Does Child Abuse Rise During a Recession?

How do economic conditions affect the incidence of child abuse?  While researchers have found that poverty and child abuse are linked, there's been no evidence that downturns increase abuse.  A new working paper (PDF; abstract) by economists Jason M. Lindo, Jessamyn Schaller, and Benjamin Hansen "addresses this seeming contradiction." Here's the abstract, with a key finding in bold:

Using county-level child abuse data spanning 1996 to 2009 from the California Department of Justice, we estimate the extent to which a county's reported abuse rate diverges from its trend when its economic conditions diverge from trend, controlling for statewide annual shocks. The results of this analysis indicate that overall measures of economic conditions are not strongly related to rates of abuse. However, focusing on overall measures of economic conditions masks strong opposing effects of economic conditions facing males and females: male layoffs increase rates of abuse whereas female layoffs reduce rates of abuse. These results are consistent with a theoretical framework that builds on family-time-use models and emphasizes differential risks of abuse associated with a child's time spent with different caregivers.

Parking Is Hell: Architects to the Rescue

Inspired by our "Parking Is Hell" podcast, an ArchDaily op-ed shows how architects think about the parking problem:

The new car park in Miami is off to a good start, as it is definitively not brutalist, and has been designed and built to higher standards than its 1960s predecessors. It incorporates itself into an already walkable area, making it a success from the start. For this building and indeed any other mixed-use car parks which might be developed in cities worldwide, the lesson to take from the history of this peculiar building typology is that their success is very much dependent on the surrounding urban landscape being suited to accommodate them; much more than other building types, they are sensitive to poor planning.

Increasingly, poor parking arrangements are causing damage to our cities by occupying valuable space and contributing to congestion and pollution. The application of economics that we see in SF Park can mitigate these problems, without substantially changing anything – but wouldn’t it be better to fundamentally change our attitudes to parking, and design better spaces? We have surely learned enough from design’s history to make this a possible, and preferable, path to action.

America's Most Well-Read Cities

Amazon has just released its third annual list of the Most Well-Read Cities of America -- a ranking based on per-capita "sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format."  Here are the top 5:

1. Alexandria, Va.

2. Knoxville, Tenn.

3. Miami, Fla.


In a new blog post, Stephen Wolfram lays out some of the data from Wolfram/Alpha Personal Analytics for Facebook project. He looks at average network size;  how network size varies with age, gender, and location (among other things);  and, our favorite, what people talk about on Facebook at different ages:

People talk less about video games as they get older, and more about politics and the weather. Men typically talk more about sports and technology than women — and, somewhat surprisingly to me, they also talk more about movies, television and music. Women talk more about pets+animals, family+friends, relationships — and, at least after they reach child-bearing years, health. The peak time for anyone to talk about school+university is (not surprisingly) around age 20. People get less interested in talking about “special occasions” (mostly birthdays) through their teens, but gradually gain interest later. And people get progressively more interested in talking about career+money in their 20s. And so on. And so on.

(HT: Justin Wolfers

Age Discrimination? Pay Your Birth-Year Rate

Canadian reader Lisa Sansom wrote to us about an interesting price promotion at Starwood hotels: 


We're celebrating the year you were born. With this special offer for two or three night stays, you'll receive rates equal to your birth year!

  • First night: full rate
  • Second or third night: rates equal to your birth year! (If you were born in 1948, you'll receive your 2nd and 3rd nights at $48!)
  • Rates for second and third night stays will be confirmed at check-in upon presentation of valid ID.
  • Valid for arrivals Thursday - Saturday

FREAK-est Links

1. How well does government work? Economists call for evaluations.

2. UMass Amherst grad student Thomas Herndon finds coding errors in key debt-load paper by Reinhart and Rogoff.

3. Price dives: gold, cupcakes, and chicken wings.

4. Databases that track employee theft.

The Human Zoo

If you're a fan of behavioral economics on the radio, check out BBC Radio 4's new weekly program The Human Zoo. It is hosted by Michael Blastland, a journalist, and Nick Chater, professor of behavioral science at the University of Warwick. Chater is also on the advisory board of the British Government's Behavioral Insights Team (or "Nudge Unit"), which you heard about in the Freakonomics podcast "The Tax Man Nudgeth." Human Zoo episodes are accompanied by online experiments.

Where Are All the $100 Bills?

Planet Money reports on the surprising destination of most U.S. $100 bills:

In fact, as of 2011, roughly two-thirds of all $100 bills were held outside the U.S., according to an estimate by Ruth Judson, an economist at the Fed.

The article explains why the high demand for U.S. currency is a good thing:

As Bruce Bartlett recently pointed out, when foreigners hold U.S. dollars, they are effectively giving the U.S. government an interest-free loan.

More broadly, foreign demand for U.S. currency (and U.S. Treasury bonds) in times of crisis is a sign that people in the rest of the world still see the U.S as the home of one of the safest, most stable economies on the planet.

(HT: The Big Picture)

Discriminating Software

The Economist takes a look at the software that big companies are using to sort through job applicants. It finds that people who use Chrome and Firefox browsers are better employees, and people with criminal records are suited to work in call centers. One drawback to having a computer sort potential employees is that its algorithms may treat some variables as proxies for race, as discussed in our "How Much Does Your Name Matter?" podcast, in which the Harvard computer scientist Latanya Sweeney found that distinctively black names are more likely to draw ads that offer arrest records. 

Why Cell Phone Networks Crash During an Emergency

Maggie Koerth-Baker of BoingBoing interviews Brough Turner, a phone system expert, about why it's hard to make cell phone calls during an emergency. Turner addresses the mechanics and limitations of cell phone networks and points out that, nostalgia notwithstanding, the pre-cell phone era faced its own technical problems:

Well, say you'd have an earthquake in California. This was for the old Bell system. The national long distance routing has a set of standard, predefined routes and it had network control centers in New Jersey and other places. Things would get overloaded and they would manually intervene by putting access restrictions on new calls coming into the area that was congested. In the 60s, 70s, and 80s they would let through one out of every five call attempts. They were doing that manually and just arbitrarily to reduce congestion.

(HT: The Big Picture)