A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by James Heckman and Tim Kautz looks at the relationship between “character” and student achievement as measured by test scores. Long story short: achievement tests don’t necessarily measure what will often matter most once students hit the real world.
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This paper reviews the recent literature on measuring and boosting cognitive and noncognitive skills. The literature establishes that achievement tests do not adequately capture character skills–personality traits, goals, motivations, and preferences–that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains. Their predictive power rivals that of cognitive skills. Reliable measures of character have been developed. All measures of character and cognition are measures of performance on some task. In order to reliably estimate skills from tasks, it is necessary to standardize for incentives, effort, and other skills when measuring any particular skill.
Character is a skill, not a trait. At any age, character skills are stable across different tasks, but skills can change over the life cycle. Character is shaped by families, schools, and social environments. Skill development is a dynamic process, in which the early years lay the foundation for successful investment in later years.
Most adults have vivid memories of the cars of their childhoods — the wood-paneled station wagons (with backwards-facing rear seats, no less) or the boxy minivans in which they were driven to school or church. But how much do those memories affect people’s car-buying decisions in adulthood? That’s the question asked in a new paper (draft PDF; abstract) by Soren T. Anderson, Ryan Kellogg, Ashley Langer, and James M. Sallee:
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We document a strong correlation in the brand of automobile chosen by parents and their adult children, using data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. This correlation could represent transmission of brand preferences across generations, or it could result from correlation in family characteristics that determine brand choice. We present a variety of empirical specifications that lend support to the former interpretation and to a mechanism that relies at least in part on state dependence. We then discuss implications of intergenerational brand preference transmission for automakers’ product-line strategies and for the strategic pricing of vehicles to different age groups.
Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060.
The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.” More than a quarter of men felt the same way.
The article contains a number of speculations as to cause, well worth reading. At least the Malthusians will be happy.
A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by Eric V. Edmonds and Maheshwor Shrestha analyzes whether schooling incentives (in the form of conditional cash transfers) effectively reduce child labor, which is a persistent problem in developing countries. Their conclusion: you get what you pay for. From the abstract:
Can efforts to promote education deter child labor? We report on the findings of a field experiment where a conditional transfer incentivized the schooling of children associated with carpet factories in Nepal. We find that schooling increases and child involvement in carpet weaving decreases when schooling is incentivized. As a simple static labor supply model would predict, we observe that treated children resort to their counterfactual level of school attendance and carpet weaving when schooling is no longer incentivized. From a child labor policy perspective, our findings imply that “You get what you pay for” when schooling incentives are used to combat hazardous child labor.
We’ve blogged before about America’s rising obesity rate and how to fight it, but the battle may have just gotten a little easier. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows obesity rates dropping for low-income preschool children in 19 states between 2008 and 2011. From the Wall Street Journal:
The obesity analysis, by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, was based on data from 11.6 million children age 2 to 4. The survey group included children eligible for federally funded programs of maternal and child health and nutrition, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as the WIC program.
The decline was greatest in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where the obesity rate in such children fell to 11% in 2011 from 13.6% in 2008. Drops of more than one percentage point were also seen in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Missouri, and South Dakota.
Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, called the results a “bright spot” and a “tipping point.”
“For the first time in a generation, we’re seeing it go in the right direction in 2- to 4-year-olds,” he said on a conference call with reporters, calling the changes “small but statistically significant.” He was quick to add, “We’re very, very far from being out of the woods.”
Of the 43 states measured, obesity rates for preschool children rose in 3 states and remained the same same in 21 states.
Our latest Freakonomics Radio podcast is called “Do Baby Girls Cause Divorce?” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)
This episode was inspired by a question from a reader named John Dolan-Heitlinger, who wrote the following:
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My wife has observed that in marriages where there is a son there is less chance of the husband leaving the marriage.
I wonder if that is true.
Thanks for your consideration.
Elderly Americans who live with people under age 18 have lower life evaluations than those who do not. They also experience worse emotional outcomes, including less happiness and enjoyment, and more stress, worry, and anger. In part, these negative outcomes come from selection into living with a child, especially selection on poor health, which is associated with worse outcomes irrespective of living conditions. Yet even with controls, the elderly who live with children do worse. This is in sharp contrast to younger adults who live with children, likely their own, whose life evaluation is no different in the presence of the child once background conditions are controlled for. Parents, like elders, have enhanced negative emotions in the presence of a child, but unlike elders, also have enhanced positive emotions. In parts of the world where fertility rates are higher, the elderly do not appear to have lower life evaluations when they live with children; such living arrangements are more usual, and the selection into them is less negative. They also share with younger adults the enhanced positive and negative emotions that come with children. The misery of the elderly living with children is one of the prices of the demographic transition.
A new paper in JAMA Pediatrics finds that a small number of children are showing up in Colorado emergency rooms having unintentionally ingested marijuana. It seems they are gobbling up their grandparents’ medical-marijuana candy. The paper is gated but Medical News Today summarizes:
As background information, the authors, from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, Denver, explained that medical marijuana has higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than when used recreationally. They added that medical marijuana is sold in candies, soft drinks and baked goods. … There is concern that parents/grandparents may not disclose their use of medical marijuana because of the perceived stigma associated with the drug.