Why Use the Best Lumber in a House That Won’t Last?

A Freakonomics Radio listener named Kevin wrote in response to our recent episode called “Why Are Japanese Homes Disposable?” First, here's a quick summary of that episode:

It turns out that half of all homes in Japan are demolished within 38 years — compared to 100 years in the U.S.  There is virtually no market for pre-owned homes in Japan, and 60 percent of all homes were built after 1980. In Jiro Yoshida’s estimation, while land continues to hold value, physical homes become worthless within 30 years. Other studies have shown this to happen in as little as 15 years.

Want to Win Olympic Medals? Fix Your Economy First

Steven Perlberg of Business Insider quotes a private research note by ConvergEx's Nick Colas on the correlation between Olympic success and economic strength. "The Winter Olympics are a useful backdrop for case studies on the relationship between athletic performance and economic progress in emerging markets around the world," writes Colas. "We’ve analyzed the medal count by country since the inaugural Winter Games in 1924, and indeed the results show that athletes rarely make it to the podium until their respective countries experience economic progress and stability."  A few case studies from Colas's note:

  • Japan’s Winter Olympic performance history tells a post-WWII recovery story.  The country competed in three Winter Games (1928, 1932 and 1936) before it won its first medal – silver – in 1956.  Japanese athletes didn’t earn any additional medals until the 1972 games, which the country hosted, and have been consistently making an appearance on the podium since 1980.  Japan won its first medal when it was taking off as an emerging economy and getting its economic act together following WWII.  Industrialism in the country picked up rapidly following the war, and the Olympic medal consistency coincided with the consumption boom in the 1980s. 

Why Are the Japanese No Longer Interested in Sex?

From the Guardian:

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.

And:

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.

Can You Change Your Destiny With Palm Surgery?

The Daily Beast reports that palm surgery is on the rise in Japan:

In Japan, where palm reading remains one of the most popular means of fortune-telling, some people have figured out a way to change their fate. It’s a simple idea: change your palm, change the reading, and change your future. All you need is a competent plastic surgeon with an electric scalpel who has a basic knowledge of palmistry. Or you can draw the lines on your hand with a marker and let him work the magic you want.

Missing a marriage line? That can be fixed. Wedding bells may ring.

Need some good fortune? Add a money-luck line and you might win the lottery or be promoted to vice president in your firm. For the smart shopper—one willing to undergo palm plastic surgery—the future isn’t what it used to be.

The surgery is evidently so popular that clinics don't need to advertise.  In fact, one clinic's brief advertising campaign resulted in so much demand they found themselves unable to keep up. "Maybe changing your palm won’t change your fate," says plastic surgeon Takaaki Matsuoka, "but if you have that much determination to try to change it—and are willing to endure a little pain for that chance—maybe you can change your life.”

(HT: Isabel McCann)

Does Anybody Still Invest in Japan?

If so, you've had a nice run lately. The Nikkei is up nearly 50 percent in the last few months. Might have a little something to do with a weak yen.

Are Good Manufacturing Jobs Bad News for Education?

Here's a fascinating new working paper from Yale economist David G. Atkin, called "Endogenous Skill Acquisition and Export Manufacturing in Mexico" (abstract here; PDF of an earlier version here). The gist:

This paper presents empirical evidence that the growth of export manufacturing in Mexico during a period of major trade reforms, the years 1986-2000, altered the distribution of education.  I use variation in the timing of factory openings across municipalities to show that school dropout increased with local expansions in export manufacturing. The magnitudes I find suggest that for every twenty jobs created, one student dropped out of school at grade 9 rather than continuing through to grade 12.  These effects are driven by the least-skilled export-manufacturing jobs which raised the opportunity cost of schooling for students at the margin.

It makes sense, of course, that students on the margin might happily abandon school in favor of a good job. But is that necessarily a bad thing? How should a society balance jobs and educational ambition? And who should be thinking harder about this issue -- India or China? Or perhaps the U.S.?

Collateral Damage from the Japanese Tsunami Disaster?

A reader named Mark Weitzman calls our attention to a Yomiuri Shimbun article with a provocative claim:

Quake efforts blamed for rise in snow mishaps

This winter's heavier snowfall has seen more than 500 people across seven prefectures die or become injured in snow-related accidents, including cases in which they had been trying to remove snow, it has been learned.

People are trying to remove snow themselves using shovels and other tools because of delays in municipal-led snow removal. The delays have been caused by a shortage of dump trucks--many of which are being used in areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake for reconstruction work--to transport snow.

According to data compiled by the Akita, Aomori, Ishikawa, Nagano, Niigata, Toyama and Yamagata prefectural governments, the death toll from such snow-related accidents had reached 31 as of Wednesday, while 479 people had sustained injuries.

Tattoo Taboo

I was in Tokyo a few weeks ago speaking at IBM’s Business Analytics Forum. At 6:30 in the morning a few hours before my talk, I had a wonderfully rejuvenating swim at the Royal Park Hotel. But I was surprised to see a pool-side sign stating “Persons With Body Tattoos Not Allowed.”
I have swum at dozens of pools in the United States and have never encountered such a restriction. Is there any valid public health reason for tattoo discrimination? Is the pool policy driven by irrational health concerns (a la the early days of HIV hysteria)?

FREAK-est Links

This week, Smith College Logic professors prank the whole campus; how much of the world's energy use goes to the Internet? Maps showing the geographic prices of weed, and unbanked America; out of 7 billion, which number human are you? And, why are Japanese women paying to have their teeth messed up?

Why Adult Adoption is Key to the Success of Japanese Family Firms

What happens when the heir to a family business isn't up to the job? Not great things, apparently. But the Japanese have a solution: adult adoption. Rather than hand the firm to a less-than-worthy blood heir, Japanese families often adopt an adult to take over. This tradition is the subject of Vikas Mehrotra's paper "Adoptive Expectations: Rising Sons in Japanese Family Firms," which is featured in our latest podcast and hour-long Freakonomics Radio special “The Church of Scionology.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player, or read the transcript here.)

America and Japan have the highest rates of adoption in the world - with one big difference. While the vast majority of adoptees in the U.S. are children, they account for just 2% of adoptions in Japan. The other 98% are males around 25 to 30. Mehrotra believes this is the key to one of Japan's unique differences. Across the developed world, family firms under-perform professionally-run businesses. But in Japan, it's the opposite. Japan's strongest companies are led by scions, many of them adopted.