The Inflation of Everything

Inflation is a term most often employed to describe prices.  A too-high inflation rate results in a devalued currency. But what about the inflation of other things in our world? The Economist reports on this trend:

Price inflation remains relatively subdued in the rich world, even though central banks are busily printing money. But other types of inflation are rampant. This “panflation” needs to be recognised for the plague it has become.

Take the grossly underreported problem of “size inflation”, where clothes of any particular labelled size have steadily expanded over time. Estimates by The Economist suggest that the average British size 14 pair of women’s trousers is now more than four inches wider at the waist than it was in the 1970s. In other words, today’s size 14 is really what used to be labelled a size 18; a size 10 is really a size 14. 

The article also describes the inflation of travel goods (hotel rooms and plane tickets), grades, and job titles. When everything from grades to clothing sizes are inflated in the name of avoiding harsh realities, information is compromised. “Inflation of all kinds devalues everything it infects,” explains The Economist. “It obscures information and so distorts behavior.”

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COMMENTS: 15


  1. Meg says:

    This is interesting, but makes me feel a bit fat if I’m honest.

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  2. Adam Thompson says:

    This post reminded me of when Raymond Chen of Microsoft did a write-up of what he described as ‘Priority Inflation’. Link: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/oldnewthing/archive/2008/11/21/9131198.aspx
    Nice to see that non-monetary inflation is noticed outside of techie circles!

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  3. Mike B says:

    Sizes haven’t inflated, its more like they have rescaled. If you live on the anorexic side of the spectrum I have heard that several brands offer sizes of zero and below (not sure if they are negative or fractional). The problem is that unlike men’s suits and pants a woman’s dress size does not come with units…and that’s probably not surprising.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      The problem of clothing size inflation is only “grossly underreported” if you read only publications that cater to male readers.

      http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/design/2012/01/clothing_sizes_getting_bigger_why_our_sizing_system_makes_no_sense_.html has quite a bit of information on why men’s sizes are based on actual measurements and women’s sizes aren’t.

      The basic answer is that there is far more diversity in women’s body shapes. Depending on the method chosen, women of basically the same height and weight can be classified into five, six, or seven body shapes. Men, by contrast, really only divide into two shapes: “normal” and “beer belly” (which only exists at the upper range).

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      • Miley Cyrax says:

        “Depending on the method chosen, women of basically the same height and weight can be classified into five, six, or seven body shapes.”

        While I note that the chest area provides an additional source of phenotypic variation for women vis a vis men, thus multiplying the possible combinations of female body shapes, this “classification” sounds highly arbitrary. Body shapes are continuous, not discrete.

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      • James says:

        There’s more variation than that, though it is on more of a continuous scale. For instance, when I buy sweats, I need small pants, but a large or extra large top – and even then, something that fits my arms & shoulders will generally have room to stuff a basketball in at the waist.

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      • tmeier says:

        It used to be men’s sizes were actual measurements but not any more, at least they are not the measurements they purport to be. I have size 34 trousers from 20 years ago which are slightly smaller than size 32 today. These are dry clean only and the length has not changed so shrink is not an issue.
        Also a normal fit for a jacket or sweater is now a waist nearly as big as the chest. You have to buy special trim fit if you aren’t built like a tub.

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  4. Masaccio says:

    Reminds me of the time I ordered a small soda at the drive-thru, only to be told that they didn’t have small, just regular, medium, and large.

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  5. Dragos Toader says:

    Here are some ideas I’ve been mulling over:

    1. Grade inflation. How does this correlate to the price per student per unit of time?
    Perhaps teachers and educational institutions have an interest in keeping grates high
    for as many pupils as possible. Perhaps federal grants are in line for well performing
    institutions.
    Follow the money.

    2. The why’s of title inflation.
    How do inflated job titles correlate to earnings?
    Are people willing to settle for a smaller paycheck if they get to tack on another title?
    Seems so. Has anyone tested this?
    Does title inflation have traction where it counts? (actual earnings and salaries)
    Do previous titles matter when searching for a new job?
    Do people change titles (i.e programmer becomes engineer) because they perceive
    higher income earning potential?
    Is there a title accretion (more titles with time) observable as time passes
    and people change jobs (measure this with resume versions over time)

    3. Clothing size inflation
    What incentive do clothing makers have to inflate clothing sizes?
    Perhaps people are more likely buy larger clothing labeled with a smaller size
    because they are lying to themselves about their size.

    There are economic reasons for this panflation and I believe that unless
    we (meaning the western world) are willing to fess up and be honest with
    ourselves about our measurement standards it will get worse before it
    gets better.

    Here’s another interesting question:
    Is there correlation or causation between monetary inflation and “panflation”?

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  6. Ruth C Eason says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  7. BSK says:

    I’ve noticed this with clothing. I am basically the same size I was in college (I’m 28 now), but need to constantly remind my mom that she needs to buy me things in size Medium, not Large, despite the consistent body size/type.

    Yes, my mom still buys me clothes for Christmas. She doesn’t know what else to get.

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  8. Miley Cyrax says:

    “Estimates by The Economist suggest that the average British size 14 pair of women’s trousers is now more than four inches wider at the waist than it was in the 1970s. In other words, today’s size 14 is really what used to be labelled a size 18; a size 10 is really a size 14.”

    Women are fatter now, but still want to feel thin, even if delusionally. Among other news, the S&P500 is now higher, the fastest 100m dash time lower, and the world population larger.

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  9. Senna says:

    Size inflation in shoes has driven me absolutely crazy recently. I have quite small feet; it used to be that a women’s size five or even 5 1/2 would do me OK most of the time. Now it seems like I can only find a good fit in a girls’ size three or so, which rarely gives me the pick of styles I want. I have apparently fallen straight off of the bell curve for women’s shoes. Size inflation for clothes is also troublesome as it makes it harder to pick up on those subtle cues that you’re gaining weight without pulling out a scale and tape measure.

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  10. Caleb b says:

    I’ve seen the extensive use of the “senior” title in my office. If they can’t promote you, they’ll take your current title and add “Sr.” to it. It dosen’t mean anything, but it DOES make people feel better. People were racing to change their email signatures. I was the only one that didn’t.

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  11. Voice of Reason says:

    This could be applied to education itself as opposed to just grades, and how readily available education has led to this.

    In the 17th-19th century, going to a university meant that you were either from an extremely wealthy family, or were a prodigy of some sort, and there were only a few available.

    In the 20th century up until the 50′s-60′s, colleges were still exclusive, but there were more available than just Harvard and Oxford type schools. Going to college was still somewhat of a rarity, but it was still possible for people in the middle class to do it, and would groom you for a white collar job.

    After the 60′s to about 2000, college became pretty standard for those who did well in school, and was a measuring stick for many parents as to how well they raised their kids. Nearly any decent indoor job required a college degree, and schools of all types were available, with the best having fierce competition, and even the average having pretty hard competition.

    2000-now: the post-secondary school market is completely saturated, and everybody and their mother who wants to come out into the workforce has a Bachelors. Community colleges, online schools, for-profit schools, and fly by night schools have gauranteed that anybody with a credit card (or the ability to fill out student loan papers) can have access to a degree (whether its printed out by yourself or not). At this point, most white collar jobs even require masters, and won’t even consider applicants without college.

    My point being, college as gotten more and more accessible to the masses over the years. While acceptance graduation from a college was once an extraordinary accomplishment, and a graduate was a hot commodity, now a gradudate from a 4-year university is just another face in the crowd, and there’s a push to make the masters degree the new bachelors (in terms of exclusvity).

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