role in disease susceptibility. Aside from lowering pH some species of Lactobacilli also play other helpful roles which are likely to be important in terms of disease susceptibility, such as producing hydrogen peroxide in their microenvironments, which is the kind of stuff a lot of (other) bacteria really don’t like to be around: “Several clinical studies conducted in populations of pregnant and nonpregnant women in the United States and Japan have shown that the prevalence of BV is low (4%) among women colonized with H2O2-producing strains of lactobacilli. By comparison, approximately one third of women who are vaginally colonized by Lactobacillus that do not produce H2O2 have BV.45, 46, 47“.

My interest in the things covered in this book is as mentioned purely academical, but I’m well aware that some of the stuff may not be as ‘irrelevant’ to other people reading along here as it is to me. One particularly relevant observation I came across which I thought I should include here is this:

“The lack of reliable plenotypic methods for identification of lactobacilli have led to a broad misunderstanding of the species of lactobacilli present in the vagina, and the common misperception that dairy and food derived lactobacilli are similar to those found in the vagina. […] Acidophilus in various forms have been used to treat yeast vaginitis.144 Some investigators have gone so far as to suggest that ingestion of yogurt containing acidophilus prevents recurrent Candida vaginitis.145 Nevertheless, clinical studies of women with acute recurrent vulvovaginitis have demonstrated that women who have recurrent yeast vaginitis have the same frequency and concentration of Lactobacillus as women without recurrent infections.146 […] many women who seek medical care for chronic vaginal symptoms report using Lactobacillus-containing products orally or vaginally to restore the vaginal microflora in the mistaken belief that this will prevent recurrent vaginitis.147 Well-controlled trials have failed to document any decrease in vaginal candidiasis whether orally or vaginally applied preparations of lactobacilli are used by women.148 Microbial interactions in the vagina probably are much more complex than have been appreciated in the past.”

As illustrated above, there seems to be some things ‘we’ know which ‘people’ (including some doctors..) don’t know. But there are also some really quite relevant things ‘we’ don’t know a lot about yet. One example would be whether/how hygiene products mediate the impact of menses on vaginal flora: “It is unknown whether the use of tampons, which might absorb red blood cells during menses, may minimize the impact of menses on colonization by lactobacilli. However, some observational data suggests that women who routinely use tampons for catamenial protection are more likely to maintain colonization by lactobacilli compared to women who use pads for catamenial protection”. Just to remind you, colonization by lactobacilli is desirable. On a related and more general note: “Many young women use vaginal products including lubricants, contraceptives, antifungals, and douches. Each of these products can alter the vaginal ecosystem by changing vaginal pH, altering the vaginal fluid by direct dilution, or by altering the capacity of organisms to bind to the vaginal epithelium.” There are a lot of variables at play here and my reading of the results indicate that it’s not always obvious what is actually the best advice. For example an in this context large (n=235) prospective study about the effect of N-9, a compound widely used in contraceptives, on vaginal flora “demonstrated that N-9 did have a dose-dependent impact on the prevalence of anaerobic gram-negative rods, and was associated with a twofold increase in BV (OR 2.3, 95% CI 1.1-4.7).” Using spermicides like those may on the one hand perhaps decrease the likelihood of getting pregnant and perhaps lower the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease during intercourse, but on the other hand usage of such preparations may also affect the vaginal flora in a way which may make users more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases by promoting E. coli colonization of the vaginal flora. On a more general note, “The impact of contraceptives on the vaginal ecosystem, including their impact on susceptibility to infection, has not been adequately investigated to date.” The book does cover various studies on different types of contraceptives, but most of the studies are small and probably underpowered, so I decided not to go into this stuff in more detail. An important point to take away here is however that there’s no doubt that the vaginal flora is important for disease susceptibility: “longitudinal studies [have] showed a consistent link between increased incidence of HIV, HSV-2 and HPV and altered vaginal microflora […] there is a strong interaction between the health of the vaginal ecosystem and susceptibility to viral STIs.” Unfortunately, “use of probiotic products for treatment of BV has met with limited success.”

I should note that although multiple variables and interactions are involved in ‘this part of the equation’, it is of course only part of the bigger picture. One way in which it’s only part of the bigger picture is that the vaginal flora plays other roles besides the one which relates to susceptibility to sexually transmitted disease – one example: “Studies have established that some organisms considered to be part of the normal vaginal microflora are associated with an increased risk of preterm and/or low birth weight delivery when they are present at high-density concentrations in the vaginal fluid”. (And once again the lactobacilli in particular may play a role: “high-density vaginal colonization by Lactobacillus species has been linked with a decreased risk of most adverse outcomes of pregnancy”). Another major way in which this stuff is only part of the equation is that human females have a lot of other ways to defend themselves as well besides relying on bacterial colonists. If you don’t like immunology there are some chapters in here which you’d be well-advised to skip.

 

July 5, 2014 Posted by | books, data, demographics, health, medicine | Leave a comment

The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe – Volume 1, 1700-1870 (1)

I’m currently reading this book.

This is not the first economic history text I read on ‘this’ topic; a while back I read the Kenwood and Lougheed text. However as that book ‘only’ covers the time period from 1820-2000 and does not limit the coverage to Europe I’ve felt that I’ve had some gaps in my knowledge base, and reading this book was one way for me to try to fill the gaps. The book also partly bridges the gap between Whittock (coverage ends around 1550) and K&L. K&L is a good text, and although this book is also okay so far I’m far from certain I’ll read the second volume as it seems unnecessary – part of the justification for reading this book was precisely that the time period covered does not perfectly overlap with K&L. Interestingly, without really having had any intention to do so I have actually over the last few years covered a very large chunk of British history (Britain was the biggest player in the game during the Industrial Revolution, so naturally the book spends quite a few pages on her in this book); I’ve also in the past dealt with the Roman invasion of Britain, Harding had relevant stuff about Bronze Age developments, Heather had stuff about both the period under Roman rule and about later Viking Age developments, and of course then there’s Whittock. Include WW1 and WW2 book reading and offbeat books like Bryson’s At Home as well as stuff like Wikipedia’s great (featured) portal about the British Empire, which I’ve also been browsing from time to time, and it starts to add up – thinking about it, I’m probably at the point where I’ve read more (/much more?) British history than I have Danish history…

Anyway, back to the book. It has a lot of data, and I love that. Unfortunately it also spends some pages talking about macro models which have been used to try to make sense of that data (or was that actually what they were meant to do? Sometimes you wonder…), and I don’t like that very much. Most models assume things about the world which are blatantly false (which makes it easy for me to dismiss them and hard for me to take them seriously), a fact which the authors fortunately mention during the coverage (“the “Industrial Revolution in most growth models shares few similarities with the economic events unfolding in England in the 18th century””) – and I consider many of these and similar models to be, well, to a great extent a load of crap. An especially infuriating combination is the one where economic theorists have combined the macro modelling approach and historicism and have tried to identify ‘historical laws’. Mokyr and Voth argue in the first chapter that:

“A closer collaboration between those who want to discern general laws and those who have studied the historical facts and data closely may have a high payoff.”

To which I say: The facts/data guys should stay the hell away from those ‘other people’ (this was where I ended up – I called them different things in earlier drafts of this post). The views of people who’re working on trying to identify general Historical Laws should be disregarded altogether – they’re wasting their time and the time of the people who read their stuff. The people who do should read Popper instead.

The data which is included in the book is nice, and the book has quite a few tables and figures which I had to omit from the coverage. I’d say most people should be able to read the book and get a lot out of it, but people who’re considering reading it should keep in mind that it’s an economic history textbook and not ‘just’ a history text – “The approach is quantitative and makes explicit use of economic analysis, but in a manner that is accessible to undergraduates” – so if you’ve never heard about, say, the Heckscher–Ohlin model for example, there’ll be some stuff which you’ll not understand without looking up some stuff along the way. But I think most people should be able to take a lot away from the book even so. I may be biased/wrong.

Below some observations from the first three chapters, I’ve tried to emphasize key points for the readers who don’t want to read it all:

the transition to modern economic growth was a long-drawn-out process. Even in the lead country, the United Kingdom, the annual growth rate of per capita income remained less than 0.5 percent until well into the nineteenth century. Only after 1820 were rates of growth above 1 percent per annum seen, and then only in a handful of countries.” [a ‘growth argument’ was incidentally, if I remember correctly, part of the reason why K&L decided to limit their coverage to 1820 and later.]

“The population–idea nexus [the idea that larger populations -> more ideas -> higher growth] is key in many unified growth models. How does this square with the historical record? As Crafts (1995) has pointed out, the implications for the cross-section of growth in Europe and around the world are simply not borne out by the facts – bigger countries did not grow faster.[2] Modern data reinforce this conclusion: country size is either negatively related to GDP per capita, or has no effect at all. The negative finding seems plausible, as one of the most reliable correlates of economic growth, the rule of law (Hansson and Olsson, 2006), declines with country size. […] the European experience after 1700 [also] does not suggest that the absolute size of economies is a good predictor of the timing of industrialization.”

“Most “constraints on the executive” took the form of rent-seeking groups ensuring that their share of the pie remained constant. Unsurprisingly, large parts of Europe’s early modern history read like one long tale of gridlock, with interest groups from local lords and merchant lobbies to the Church and the guilds squabbling over the distribution of output. […] None of the groups that offered resistance to the centralizing agendas of rulers in France, Spain, Russia, Sweden, and elsewhere were interested in growth. Where they won, they did not push through sensible, longterm policies. They often replaced arbitrary taxation by the ruler with arbitrary exactions by local monopolies.[18] […] Economically successful but compact units were frequently destroyed by superior military forces or by the costs of having to maintain an army disproportionate to their tax base.[19] The only two areas that escaped this fate enjoyed unusual geographical advantages for repelling foreign invasions – Britain and the northern Netherlands. Even these economies were burdened by high taxation […] A fundamental trade-off [existed]: a powerful central government was more effective in protecting an economy from foreign marauders, but at the same time the least amenable to internal checks and balances.”

“In many models of long-run growth, the transition to self-sustaining growth is almost synonymous with rising returns to education, and a rapid acceleration in skill formation. […] Developments during the Industrial Revolution in Britain appear largely at variance with these predictions. Most evidence is still based on the ability to sign one’s name, arguably a low standard of literacy (Schofield, 1973). British literacy rates during the Industrial Revolution were relatively low and largely stagnant […] School enrollment rates did not increase much before the 1870s […] A recent literature survey, focusing on the ability to sign one’s name in and around 1800, rates this proportion at about 60 percent for British males and 40 percent for females, more or less at a par with Belgium, slightly better than France, but worse than the Netherlands and Germany […] The main conclusion appears to be that, while human-capital-based approaches hold some attractions for the period after 1850, few growth models have much to say about the first escape from low growth.”

“The average population growth rate in Europe in 1700–50 was 3.1 percent, ranging between 0.3 percent in the Netherlands and 8.9 percent in Russia […] Figure 2.1 […] shows two measures of fertility for England, 1540–2000. The first is the gross reproduction rate (GRR), the average number of daughters born per woman who lived through the full reproductive span, by decade. Such a woman would have given birth to nearly five children (daughters plus sons), all the way from the 1540s to the 1890s. Since in England 10–15 percent of each female cohort remained celibate, for married women the average number of births was nearly six. The demographic transition to modern fertility rates began only in the 1870s in England, as in most of Europe, but then progressed rapidly. […] population growth [after 1750] occurred everywhere in Europe. Annual rates of growth were between 0.4 percent and 1.3 percent, except for France and Ireland. Europe’s population more than doubled in 1800–1900, compared with increases of 32 percent in 1500–1600, 13 percent in 1600–1700, and 56 percent in 1700–1800 […] population growth was, at best, weakly associated with economic development […] [From] 1800–1900, France grew by 65 percent, from 29 million to 41 million. In the same period England and Wales grew from under 9 million to over 30 million, and Germany grew from about 25 million to 56 million.”

“Mortality, especially for infants, remained extremely high in eastern Europe. Blum and Troitskaja (1996) estimate that life expectancy at birth in the Moscow region at mid-century [~1850] was about twenty-four years, compared with life expectancies of around forty years in western Europe. Birth rates in eastern Europe were also much higher than in the west.”

“The population of Europe in 1815 was 223 million. By 1913, 40 million people had emigrated to the New World. […] By 1900, more than a million people a year were emigrating to the United States, the primary destination for most Europeans. […] More than half of some nationalities returned to Europe from the United States […] Internally there was substantial migration of population from country to city as incomes rose. From 1815 to 1913 the rural population [in Europe] grew from 197 to 319 million. But the urban population expanded from 26 million in 1815 to about 162 million in 1913 (Bairoch, 1997).” [26 million out of 223 million is roughly 10 percent of Europe’s population living in urban areas at that time; 10 percent is a very small number – it corresponds to the proportion of the English population living in towns around the year 1000 AD… (link).]

“This positive correlation of fertility and income [they talk a little about that stuff in the text but I won’t cover it here – see Bobbi Low’s coverage here if you’re interested, the Swedish pattern is also observed elsewhere] became negative in Europe in the period of the demographic transition after 1870, and there seems to be no association between income and fertility in high-income–low-fertility societies today. The numbers of children present in the households of married women aged 30–42 in both 1980 and 2000 were largely uncorrelated with income in Canada, Finland, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States […] This suggests that the income–fertility relationship within societies changed dramatically over time.”

“Between 1665 and 1800 total revenue in England rose from 3.4 percent of GDP to at least 12.9 percent. In France, meanwhile, taxes slipped from 9.4 percent in the early eighteenth century to only 6.8 percent in 1788 […] In 1870 central government typically raised only between 20 and 40 percent of their revenue through taxes on wealth or income. The remainder came from customs and, especially after the liberalization of trade in the 1850s and 1860s, excise duties […] In most countries the tax burden was often no higher in 1870 than it had been a century earlier. Most central governments’ taxes still amounted to less than 10 percent of GDP.”

by 1870 institutions were more different across Europe than they had been in 1700. Suffrage where it existed in 1700 was generally quite restricted. By 1870 there were democracies with universal male suffrage, while other polities had no representation whatsoever. In 1700 public finance was an arcane art and taxation an opaque process nearly everywhere. By 1870 the western half of Europe had adopted many modern principles of taxation, while in the east reforms were very slow.”

February 27, 2014 Posted by | books, data, demographics, economics, history | Leave a comment

A Geography of Russia and Its Neighbors (III)

I finished the book. I ended up at two stars on goodreads – it didn’t improve towards the end. If I had to sum it up in just a few words, I’d say something like this: ‘You’ll learn a lot of stuff about the region from reading this book, but the book isn’t actually all that great.’ The first few chapters I’ve yet to talk about here covered economic factors, and the last ones were brief chapters about specific subregions, both regional entities of Russia (e.g. The Volga region, the Urals, Siberia, …) as well as other regional entitites of the FSU (e.g. the Central Asian republics, the Eastern European countries of Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, a chapter about the Baltics, etc..). I’ve already talked a lot about the book here, so I’ll limit my coverage of the last part of the book to some observations from the remaining chapters which I’ve posted below.

“about one-third of all Russians now claim that they never read” […]

“about 5% of Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) is produced by agriculture and another 5% by forestry […] In Russian society 100 years ago, 80% of the people were peasants. […] Today 15% of workers in Russia are employed in forestry or agriculture; this remains a much higher rate than in the West, where it is under 3% […] Because the collective farming was notoriously inefficient, people were tacitly encouraged by the authorities to take care of themselves and to grow their own food. Small plots of land (averaging 0.06 ha) were grudgingly given out by the Soviet authorities to the urban residents, so that some food could be grown around cities. […] Villagers had slightly larger plots of land (usually 0.10–0.20 ha) immediately next to their houses to grow their own food. […] These tiny plots yielded an astonishing 30% of the total agricultural produce in the country in 1980, and yield even more today. […] Fewer than 20% of all vegetables are produced on large farms. […]

“Because Soviet agriculture was so inefficient […], the Soviet Union had to import about one-fifth of its total calories by the early 1980s, making it the largest single importer of food on earth […] About one-quarter of all economic expenditures in the Soviet Union were on food. […] In 2005 over $16 billion was spent by Russia to import food — almost 17% of all imports for the year. The cost went up to $35 billion by 2008 […] Although for some African nations food constitutes one-third of all imports, for a typical European country food accounts for under 10% of imports (under 5% in the United States)”

“Russia is a country of heavy smokers; 65% of its men smoke, as compared to 35% in France or 22% in the United States. Fewer Russian women smoke (about 10%), but their number is increasing (World Health Organization, 2007).”

“The service sector was greatly underdeveloped in the Soviet Union, because the government always gave the highest priority to heavy industry. Although mass transit was well developed, other services lagged far behind Western norms. After World War II only 10% of all workers were in the service sector, and by 1990 only 25%, as compared to over 70% in the United States at that time. […] recent years have seen a massive increase in the relative importance of services”

“about 80% of all those commuting to work in Russian cities do so by bus […] In Russia only 14% of travel happens by plane, as compared to 40% by automobile and 33% by train. The proportion of air travel is higher than in the United States because a lot fewer people travel by private car in Russia (under 10% of all passenger-kilometers, as opposed to almost 85% in the United States).”

“Russia had over 44,000 km of petroleum pipelines and over 150,000 km of gas pipelines in 2008. […] Although less glamorous than trains or planes, pipelines move more freight, about 55% of the total […] Of these, 59% move natural gas and 41% move petroleum.”

“About 27% of the Russian population had online access in 2008 (38 million users) […] Internet access is about as common in Russia now as it is in Turkey or Brazil, but not nearly as common as in developed Asia or Europe.”

“Not only were goods not necessarily available at the Soviet shops, but entire categories of stores simply did not exist. For example, there were no shopping malls with brand-name stores, because there were no brands; all clothing was made by the state, with minimal differences among the available models. There were no craft stores, no car dealerships, and no home improvement stores.” (reminded me of this)

“In Northern Eurasia or the former Soviet Union (FSU), there are 15 countries in four groups: the Baltic states; Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova; the three states in the trans-Caucasus; and the five states of Central Asia. Russia is presently divided into seven regions, distinguished on the basis of political units.” Here’s a brief overview from the book, click to view full size:

Table 22.1
[Again an illustration of why I don’t always trust the author’s numbers: The population figures here are completely off, as a lot of people seem to have been left out. If you add all the population figures they only add up to 84 million, even though the country has more than 140 million inhabitants. There is no explanation in the text for why these numbers don’t add up. My motivation for including the table above both derived from my desire to once again illustrate this aspect and from the fact that it was easier to add the table than it would have been to list the Federal districts myself.] […]

“The Russian Caucasus is included in the South federal district, which occupies 600,000 km2 and contains 23 million people in 13 subjects of federation […] the South district of Russia is the second most densely populated territory after the Central district, with an average density of 40/km2. It is also the least urbanized region, with only 58% of its population living in cities. It leads the country in fertility […] it is also the poorest region among the seven federal districts, with only half of Russia’s average gross regional product (GRP) per capita. […]  The poorest three republics in Russia are war-torn Chechnya (GRP unknown) and its neighbors Ingushetiya (about 15% of the national average) and Dagestan (about one-third of the national average). These are also the areas with the highest unemployment (24%), highest poverty rate, and highest fertility […] Chechnya is years away from being a prosperous and stable society, and this is one area in Russia where travel is not advisable.”

“The Ural Mountains are a treasure trove of resources: coal, iron ore, manganese, titanium, chromium, gold, copper, nickel, vanadium, marble, and many other minerals. This is the richest area in all of Russia with respect to nonferrous metals and gemstones. Over 1,000 minerals are found in the Urals […] Now that Tyumen Oblast and the two autonomous okrugs are included in the Urals district, the region has also become by far the richest area in Russia with respect to petroleum and natural gas, accounting for over 70% of all Russia’s oil and more than 80% of its natural gas reserves. […] The oil and natural gas fields of what was then the West Siberia economic region were discovered in the 1960s and developed in the 1970s. In 1965 this area produced only 1 million metric tonnes (mmt) of petroleum, but by 1985 it was […] 400 mmt […] The production of oil in this area dropped dramatically in the 1990s because of the economic downturn, to about 200 mmt per year in 1995, but has since risen to about 320 mmt. This number is unlikely to increase farther, because the oil fields are rapidly being depleted.”

“Siberia is pivotal to Russia’s economic might. It is part of Asiatic Russia and is usually defined as [I thought this choice of words was problematic. See the wiki] the land east of the Urals and west of the Lena River, sometimes including the entire watershed of the Lena. Thus the territory west of Siberia is European Russia, and the land east of it is the Far East, also called the Russian Pacific. […] Siberia thus defined (5.1 million km2) is just a little smaller than the largest (Far East) federal district, and is bigger than the European Union (EU) in size. Although it accounts for about one third of Russia’s territory, it has only 20 million residents, giving it an average population density of only 3.9 people/km2. […] It has few people, plenty of natural resources, and a very cold continental climate. Like the rest of Russia, Siberia is losing population fast […] The overall decline is about –0.6% per year, among the fastest in Russia.” […]

“The [Russian Far East] has merely 6.7 million residents [spread out over 6.2 million km2], giving it a population density of 1.1/km2— the lowest average density in Russia, and only one-third of Canada’s density. To put it another way, this huge region is settled by only about half as many people as live in Moscow. […] With respect to economic development, the southern part of the region along the Trans-Siberian Railroad is more or less contiguously settled. In the north, there are three isolated clusters of development (around Yakutsk, Magadan, and Petropavlovsk), with virtually untouched wilderness in between. […] The Far East has lost about 1 million people since 1991.”

“The history of Ukraine’s statehood is a long and convoluted one, but essentially centers on internal struggles between pro-Russian and pro-Polish groups and on its emerging nationalism since the mid-18th century, with perpetually shifting affinities and borders. Areas of western Ukraine have seen hundreds of border adjustments in the past five centuries […] Ukraine in this sense is a classic example of a political transition zone in perpetual search of an identity. Post-Soviet Ukraine remains in the same position today” […]

“Close to a million Moldovans have left the country for employment in the construction, retail, food, and textile industries of Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Italy, and France. [The current population of the country amounts to ~4 million people…]

“Uzbekistan’s leading export is not oil [like Kazakhstan], but cotton; its major industry is not machine building [-ll-], but textiles. It does have limited natural gas supplies, but very little petroleum. In short, it has relatively little to offer to the world […] Uzbekistan has some of the worst corruption in the world as measured by Transparency International, and it also has one of the most brutal and least transparent judicial systems. In particular, opposition journalists are persecuted and sometimes disappear without a trace. […] Kyrgyzstan is another struggling economy in the region. Although it was the first Central Asian state to launch market reforms and political democratization in the early 1990s, it soon fell out of pace with Kazakhstan and Russia because of internal political tensions. […] a bloody revolt […] deepening economic crisis […] pervasive corruption […] Tajikistan is the least developed, poorest, and most mountainous country in the FSU. […] a bitter civil war […] Islamist movements […] an increasingly vocal Muslim population […] unresolved border disputes […] frequent border closures […] Turkmenistan is the most closed society of Central Asia. Its development was severely hampered by 15 years of […] autocratic rule […] Its economy […] is one of the least privatized in the FSU, with about 70% of all assets still state owned. […] Central Asia remains one of the remotest areas of the world, far away from the economic powerhouses of Asia, Europe, or North America, and is entirely landlocked.” [Sounds like a great place to visit!]

November 23, 2013 Posted by | books, communism, data, demographics, Geography, history, Russia | Leave a comment

A Geography of Russia and Its Neighbors (II)

I’ve now read roughly two-thirds of the book so I figured I might as well post another post about the book, even though I’m not actually particularly impressed with the stuff I’ve read since the last post. My current goodreads rating is now much closer to two stars than three. Topics which I’ve read about since the last post include: The Geopolitical Position of Russia in the World (chapter 9); Demographics and Population Distribution (chapter 10); Cities and Villages (chapter 11); Social issues – Health, Wealth, Poverty, and Crime (chapter 12); Cultures and Languages (chapter 13); Religion, Diet, and Dress (chapter 14); Education, Arts, Sciences, and Sports (chapter 15); Tourism (chapter 16); Oil, Gas, and Other Energy Sources (chapter 17, the first in Part IV, about economics); and Heavy Industry and the Military Complex (chapter 18).

The author applies a data-centered approach most of the time, and I love that! …which makes it harder for me to be critical of the stuff than it otherwise might have been. However critical I must be, and some chapters are much better than others. In one specific chapter he includes numbers which anyone with two brain-cells can tell are complete bullshit, without adding many critical remarks – according to the crime per capita estimates provided in that chapter, Russia’s crime/capita numbers are less than one-fourth of those of the UK. Yeah.. On a related note, an implicit assumption often rearing its ugly head in the text is that the economic data provided towards the end of the Soviet Era accurately reflected economic conditions. Stuff like that – numbers and the problem of how to interpret them and when in particular to be cautious – cause a few problems along the way. Even (semi-?)valid numbers and estimates are not always put into the proper context, so for example 2002 numbers and 2009 numbers (or numbers from the early 90es and numbers from the 2000s) are given in consecutive paragraphs without attention to the problem that these numbers may not be comparable. I’m not sure the author knows what a standard deviation is, so I am not sure this is the kind of person you want writing a book with a lot of data. He’s far from always uncritical, this must be said, but there’s still a trust issue here for me to deal with in that I often don’t think he’s nearly as skeptical and precise as he ought to be; he draws conclusions not fully supported by the data he uses to support the conclusions in question more than a few times. It should be mentioned that at least in part the trust problem arises due to the scope of the book; as can be inferred from the topics listed above nobody can claim to be an expert on all of this stuff, so you need to take some things on faith. But the problem is surely aggravated by some of the more ‘soft’, not-too-data centered chapters, where he’s just in my view way too uncritical of Soviet material (/propaganda) and seem to try to make Soviet life out to be better than you’d conclude that it had been if you were to just judge by the numbers he provides himself and not ignoring obvious less-than-flattering interpretations. Here’s an example of the kind of stuff I find problematic:

“By and large, the [health] care was decent. A Soviet worker who came down with flu, for example, just needed to dial the local clinic’s phone in the morning and stay in bed; the physician on call would come and visit the worker at home, usually later that same day. Physicians were accustomed to spending about half of their workday making house calls.”

My first thought: F..¤#$£ inefficient as hell, and probably hellishly expensive! Here’s a related observation:

“The Soviet Union also had one of the longest average hospital stays in the world, because home care was viewed as inherently inferior, while hospital beds were free. A typical hospitalization would last for 2–3 weeks, and frequently over a month.”

Given this kind of information, it really should be no surprise that:

“By the end of the Soviet period, the U.S.S.R. had the highest ratio of doctors to patients in the world”.

But here’s the thing – the word ‘inefficient’ isn’t mentioned once in that chapter. The lots of doctors/capita is interpreted as a great thing, not a serious problem indicating severe inefficiencies in health care delivery. The same chapter started out with some pure gold which really set the pace for the rest of that chapter:

“The Soviet Union had what was arguably one of the best health care systems in the world. Surprised? If you have seen Michael Moore’s film Sicko, you may not be: Moore depicts Cuba as an example of a socialist state with a free, universal health care system that has produced impressive results. This is something many Americans and even some Europeans have a hard time imagining.”

(Naturally) I was very close to stopping reading altogether there – ‘arguably’ indeed. He’s talking about a country where the life expectancy was below 70 years (in 1990), far from the top 10 percent of the world (but ‘within the best third’, which is the only observation regarding the relative performance he includes..). Instead of stopping reading there I decided instead to adjust my expectations downwards and to just start paying a lot more attention to the raw data (and where it was coming from) and a lot less attention to the author’s observations and interpretations of said data. I think this was a good decision. I don’t think the author always understands what he’s talking about although I’m sure he does sometimes. What I’m also sure of is that his standards of evidence are different from mine.

Another illustrative quote and some related observations from chapter 12 below:

“The health care system went through a major restructuring on short notice [in the 90s], with support from the state abruptly declining to a fraction of its former amount due to rising inflation rates and to unwillingness or inability to pay more.”

In light of the data above it probably wouldn’t be outrageous to assume that said ‘unwillingness’ was presumably at least a little related to the fact that the system which was set up was inefficient and provided far from impressive health outcomes. Of course there were other reasons as well, relating to political economy stuff and so on. But he never comes close to even saying this. Even weirder, he talks about “fewer doctors” being one explanation for the worsened health outcomes during the post-Soviet period on the very same page that he provides data making it very clear that the number of doctors was not the problem. Judging from the data he provides himself on that page, the raw number of physicians in Russia was pretty much identical in 1990 and 2000 (though it was a little lower in 1995), and it was notably higher than both years in 2005 (and so the number of physicians/1000 people was if anything higher in 2000 than in 1990 judging from that data, as the nation underwent a significant population decline during the period – something he documents himself in the book and talks about in some detail).

Obvious conclusions from the data are not always drawn, and questionable conclusions from the same data sometimes seem to be. But there’s a lot of data and there’s a lot of good stuff as well, and so I felt I should add some data from the chapters mentioned above below. The book is a mixed bag at this point. I’m learning a lot, but I feel like I have to be a lot more cautious about trusting the information provided than I usually need to be when I’m reading a book. I have never felt any need to worry about the author lying to me about how kidneys work while reading McPhee et al, or about the author using very questionable data to draw conclusions without pointing out that there’s some uncertainty here. Blinnikov isn’t uncritical, but compared to some of the publications I have made a habit of reading at this point reading this book occasionally feels a bit like reading an elephant’s account of his brother’s trip to the porcelain shop – this stuff seems too close to politics for comfort, and the author isn’t as careful and unbiased in his coverage as I’d have liked. Anway, quotes below (my bold):

Since 1992 […] Russia has been steadily losing people to the tune of 500,000 or so per year, and this has become a firmly established phenomenon. […] the average Russian man is expected to live only 61 years, and the average Russian woman 74. The reasons for this discrepancy are complex, but the factor most commonly cited is the high rate of alcoholism among Russian men […] only about 100,000 legal migrants come to Russia each year, while about 500,000 people are lost per year due to the fertility–mortality imbalance. […] About 16% of the Russian population has completed a college education (vs. 28% in the United States) […] Only three-quarters of all households in Russia have running water, while only 71% have flush toilets. […] 82% of urban dwellers have central heat provided by a power plant, while 50% of rural dwellers depend on wood-burning brick ovens or on coal boilers.” […]

“sanitary norms set in 1922 dictated the size of the minimal livable space at 9 m2 […] per person. This remained unchanged over the entire Soviet period and without respect to local needs […] As illustrated in Bater (1996), the actual space available toward the end of the U.S.S.R. ranged from 13 m2 in Estonia to 7 m2 in Turkmenistan, with 10 m2 being the national average. […] On average, one person has 19 m2 in which to live [today]. […]

The level of urbanization rose through the 20th century: In 1900 almost 80% of the Russian Empire consisted of peasants; in 1950 the U.S.S.R. had an urbanization level of 52%; in 1970 it was 62%; and since 1990 Russia’s level has been 74%. […] Even by 2005, only 7% of the total agricultural output in Russia was produced on private farms. The kolkhozy were restructured into joint-stock cooperative ventures, but their management practices remained essentially unchanged. Although the workers collectively own each enterprise now, the head manager typically has the controlling vote, and the enterprise continues to be inefficient. In 2005, the output of the Russian agricultural sector was 40% less than in 1990; the sown acreage had decreased at least 30%; and the number of cattle had decreased by 46%. Russia today imports a little less than half of the food it needs to feed its own population—one of the highest rates of foreign-food dependency in the world” [at least he commented upon the inefficiency here, otherwise I would have. I’ll add here that it’s likely that the 1990 numbers can’t be trusted, so although this is not the impression you get from reading the book the extent to which this is a ‘true decline’ is probably still to some extent an open question.]

“there were 31,800 murders and attempted murders in Russia in 2000, versus only 22,200 in 2007. The majority of contract killings were perpetrated by the mob against prominent businessmen and journalists in the mid-1990s (Volkov, 1999); such attacks are now rare. Most domestic homicides happen between spouses and involve alcohol.” […]

“Russia had over 1 million prisoners in 1995, and about 872,000 10 years later. Seven percent of the inmates in 2005 were women, and about 17% were repeat offenders.” […]

“The Transparency International organization’s global Corruption Perception Index for 2007 ranked Russia very much near the bottom, in 143rd place out of 179 countries—right above Togo” […]

in Russia about 80% of people have been baptized in the Orthodox faith, but only 44% profess belief in a God, and merely 12% attend church on a monthly basis.” […] 22% are agnostics who are not sure whether there is a God, and about 22% call themselves atheists. By comparison, in the United States about 75% of people consider themselves Christians, and about 40% attend a religious ceremony at least once a month.” […] About 25% [of Russians] embrace a vague syncretic worldview that recognizes the existence of spirits, karma, and reincarnation, and affirms divination, talismans, tarot, and yoga as legitimate practices, while simultaneously professing adherence to the Russian Orthodox Church (which vehemently condemns all of these things).” […]

“many universities are located in Moscow and St. Petersburg: In 2000, 171 (19%) were found in Moscow and 77 (8%) in St. Petersburg, with a total of 914 colleges and universities, public and private, in the entire country.” […]

In the late 1970s, over 150 full-length movies were made in the U.S.S.R. per year. Russian film production practically ceased in 1992–1996 due to lack of funding, with merely 20–30 produced per year; it began again in the mid-1990s with Hollywood-wannabe gangster flicks sponsored by shady businessmen. […] By comparison, Hollywood produced over 400 movies in 1996. […] About 120 new movies come out every year in Russia now […] The number of modern multiplex cinemas in Russia went up from 8 in 1995 to 185 in 2001″ […]

In real terms (after adjustment for inflation), the salary of a PhD-level senior researcher decreased by a factor of 10 between 1989 and 1999, whereas many other professions supported by state budgets did not see a comparable decline. Thus, if in the late Soviet period a Moscow city bus driver had a salary slightly lower than that of a physics professor, by the end of the Yeltsin period the bus driver was making five to seven times more than the professor. The result, predictably, was a drastic reduction in the number of scientists. […]

By the end of the Soviet period, about 30 million people per year took advantage of resorts and sanatoria in the Russian Federation alone, not counting the other republics. Most were domestic tourists. The number of organized tourists in Russia abruptly plunged to a mere 8 million per year following the economic collapse of 1991, however. […] In 2008 36.5 million Russians crossed the nation’s borders; 11 million of these crossings were for tourist trips, and 2 million business trips. […] Russia sends five times as many tourists abroad as it receives.” […]

“The U.S.S.R. was the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world by the early 1980s, surpassing the United States and Saudi Arabia with production from the giant fields in western Siberia […] [Russia] remains the world leader in natural gas production and is currently second in petroleum production […] The share of [the energy] sector went up from only 12% of the total gross domestic product (GDP) in 1991 to 31% in 2002. […] The distribution of energy production in Russia is very uneven. The oil and gas fields in western Siberia produce 69% of all the petroleum and 91% of all the natural gas […] In 2007, 4 companies in the top 20 in Russia were engaged in metal production, heavy machinery production, or other heavy manufacturing” […]

“Perhaps the heaviest legacy […] of the Soviet economy was its military–industrial complex, called in Russian the […] VPK. Its presence was pervasive: Entire cities were built around steel mills, aluminum smelters, tank manufacturers, chemical factories, or nuclear weapons facilities. Over 50% of the country’s industrial output in the 1980s was generated by this sector. […] According
to some estimates, in the late Soviet period about one-quarter of all industrial workers in the country (5 million people) were employed by the VPK, including almost 1 million researchers at over 2,000 institutes and factories, and the sector accounted for almost 20% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Hundreds of research labs, institutes, and factories were scattered over a few dozen small and medium-sized cities that did not appear on any maps […] They were largely declassified, renamed, and finally put on maps by 2000. Most remain closed to casual visitors, however, and even Russia’s residents (let alone foreigners) require special permits to enter.”

November 20, 2013 Posted by | books, data, demographics, Geography, Geology, Russia | Leave a comment

A Geography of Russia and Its Neighbors (I)

I’m currently reading this book, and I like it so far. The book has stuff on physical geography (relief and hydrography, climate, biomes, and environmental stuff), the history and politics of the area/region, cultural and social geography (demographics and population distribution/structure, cultural stuff including religion and language etc.), some stuff about economic factors of interest, as well as some chapters providing more details about the specific regions towards the end of the book. The book mostly deals with Russia, but there’s stuff about other post-Soviet states as well.

Reading it feels a little like reading a very detailed wikipedia article (~450 pages long) and I must admit that I’ve probably lost a little more respect for humanities students along the way while reading this; again it’s not that the book is bad, far from it, but I feel pretty sure you don’t add much value to an education by including courses such as ones dealing with material like this. The ability of a university student to read and understand a book like this will tell you very little about their abilities as nine out of ten high schoolers technically ought be able to do that without problems. Also, reading the book will take a normal person at most a couple of days, so if an employer has a position that really requires one to know stuff like what’s in the book I don’t see how it could ever be a big deal if the applicant doesn’t – the situation is a bit different if the individual doesn’t know multi-variable calculus and that is a requirement. A depressing point is that even though this is an easy read, a course dealing with the stuff in this book is probably potentially a lot more useful than are many other courses those students might have taken instead (art history, Hebrew studies, theatre research, Indology (“In this course, students will be introduced to the basic Indian systems of Yoga, both in its ancient texts and practices and in its modern practice and will pay particular attention to the development of Yoga in Denmark in the 20th century.”),…) (all examples in the previous parenthesis taken directly from the University of Copenhagen course catalogue).

This is not the first book about Russia/USSR I read, but most of the stuff I’ve read so far has only dealt with the history of the country/region; this book adds a lot of stuff because it deals with a lot of other things as well. I think he actually handles the history part quite well, but of course it’s not a very detailed account.

Below I’ve added some observations from the first third of the book or so:

“Russia has over 120,000 rivers over 10 km long, which collectively create 2.3 million km of waterways. Fifty-four percent of their flow enters the Arctic Ocean, with only 15% entering the Pacific. Another 8% of water flows to the Atlantic Ocean via the Black and Baltic Seas, and 23% to the Aral-Caspian interior basin with no outlet to the ocean. […] The [Volga] basin occupies only 8% of the country, but is home to 40% of its population. […] The Volga loses 7% of its annual flow to human consumption. Its flow has been reduced by about 20% in the last 100 years. The Siberian rivers primarily flow north to the Arctic Ocean, with the exception of the Amur, which flows east into the Pacific.”

“Climatologists generally consider the following factors important in producing a particular climate type: Latitude, […] Elevation above sea level […] Proximity to the ocean […] Presence of ocean currents […] Prevalent wind direction […] Position relative to a mountain range […] Cloud cover and dust […] Human infrastructure.” [there are further details in the book about how these factors impact the climate of the FSU, in broad terms, but I won’t go into the details here…]

“Only a fraction of the Russian population (8%) lives near a seacoast […] Compare this to the United States, where two-thirds of all people live within 200 km of a coast” […] [I’ve previously blogged this map, and it’s pretty handy if you want to know more about the details of where people live –  more than three out of four Russians live in the European part of the country, and so Siberia is relatively empty. If you want to know more about the population density of the US, I’ve blogged that stuff before as well here.]

“The biomes of Northern Eurasia are similar to those of Europe or North America: tundra in the north; taiga and deciduous forests in the middle; steppe and desert in the south. The extreme south has deserts or subtropical Mediterranean-like shrub vegetation. […] For millions of years, Northern Eurasia and North America were connected to each other […] This resulted in an array of animals and plants that are shared by these two regions. […] The flora and fauna of India (which is on the same continent as Russia), on the other hand, are completely dissimilar to Northern Eurasia’s; they are more like Africa’s. […] Many animal genera or even species are identical in North America and Northern Eurasia […] If an exact match is missing, there is usually a pretty good substitute/vicariant species” […]

“The overall diversity of the plants and animals in Russia is not great, because of its northern location. For example, there are 11,000 species of vascular plants, 30 of amphibians, 75 of reptiles, 730 of birds, and 320 of mammals in the Russian Federation. By comparison, the United States (a more southern country half the size of Russia) has 19,000 species of vascular plants, 260 of amphibians, 360 of reptiles, 650 of birds, and 360 of mammals.”

“In Northern Eurasia, the taiga is a huge biome (covering over half of all Russia) […] The boreal forests of Eurasia make up about 21% of the world’s total tree cover on 5.3 million km2 […] Soils of the taiga are poor in nutrients and acidic […] Steppe forms in areas with moisture deficit that precludes tree growth. Although steppes are on average warmer than most of the forested biomes to the north, it is really the lack of water that determines the tree boundary. […] The classic Eurasian steppe is treeless […] There are few places where virgin steppe can still be seen. As in North America, over 99% of this biome in Eurasia was plowed under in the 19th and 20th centuries.” […]

“With its spacious, rainless interior, Eurasia is home to the northernmost deserts in the world. […] The main deserts in North America are found at latitudes between 25º and 35ºN, whereas in Eurasia they occur between 38º and 44ºN. […] Altogether, the Central Asian deserts occupy 3.5 million km2 — an area as large as Saudi Arabia and Iran combined.” […]

“The exact sequence and elevation of the vegetation belts [of a mountain range] are determined by the direction of the slope (north-facing slopes are always colder and have a lower treeline) and by local climatic and biological factors. The treeline, for example, occurs at 300 m in the polar Urals and the Khibins in the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic, but at 2,000 m in the Carpathian mountains, 2,500 m in the Caucasus, and above 3,000 m in much of Central Asia” […]

“The U.S.S.R. was one of the largest polluters of air on the planet, and Russia still is today […] Between 2000 and 2005, an average big city in Russia saw a 30% increase in air pollutants. […] Although there has been some increase in production since 2000, Russia generally pollutes less today than it did 20 years ago. However, a major new contributor to air pollution is car exhaust. Moscow, for example, had only 500,000 automobiles in the late 1980s. Today there are about 4 million cars and trucks in the city […] In 2007, Russia as a whole had 195 passenger cars per 1,000 people […] In the late Soviet period, Russia had only 50 cars per 1,000 people.” […]

“Every spring, Moscow faucets run with brownish-tinged water smelling faintly of manure; it enters the Moscow water supply system from agricultural fields upstream.” […]

“At the end of the Soviet period, the U.S.S.R. boasted over 40 [nuclear] reactors at 15 sites (today Russia has 31 reactors at 10 operating plants), not counting a few dozen small research reactors at scientific institutes. By comparison, the United States has slightly over 100 commercial reactors, Japan has 63, and France has 59. […] Nuclear pollution is unevenly concentrated in the FSU, and much of the information about former accidents is still classified. […] the highest levels of such pollution are found in and around Chernobyl (northern Ukraine, southeastern Belarus, and southwestern Russia); in the Novaya Zemlya islands and Semey, Kazakhstan; and at the production facilities in Sarov, Kyshtym, and a few cities near Krasnoyarsk. Furthermore, there are several submarine staging areas where offshore dumping of nuclear waste took place in the Far East and off the Kola Peninsula. Beyond these areas, there are a smattering of sites polluted by radiation—for example, in European Russia in Ivanovo and Perm Oblasts close to Moscow, as well as in the Komi Republic […] Unlike in the United States, information on the actual location of [toxic waste] sites in Russia or other post-Soviet states is not readily available. […] These sites number in the hundreds, if not in the thousands” […]

“The eventual rise of Moscow to the preeminent position among Russian cities had to do with some pure luck and the political talents of the early princes there, but it also owed a good deal to geography: Originally an insignificant wooden fort (established in 1147), it was located at a perfect midpoint between the sources of the Dnieper and the Volga. It was situated on a tributary (the Moscow) of a tributary (the Oka) of the Volga—not on the main water artery, but close enough to Smolensk (100 km to the west in the Dnieper basin) that the Dnieper headwaters could be easily reached. In the age before highways, all transportation of goods took place by rivers. […] The main exploratory push and the expansion of the Russian frontier across Siberia came in the mid-17th century with the new Romanov dynasty […] in less than one century (from 1580 to 1650), the Russian state was extended from Tyumen in western Siberia all the way to Okhotsk on the Pacific Coast! Of course, this vast area was not fully settled by any means, but about two dozen forts were built at strategic locations. […] Every major Siberian city that was established during this period is situated on a big river. The movement was somewhat analogous to the opening of the American West, except that it was driven less by farmers and more by fur traders […] The early settlers were a highly mobile force, not interested in farming or other sedentary pursuits. […] In comparison, the movement to the west, north, and south was much slower, because more developed states and tribes there made rapid expansion impossible.”

“By the start of World War I in 1914, the Russian Empire included most of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova (Bessarabia); Finland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; the Central Asian states (Russian Turkestan); Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia; significant portions of Poland; and some Turkish cities in the Balkans. Only about 45% of its population consisted of ethnic Russians. The total population was 125 million in 1897, the time of the first Russian census. Alaska was sold in 1867 to the United States […] After a bitter civil war […] in 1917–1922 […] U.S.S.R. […] reconstituted itself within the former borders of the Russian Empire, with the
exceptions of Finland, Poland, the Baltic states, much of western Ukraine and Belarus, and Moldova. This may be explained by not only political and cultural but also geographic factors. […] northern Eurasia forms a large, easily-defensible area bounded by some of the highest mountains in the world on the south, by the frozen Arctic Ocean on the north, and by the Pacific Ocean on the east. It is much more open and vulnerable in the west, and this is precisely where all the major wars were fought. Once these boundaries were reclaimed by the Soviets in the 1920s, there was relatively little change for 70 years.” […]

“It is important to understand that the Russian Federation today is not merely a smaller U.S.S.R. It is qualitatively different from either the Russian Empire or the U.S.S.R. The latter two had fewer than 50% ethnic Russians and had external borders with nations of very different cultures (e.g., Hungary, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan), whereas Russia is over 80% ethnically Russian and mainly borders other Russian-speaking territories in Ukraine, Belarus, or Kazakhstan […] Although Russia remains the biggest state in the world by area, it is half of its original size and is now only 9th in terms of population” […]

“The average Soviet citizen had less than 20% of the square footage available to the average American, and perhaps about 40% of the level available to the average European. In addition, over half of the country’s population had no access to indoor plumbing. […] In the late 1980s, over 60% of the Soviet Union’s industrial output was in the form of heavy machinery (tractors, turbines, engines, etc.), thought to be necessary for the production of better goods and weapons. Less than 30% was accounted for by consumer goods.” […]

“The important geographic outcome of 1991 was that a single, unitary state, the U.S.S.R., with its capital in Moscow, was replaced on the world maps by 15 newly independent states (NIS), each with its own capital, president, parliament, and so on. Twelve of these would soon form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a military and economic alliance; three others, the Baltics, would be admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in 2004. From 1991 on, the political and economic changes in each NIS were decoupled to a large extent from those in others, and proceeded along individualized trajectories. There were very rapid reforms in the Baltic states, almost no reforms in Uzbekistan and Belarus, and intermediate levels of reforms in others.”

November 18, 2013 Posted by | books, data, demographics, economic history, Geography, Geology, history, Russia | Leave a comment

A divorce paper

On the Variation of Divorce Risks in Europe: Findings from a Meta-Analysis of European Longitudinal Studies:

“The aim of this article is to integrate empirical research on divorce risks in Europe and to explain the variation of empirical findings between European countries by the different levels of modernization and differences in the strength of marriage norms. We focus on the effects of premarital cohabitation, the presence of children, and the experience with parental divorce on marital stability. More than 260 studies on divorce risks could be identified, and 120 were used for further meta-analytical examinations. We show that there is considerable heterogeneity of divorce risks within as well as between countries. Explaining the variation of effect sizes between European countries, it could be shown that in countries where more rigid marriage norms prevail cohabitation has a stronger effect on marital stability than in countries where marriage norms are weaker. Furthermore, the lower the divorce barriers are, the weaker is the association between the parental divorce and the divorce risk of the offspring.”

Some data and results from the paper (click tables and figures to see them in a higher resolution):

Table 1

The table shows the estimated effect sizes of premarital cohabitation on the divorce risk in various European countries; a positive effect size indicates a higher likelihood of divorce among couples who lived together before they got married, whereas a negative effect size indicates a smaller divorce risk for couples who did not cohabitate before they got married. They note in the paper that, “The European overall effect indicates a positive relationship between cohabitation and the risk of divorce, that is, cohabiting couples have a 33 per cent higher risk to divorce than couples who do not share a common household before marriage.” However the effecs are highly heterogenous across countries, and more specifically they find that: “In countries in which traditional marriage norms are strongly institutionalized, cohabitation has a stronger effect than in countries in which marriage norms are weaker.” The institutional framework is important. The Q-statistic is a heterogeneity-measure – read the paper if you want the details..

What about children? Here’s a brief summary:

Children

Effect sizes are almost universally negative (children = smaller risk of divorce) and a lot of them are highly significant (more than half of them are significant at the 1% confidence level). As they note, “The presence of children strongly decreases the risk of divorce”. Note that the effect sizes vary but tend to be large; in the Netherlands, the country with the largest effect size, married couples with children are 70% less likely to divorce than are couples without children. The average estimated effect size is 50% so this is a huge effect. However I would be cautious about making a lot of inferences based on this finding without at the very least having a closer look at the studies on which these results are based; for example it’s unclear if they have taken into account that there may be unobserved heterogeneity problems playing a role when comparing married couples with- and without children here; lots of marriages break up early on (using Danish data I have previously estimated that once the marriage has lasted 9 years, half of the total divorce risk the Danish couple confronted ex ante will basically have been accounted for; i.e. the total risk that you’ll divorce your partner during the first 9 years is as big as is the risk that you’ll do it at any point after the 9th year of marriage – see the last figure in this post), and it does not seem unlikely e.g. that sampled marriages involving children may, ceteris paribus, have lasted a longer time on average than have sampled marriages without children (most European couples get married before they have children so the likelihood that a couple will have children is positively correlated with the marriage duration), meaning that these marriages were less likely to get broken up, regardless of the children. If they conditioned on marriage duration when calculating these effects this particular problem is dealt with, but I don’t know if they did that (and I’m not going to go through all those studies in order to find out..) and there may be a lot of other ways in which marriages with and without children differ; differences that may also relate to divorce probability (education, income, labour market status, …). Note that the fact that the studies included in the meta-study are longitudinal studies does not on its own solve the potential ‘duration problem’ (/selection problem); you can easily follow two couples for the same amount of time and still have radically different (ex ante) divorce likelihoods – and comparing unadjusted (group?) hazard rates and making conclusions based on those seems problematic if you have selection issues like these. Researchers aren’t stupid, so the studies here may all have taken care of this particular potential problem. But I’m sure there are problems they haven’t handled. Caution is warranted – part of the estimated ‘children effect’ is likely not to go through the children at all.

How about the parents? How does the fact that your parents got divorced impact your own likelihood of divorce?

Parents divorce

“Nearly all the reported effect sizes indicate positive associations between the stability of the parental marriage and the stability of children’s marriage”. There are huge cross-country differences – in Italy an individual whose parents got divorced is almost three times as likely to get divorced him/herself as is an individual whose parents did not divorce, whereas the risk increase in Poland amounts to only (a statistically insignificant) 14%.

Lastly, I’ll note that:

“No empirical support was found for any of our hypotheses which link the level of modernization to the risk of divorce. A least with respect to the divorce risk, we considered the level of socioeconomic development not to be an important macro-variable. Also, we could not find any significant relationships between the strength of divorce barriers and the effect of children on marital stability.”

I would not have expected these results if you’d asked me beforehand. Then again e.g. the differences in socioeconomic development among the countries included here are not that big, so it may just be a power issue.

October 25, 2013 Posted by | data, demographics, marriage, studies | 6 Comments

Health Online 2013 (Pew)

“Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have.

These findings come from a national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Throughout this report, we call those who searched for answers on the internet “online diagnosers”.

When asked if the information found online led them to think they needed the attention of a medical professional, 46% of online diagnosers say that was the case. Thirty-eight percent of online diagnosers say it was something they could take care of at home and 11% say it was both or in-between.

When we asked respondents about the accuracy of their initial diagnosis, they reported:
41% of online diagnosers say a medical professional confirmed their diagnosis. An additional 2% say a medical professional partially confirmed it.
35% say they did not visit a clinician to get a professional opinion.
18% say they consulted a medical professional and the clinician either did not agree or offered a different opinion about the condition.
1% say their conversation with a clinician was inconclusive.

Women are more likely than men to go online to figure out a possible diagnosis. Other groups that have a high likelihood of doing so include younger people, white adults, those who live in households earning $75,000 or more, and those with a college degree or advanced degrees.”

The quotes above are from a Pew report, Health Online 2013, published earlier this year. Below I’ve added some more data from the report, as well as a few comments. You can click the tables to view them in a higher resolution.

“Looking more broadly at the online landscape, 72% of internet users say they looked online for health information of one kind or another within the past year. […] 77% of online health seekers say they began at a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Another 13% say they began at a site that specializes in health information, like WebMD. Just 2% say they started their research at a more general site like Wikipedia […] 39% of online health seekers say they looked for information related to their own situation. Another 39% say they looked for information related to someone else’s health or medical situation. […] As of September 2012, 81% of U.S. adults use the internet and, of those, 72% say they have looked online for health information in the past year. [Incidentally, according to this Pew report, the number of online Americans is actually 85%, but it’s in that neighbourhood… Note that 72% of 81% is just 58% (they say 59% in the report later, probably due to rounding) – so almost half of all Americans don’t look for health information online. That’s a lot of people.] […]

Online diagnosis and follow-up

Females are more likely to be online diagnosers, as are young people, whites, rich people, and college-educated individuals (when we compare the females with males, the young people with the old, the white people with the non-white, etc. See also the remarks in the update..). Note that education is basically a step-function here; the more education you get, all else equal the more likely you are to try to diagnose yourself online. Note also that some of these differences are really huge; roughly 10 percent of people without a HS diploma answered that they’d looked online to diagnose a condition during the last year, whereas half of all college-educated individuals answered in the affirmative.

Insured vs uninsured

A potentially important thing to have in mind when comparing the numbers for insured and uninsured individuals is that internet usage and health insurance status probably covary; I believe it’s likely that uninsured people are also less likely to use the internet. Low-income individuals with short educations are much less likely to be online, independent of age (see the link above).

“Twenty-six percent of internet users who look online for health information say they have been asked to pay for access to something they wanted to see online. […] Of those who have been asked to pay, just 2% say they did so. [I was very surprised that that number was strictly larger than zero…] Fully 83% of those who hit a pay wall say they tried to find the same information somewhere else. Thirteen percent of those who hit a pay wall say they just gave up. […] Respondents living in lower-income households were significantly more likely than their wealthier counterparts to say they gave up at that point. Wealthier respondents were the likeliest group to say they tried to find the same information elsewhere.”

Educ in detail

Do remember when looking at the numbers above that health status and education are related variables; lower educated people are more likely to be in poorer health than are higher educated people on average, in part because of lifestyle choices (I’ve written about these differences before – see e.g. this post (and note that there’s a lot of stuff in those links – and that I have a lot more links for you if you don’t find them satisfactory, as I’ve done academic work in this field and am quite familiar with the literature on the links between education and health.)). Yet even when conditioning on online status (low-educated individuals are less likely to be online), individuals with low educations are still, all other things being equal, much less likely than are the college educated to look online for many types of health information.

Update: To illustrate how much trouble you might get into if you don’t have in mind the differences in internet adoption rates across social strata, I decided to add a few more numbers. The numbers are from the Offline Adults report, to which I also link above:

Offline demographics

People without a high school diploma are roughly 10 times as likely not to use the internet as are people with a college degree; 41% of people without a HS diploma don’t use the internet – 4% of college-educated don’t. For individuals with an income below $30k, one in four don’t use the internet, whereas roughly 5% of those with an income north of $50k don’t. It’s very safe to say that not all subgroups included in some of the specific types of response data above are equally representative of the groups from which they are derived. Note also that potential drivers of the relevant intragroup differences here may be very important if one were to try to find ways to ‘bridge the information gap’; for example if some of the low-educated individuals who don’t use the internet can’t read, finding ways to provide them with internet access may not make much difference.

I should point out here that based just on the observations above it’s impossible to say anything about the details of what drives these results. It’s not clear e.g. how big a role the age variable plays when it comes to the contribution from income and education; old people on a pension have much lower incomes (but higher net savings) than most people who’re still active in the labour market (link), and older people are also significantly less likely to have college degrees and more likely to not have a high school diploma. The significance tests they report which are meant to indicate whether or not e.g. the results for people with an income of $30-50k are different from the results for people with incomes below $30k don’t take stuff like that into account, they’re just of a ‘let’s ignore everything else and compare the numbers’-kind and so can’t really be trusted. Maybe income doesn’t matter once you’ve taken age and education into account. I’m not saying this is the case, but given the data you can’t say if that’s true or not. Disentangling the ‘pure partial effects’ would be nice, but that’s likely to be a lot harder than it looks; multicollinearity is likely a problem, and some of the correlated regressors display non-linear relationships (e.g. income-age – see the link above). Be careful about which conclusions you draw.

October 14, 2013 Posted by | data, demographics, health | Leave a comment

Why sex matters

By Bobbi S. Low.

Here’s what I wrote in my goodreads review:

“This book isn’t written by someone who read a few books and then decided to publish her own work on the subject – the book has 56 pages of references.

It’s a very solid piece of work with a lot of interesting stuff. A lot of work went into writing this book, and you can tell. Recommended.”

Razib Khan gave it 5 stars. So did I. Not all chapters are equally great and in general I’d say that I liked the first half of the book better than the second half. But I really couldn’t justify giving it any other rating.

I read the first couple of chapters while I was finishing the Adipose Tissue and cancer book – although this is a university press publication (published by Princeton University Press) it’s still a much easier read than the Springer publication, so I read it while taking breaks from the textbook. I should note that I read most of the book today and so it doesn’t actually take that long to read. Though I didn’t actually do a lot of other stuff today…

I was considering the problem of how to blog this book early on, and I decided to limit my coverage of it somewhat as I’d otherwise have to spend a lot of time on it; there’s a lot of good stuff in there and book-blogging takes time which I can’t spend reading (or, you know, doing other stuff). Some of this stuff was review and there are topics covered here which I’ve read about in a lot more detail elsewhere (e.g. stuff covered in Miller, or Dawkins), but the book also had a lot of new stuff. A nice thing about the book is that Low actually provides the data and the evidence for a lot of things which you’ve perhaps sort of assumed to be true but didn’t actually have great reasons for believing were true. Another nice thing is that she asks some questions you’d probably never thought about asking, and she also provides some interesting answers along the way. There are a lot of interesting observations in there.

I should note that in (/quite?) a few chapters she covers work done by Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson. I’ve known for a while that I ought to have a go at some of their stuff, and I actually recently purchased The Origin and Evolution of Cultures – but at this point I’ve skimmed parts of it, and that book just looks like a lot of hard work, so I’ve sort of shied away from it so far.. I think Low convinced me that I really ought to have a look at that stuff ‘at some point’ when I feel up to it.

I have added some hopefully illustrative quotes from the book below:

She gives a breakdown of what the book is about in the introduction:

“I will begin with the basic arguments and assumptions of behavioral and evolutionary ecology: selfish genes, conflicts of interest, and why two (and not more or fewer) sexes have specialized to reproduce through different behaviors (chapters 1–3). Then I ask: How do these basic sex differences, whose theory we understand, actually play out in other primates, as well as humans (chapters 4–6)? Next, I take an empirical glance at the diverse ways in which both traditional and transitional societies make a living, how men’s and women’s roles and lives diverge, and how even marriage is affected by ecology and resources (chapters 7, 8). The complexity of these patterns leads us back to basic theory to explore how conflicts of interest are mediated, literally from the level of genes in genomes to whole societies (chapters 9, 10). Sex differences and conflicts of interest help us predict why there are so few women warriors or high-roller politicians in most societies—and the kinds of societies in which they are likely to occur (chapters 11–14). And finally I ask: How does our evolutionary past interact with current global population and resource consumption problems (chapter 15)?”

Some other quotes:

“many people may be appalled at the approach I will use here, that is, to assume that we humans are as predictable as other animals in our behavior, and are governed by the same rules. And I want to begin with simple rules, no less. Many of us assume that humans operate under rules that are different from those of other species, that our rules are culturally based rather than biological. I will ask: What can we learn if we begin without assuming that this were true? […] My explorations here assume that humans are indeed animals, even if elegantly complex ones, and that they are therefore subject without special exemption to the general rules of natural selection, the rules that govern behavior and life history among living things. […] In their “deep” objectives—in what they evolved to do—humans are not qualitatively different from other living organisms. Like other living things, they evolved to get and use resources to survive and enhance the spread of their genes.”

“When societies lack rules of inheritance, suggesting that there is little to inherit, men typically do not exchange goods for women, but exchange women;37 when there are no societal rules about wealth or hereditary class stratification, men are similarly more likely to exchange women than goods. But even in such societies, resources are not irrelevant to the pattern of exchange. […] when men purchase wives (bridewealth societies), younger (higher reproductive value) women are worth a higher bride price.38 The currency of choice varies: sometimes women are purchased with cattle, as among the Kanuri people; sometimes with sheep, as among the Yomut Turkmen; sometimes with pigs, as among the Tsembaga-Maring; or a combination.” [Some more details are given later in the book and I couldn’t help myself from quoting this part:] “the Turkmen are a bridewealth society, and bridewealth is high. A man of median wealth will pay two to four years’ income for a virgin bride. In concrete terms, this is ten camels for the bride’s father and one camel for her mother, or the bridewealth can be paid in cash or other livestock. One camel equals two horses, one really good race horse, two cows, ten sheep, or ten goats.”

“We can break preferences down into signals that reflect health (shiny hair, clear skin) or youth (no wrinkles or sags) and current reproductive stage (waist-hip ratio, color of nipples); signals that suggest other reproductively important attributes like wealth; signals that reflect social awareness (stylishness, which may be purely culturally defined); signals of belonging to a certain group. Cross-culturally among traditional societies, the things people describe as attractive in the other sex turns up all of these categories. […] selectively relevant traits consistently rank high. […] Certainly cultural and historical factors strongly influence these preferences, but some preferences—healthy, young, not pregnant— are virtually universal. […] Put simply, in our evolutionary history, it seems likely that a woman’s value was usually her reproductive value, and a man’s value was his resource value.”

“in most societies, the reproductive interests of more than the two who mate can matter. In traditional societies, the potential bride had greater say than the would-be groom in marriage negotiations in only 3.7 percent (3/81) of societies.27 Grooms had greater— or sole—say in 39.5 percent (32/81). In most of these societies, the older generation had considerable power in these decisions.” [the source given is ‘Whyte, 1978, 1979’ – I feel reasonably certain the data used is from the Standard cross-cultural sample, an oft-used resource in this book.]

“Typically, perhaps sentimentally, we view pregnancy as a time of maternal support and care for the growing embryo. But genetic conflicts over resources start here. An infant in utero is only half like its mother […] Thus the stage is set for conflict, both with mother and any siblings who share the womb […] Fetal genes from Dad that increase Mom’s transfer of nutrients to the fetus will be favored. Will such a transfer harm Mom? No matter, so long as she is healthy enough to continue investing, from the fetus’s point of view. In fact, if her ability to produce other (competing) siblings is reduced, so much the better. […] As early as the implantation of the zygote on the uterine wall, trophoblast cells (fetally derived) invade the lining of the mother’s womb and remodel certain arteries so that they cannot constrict to shut down blood flow to the fetus. This means several things. A mother cannot control the blood or nutrient flow to the fetus without affecting herself as well, and the placenta can now release hormones directly into the mother’s blood stream. Some of these manipulations are countered by maternal strategies. Fetus and mother are truly combatants in an arms race. As biologist David Haig has cogently pointed out, a number of unpleasant accompaniments of pregnancy (as well as serious medical conditions like preclampsia) are better explained as maternal-fetal conflict than by any competing theories.”

“The importance of resource value for men versus reproductive value for women means that in many societies it may be harder for a man to get a wife than for a woman to get a husband […] If the reproduction of sons is more variable than that of daughters, and especially if wealth or status matters more to men’s success than women’s, investment is likely to be biased toward sons. […] when parental investment can influence the reproductive success of one sex more than the other (as in baboons), there should be a correlation between parental condition and investment in that sex.”

“in Locknevi parish [Sweden] during the period of this study [1824-1896], resources shifted from being relatively uneven with some very large holdings, to being more even but limited. […] Locknevi folk married early but delayed having children. A man’s best occupation influenced his chances of marrying: 74 percent of agricultural workers and servants living their entire life in the parish failed to marry, compared to 20 percent of lower-middle-class men. […] Sixty-one percent of women failed to marry while in the parish […]

The quote above, and a few others in that chapter, basically made me aware that I have had some questionable ideas about how this part of human history was like for most people. I have sort of implicitly assumed that most people in this historical period had relatively few problems getting married, even those in the ‘poor peasants’ segment [and do remember that there were a lot of poor peasants in the past] – but the data presented in this chapter, including also data from three other areas of Sweden during this period, tells a quite different story. And this is good data, as good as it gets. In Nedertorneå, another Swedish parish, almost two-thirds of all women who didn’t leave the parish didn’t get married: “Sixty-four percent of women failed to marry while in the parish”. Incidentally, in some places resources mattered a great deal; here’s what things were like in the Tuna parish:

“Landowners [men] were almost certain to marry (95 percent), in stark contrast to other men (35 percent); they married women about 2.5 years younger than other men, and had about one to 1.5 more children.”

Such effects were not always present, but as Low remarks in the chapter, “whenever wealth or resource differentials existed, resources and reproductive success were positively correlated.” And differences across social groups, even in an ethnically homogenous country like Sweden, were huge and persistent back then – here’s another observation:

“Of men who stayed in their birth parish, poor [occupational status of cottar – tenant farmers – or proletariat and no land ownership record, US] sons of poor fathers were most likely to remain unmarried (57 percent); 97 percent of such poor, unmarried men had fewer children than other men. Rich [owned land and/or had an occupational status of upper middle class, lower middle class, or bönder [farmer], US] sons of rich fathers had an approximately equal chance of marrying or not (48 percent versus 52 percent), and once married had a 59 percent chance of having relatively large families. Rich sons of rich fathers who did not marry were, like poor sons of poor fathers, likely to have fewer than the median number of children. Although 97 percent of poor sons had this fate, only 55 percent of rich sons did.”

As I mentioned, there’s a lot of interesting stuff in this book.

October 7, 2013 Posted by | anthropology, biology, books, demographics, history | Leave a comment

Stuff

i. More U.S. Men Are Living Alone:

“The share of one-person households in the U.S. maintained by men ages 15 to 64 rose to 34% in 2012, up from 23% in 1970, according to a Census report on the status of families released Tuesday. For women of the same age, this figure actually dropped slightly, to 30% in 2012 from 31% in 1970.

The findings may reflect, in part, the sharp increase in divorce rates in the U.S. throughout the 1970s, Census said. The dominant living arrangement for children following their parents’ divorce is custody by mothers.”

I would have preferred to read the actual Census report and I did go have a look for it; but when I click the pdf link to the report in question at the census site all I get is an error message (link) – they seem to have put up a corrupt link. Annoying. Here are some related Danish numbers which I blogged a while ago. Although the 2012 report doesn’t seem to be available, there’s a lot of 2009-2011 data on related matters here. I messed around a little with that data – below some stuff from that source:

Marriage
Naturally there’s a big gender disparity; at the age range of 24-29, 89.1% of males have never married whereas only 80,7% of the females have never married. For people in the 25-29 year age range 64% of males and 50,1% of females have never married. You’d expect the numbers to converge somewhat ‘over time’ (/as people get older) and they do, but not until we reach the age group of 55-64 year olds do the proportion of females who have never married surpass the proportion of males who have not (and these numbers are quite small – less than 9% have never married at that age, both when looking at males and females).

Higher earnings seem to confer an advantage when it comes to minimizing the risk of never getting married, which is of course a big surprise. For example, of the 45-49 year old people with a reported income of $25,000 to $39,999 17,6% of them have never married, whereas the corresponding number for people with an income of $40,000-75,000 is 11,5%. For people with incomes in the $75,000-$100,000 range the number is 5.5%, and incidentally the number of 45-49 year olds with incomes above $100k who’ve never married is also 5,5%. The relationship is not perfectly linear, but it’s clear that people with higher earnings have a higher likelihood of getting married. Incidentally almost a third of people in that age range who reported annual earnings less than $5000 have never married (29.2%).

The numbers above are from the first third of the first document. There’s a lot of data available here if you’re curious.

ii. Global Reality of Type 1 Diabetes Care in 2013. Not much to see here – here’s why I bookmarked it:

“from a global perspective, the most common cause of death for a child with type 1 diabetes is lack of access to insulin (2). Yet, this is not just a problem for low-income countries, with one recent study in the U.S. noting that discontinuation of insulin therapy represents the leading precipitating cause of diabetic ketoacidosis (3). Indeed, lack of insulin explained 68% of such episodes in people living in an inner-city setting, with approximately one-third of people reporting a lack of financial resources to buy insulin and eking out their insulin supplies.”

We’re talking about the United States of America, a very rich country – and in fact the country in the world with the highest health care expenditures. And still you have type 1 diabetics who go into ketoacidosis because they can’t afford their drugs. That’s messed up. Note that low medical subsidies to type 1s may not necessarily be cost saving at a systemic level as hospital admissions are very expensive; based on the average estimates at the link and these length of stay estimates, a back of the envelope estimate of the average cost of a DKA-related hospital admission would be $5.500. This estimate is probably too low as this study (which I may blog in more detail later) estimated non-compliance-related DKA-admissions to cost on average roughly $7.500 (and the non-compliance admissions were actually significantly cheaper than the other admissions on a per-case basis). To put this estimate into perspective, the mean annual cost of intensive diabetes care per diabetic patient in the U.S. is $4,000 (same link).

iii. Related to i., but I figured it deserved to be linked to separately: A theory of marriage, by Gary Becker.

iv. Some maps illustrating racial segregation patterns in the US. Don’t miss the sixth map of Detroit. The one of Saint Louis is also…

v. Vocabulary.com. I haven’t used it much yet, so I don’t really know if it’s any good – but it looks interesting and I’ve missed such a resource. I sometimes feel a bit guilty about not working harder on improving my vocabulary, especially on account of the fact that I’ve basically ended up only speaking two languages – I used to speak French reasonably well, but that’s many years ago and at this point I’d rather spend time improving my English than spend a lot of effort on a third language which most likely will only be of very limited use to me.

vi. PLOS ONE: What Are You or Who Are You? The Emergence of Social Interaction between Dog and an Unidentified Moving Object (UMO). Here’s the abstract:

“Robots offer new possibilities for investigating animal social behaviour. This method enhances controllability and reproducibility of experimental techniques, and it allows also the experimental separation of the effects of bodily appearance (embodiment) and behaviour. In the present study we examined dogs’ interactive behaviour in a problem solving task (in which the dog has no access to the food) with three different social partners, two of which were robots and the third a human behaving in a robot-like manner. The Mechanical UMO (Unidentified Moving Object) and the Mechanical Human differed only in their embodiment, but showed similar behaviour toward the dog. In contrast, the Social UMO was interactive, showed contingent responsiveness and goal-directed behaviour and moved along varied routes. The dogs showed shorter looking and touching duration, but increased gaze alternation toward the Mechanical Human than to the Mechanical UMO. This suggests that dogs’ interactive behaviour may have been affected by previous experience with typical humans. We found that dogs also looked longer and showed more gaze alternations between the food and the Social UMO compared to the Mechanical UMO. These results suggest that dogs form expectations about an unfamiliar moving object within a short period of time and they recognise some social aspects of UMOs’ behaviour. This is the first evidence that interactive behaviour of a robot is important for evoking dogs’ social responsiveness.”

From the discussion:

“The aim of this study was to investigate whether dogs are able to differentiate agents on the basis of their behaviour and show social behaviours toward an UMO (Unidentified Moving Object) if the agent behaves appropriately in an interactive situation. In order to observe such interaction we modelled an experimental situation in which the dog is faced with inaccessible food. Miklósi et al [21] showed that in this case dogs increase their looking time at a human helper and show gaze alternation between the inaccessible food and the human. These observations have been replicated by Gaunet [23] and Horn et al [26], and the authors implicated that the dogs’ behaviour reflects communicative intentions. The present experiment showed that these behaviour features also emerge in the dogs while they are interacting with an UMO, moreover the onset of these behaviours is facilitated by the social features of the UMO: Dogs look longer and show more gaze alternation if the UMO carries eyes, shows variations in its path of movement, displays goal-directed behaviour and contingent reactivity (reacts to the looking action of the dog by retrieving the inaccessible food item).”

If you’re curious about how they actually did this stuff, don’t miss the neat video towards the end.

September 4, 2013 Posted by | data, demographics, diabetes, marriage, papers | Leave a comment

Gender, Physical Activity, and Aging (2)

I’ve finished the book. I gave it four stars. There’s a lot of research covered here, lots of ground covered, and most of it is well written. When findings are conflicting we are told so, and the reasons for discrepancies across studies are often investigated in some detail. Conclusions drawn are often of a tentative nature, and the uncertainties involved are often emphasized. Given the amount of material covered, detailed coverage of specific studies and their limitations is somewhat limited, but stuff like differences in study design across studies and consequences of these are occasionally emphasized; the lack of longitudinal studies in specific areas of research covered are for example a few times highlighted as a potential problem regarding which causal inferences to draw from the research. Sometimes the controls included in a specific study are mentioned, sometimes they’re not, and that bothered me a little a few times as it was for example unclear in some cases whether a specific study had controlled for initial health status or not; the inclusion of this variable might not deal completely with the endogeneity problem (exercise affects health status, but health status also affects exercise ability – or at the very least perceived exercise ability), but without including it in some specific cases you’re quite likely to get into trouble, and it seems very probably that some older studies have overlooked this problem. In the book the results of quite a few RCTs are covered, which is nice – but there are also a lot of cross-sectional studies, epidemiological studies of various kinds, survey-based stuff… Natural experiments are almost (? can’t remember now if the proper word is ‘completely’…) absent in this work, but then again I guess this book was written before IV estimation really took off, and besides such methods would be most useful in areas which although related to the areas covered in the book are still sufficiently different in scope for it to (arguably) make sense not to include that kind of stuff in the book.

In general the stuff’s not easy to read if you don’t know a lot of stuff about biology, physiology and related fields, and I felt more than a few times that I was in over my head (though some chapters were a lot easier than others; because of my knowledge of diabetes and the physiological consequences of adiposity chapter 10 was an easy read) – but stuff like study methodology should not cause you problems as most of the -designs applied are quite uncomplicated. The stuff included about health impacts of health interventions (e.g. exercise) deals mainly with ‘idealized’ high-compliance settings; they do talk a bit about the adherence-/compliance problems which are observed when doing intervention studies, but more focus on this aspect might have been a good idea – at least I think the book sells the idea that exercise is good for the individual much better than it does the idea that large-scale policy interventions undertaken in order to improve health that way might be a good idea. I believe quite a bit of work has been done in that area since then, so you can find out about that stuff elsewhere.

I haven’t ‘punished’ the authors for not defining all terms applied in the work and for including stuff I was supposed to know but didn’t – it’s not their fault I’m an ignorant fool. But you should have in mind when interpreting my rating that a person like me is borderline too ignorant about stuff like immunology, microbiology, and cardiology to read and understand all the stuff in the book, despite having, among other things, read textbooks dealing with all three areas before. I got a lot of stuff out of this book, but I’d have gotten more out of it if I’d have known more about some of the things they cover.

I have included some observations from the book below. I’ve mostly stayed clear of the technical stuff:

“It has been suggested that declines in functional capacity with age reflect age-related reductions in physical activity. Inactivity has been estimated to account for 50% of the age-related loss in function. […]

The ability to move with purpose and to remain independent with increasing age depends to a large degree on retaining an adequate functional capacity in the neuromuscular system. This system, which governs the generation and control of muscle force, typically undergoes a substantial decline in functional capacity with age […] Beginning at approximately 30 years of age, human muscular strength declines at a rate of 10 to 15% per decade1 […] Because the activities of daily living usually do not require maximal muscular efforts, the gradual loss of strength for most individuals does not become functionally significant until after 55 to 60 years of age. […]

Evidence is accumulating that progressive resistance exercise is an efficacious, nonpharmacological treatment for age-related losses in muscle mass, quality, and function. The benefits of regular physical activity throughout the life span have been a major focus of exercise physiologists for many decades. […] Taken together, these results suggest that, if sustained over a lifetime, regular physical activity has a significant protective effect on muscle strength, function, and oxidative capacity. Benefits appear to relate not only to function, but also to longevity.9,10 […]

Evidence from both animal and human models suggests that there are age-related differences in the susceptibility of skeletal muscle to exercise-induced damage and ability for post-damage repair. One such difference is in the amount of work required to induce muscle damage. […] Human studies have […] tended to demonstrate a greater degree of exercise-induced muscle damage in elderly than in younger adults. […] Most animal and human studies agree that recovery from acute exercise-induced muscle damage is impaired in older subjects. […]

evidence is mounting that estrogen may be a key hormone for maintaining muscle strength in women.96 […] although gender differences in tissue antioxidant potential, partially due to estrogen, may exist, their importance in influencing exercise-induced peroxidative muscle damage is still undefined. […] whether females are afforded greater protection from postexercise muscle inflammatory damage and/or are delayed in muscle healing rates as a consequence of their higher estrogen levels is not yet firmly established. […]

The elderly appear to be more susceptible to exercise-induced muscle damage than younger adults. In addition, following such damage, there seems to be a relative impairment in muscle repair and adaptation in the sedentary elderly. Nevertheless, evidence suggests that the ability of older muscle to adapt to a resistance training program remains robust, and the physiological mechanisms associated with muscle repair and hypertrophy are still able to function even in older adults. […] regular resistance exercise may be one of the best intrinsic methods of protecting muscles from exercise-induced muscle damage and helping to normalize the rate and quality of muscle repair processes and adaptation to muscular activity in older individuals. […]

Over half of the older population is afflicted by arthritis, and approximately one-third of postmenopausal women will experience an osteoporotic fracture in their lifetime.1 […] distinguishing between disease processes and disease consequences of arthritis and normal aging is complex. […] More than 80% of people over the age of 75 years have clinical osteoarthritis and more than 80% of people over the age of 50 have radiologic evidence of the condition. Before the age of 50 years, the prevalence of osteoarthritis in most joints is higher in men than in women. […] The prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis increases with age and is found in about 10% of adults older than 65 years of age. […] The association between obesity and osteoarthritis has been evident for many years, but whether obesity was a cause or a consequence of the disease was unclear. It now appears that obesity not only predates osteoarthritis, but also increases the rate of disease progression, especially in women and in those with osteoarthritis of the knee.26,27 […] Occupational or recreational activities associated with excessive, repetitive, or high-impact joint loads are risk factors for osteoarthritis. In contrast, moderate physical activity such as running decreases the risk for osteoarthritis, at least in men.28 […] General exercise and physical activities are not harmful to the arthritic process, as was once thought. […] Despite many interstudy differences of methodology, there is consistent support for the notion that exercise and physical activity can and should play a role in both prevention and rehabilitation. […]

The one fairly robust finding across studies of exercise adherence is past exercise behavior. […] The fact that current exercise behavior appears to be best predicted by past exercise behavior is not surprising, but it is disconcerting, given that those individuals who most need to exercise are also those who are least likely to exercise. […]

Based upon […] systematic reviews of randomized investigations, the effect of exercise on bone mass appears to be a gain of approximately 1% per year, regardless of menopausal status. Data comparing male and female subjects are limited […]

Aging, per se, appears to have only a small effect on glucose intolerance and insulin resistance. The majority of insulin resistance that develops in older women and men is explained by increased adiposity, particularly in the abdominal region. […] life style appears to be a much stronger determinant of insulin resistance than aging per se. […]

Overall, exercise training in later life reduces the magnitude of catecholamine and pituitary hormone responses to a given bout of exercise, and increases the resistance to physical stress. Given that stress hormones are in general immunosuppressive, appropriate exercise training may be beneficial for the aging immune system, raising the threshold level of immunosuppressive (i.e., strenuous and/or prolonged) physical exercise. […] Strenuous exercise increases concentrations of various proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, naturally occurring cytokine inhibitors, and chemokines.43 Given that aging is associated with increased inflammatory activity, strenuous exercise may induce the cytokine cascade more markedly in aging adults than in young peers. […] The results seem to imply that older adults should adopt a more cautious approach to strenuous exercise. […]

Human immune function undergoes adverse changes with aging. The T cells, which have a central role in cellular immunity, show the largest age-related differences in distribution and function. The underlying causes include thymus involution and continuous attrition caused by chronic antigenic overload. Immune function is apparently sexually dimorphic; women have more vigorous immunologic activity than do men, thus reducing their risks of infection. However, the same mechanisms make women more susceptible to various autoimmune diseases. The sexual dimorphism in immune function may become less apparent with aging, although it persists into later life […]

In Canada, by the age of 65 years, 37% of women and 31% of men have noted some limitations in their physical activity.28 As early as 55 years of age, 2% of men and 10% of women are unable to carry their groceries, and in those over the age of 80 years, the prevalence of this particular handicap rises to 20% of men and 30% of women.81 […] When interpreting functional changes, it is often difficult to disentangle what is a consequence of normal aging from the effects of disuse and chronic disease. One U.S. study estimated that as much as half of age-related decline in functional capacity was self-imposed, due to an accumulation of body fat and a failure to take adequate physical activity.32 […] in Denmark, Avelund et al.5 noted a substantial inverse relationship between levels of habitual physical activity and the loss of functional capacity. […]

Although an age-related loss of function can in itself cause disability, chronic disease is the usual source of impairment. […] A major part of the age-related loss of functional capacity, with the associated social and economic costs of prolonged disability, is due to adoption of an inappropriate lifestyle. […] The apparent prevalence of various disease conditions varies according to the diagnostic criteria applied. For example, aging is inevitably associated with a progressive increase in blood pressure, but when a certain arbitrary level of pressure is surpassed, hypertension is diagnosed […] Similarly, when the age-related decrease in bone mineral content reaches an arbitrary figure, clinical osteoporosis is diagnosed. […]

Many elderly people have multiple disorders, and it is then difficult to assess the contribution of specific conditions to the reported level of disability. In young and middle old age, the main causes of disability are chronic disease and a restriction of mobility, but in the oldest old mental deterioration and a loss of the special senses become important sources of impairment.62 […]

the main social costs associated with aging are incurred in the final year of life, as heroic attempts are made to prolong the survival of sedentary and severely disabled individuals.9,17 Regular physical activity decreases the risk of chronic disease and thus the scope for heroic treatment; it increases healthy life expectancy.17 […] there is little evidence that regular physical activity prolongs survival into advanced old age. What it does is to avert premature death, at a time when an individual is contributing to society rather than drawing upon its resources. The survival curves for active and sedentary individuals converge around the age of 80 years […]

The muscle force and aerobic power required to undertake many of the tasks important to the independence of an elderly person (for example, rising from a chair or climbing a flight of stairs) are almost directly proportional to an individual’s body mass. Thus, a 10% reduction in body mass will effectively increase muscle strength and maximal aerobic power by some 10%, equivalent to a 10-year reversal of the effects of aging.”

August 4, 2013 Posted by | books, data, demographics, health, medicine | 2 Comments

Gender, Physical Activity, and Aging

“In the past few years, research on age-related changes in biological function, physical capacity, and the training responses of women has grown. The time is thus opportune to present a succinct summary of these investigations, exploring the interesting issues of potential gender differences in both the course of aging and responses of the elderly to physical activity. This book undertakes this task, drawing upon the knowledge of leading experts in exercise gerontology.”

I’ve read books dealing with related stuff before, but from different angles not involving much stuff about gender differences.

The book spends a lot of time on gender-differences related to the aging process and how this stuff relates to stuff like physical activity and other environmental factors as well as genetics. Some of the chapters are quite easy to read, others are significantly more technical – chapter four occasionally contained stuff which was at least borderline beyond me (unless you’ve learned by heart stuff like what’s covered here and here you’ll either be at least somewhat lost or you’ll need to look up some stuff along the way), but I read on anyway (occasionally rewatching a Khan video…) and even if some of the finer details sometimes elude you you’ll probably learn some stuff. I thought the first parts of chapter 3 were quite weak compared to the stuff on those topics I’ve read elsewhere (can’t remember where – Whitbourne perhaps? Razib Khan?). On a general note I believe I’m leaning towards a 3 star goodreads rating at this point – I’ve read roughly half the book. There’s a lot of stuff and it’s a well documented book (aside from the intro chapter and chapter 5, all chapters so far have had more than 100 references – chapter 3 e.g. has more than 250 references), but some of the topics covered I don’t find to be very interesting, and e.g. the stuff on motivation in chapter 2 is way too theoretical to be of any use in an applied setting (so why are they wasting time writing about it?). I added a ‘pure speculation’ note in the margin at one point. But again, there’s a lot of good stuff – some stuff from the first half of the book:

“On average, a larger fraction of total body mass is fat and bone structure is lighter in women than in men; likewise, most older individuals accumulate body fat […] Gender differences in muscle strength and maximal aerobic power become much smaller if values are expressed per unit of lean body mass. A lean mass adjustment may be appropriate when comparing specific aspects of muscle and cardiac function between women and men, young and old, or indigenous and modern populations. But during most activities of normal daily life a person must displace the entire body mass rather than just lean tissue; if the type of activity to be performed requires a size adjustment, then total body mass is the most appropriate unit of reference.25 […] Fat is a poor conductor of heat, and if the layer of subcutaneous fat is increased […] then the person concerned must direct an increased fraction of total cardiac output to skin rather than working muscles when carrying out heavy physical work in a warm environment.27 This reduces the external power output for a given maximal oxygen intake […]

From a physiological point of view, there is an important gender difference in average blood hemoglobin concentration. […] The lower average figure in females reflects mainly physiologic influences […] Given the predominantly biological basis of the hemoglobin
differential, the gender gap seems likely to be small after menopause;37 at this stage, values remain relatively constant in women, but tend to decrease in men. […] The maximal oxygen content of unit volume of blood is stoichiometrically related to the hemoglobin concentration.20 Thus, for each liter of blood pumped by the heart, a woman necessarily transports approximately 10% less oxygen than a man, at least prior to menopause. […]

Over a 3-month period, even a moderate training program can augment muscle strength and maximal aerobic power by 20% or more, 25,26 — equivalent to a reversal of approximately 20 years of normal aging.26 It is thus important that any gender comparisons of the aging process be based on individuals who begin with a similar initial training status and are pursuing similar patterns of habitual physical activity. […] laboratory-measured indices of physical fitness (such as treadmill endurance time) bear a closer relationship to health outcomes than do questionnaire assessments [my emphasis, US] […]

One U.S. study attributed as much as a half of variance in the age-linked decrease in relative aerobic power to a combination of a decrease in habitual physical activity and an increase in body mass.12 In order to see the true influences of gender and aging upon the primary variable, it is thus desirable to focus attention on a population sample where habitual physical activity and body fat content have remained constant over the individual’s life span. […]

it has […] been recognized for many years that the aging process actually shows some curvilinearity. […] For example, women show a sharp acceleration in the rate of bone mineral loss during the five years around the age of menopause;18 in men, there is an accelerating loss of lean tissue after retirement […] In women, functional losses accelerate with the distinct end point of menopause, but in men the process begins at a later age, and develops more gradually […]

Two robust findings from population-based surveys are that older adults are less active than younger adults, and older women are less active than older men. […] Physical activity is associated with physical function, even in those living with chronic disease52 and is inversely related to disability in women.53 A low level of physical activity is considered a risk factor for functional decline in older adults.54,55 […]

Older adults have an average of 11.4 contacts per year with a physician or health care provider,1 […]

randomized controlled exercise trials with older adults have shown that exercise adherence is comparable or superior for home-based compared to group-based exercise.122-124 […] older adults are more likely to cite the health benefits of physical activity as a motivation for exercise than are younger adults. […] perceived exercise benefits or outcome expectations are positively associated with physical activity participation in older women.82,96,98,109,128 […]

Official statistics show that women have had a substantially longer average survival than men in all countries of the world throughout the past century […] Lifestyle and other environmental factors plainly modulate any underlying effect of constitution, since gender discrepancy increased very substantially in almost all countries during the first two thirds of the 20th century (Table 3.1). In the U.S., for example, the gender differential increased from 5.8% in 1900 to 9.6% in 1990. […] Gains in life expectancy during the present century have been much larger in women than in men.206,236 Thus, a large fraction of the elderly population and an even larger fraction of those who are very old are now women. […] Although women currently have a much longer average survival than men, many aspects of function such as aerobic power and muscular strength deteriorate at a similar absolute rate in the two sexes […] Thus, women face a substantially longer period than men when their level of function is insufficient to undertake instrumental and other activities of daily living43,210,224 […] Indeed, their active life expectancy112 may be no greater than that of their male counterparts. […] In the U.S., the total number of disabled life years averages 10.8 years for men and 14.0 years for women,223 and in some countries the gender discrepancy in chronic disability is even larger.” […]

“the major effect of genotype is probably in terms of increasing an individual’s susceptibility to various causes of disability and
premature death. […] In general, women have fewer material resources than men during old age.132 They are much more likely to be living on their own,16 and thus tend to receive less psychological support than men.42,149,167 They are also more likely to be disabled. In general, disability increases social isolation […] Growing evidence suggests that physical activity helps to maintain social contacts, enhances mental health, and sustains cognitive ability in the very old.210 […]

Gender differences in the prevalence of cigarette smoking have in the past explained much of the shorter average life span of the male. Indeed, after allowing for a somewhat greater incidence of traumatic deaths among men, there is almost no gender difference in life expectancy among nonsmokers.155 Now that the prevalence of smoking also shows little sex difference, a progressive equalization of average life span between men and women can be anticipated.173 [my emphasis, US] […]

Particularly in the final years of life, the greatest dividend from regular physical activity may be an increase in the individual’s functional capacity and thus quality of life […] rather than an extension of life span.209 […] Because women generally have a smaller functional margin than men, they are likely to show a larger gain in quality of life as a result of participating in a regular physical activity program […]

Specific genes can now be identified that increase the risk of various chronic diseases, affecting an individual’s quality of life and survival prospects. Furthermore, the frequency of occurrence of such genes in some instances differs between the two sexes. Nevertheless, various environmental challenges exert a powerful influence, both in their own right and as the reason why adverse genetic characteristics become manifest. The gender difference in survival thus seems determined almost entirely by environmental factors, with cigarette smoking playing a dominant role. […]

there is typically a ten-year delay in the onset of coronary symptoms for women compared to men […]

4.1
Here’s a quote from chapter 4 I picked because I figured it’d convey part of why this chapter may be hard to understand for some readers:

“With advancing age, strategies used to augment cardiac output during exercise shift from codependence on catecholamine-mediated inotropic, chronotropic, and volumetric means, to greater dependence on changes in ventricular end-diastolic volume via the Frank–Starling mechanism. […] The key signaling proteins involved in both the amplification and integration of extracellular signals in the myocyte (from the sarcoplasmic reticulum to the intracellular effectors) include β-adrenergic receptors, G proteins, and adenyl cyclase. […] Variability in the R-R interval, used as an index of parasympathetic tone, is augmented with aerobic training …”

Back to the ‘not-that-hard-to-understand-stuff’:

Exercise training which increases and augments the ventilation threshold by 10 to 15% may increase the time to fatigue by as much as 180% when exercising at a fixed intensity. Improvement in submaximal aerobic exercise performance is believed to result in part from change in skeletal muscle metabolism. These changes in submaximal performance have a profound effect on the ability of older people to function in daily life.99 [my emphasis, US] […] Aging of the cardiorespiratory system is not due to breakdown in a single step of oxygen conductance from the atmosphere to exercising muscles. Rather, there are physiological changes in each of the series of resistors. […] it is apparent that aging affects each step in the delivery of oxygen, often with differing effects across genders. Many of these changes are slowed or reversed by exercise training […]

It has been widely demonstrated that greater physical activity is associated with a reduced all-cause mortality in men. However, this relationship has been studied less frequently in women. […] Physical activity and longevity were investigated by Paffenbarger et al.1 in 17,000 male Harvard alumni aged 35 to 74 years. With physical activity assessed by questionnaire in the follow up, it was estimated that those expending greater than 8.4 megajoules per week in exercise (walking, stair climbing, sports play) had a 25 to 30% lower mortality rate than those with lower weekly energy expenditures. Paffenbarger and colleagues2,3 also showed that physical activity participation (in the form of moderately vigorous sports play) initiated in middle-age was independently associated with a 23% lower all-cause death rate …”

August 1, 2013 Posted by | biology, books, data, demographics, health, medicine | Leave a comment

A few Cochrane reviews and links

I’ve spent the last few days at my parents’ place and haven’t had much time for blogging due to social obligations. I read The Murder on the Links the day before yesterday and I’ll finish Lord Edgware Dies later today – I’ll probably blog the books tomorrow. For now I’ll just post a few Cochrane reviews and a couple of links:

i. Abstinence-only programs for preventing HIV infection in high-income countries (as defined by the World Bank). (link to the full paper here)

“Abstinence-only programs are widespread and well-funded, particularly in the United States and countries supported by the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. On the premise that sexual abstinence is the best and only way to prevent HIV, abstinence-only interventions aim to prevent, stop, or decrease sexual activity. These programs differ from abstinence-plus designs: abstinence-plus programs promote safer-sex strategies (e.g., condom use) along with sexual abstinence, but abstinence-only programs do not, and instead often highlight the limitations of condom use. An up-to-date review suggests that abstinence-only programs do not affect HIV risk in low-income countries; this review examined the evidence in high-income countries.

This review included thirteen randomized controlled trials comparing abstinence-only programs to various control groups (e.g., “usual care,” no intervention). Although we conducted an extensive international search for trials, all included studies enrolled youth in the US (total baseline enrollment=15,940 participants). Programs were conducted in schools, community centers, and family homes; all were delivered in family units or groups of young people. We could not conduct a meta-analysis because of missing data and variation in program designs. However, findings from the individual trials were remarkably consistent.

Overall, the trials did not indicate that abstinence-only programs can reduce HIV risk as indicated by behavioral outcomes (e.g., unprotected vaginal sex) or biological outcomes (e.g., sexually transmitted infection). Instead, the programs consistently had no effect on participants’ incidence of unprotected vaginal sex, frequency of vaginal sex, number of sex partners, sexual initiation, or condom use.”

ii. Healthcare financing systems for increasing the use of tobacco dependence treatment.

The short version:

“Apart from providing counselling and drug treatment, strategies that reduce or cover the costs of accessing or providing these treatments could help smokers quit.

We found eleven trials, eight of which involve financial interventions directed at smokers and three of which involve financial interventions directed at healthcare providers.

Covering all the costs of smoking cessation treatment for smokers when compared to providing no financial benefits increased the proportion of smokers attempting to quit, using smoking cessation treatments, and succeeding in quitting. Although the absolute differences in quitting were small, the costs per person successfully quitting were low or moderate. Financial incentives directed at healthcare providers did not have an effect on smoking cessation.”

From the paper:

Summary of main results:

With very high to modest levels of consistency, we detected a statistically significant positive effect of full financial interventions targeting smokers with regard to abstinence from smoking compared to provision of no financial intervention at six months follow-up or more (all abstinence measures: RR 2.45, 95% CI 1.17 to 5.12). The effect of full financial interventions was also extended to favourable outcomes on the use of smoking cessation treatments: the pooled effect of full coverage compared with no financial intervention on the use of smoking cessation treatments was highly significant for each treatment type (NRT, bupropion, and behavioural interventions).Despite the observation of multiple favourable effects of full as compared to no financial intervention, when full coverage was compared to partial coverage, results showed no significant effect on smoking cessation or quit attempts. […]

Five studies presented data on cost effectiveness. When full benefit was compared with partial or no benefit, the costs per quitter ranged from $119 to $6,450. [the $6,450 estimate is an outlier in that group; the other estimates are all much lower, at or below $1500/quitter – US] […]

In this review, covering the full cost to smokers of using smoking cessation treatment increased the number of successful quitters, the number of participants making a quit attempt, and the use of smoking cessation treatment when compared with no financial coverage. As the majority of the studies were rated at high or unclear risk of bias in three or more domains, and there was variation between the settings, interventions and participants of the included studies, the results should be interpreted cautiously. The differences in self-reported abstinence rate, number of participants making a quit attempt and use of smoking cessation treatments were modest.”

iii. Psychosocial and pharmacological treatments for deliberate self harm.

“Deliberate self-harm is a major health problem associated with considerable risk of subsequent self-harm, including completed suicide. This systematic review evaluated the effectiveness of various treatments for deliberate self-harm patients in terms of prevention of further suicidal behaviour. […]

Main results:

A total of 23 trials were identified in which repetition of deliberate self-harm was reported as an outcome variable. The trials were classified into 11 categories. The summary odds ratio indicated a trend towards reduced repetition of deliberate self-harm for problem-solving therapy compared with standard aftercare (0.70; 0.45 to 1.11) and for provision of an emergency contact card in addition to standard care compared with standard aftercare alone (0.45; 0.19 to 1.07). The summary odds ratio for trials of intensive aftercare plus outreach compared with standard aftercare was 0.83 (0.61 to 1.14), and for antidepressant treatment compared with placebo was 0.83 (0.47 to 1.48). […]

Authors’ conclusions:

There still remains considerable uncertainty about which forms of psychosocial and physical treatments of self-harm patients are most effective, inclusion of insufficient numbers of patients in trials being the main limiting factor. There is a need for larger trials of treatments associated with trends towards reduced rates of repetition of deliberate self-harm. The results of small single trials which have been associated with statistically significant reductions in repetition must be interpreted with caution and it is desirable that such trials are also replicated.”

A few other links which are not from the Cochrane site:

iv. Plausible indeed!

v. Errors in DCP2 cost-effectiveness estimate for deworming.”Over the past few months, GiveWell has undertaken an in-depth investigation of the cost-effectiveness of deworming, a treatment for parasitic worms that are very common in some parts of the developing world. While our investigation is ongoing, we now believe that one of the key cost-effectiveness estimates for deworming is flawed, and contains several errors that overstate the cost-effectiveness of deworming by a factor of about 100. This finding has implications not just for deworming, but for cost-effectiveness analysis in general: we are now rethinking how we use published cost-effectiveness estimates for which the full calculations and methods are not public. […]we see this case as a general argument for expecting transparency, rather than taking recommendations on trust – no matter how pedigreed the people making the recommendations. Note that the DCP2 was published by the Disease Control Priorities Project, a joint enterprise of The World Bank, the National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, and the Population Reference Bureau, which was funded primarily by a $3.5 million grant from the Gates Foundation. The DCP2 chapter on helminth infections, which contains the $3.41/DALY estimate, has 18 authors, including many of the world’s foremost experts on soil-transmitted helminths.”

vi. Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design – a Gallup poll from last year. According to that poll a majority of Americans (56%) think creationism should be taught in public school science classes. One of the questions asked were: If the public schools in your community taught the theory of evolution, — that is, the idea that human beings evolved from other species of animals — would you be upset, or not?  A third of the people asked (34%) answered yes to this question. Incidentally in related news it should be noted that in a recent poll of South Korean biology teachers, 40% of them “agreed with the statement that “much of the scientific community doubts if evolution occurs”; and half disagreed that “modern humans are the product of evolutionary processes”.”

In slightly related news, according to an older poll conducted shortly before the turn of the century roughly one in five Americans asked back then didn’t know that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Other countries didn’t do any better:

“Gallup also asked the following basic science question, which has been used to indicate the level of public knowledge in two European countries in recent years: “As far as you know, does the earth revolve around the sun or does the sun revolve around the earth?” In the new poll, about four out of five Americans (79%) correctly respond that the earth revolves around the sun, while 18% say it is the other way around. These results are comparable to those found in Germany when a similar question was asked there in 1996; in response to that poll, 74% of Germans gave the correct answer, while 16% thought the sun revolved around the earth, and 10% said they didn’t know. When the question was asked in Great Britain that same year, 67% answered correctly, 19% answered incorrectly, and 14% didn’t know.”

You do have a potential ‘this is a silly question so I want to mess with the people asking it’-effect lurking in the background, but that’s probably mostly related to people giving the wrong answer deliberately. But even if many of the people asked perhaps gave the wrong answer deliberately, there’s still a substantial number of people answering that they ‘don’t know.’ I found the numbers surprising and I would love to see some updated estimates; a brief googling didn’t turn up anything.

July 28, 2013 Posted by | data, demographics, evolution, health, medicine, Psychology, religion, studies | 5 Comments