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2011 October 17 Monday
Materialism Works Against Happy Marriage?

Money can't buy you love.

New research to be published Oct. 13 confirms The Beatles' lyrical hypothesis and finds that "the kind of thing that money just can't buy" is a happy and stable marriage.

Scholars at Brigham Young University studied 1,734 married couples across the country. Each couple completed a relationship evaluation, part of which asked how much they value "having money and lots of things."

The researchers' statistical analysis showed that couples who say money is not important to them score about 10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic.

"Couples where both spouses are materialistic were worse off on nearly every measure we looked at," said Jason Carroll, a BYU professor of family life and lead author of the study. "There is a pervasive pattern in the data of eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other."

In a way this makes sense. The ideal combination of traits would be the desire to work hard, the desire to save, and the lack of desire to own things. You'll make more money, keep more of it, and need less of it. Your desires won't be out of whack with your capabilities.

By Randall Parker    2011 October 17 09:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2011 July 09 Saturday
Extreme Coupon Stealing

For families hard hit by recession a new very practical fad involves using large numbers of store and product coupons. An article in the Washington Post reports on women who are cutting their grocery bills by an order of magnitude or more (and I'm thinking they must not buy much in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables). To illustrate just how far extreme couponing can go some are stealing coupons from newspaper racks.

Yoder and other extreme coupon cutters acknowledge some participants do cross the line.

In Idaho, two newspapers reported this month that coupon inserts were being stolen from their racks. The state’s largest newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, set up a sting in Boise and filed a police report after a woman was caught pulling the ads from more than a dozen copies.

A sign of desperation? The article reports a doubling of coupon usage in 2009 as the recession cut incomes. Imagine what people are going to be willing to do once we enter a full economic depression. Many cost-cutting strategies stop working once too many people try to follow them. As long as heavy coupon users make up a very small fraction of all buyers the coupon issuers can still use coupons to reach out to new customers. But once purchases coupons cease to generate follow-on purchases without coupons the coupon business becomes untenable.

Coupons for food are going to become even more popular. US food inflation was 4.8% over the last 12 months. My advice: Try ever harder not to be poor. Get yourself into a higher income bracket, a more secure job, a better career path. Life for the bottom half is going to get worse.

Looking hard at US consumer behavior and the depth of the underwater US housing market make strong economic growth seem like a pipe dream. Personal austerity, like government austerity, can't be avoided at this point. Yet austerity means less economic growth (e.g the anemic US economic recovery) or even contraction. Look at Greece as an example: In Greece the already shrunken economy is going to contract another 3.75% in 2011 and it is going deeper into debt even as austerity measures take hold.

Greece’s debt is expected to peak at 172 percent of its annual economic output, substantially higher than the 150 percent of gross domestic product estimated when the joint IMF-European Union rescue was approved last year.

Greece is beyond the extreme coupon stage. The danger signs are starting to flash for Italy too. Italy is a domino big enough to cause a wave of sovereign and bank defaults. If those dominoes start falling then severe world recession is a likely consequence.

The US government has bigger tools with which to put off a reckoning. But harder times are headed our way as well. Extreme coupon usage is going to become an even more common practice. Peak Oil will cause Peak Debt and that that puts us at risk for a vicious cycle. An aging population and declining average skills will take their tolls too. American decline is real this time.

By Randall Parker    2011 July 09 12:34 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2011 April 30 Saturday
Marriage And Prenuptial Agreements

Guys, if you feel compelled to get married against my better judgment then check out

I came across that site in an LA Times article entitled Six situations in which you may need a prenup.

Vastly disparate income: Earning more or less than your spouse generally isn't an issue while you're married, because there's a presumption that both people share and share alike. But in the event of a split, a prenuptial agreement can set a limit — either a minimum or a maximum — on the amount the higher-wage earner pays or the lower-wage earner would get. One caveat is that state court judges have been known to toss out prenuptial agreements that appear patently unfair to the lower-wage earner, particularly in long-term marriages, according to You can write an agreement that says "no alimony under any circumstances," but enforcing it could be another issue.

Even if you sign a prenup today that is compatible with court rulings in your state that does not mean the prenup will still be respected by courts 5, 10, 20 years from now. So there's a risk with prenups no matter what you put in them. Conventional business contracts are much less risky.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 30 07:09 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 September 01 Wednesday
Smart Single Women Make More Money

All that's needed for women to close the wage gap with men is to work full time and forgo baby-making. Hey, is it time to celebrate this as a great discovery?

But now there's evidence that the ship may finally be turning around: according to a new analysis of 2,000 communities by a market research company, in 147 out of 150 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the median full-time salaries of young women are 8% higher than those of the guys in their peer group. In two cities, Atlanta and Memphis, those women are making about 20% more.

What is so special about Atlanta and Memphis? Why would guys in those cities be especially lagging the women? I can think of one idea. But I would expect it to be true of more than just those two cities.

This phenomenon is specific to smarter women who aren't reproducing. Hey, think this trend could cause problems in the long term? Devolutionary problems?

Here's the slightly deflating caveat: this reverse gender gap, as it's known, applies only to unmarried, childless women under 30 who live in cities. The rest of working women — even those of the same age, but who are married or don't live in a major metropolitan area — are still on the less scenic side of the wage divide.

I know a lot of women who are thoroughly into working part time so they can spend more time raising their kids. This means they make less money and are more reliant on hubbie's paycheck. But they really love their kids and like spending time with them. Yet their lower wages are decried in liberal feminist circles and signs of unfairness.

I think we should celebrate the smart women who so enjoy motherhood that they'd rather take days off from work to help at school or so they can take care of their sick kids or take their kids to museums or zoos or hiking. We should celebrate their having kids and passing along their smarter genes in the first place.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 01 10:10 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 March 22 Monday
Parents Spend More Time Driving Kids To Compete

Upper middle class Mom's cruising Johnnie and Jill to more organized activities to ensure they get into better schools. My sense of this is that these moms are not spending their time or money wisely.

College-educated mothers in the United States are caught up in a "rug rat race." They are going to extremes to secure elite college admission for their kids, say University of California, San Diego economists Garey and Valerie Ramey. Since the mid-1990s, these women have dramatically increased the time they spend coordinating and driving their children to organized activities, trading in nine hours of their own leisure time every week to do so. All in the name of landing their progeny a seat at a top university.

The Rameys dub the phenomenon "the rug rat race" and describe it in a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper of the same name.

The study has an autobiographical inspiration. When the Rameys moved to San Diego's University City neighborhood, they found children's schedules were packed with sports, arts and other classes. Over time, the Rameys, especially Valerie, found themselves caught up in the competition.

"I was shocked to find moms with graduate degrees who had quit their jobs because they needed more time to drive their children to activities," Valerie Ramey said.

At first, they thought this was just a local fad. But after reviewing data from 12 U.S. surveys describing how people spend their time, from 1965 to 2007, they realized they were onto a national trend.

I'm not surprised by this result after hearing moms I know talking about driving their kids to swimming practices, music lessons, and other appointments. Speaking as someone who usually came home from school to an empty house this is rather foreign to my experience. But I would have benefited far more from a bigger and better selection of books to read.

The moms do not report enjoying their shuttling around the kids. Yet some are quitting jobs in order to put more time into it.

The researchers found that, after three decades of decline, the amount of time dedicated to childcare went up dramatically in the past 20 years, even while the number of children per household decreased. The rise began in the mid-1990s. It was twice as great for college-educated parents and was most pronounced among mothers.

On average, the amount of time college-educated women spent on childcare went up from 13 to 22 hours per week since the mid-1990s. By contrast, the amount went up from 11 to 16 hours for women without a college education. Meanwhile, childcare went up from four to 10 hours for college-educated fathers, and from four to eight hours for fathers without a college education.

Most of the increases came from time spent with older, school-age children – and especially from time spent on taking the kids from one activity to the next.

Ladies, get your kids great books. Also, pay for online college courses while the kids are still in high school. Let them get ahead by learning and earning college credit years sooner. No driving needed. Turn to the web.

Also, live in a more bike-friendly community near places where kids can bike themselves to events.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 22 10:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2010 February 21 Sunday
Household Formation Down Two Thirds

Harvard econ prof Edward L. Glaeser says it is hard to work off the surplus in housing when household formation is half the rate of new home construction.

The only way to get through the excess is if households form at a faster rate than houses are built.  We completed 800,000 units last year, and if the rate of household formation had continued at its past rate of 1.34 million new households a year, then we would have absorbed 700,000 excess homes (assuming a depreciation rate of 200,000 units a year).   But the rate of household formation was not anywhere near 1.34 million.

According to the Current Population Survey, only 400,000 new households formed from March 2008 and March 2009.   While there were about a million new families, the number of nonfamily households dropped by almost 600,000.  The number of 18- to 24-year-olds living at home increased by 300,000.

A large and growing portion of America's labor force lacks the skills needed to work as knowledge workers. Meanwhile, the number of people needed to do manual and less skilled work isn't going to grow much. Expect more downward pressure on wages of the least skilled and chronic unemployment for millions.

By Randall Parker    2010 February 21 10:02 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2009 July 12 Sunday
Homeless Families Mostly Headed By Women

Single parenthood unsurprisingly boosts the odds of homelessness.

Women make up 81 percent of adults in homeless families, according to the report. And unlike homeless men, who are usually middle-aged, homeless women tend to be younger than 25 with children younger than 5. "The life of a homeless woman is particularly fraught with danger," said Suzanne Wenzel, a community psychologist and professor at the University of Southern California School of Social Work. "These young women are at much greater risk of being victimized when they have no stable home. It can be more difficult to obtain needed services. For anyone in this situation, it is destabilizing and extremely stressful. That's why these new figures are horrifying."

How have these women found themselves homeless with children? How'd it happen? Vicious evil male patriarchal capitalism? Nope. The women chose to put themselves at risk as single mothers. They also chose to put their children - their babies! - at risk. These are unthinking irresponsible women.

First off, women initiate 2/3rds or more of all divorces. States which have higher rates of awarding sole custody to moms also have higher divorce rates. In such states women who get divorced can be assured of getting rid of the father. Once the early feelings of love wear off getting rid of the father is attractive for many women - especially if they can be assured child care payments. But suppose dad says to hell with child care payments since he can get no satisfaction from having either a wife or kids? Well, especially in an economic downturn suddenly mom is either homeless or living on welfare.

Some might argue that it isn't the fault of women that their men turn out to be no good and that they decide that divorce is necessary. But that argument doesn't work because it doesn't explain the rise in illegitimate births where women let themselves become pregnant without even getting married in the first place.

You might be surprised to learn that in Iran women initiate most divorces as well.

In a look at the gender gap in voting patterns between men and women Roissy argues that women vote for the welfare state that allows them to ditch beta providers in favor of government aid and alpha male lovers.

There are a few predominant reasons for the gender gap, which I explained lucidly in this post. In short, women are voting more Democrat because the Democrat Party is the prime force for turning the government into the world’s biggest provider beta. From the time of the “sexual revolution” (which was really a “sexual devolution” back towards pre-agricultural mating norms when 80% of the women and 40% of the highest testosterone men reproduced) women have been more free to choose mating opportunities based on their gina tingles and the economic and social empowerment granted, respectively, by their pointless humanities degrees and the disintegration of traditional slut shaming mechanisms. The life of serial monogamy and alpha cock hopping has never been more attainable for the average American woman, and the result has been predictable: Women are substituting the beta males they no longer want or need for marriage with a Big Brother Daddy government to help them foot the child-raising bills that their PUA, drug running and serial killer lovers won’t.

Illegitimate Nation with a big welfare state could be our future.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 12 11:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
Adultery Dating Service

Really. If you are going to commit adultery do it efficiently using the latest internet technology. That way the affairs will take less time to set up and leave you with more family time. Isn't that a great idea?

"Drew" is a 37-year-old businessman who lives in the Troy area.

His wife is consumed with work. And they don't have sex.

"The truth is I love my wife, but sometimes I feel like I need something on the side," says Drew, who spoke to the Free Press on the condition of anonymity.

So Drew hooks up through the adultery dating service He said he has met, and had sex with, about 10 women, and he credits the illicit trysts with helping him stay married.

"It has enabled me to meet women in my similar situation and has helped fill the void of the lack of intimacy in my life," says Drew, whose wife has no clue. "Strange as it may sound, it's helped my marriage. The pressure is off ... It's probably a lot cheaper than divorce."

Save money by avoiding the divorce. Make sure kids have 2 parents. Okay, does this actually work?

Seriously, when men have affairs on the side while married and they do not get caught does this increase or decrease the odds of divorce? Is adultery a release valve or a destabilizer? This is hard to tease out because married men who commit adultery probably have stronger sex drives than married men who do not. Can social science data give us any insights into this question?

By Randall Parker    2009 July 12 11:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 January 01 Thursday
In Some Divorces Noone Wants House

Women initiate most divorces. Due to the housing downturn they've got to think twice because with so many houses which have mortgages which exceed their market value many marriages no longer have net positive assets to divvy up.

With nearly one in six homes worth less than the mortgage owed on it, according to Moody’s, divorce lawyers and financial advisers around the country say the logistics of divorce have been turned around. “We used to fight about who gets to keep the house,” said Gary Nickelson, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “Now we fight about who gets stuck with the dead cow.”

As a result, divorce has become more complicated and often more expensive, with lower prospects for money on the other side. Some divorce lawyers say that business has slowed or that clients are deciding to stay together because there are no assets left to help them start over.

“There’s an old joke,” said Randall M. Kessler, Ms. Needle’s lawyer. “Why is a divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it. Now it better really be worth it.”

I'd like to see some figures on month-by-month changes in divorce filing rates. Maybe the people who lose their homes in foreclosure are more likely to divorce while those still underwater are less likely.

The more I think about it the more I think guys are crazy to get married without a prenuptial agreement that lays out how joint property will get divvied up should the marriage end up in divorce court. Guys should negotiate rules about debt, child support, alimony, retirement funds, child custody, pet custody for pets that already exist at the start of marriage, and numerous other details.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 01 04:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 April 08 Tuesday
Big Apple Safe Enough For Upper Class White Baby Boom

Drive up the price of real estate so high that the dangerous people leave and lock up lots of people. The result? A white upper class goes on a baby boom in a safe environment.

The number of children younger than 5 in Manhattan has increased about 30 percent since 2000, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. The increase is driven by white toddlers, whose numbers have gone up by 60 percent, according to the 2000 census and the 2006 American Community Survey, he said. For the first time since the 1960s, young white children outnumber their black or Hispanic counterparts in Manhattan, demographers say.

"It's surprising," Frey said. "It's a selective part of the white population, a lifestyle of people who want to have children and can afford to live in the city."

Indeed, according to Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, the median household income for this group of children was $280,000 in 2005.

It took a lot of prison building and aggressive policing to create the environment where these members of the upper class felt safe enough to start popping out the babies in a city.

To all you who can't afford to spend your way to safety: You think evil thoughts and the elites look down on you.

By Randall Parker    2008 April 08 11:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2008 February 26 Tuesday
Oil And Food Costs Grow In Personal Budgets

Watch changes in the percentage that energy and food costs take in household budgets.

Still, things are not quite as bad as during the 1970s and 1980s oil shocks. In the early 1980s, at the height of the last energy crisis, energy accounted for more than 8 percent of household spending. As prices fell and the economy became less energy intensive, energy costs fell under 4 percent of household spending in the early 1990s.

With the run-up in prices in recent years, economists say energy's share of disposable income is slowly creeping up again. Last December, that figure reached 6.1 percent, the highest level since 1985. The increase of two percentage points — amounting to $200 billion — is a huge sum, a little less than half what Americans spend each year on new cars and automobile parts.

Energy costs would only need to rise another third to get us back to where we were in the early 1980s. Since electric prices will rise slower than oil prices we'd probably need to hit over $150 per barrel for energy to take as large a percentage of budgets as it used to almost 30 years ago.

Meanwhile grain prices are shooting up.

On Monday, the price of March spring wheat on the Minneapolis Grain Exchange shot up to $24 a bushel, the highest price ever. Within the past month, the price of some types of wheat has risen over 90 percent.


Overall, in January, consumer food prices were up 4.9 percent in comparison with January 2007. Cereal and baked goods rose 5.5 percent. Some items went up even more: Dairy products increased 12.8 percent and fruits and vegetables 6.1 percent.


Yet despite the recent rise in food prices, over a longer period of time, spending on food as a percentage of household income has been declining, points out Michael Rizzo, senior economist at the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) in Great Barrington, Mass. For example, in 1970, food represented 19.3 percent of household expenditures. By 2006, it had shrunk to 12.6 percent.

I'd like to know what percentage food now takes in American household expenditures. Surely the percentage is higher than it was in 2006.

Remember when doctrinaire free traders told us not to worry about the enormous US trade deficit? Now that this trade deficit has driven down the value of the dollar foreigners can more cheaply buy US wheat. As a result we pay more for food.

Because of the weak dollar and poor harvests abroad, exports of US wheat are up 30 percent this year.

I wonder how far this is going to go.

Hope for a good wheat growing season this spring.

Wheat prices have surged 34 percent since the start of year, pushed higher by growing world demand, tight supplies and bad weather that has pummeled crops in Canada, Argentina and India. U.S. exporters are selling wheat a record pace to meet demand, rapidly depleting stockpiles

I think the US Federal Reserve has put avoiding a financial institution melt down ahead of controlling inflation. At the same time, world economic forces have turned very inflationary. China's growing buying power is going to drive commodities prices upward. Recessions will have to cut down on demand far enough to squeeze out the inflation.

By Randall Parker    2008 February 26 10:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2008 February 04 Monday
Frugality And Thrift Make A Necessary Comeback

Washington Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary joins a sudden flurry of writers promoting a return to frugality as a response to uncertain and worsening economic conditions as she promotes an author on "Enoughasaurus".

With so much bad economic news coming out almost daily, you may be feeling overwhelmed. You may feel there's nothing you can do to prevent your own household from crumbling financially.

But you can do something. You don't have to wait for the official word that we are in a recession to start shoring up your own financial house. And this is true whether you are in a time of plenty or of economic woe.

Now may be the time to embrace frugality. It might be a good time to say, "Enough is enough." That is one of my personal mantras. It's also one that Jeff Yeager has lived by for most of his life.

Yeager has conquered what he called "Enoughasaurus."

The Daily Telegraph in the UK joins in this trend with an article by Eithne Farry entitled The shift to thrift.

Given the economic climate - spiralling personal debt; share prices plummeting - 2008 could be the year to embrace these make-do-and-mend virtues. Jonathan Loynes, the chief economist at Capital Economics, warns:"We're about to be hit with a triple whammy. Basic things like food, petrol and energy will cost more.

"There is a slow-down in the housing market, which makes everyone feel less confident financially. And credit will be harder to come by. We should all be tightening our belts."

It's not quite as onerous as it sounds. Recession thinking tends to be practical but prosaic: switch off the lights when you leave the room; turn the heating down and put on a jumper; take your shoes to the mender rather than throwing them away.

Writing in the New Zealand Herald Nicola Shepheard also joins in with an article entitled Shift to thrift - downsize your spending

So what better time to join the shift to thrift and revive some of our grandparents' pennywise tricks?

The war and post-war eras saw thrifty living as a way of life, before the consumer society intervened and waste became both a corporate by-product and corporate industry.

The call to budget and eco-consciousness can sound like a sentence to dullness and self-denial. Many frugal habits are prosaic and require a little self-discipline: turning off lights, not taking the car for short trips, buying refills.

But thrifty living doesn't have to equal homespun naffness and wowserism. Thrift can be rewarding, creative, sociable. Thrift can even be hip.

One moneysaving, eco-friendly trend that's already swept Britain and the United States is swapping clothes, or swishing.

Auckland speech therapist Polly Newton started throwing clothes swap parties with a friend five years ago when they were poor students.

Now she does it for original pieces that you couldn't buy, the re-using ethos, and fun. Up to 20 per cent of her wardrobe is from clothes swaps.

Writing for the New York Times Peter Goodman reports we may have reached a cultural inflection point away from living on credit. Geez I hope so.

But now the freewheeling days of credit and risk may have run their course — at least for a while and perhaps much longer — as a period of involuntary thrift unfolds in many households. With the number of jobs shrinking, housing prices falling and debt levels swelling, the same nation that pioneered the no-money-down mortgage suddenly confronts an unfamiliar imperative: more Americans must live within their means.

“We don’t use our credit cards anymore,” said Lisa Merhaut, a professional at a telecommunications company who lives in Leesburg, Va., and whose family last year ran up credit card debt it could not handle.

Today, Ms. Merhaut, 44, manages her money the way her father did. Despite a household income reaching six figures, she uses cash for every purchase. “What we have is what we have,” Ms. Merhaut said. “We have to rely on the money that we’re bringing in.”

The shift under way feels to some analysts like a cultural inflection point, one with huge implications for an economy driven overwhelmingly by consumer spending.

The American trade deficit is not sustainable and has enabled many people to live beyond their means. The down turn in housing prices, the decline in the dollar, and the recession might finally cause a turning point where people have to start living on what they earn.

By Randall Parker    2008 February 04 09:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2007 August 28 Tuesday
Median Income Rises Because Americans Work More

Median income rose but only because people worked more.

Household income crept higher and the poverty rate edged lower last year, the government said Tuesday, while the number of Americans without health insurance rose by 2.2 million to 47 million people.

Median household income rose 0.7 percent to $48,200, adjusted for inflation, the Census Bureau reported. But more people had to be at work in each household to get there.

That's because median earnings for individuals working full-time year-round actually fell for the third consecutive year. For men, earnings slipped 1.1 percent to a median of $42,300, while for women, earnings sank 1.2 percent to a median of $32,500.

Whites,. who earn more than blacks and Hispanics, are a dwindling portion of the US population. So this stagnation in median income isn't too surprising.

The sorta good times sure didn't last long. Wages have declined since a February 2007 peak.

The slight improvements in household income and a drop in the poverty rate came during a period of job growth, particularly toward the end of 2006, and declining inflation as a result of falling oil prices. But in 2007, the economy has begun weakening because of the national housing slump, and inflation has jumped. The average wage peaked at $17.52 an hour in February and has since fallen, according to Labor Department data.

The cost of oil is biting. I expect that bite to get worse.

1999 was the good old days for those in the middle.

More than half of all household income was earned by the wealthiest 20% of the population, with incomes above $97,000. Only 3.4% was earned by the bottom fifth, with incomes below $20,000. The median household income remained 2.1% below its pre-recession peak in 1999.

So we had a big economic recovery and now we've reached the end of the and I hear Peggy Lee singing "Is that all there is?".

The median household income last year was still about $1,000 less than in 2000, before the onset of the last recession. In 2006, 36.5 million Americans were living in poverty — 5 million more than six years before, when the poverty rate fell to 11.3 percent.

And what is perhaps most disturbing is that it appears this is as good as it’s going to get.

Sputtering under the weight of the credit crisis and the associated drop in the housing market, the economic expansion that started in 2001 looks like it might enter history books with the dubious distinction of being the only sustained expansion on record in which the incomes of typical American households never reached the peak of the previous cycle.

A larger fraction of the population experiences poverty at some point but they experience it for shorter periods of time.

The bureau's poverty rate measures a snapshot in time. Some experts say that focus masks a significant increase in economic instability for Americans that makes more people in the middle class vulnerable to poverty. That's because while the percentage of people in poverty at a given time may be declining (it's fluctuated between 10 and 15 percent for the past 20 years), more Americans overall are experiencing poverty at some time during their lives than at any time during the past 30 years, according to a study done at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study found that in the 1970s, about 24 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 29 experienced poverty for a year or more. In the 1980s, that went up to 30 percent. And in the 1990s, it increased to 38 percent. The reasons, according to Mark Rank, one author of the study, are the increase in lower-paying jobs, employment insecurity, and significant decreases in health-insurance coverage.

It says something about the amount of money that gets sucked in by the federal government that Maryland has bypassed New Jersey for the highest median income of any state. Do I even need to tell you that Mississippi is at the bottom?

By Randall Parker    2007 August 28 11:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 October 29 Sunday
More US Soldiers Deeper In Debt

Accumulating debts are making a rising number of US soldiers into security risks barred from overseas duty.

Data supplied by the Navy, Marines and Air Force show that the number of clearances revoked for financial reasons rose every year between 2002 and 2005, climbing ninefold from 284 at the start of the period to 2,654 last year. Partial numbers from this year suggest that the trend continues.

More than 6,300 troops in the three branches lost their clearances during that four-year period. Roughly 900,000 people are serving in the three branches, though not all need clearances.

The Army -- which employs 500,000 people and accounts for the vast majority of the 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- rejected repeated requests to supply its data, saying such information is confidential.

Among the causes? High interest rate payday lending businesses located next to military bases. They prey on young soldiers. I worry that the US financial industry has become far too effective at preying on innate weaknesses in human character. The ability to satisfy desires for instant gratification is becoming too automated. The marketing pitches are becoming more sophisticated. As a result the upper class makes a lot of money and the lower class piles up debt rather than accumulating assets and investments.

Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert of the US Marine Corps says soldiers returning from fighting have been shifted so far into living for the moment by the experiences on battlefields that they are more susceptible to pitches to buy on credit.

Some personnel fall into debt after returning from combat. "It can be hard to cut that sense of elation and desire to live for the moment," Lehnert said. "Some tend to get themselves overextended financially."

Debt is a huge problem probably bigger than drug abuse. But wealthy powerful legal businesses protect it just as the gambling industry protects their own ability to peddle vices to the susceptible.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 29 10:58 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
Parents Spending More Time With Children

A new study argues that time spent by mothers and fathers with their children has increased in the last few decades.

“We might have expected mothers to curtail the time spent caring for their children, but they do not seem to have done so,” said one of the researchers, Suzanne M. Bianchi, chairwoman of the department of sociology at the University of Maryland. “They certainly did curtail the time they spent on housework.”

The researchers found that “women still do twice as much housework and child care as men” in two-parent families. But they said that total hours of work by mothers and fathers were roughly equal, when they counted paid and unpaid work.

Using this measure, the researchers found “remarkable gender equality in total workloads,” averaging nearly 65 hours a week.

The findings are set forth in a new book, “Changing Rhythms of American Family Life,” published by the Russell Sage Foundation and the American Sociological Association. The research builds on work that Ms. Bianchi did in 16 years as a demographer at the Census Bureau.

At first, the authors say, “it seems reasonable to expect that parental investment in child-rearing would have declined” since 1965, when 60 percent of all children lived in families with a breadwinner father and a stay-at-home mother. Only about 30 percent of children now live in such families. With more mothers in paid jobs, many policy makers have assumed that parents must have less time to interact with their children.

But, the researchers say, the conventional wisdom is not borne out by the data they collected from families asked to account for their time. The researchers found, to their surprise, that married and single parents spent more time teaching, playing with and caring for their children than parents did 40 years ago.

I took a graphic from the article and translated it into the tables shown below for how mothers and fathers spend their hours. I suspect 65 hours per week total time spent that the study finds for mothers and fathers includes time not captured in the table below. I suspect commuting time and shopping time might account for the rest of the 65 hours per week not captured in the tables.

Mothers hours spent per week:

YearChild careHouseworkPaid workTotal

What caused the increase in time spent in child care? Are parents more afraid to let their kids play unsupervised? Or did automation of household cleaning simply allow mothers to spend more time with their kids and so they are exercising a previously frustrated desire? Or do mothers feel a need to spend more time helping with homework? Mothers I know spend a lot of time driving their kids around to events that mothers around my neighborhood didn't spend when I was a kid.

Now compare it to the hours spent by fathers. Note that the trend toward a shorter work week has stopped and even reversed.

Fathers hours spent per week:

YearChild careHouseworkPaid workTotal

From 1995 to 2000 the fathers took on more child care and more job work responsibilities. How has time worked changed since 2000? I bet the last 6 years have gotten even worse on the job front.

Note that the kids are seeing more time with both mom and dad, going from 13 hours total to 20 hours total. This time does not include time spent together while the parents are doing other things such as cleaning and shopping. Have the kids just shifted from time spent while mom vacuums to time where mom talks to them about their homework?

Another thing I'd like to know: Have households become more difficult to clean due to carpeting as compared to wooden floors? My guess is that back 100 years ago the standards for cleanliness for kids' clothing were not as high and the kids wore clothing longer between washings. Can any old readers comment on how often their clothes were washed in the 1930s or 1920s?

I'd also like to know how much time spent commuting has increased. The figures above do not appear to capture commuting time. I also suspect the figures do not capture shopping time.

I'd also like to know what made possible the decrease in hours doing housework. Are homes dirtier? Or did automation save that much time? Consumption of take-out food and restaurant meals has certainly increased. How much has the use of maid services contributed to a decrease in hours spent cleaning? No-iron clothing has reduced the need for time laboring over the ironing board (and I buy only non-iron shirts and pants)..

Marie Cocco argues that the much maligned working mothers sacrifice everything in their lives but time with their kids.

Now the research makes the stereotypes that pit selfish careerists against virtuous stay-at-home moms seem meaner than ever. Especially since the researchers found that women who work haven't only given up housework, they've given up big parts of themselves. Employed mothers sleep fewer hours per week and have much less discretionary time than mothers who don't work. They spend less time with their spouses and friends, the time diaries showed.

What drove these changes in the allocation of time by mothers and fathers? Any insights?

Oh, and how much time does the Roomba save?

By Randall Parker    2006 October 29 06:40 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 May 14 Sunday
American Middle Class Going Deeper Into Debt

The Center for American Progress, a "Progressive" think tank, has released a new report arguing that the middle class is going into debt due to rapidly rising costs of education, health care, and housing. Something has to give eventually.

America’s middle class is drowning in debt. A typical middle income family earning around $45,000 a year saw its debt burden grow by 33.1% between 2001 and 2004, even after adjusting for inflation. Debt relative to income rose even more, to 33.9%, during this period for middle income families. Personal bankruptcies among these households are rising steeply.

The reasons for greater economic distress among middle class households are not hard to pinpoint. Slow income growth between 2001 and 2004, the last year for which complete data is available, has not kept pace with the rising cost of big ticket items such as housing and education loans, medical expenses and transportation. Family budgets have been squeezed.

A common but misplaced assumption is that the growth in debt among middle-income families — those with incomes roughly between $25,000 to $70,000 a year — is the result of over-consumption through increased credit card debt. Rather, growth in debt is primarily due to heavier borrowing for investments in homes or education, both of which saw dramatic price increases in recent years. The cost of a college education, for example, grew by 26.3% between 2001 and 2004, after adjusting for inflation.

Specifically, this report finds:

  • Debt has expanded by 30.3 percentage points to 108.4% of income — the first time since the Federal Reserve started conducting this survey that debt exceeded income (See Figure A).
  • Despite low interest rates, debt payments surged to new highs. In 2004, the typical family spent more than 18% of its income on debt payments — the largest share since the Federal Reserve started collecting these data.
  • The share of heavily indebted households continues to rise. The share of households with debt payments greater than 40% of income rose from 12.8% in 2001 to 13.7% in 2004.

The data illustrate a more pronounced story about the economic situation of America’s middle class. In 2004, for example, the typical middle-income family dedicated the second largest share of income for debt payments (20%) relative to other income groups. And among middle income families, the share of families with debt payments greater than 40% of income rose the fastest among all income groups (3.2 percentage points from 2001 to 2004).

This growth in debt has been fuelled largely by loans for housing and education at a time of weak income growth. Households were caught in a bind that could lead them to take on more debt than in the past.

On education: Automate it. Governments that operate their own colleges and universities (e.g. American states) should film all college lectures and make them available at very low cost to their citizens. Tests for many topics could be automated with software. People could watch high resolution lectures and then take tests online to earn college credit. Bright and motivated teenagers could earn a couple of years of college credit before they graduate from high school. That'll save them, Mom, and Dad a lot of money for college. See my post Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs.

Also, an end to lower IQ immigration would reduce the need of the middle and upper classes to pay for private education of their kids. Middle class parents pay to keep their kids away from dumber kids. Our current mix of immigrants increases the need for parents to spend more on private education. It would also reduce the number of people who do not pay enough taxes to pay for the education of their children.

A repeal of the US Supreme Court decision in Griggs v. Duke Power would also lower the cost of education. How? Currently employers (with rare exceptions) can not do IQ tests or other tests that will score some racial and ethnic groups higher than other groups on average. Therefore people have to spend big money and 4 years to go to a college or university that has tough acceptance requirements (essentially an IQ test) to prove they are smart. Most of what they learn in college does not increase their value to employers. The schools with the toughest admissions requirements can charge through the nose to grant the "high IQ" college degree. Repeal the Supreme Court's stupid decision and people wouldn't need to spend $100,000+ on an expensive proxy for an IQ test.

On health care: Stop letting in legal and illegal immigrants who can not earn upper middle class salaries. Deport all the illegals. Even legal immigrants who do not have citizenship should be deported if they do not have demonstrated ability to earn high salaries. People who make less get subsidized medical care. Some of that subsidy takes the form of cost shifting onto the medically insured with higher premium prices.

On housing costs: Stop immigration. That will lower the demand for land, for housing, and for the materials such as wood that go into making houses. That will bring about lower prices.

Mind you, the progressives have boxed in their thinking so far with taboos on the truth about IQ and human differences that they'd never consider most of the solutions I propose here. Also, all the academics and education labor unions would consider the idea of automating education as a threat to their gravy train. The Left is pretty useless when it comes to solving our biggest problems in ways that are reality-based. They are about as worthless and destructive as Bush and his gang.

You can read the full report (PDF format).

Update: Also see: Younger Generation Getting Poorer and Income Inequality Continues Few Decade Rise and Gap Widening Between Economic Classes.

By Randall Parker    2006 May 14 04:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
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