Graveside Strippers

The Asian Sex Gazette, an online (and perhaps offline) publication whose content is a bit risque for this PG-rated blog (I found the link over at the excellent Marginal Revolution website, which plainly has a pervier crowd), reports that some Chinese funerals feature graveside strippers:

The more people that come to a funeral in China, the better the deceased is likely to fare in the afterlife, which is why some families have taken to hiring exotic dancers to keep attendance figures high.

Now Chinese officials are cracking down after the state broadcaster, CCTV, ran a report about two groups of strippers performing at a farmer’s funeral in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

The next day, police arrested the organisers and five women for “obscene performances.” Local officials were told they must submit plans for funerals within 12 hours after a villager dies. Exotic dancing is off the menu – and residents can report “funeral misdeeds” on a special hotline for a reward of USD $ 35.

I am skeptical that the government is really willing to pay $35 to stop a “funeral misdeed.” But more significantly, this story got me to thinking about funeral attendance in general. A few months ago, I attended the funeral of a friend who was 84 years old and was a well-regarded man in several arenas. Because he was an observant Jew, the funeral was held the day after his death, with no time to announce the time and place of the funeral — and yet more than 500 people attended. Many of them came from Manhattan (the funeral was held in New Jersey), although at least a few mourners came from Washington, D.C., and a lot of those 500 people have pretty high-ranking jobs in various fields.

Which made me wonder: how does funeral attendance impact productivity? I fear it may sound ghoulish to raise this question, though I do not do so in the spirit of ghoulishness. I just wonder about the changes in productivity among people who attend a lot of funerals and memorial services, and especially the difference between cultures or countries in which just about everyone goes to every funeral versus cultures or countries in which attendance is more uncommon. If anyone knows of research on this subject, I’d be interested in knowing. This is certainly not to suggest that people shouldn’t attend funerals; but a funeral is an event whose utility strikes me as amorphous at best. Not long ago, I was driving with my family past a lovely old cemetery on Cape Cod, and when I pointed it out, my 6-year-old son asked what a cemetery is for. I told him it’s so that people can go visit their dead friend or relative, maybe talk to them a bit, and that it can make the living people feel better. “That wouldn’t make me feel better,” he said. (Clear-eyed little guy just might grow up to be an economist.)

Of course, I may be looking at this all wrong. It may be that funerals are more valuable as networking events than they are costly in terms of lost work time.

Anyway: it’s a shame that the Chinese mourners can’t send their loved ones off with a big crowd any more. But maybe the stripper ban will at least nudge Chinese productivity up a bit.

[A related addendum: the blogger Max Kalehoff, who is a v.p. with BuzzMetrics, asks “Are Deceased Dads Remembered More On Fathers Day Versus Deceased Moms On Mothers Day?”]


msp

"Which made me wonder: how does funeral attendance impact productivity?"

Now, I remember why I usually skip the Dubner posts and look for the Levitt posts.

chrisbryan

If it helped people get over the individuals death quicker, then it would help an individuals productivity upon returning to work, thus balancing out the negative effects towards productivity.

william

Another way to look at it is as a necessary cost of deep relationships, which certainly have a lot of economic value. Or you could treat it as something that contributes to one's community standing. If somebody were to skip out on the funerals of good friends and mentors because they wanted to get a little work done, I'd certainly be less likely to trust them.

psteinx

We wouldn't want a little thing like the death of a loved one to slow someone's productivity down for more than a day or so.

And if, as a whole society we engaged in any non-productive grieving, why then, the Chinese might catch us.

You there - crying in the back row - stop it now!

psteinx

Sorry, I missed the best line...

"It may be that funerals are more valuable as networking events than they are costly in terms of lost work time."

Cause pretty much funerals can be summed up as just a tradeoff of some lost work time for the potential of a big networking score. Perhaps on slow days at the insurance office, the agent can scan the obits looking some good networking opportunities. "George was an old friend of mine - I hadn't seen him in a while, but he'll be missed. Say, a time like this makes you think about life insurance a bit, doesn't it. Did I mention that I can hook you up with some GREAT rates?"

baconboy

Actually, I don't think funeral attendance has much of an impact on work productivity, as most of the attendees at a funeral are too old to be in the workforce. I'm 38 and I've missed more work to go to weddings than funerals in the last 16 years. On the other hand, my 93-year-old grandmother regularly goes to funerals, though even that has faded since she has outlived most of her friends.

As far as the networking issue, I was a university fundraiser and attended several funerals as my university's official representantive. When someone leaves you lots of money in their will, you go to the funeral both as a gesture of respect and appreciation and as way of letting the living know that their gifts will be appreciated too.

And both funerals and cemetaries are for the living, not the dead.

cgranade

A point that seems to me to be missed in the comments here is that just because one asks if the practice of funerals leads to lost productivity doesn't mean automatically that one would reject the practice entirely if it does.

Remember that in the book, Dubner and Levitt argued that abortion legalization was largely responsible for drops in crime rate. That argument does not, however, imply that they supported abortion for the purposes of crime control.

Rather, their argument was intended to shed light on an interesting problem. Similarly, without an explicit statement of opposition to the practice of funerals on the sole basis of lost productivity, implying as much is a logical fallacy.

Craig

Yeah, I agree with msp, Dubner's posts have gotten to be too "Freakonomics" even for the Feakonomics site. Too many of these posts seemed to be concerned with rather uninteresting topics that aren't very important or even well thought-out.

Jeremy Cherfas

Think about the impact in sub-Sharan Africa, where funerals for AIDS are a major drain on economic activity, to say nothing of life.

deepakln

Dubner's question is quite interesting and very appropriate. I remember performing research on Botswana in graduate school and finding some research papers that talked about labor productivity and attendance to funeral services. Due to the AIDS epidemic quite a lot of research that focuses on the economic development impacts of this horrible disease has blossomed. Many of the papers point to funerals (costs and attendance) as serious problems that affect labor-intensive enterprises.

I found a 2003 article that touches on the topic, here‚s the link. I have not examined the methods or findings in detail so I cannot vouch for it.

http://www.cesifo.de/DocCIDL/1034.pdf

I'm sure there's more research out there...

110phil

The government doesn't have to be willing to pay $35 for each misdeed prevented.

Knowing that everyone in town has an incentive to report them would scare people into obeying the law. Which means that the government is probably preventing misdeeds for nearly nothing.

rayburn

Funerals have a large number of things to handle in a short, emotional period of time. You have to arrange the church/hall, the preacher/other speaker, the food, the flowers, the invitations, the travel arrangements, where everyone will stay, the music, the childhood pictures, the official certificate, and the special new clothes. To prepare this for a funeral takes just under two days. To prepare all these for a wedding takes six months. Why?

chrisbryan

How come no one has mentioned the economic activity that is created by funerals.

First of all there are the funeral directors who are employed as a result of the funerals, then there are casket makers, embalmers, crematoriums (for later cremation), and other jobs as well. So it may take away productivity from other jobs, but it is in itself a productive activity. It may not be as good an investment in future economic growth or important aspects of the economy per se, but then again neither are nail salons, tanning salons, or specialty dog care stores. Not to mention Keynesian public works ideas, in which one might have considered building a bridge to knowhere (which actually has been done recently but for different reasons) just to boost short-term economic activity.

banaib

There's a lot of networking and being seen that goes on at funerals. I remember about ten years ago someone prominent in show business died and one of my clients, a journalist, was dead set on getting to the funeral. No time or inclination for tears, may not have even met the deceased.

the_freak

“Which made me wonder: how does funeral attendance impact productivity?”

This is a ridiculous question for someone trained in economics. Funeral attendance impacts productivity the same way any leisure activity impacts productivity. That is, time spent at a funeral is time spent not working. However, I don't think there's any reason to believe that the number of funerals a person attends would change the ratio of working hours to non-working hours they would choose otherwise. People choose to work a certain number of hours based on the marginal utility they get from work versus the marginal utility they get from leisure. Funerals don't factor into this equation.

the_freak

"I remember performing research on Botswana in graduate school and finding some research papers that talked about labor productivity and attendance to funeral services. Due to the AIDS epidemic quite a lot of research that focuses on the economic development impacts of this horrible disease has blossomed."

There is one death/funeral for every birth, so I don't see how AIDS would affect the number of funerals. There is an economic impact from premature death, lost labor years, and I suppose funeral costs are brought forward (increasing the present value of funeral costs) but the only thing that affects the number of funerals is the birthrate.

Ben Good

"There is one death/funeral for every birth, so I don't see how AIDS would affect the number of funerals. There is an economic impact from premature death, lost labor years, and I suppose funeral costs are brought forward (increasing the present value of funeral costs) but the only thing that affects the number of funerals is the birthrate."

Yes, but average attendance at funerals will be much higher. The social network of your average 20-30 year old is obviously much greater than the network of an 80 year old, who won't been in work for upwards of 15 years. One of the principal reasons for attending funerals is to offer support to the grieving family- you are more likely to judge that the family need support if the dead person was cut off in their prime. In a country suffering from an AIDS pandemic, there may also be pragmatic reasons to go out of your way to mourn other deaths from the disease- if you yourself or a close relative are sick, you will be more likely to attend the funeral of a sick neighbour, to ensure your family isn't shunned when its time comes. Obviously, this will all have an impact on productivity. When you factor in the poor infrastructure in many parts of sub-saharan Africa, which make journeys to and from funerals long and difficult, the cost to productivity would be even more pronounced.

Read more...

msp

"Which made me wonder: how does funeral attendance impact productivity?"

Now, I remember why I usually skip the Dubner posts and look for the Levitt posts.

chrisbryan

If it helped people get over the individuals death quicker, then it would help an individuals productivity upon returning to work, thus balancing out the negative effects towards productivity.

william

Another way to look at it is as a necessary cost of deep relationships, which certainly have a lot of economic value. Or you could treat it as something that contributes to one's community standing. If somebody were to skip out on the funerals of good friends and mentors because they wanted to get a little work done, I'd certainly be less likely to trust them.