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DUBNER: I had no point. I just wanted to criticize myself.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: we know misogyny is wrong, but what about misandry?

DUCKWORTH: “Hey! Tell me more about how you hate me.”

Also: how do you stop obsessing over things you can’t change?

DUBNER: All who ruminate are ruminants, but not all ruminants necessarily ruminate. 

*      *      *

Stephen J. DUBNER: Angela, my question for you today is a little circular and a little meta. 

Angela DUCKWORTH: That’s totally fine. 

DUBNER: So, you recently sent me an email after an episode in which we had discussed the Dunning-Kruger effect. And you wrote, “I was chatting with a colleague yesterday about his skepticism of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I think my updated view is that it may occur, and likely does, but does so alongside regression to the ‘man.’” Which — 

DUCKWORTH: Okay. Typo. 

DUBNER: Now, plainly, that was just a typo. You meant to type “regression to the mean.” But when I saw that, I thought, “Wow, regression to the man. That is maybe the world’s best Freudian slip ever, especially in light of a different recent conversation you and I had.” Because in this other conversation, you had brought up the Trier Stress Test.  

DUCKWORTH: The Trier Social Stress Test.  

DUBNER: I just want to play you the clip to get it fresh in our mind. 


DUCKWORTH: Have you heard of the Trier Social Stress Test? 

DUBNER: I have not. 

DUCKWORTH: I have a theory that only men name things after themselves. So, guess who came up with this social stress test? Yes, that’s right. Trier. Trier did. And he was a dude.  

DUBNER: Okay. Now, interestingly, Angela, that turned out to be wrong.  

DUCKWORTH: Wait, what turned out to be wrong specifically?  

DUBNER: Well, here, I’ll play you the fact-check, because Rebecca came in at the end of this episode to tell us what was actually what. So let’s hear that clip too. 

DOUGLAS: Angela says that she has a theory that only men name things after themselves. And she cites the Trier Social Stress Test as an example. Men have certainly named quite a few things after themselves throughout history. However, the Trier Social Stress Test doesn’t fit the bill. The test for psychological stress was developed in the early 1990s by Clemens Kirschbaum and his colleagues at the University of Trier in the German city of Trier.  

DUBNER: So, Angie, you are so rarely wrong.  

DUCKWORTH: That’s a kind of humiliating wrong. Trier the city! Oops.  

DUBNER: But look, this is not about making an error, because I’ve made, I’m sure, many more errors than you. But what struck me is the ease with which you made that disparaging comment about dudes did make me wonder about “regression to the man” and about current attitudes toward men generally. If I had said something similar about women, or pretty much any group of people other than white men, I would check myself. Misogyny in all forms is wrong; racism and prejudice in all forms is wrong. So here’s my question: What about misandry — the contempt for or prejudice against men? Do you think it’s legit? On the rise? I’d like to think I understand fully the desire to correct the past. But I am wondering where this leads and how it ends.  

DUCKWORTH: I, first of all, would agree with you that if you wanted to say something disparaging about the half of the species that self-identifies as women, that you would probably pause, you might seek legal counsel or P.R. advice first, and then you might not say what you would have said, whereas there seems to be a liberty in doing the opposite, like beating up on dudes. I agree that there is more hesitation. I think the question would be: what reasons are legitimate and what reasons are less legitimate for that hesitation or that asymmetry? In the column of, well, here’s a reason why you should pause more: I mean, we still live in a society where the power is, not only in the United States, but around the world, in favor of men on any metric. 

DUBNER: And also, the amount of misogyny is still massive. I was looking at this U.N. study from last year which looks at gender inequality around the world, and it said, “The analysis reveals that despite decades of progress closing the equality gap between men and women, close to 90 percent of men and women hold some sort of bias against women.”  

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I read a book just last month. It was an advance copy, but I think it’s coming out in the spring. I read it cover to cover. It’s called I’m A Girl From Africa, and it’s by a woman named Elizabeth Nyamayaro. And when she describes the levels of misogyny — and not just attitudes, but violent behavior toward women around the world — I mean, there may have been misogyny in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where I grew up, but it’s at a level that I couldn’t even really fully picture except by reading what somebody else has experienced. So, I think that is one reason why the hesitation to say disparaging things about the less-powerful half of the species is warranted. There is a reality there that we’re pointing to.  

DUBNER: I am, I think, aware of how much deeper this history is and how much larger female inequality is throughout history than we can address here. But, I guess, when I look at just the last five to 10 years, especially with #MeToo — #MeToo exposed publicly, for those who hadn’t acknowledged or been aware, the horrible behavior of a bunch of men. But then the question becomes, well: what share of men are horrible? And then how much guilt by gender association is there or should there be? So, I start to think about this question in context, of course, of Nazism in World War II, just because that somehow is a frame that I revert to. But I think about the old notion of the “good German.” 

DUCKWORTH: What is that?  

DUBNER: The “good German” refers to German citizens during and after the second World War who didn’t support the Nazi regime, but didn’t object or fight back. And I was thinking about this, because for a certain generation of non-Germans, Germany became a nation that was all villain. And look, I think people have been having this conversation about the Republican Party in the age of Trump. What does it mean to be a Republican if the leader of the party is someone that you find objectionable on one or many levels? So the question becomes: how do you separate out individuals from a larger group, especially when the larger group is under assault? And I’m not saying men are under assault. 

DUCKWORTH: Some men would say that men are under assault. 

DUBNER: I guess people do say that. And I guess what I say to that is that even if there is widespread misandry, and I’m not saying there is, it’s probably just a shadow of the gender inequality directed at women. 

DUCKWORTH: Right. So, misandry, I don’t think can ever be said to be a good thing. I don’t see how hating any large segment of the population, only knowing their demographic characteristic, could ever be good. But I have to say, I understand why it is that there’s asymmetric sensitivity to things that guys could be doing that are questionable or wrong.  

DUBNER: I do wonder about the ramifications of the way the relationship between men and women is changing. And one parallel — which is probably a terrible parallel, but it’s what came to my mind — is some research done around the Americans With Disabilities Act years ago, which found that after the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed, which was meant to provide all sorts of opportunities and protections for people with a variety of disabilities, one result of that was that people with certain disabilities were actually hired much less often. And it was a sad, unintended consequence. 

DUCKWORTH: And why was that?  

DUBNER: The reason, as best I understand, was that if you’re an employer and you hire someone with a disability, they are now protected to a degree that, even if they’re really bad at their job, you’re not going to be able to fire them as readily as you might have before. And therefore, the response is to just avoid hiring them in the first place. That’s obviously counter to what the legislation was meant to accomplish, even though the legislation did accomplish many other things. But I did begin to wonder over these last several years, if men, who still run a lot of stuff, will, in some circumstances, avoid hiring women who should be hired. And I think that’d be a brute-force response to what’s going on. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see it. 

DUCKWORTH: It wouldn’t be new either, don’t you think? Men might — men, or women, honestly — say, “Oh, well, she’s going to get pregnant, or she’s going to get married.” Anyway, that’s a very tough nut to crack, policy-wise. If there is this unintended consequence you don’t want to have play out in the way that you just said, I don’t have a great idea of how to counter that. Do you? 

DUBNER: Well, there are some policies in, I want to say Denmark, might be Sweden — I’m lumping all the Scandinavians together — where, if you make paternity leave as long as maternity leave, then that tends to equilibrate things pretty well. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, interesting. So, you just create incentives for equality.  

DUBNER: And, I think, if I recall correctly — this can’t be right. So, I’m sure I’m recalling incorrectly. But I was going to say that men are maybe required to take that paternity leave just to not give them an unfair advantage. But I don’t know, maybe I am right? Maybe Rebecca can find that out for us.  

DUCKWORTH: I know that for tenure in many universities you have an optional year to add on to your clock if you have a baby.  

DUBNER: So, eight years instead of seven, maybe?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I think it was a relatively new change that many universities said that applies if you’re a male faculty member or a female faculty member. 

DUBNER: And has that been done in enough places that there’s a natural experiment where the effect can be measured well?  

DUCKWORTH: I don’t think so. We’re talking about small ends. And then there are lots of features of universities that make that kind of change that go along with that. So, it’s very hard to say. But, to your point, then you get this sometimes unintended consequence that you can signal that you don’t need the extra year.  

DUBNER: Interesting.  

DUCKWORTH: So, maybe enforcing the extra year? But then there’s downsides. This is, by the way, Stephen, why I don’t do policy. It’s too hard. It’s like, “Oh, right. On the other-other-other hand, this might happen.” So, I don’t really have a good answer to this. 

But, I mentioned that book, I Am a Girl from Africa — I learned about this solidarity movement for gender equality called HeForShe. Basically, the idea is that if you are going to be looking for a more equitable society where there’s less misogyny, that you have to turn the tables a bit and instead of making men the opponents, that you would make them your allies. So, a lot of it is about getting prominent male C.E.O.s or world leaders to stand up and say, “I commit to this hiring practice or this policy change.” 

DUBNER: I love that idea. And look, there’s been interesting research about how even men who had opposed, or been neutral, on certain kinds of female-positive legislation, they will change if they have daughters, for instance.  

DUCKWORTH: The famous daughters study! 

DUBNER: Yeah.  

DUCKWORTH: Do you want to recap it? I love this study. 

DUBNER: You can recap.  

DUCKWORTH: It’s the kind of study that just makes me jealous that I didn’t have this great idea. So, you asked me about random assignment studies. Well, having a kid and their gender is pretty much as random assignment as it can get. You don’t have control over it. It’s not confounded with anything. And the question would be: if, by chance, you happen to have girls and not boys, or girls in addition to boys, what’s the influence on you? What kind of an intervention effect is there on your attitudes towards women because you’ve had daughters? 

This is studied with large corporations’ C.E.O.s. Companies led by C.E.O.s who have daughters have much more progressive policies for parental leave and the like. And I think it’s such a beautiful experiment. And I kind of wonder what the effect of having boys is. I have two girls and I don’t know anything about what it’s like to have a son. And I’m guessing that my perspective on growing up as a guy, being a guy, is fairly limited, because in our family, there’s only one of them, and it’s my husband. 

DUBNER: Yeah, I think for a lot of young men, even in grade school, but especially middle school and high school, there’s a lot that they’re trying to figure out and learn right now. I think there are a lot of people who are struggling to have conversations with their sisters, and their mothers, and their girlfriends, and their friends who are female about how I can be who I am and also be the kind of young man or older man that is not seen as A) an other, and B) as a detriment or an enemy. I read a piece by Sarah Begley in Time magazine. It was a while back. She was writing about sardonic misandry. I’ll read a little chunk: 

“When feminists joke that they are misandrists, they’re riffing off the misguided popular notion that they are man haters. But inherent in this word ‘misandry’ is hatred, and inherent in phrases like ‘ban men’ and ‘male tears’ are cruelty and violence. What feminists really hate,” she writes, “is the patriarchy, the web of institutions that systematically oppress women. And to tear it down, we,” meaning women, “need as many allies as we can get. Telling half the population that we hate them, even in jest, is not the way to do that.” 

DUCKWORTH: I think that’s very wise. I think that’s like the whole logic of HeForShe. And none of us, when attacked, are like, “Hey, tell me more about how you hate me.” So, there’s no logic really in making the half of the species that you feel is doing all the oppressing into an even more defensive, aggressive opponent. I think that one of the things we hope wouldn’t come out of a historical era like the one we’re living in, we don’t want to have just like, “Let’s go in the opposite direction. Let’s have other stereotypes to replace the stereotypes that we’ve had for years.” 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen wonders if his way of dealing with negative events is psychologically healthy.

DUCKWORTH: The speed at which you’re able to process it and then put it in your rearview mirror is startling to me. 

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: Stephen, I got an email from my sister, which I’m going to read to you verbatim. Are you okay with that? 

DUBNER: I am. Your sister is a doctor? 

DUCKWORTH: She is a reproductive endocrinologist.  

DUBNER: What does that mean exactly? She helps people have babies?  

DUCKWORTH: Oh, if you’re having a difficult time getting pregnant, then she’s the doctor for you. 

DUBNER: I’ve had a very difficult time for years.  

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know if she can help you specifically. But anyway, my sister Annette, who is actually a big fan of this show, writes, “Here’s an idea for your podcast. How do you stop consternating about something, especially something that you can’t change because it is in the past. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” So, Stephen, do you ruminate? And, if so, do you feel, as my sister seems to feel, that it affects you negatively?  

DUBNER: So, by “ruminate,” I assume you do not mean to ask whether I chew my own cud, which is what cows do, which is what makes them ruminants. This is something different that you’re asking about.  

DUCKWORTH: Oh, yes. That is actually another definition for rumination. But I did not mean chewing cud, as a cow does. 

DUBNER: But it is true that a ruminant also describes a person who ruminates. So, it’s interesting that all who ruminate are ruminants, but not all ruminants necessarily ruminate.  

DUCKWORTH: And maybe there’s a deeper meaning there, because I meant it as obsessive thinking about a past experience that is negative. So, it’s a kind of dwelling on a specific past thing you don’t like. There’s this really strong connection between this thought pattern and clinical depression. And maybe there is a tie-in with rumination of the cow chewing their cud, because you really are grinding, masticating on something over and over again. 

DUBNER: Well, I’ll say this. You have answered my follow-up question, which was: I assume you’re here to tell us that rumination is not a good thing, at least in excess. 


DUBNER: You strike me as a non-ruminant, I have to say. 

DUCKWORTH: I don’t ruminate that much, honestly. When she sent me that email, I started looking up all the research on rumination. It was like exploring a foreign country. 

DUBNER: “Who are these people?”  

DUCKWORTH: Yeah exactly. It’s very interesting to me, because I don’t actually dwell on past episodes that have a lot of negative emotional charge, as a rule.  

DUBNER: So, as I think about your question, I do have a very strong memory from childhood, from Little League, from a specific night, where I was pitching on this night. And I was never a very good pitcher. And we lost because I gave up two home runs to the same kid, Dave Priess. And I could not go to sleep that night, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, and days, and days. I think that was ruminating, right? 


DUBNER: I was obsessively circling in my mind this negative event. But I will say this, as much as that memory jumps out, I think I’ve gotten a lot better. In fact, I may not be as non-ruminatory as Angela Duckworth, but I think I might be — if you’re a black belt, what comes before black? 

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know. Brown belt, I think? 

DUBNER: I’ll say maroon. I’m a maroon belt here. And now I’m curious to know whether this is an individual gain, that I’ve actually done something to promote that, or whether we all just get better as we mature. Do you know?  

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know whether, in general, we ruminate less as we get older. I started reading, actually, the research of a former student of my same Ph.D. advisor. Her name was Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. She was at Yale and the founding editor for the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. She was a giant in the field. She unfortunately died early in her life, but she actually was the world expert on rumination and depression. And so I have been reading her work obsessively — not ruminating on it, but I’ve been reading it. I don’t know whether she said anything about age and rumination. She said a lot about gender, by the way, as many people have. 

DUBNER: Tell us what you can about gender, then.  

DUCKWORTH: So, women and girls ruminate a whole lot more than males of the same age. And this, in part, explains why there is a gender difference with women experiencing higher levels of clinical depression and anxiety. That’s a pretty well-documented difference. And by the way, it doesn’t mean that it’s permanent. Could be that 10 years from now, it flips, as a lot of things have actually flipped for gender differences. But, I think, the thing to understand about rumination is that it probably stems from an adaptive capacity for self-reflection. So, it’s a good thing that we can turn things over in our mind about what happened, and replay them, and think about what role we had and what we would have done differently. It’s like a feature that becomes a bug for some people.  

DUBNER: Along the lines of too much of a good thing, essentially?  

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, too much of a capacity, or a tendency, that can serve us sometimes, but can get us into trouble.  

DUBNER: Like eating.  

DUCKWORTH: Yeah! Exactly. And I think this idea that we can have self-reflection and self-focused thinking in more adaptive ways — I mean, really, this is the great lesson of cognitive therapy, right? That you can reflect on yourself, but maybe process it more. So, I think what Susan Nolen-Hoeksema would have said is that reflection is better than rumination.  

DUBNER: Right. As you mentioned that, and I’m thinking through the biggest adverse events in my life, I think that when I get hit with a hard negative memory, I do try to process it fully.  

DUCKWORTH: What does that mean to you?  

DUBNER: Well, I examine it from as many sides as I can. I try to talk myself through why it’s so hurtful, why it happened, what could have been done differently, were there real causal mechanisms that could have been changed or prevented, or was it bad luck? And then, after I interrogate it, I really do try to tell myself, “That is a fixed item in the rearview mirror. It’s not a dynamic one that will continue to haunt me or hurt me” — even if, in fact, I’m deceiving myself a little bit. So, now that I think about it, I guess I don’t ruminate very much. And I’m really grateful. I feel like I can turn off bad news or bad events, and that I’m really either lucky, or cloistered, or maybe this is evasion and a defense mechanism.  

DUCKWORTH: Well, it doesn’t sound like you’re in denial, which is one of the coping mechanisms that people use. By the way, let’s make this concrete. Say, for example, you have an argument with your spouse. It sounds like you’re not like, “What argument? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” You’re processing it in a more reflective, rational way, which is actually not denial, and it’s very adaptive. It’s what you go to cognitive therapy to learn how to do. And one of the reasons why it’s adaptive is it leads to action. And one of the problems with rumination is that by indulging ourselves in these tail-spinning, never-ending cycles of replaying a negative event and then having the negative emotion — it doesn’t actually propel you into action. And the kind of thinking that I hear you talking about does.  

DUBNER: The more you talk about it, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t seem to ruminate at all. And while I might have seen this five minutes ago as a strong positive, you’re kind of making me rethink it to consider that maybe sometimes I go too far.  

DUCKWORTH: You mean, you don’t even do the reflective processing? You just don’t think about it?  

DUBNER: I think I do a really quick version of it.  

DUCKWORTH: Like the express lane.  

DUBNER: Yeah, “expressanation.” And I can see that there would be danger in that. I think I tend to cut things off entirely, more than many people do, and maybe more than is advisable. 

DUCKWORTH: I’ve witnessed this. You know what? Sometimes, not often, we get a little bit of a nasty-gram in the form of an email from somebody who doesn’t like the way we discuss something on this show. And the number of seconds that I spend thinking about the email, rethinking about the email, trying to remember what we said on the show, is about 10x the amount of time that you spend on the same email. Do you think I have that right?  

DUBNER: Maybe 12x, actually. Yeah. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I know, right! 

DUBNER: To be honest, I’ll give it a look and I’ll say, “Is there a legitimate point here?” And I would say maybe about eight percent of the time there is. And look, I’ve been doing this a long time, as have you, in different arenas. Now, that said, this show is different because we’re just talking here. And so inevitably, we, probably more likely I, am going to say something that just sounds — “snarky” is one thing I get called occasionally, and that Angela is not only way smarter than me, which I fully acknowledge, but also so much kinder and nicer.  

DUCKWORTH: Don’t stop. Keep going. But your point is that you’ve —. 

DUBNER: I had no point. I just wanted to criticize myself.  

DUCKWORTH: Well, look, I think that the speed at which you’re able to process it and then put it in your rearview mirror is startling to me! 

DUBNER: And I acknowledge that as well. It strikes me that if you’ve got, let’s say, a negative thought, it seems that there are a few potential routes you could go. You could try to replace the negative thought with a positive one. You could just try to clear your mind. Or you could try to suppress it. Do you have any idea which is the most effective? 

DUCKWORTH: So, my good friend and colleague, James Gross at Stanford, is one of the world experts in emotion regulation. And he would say, the worst way to deal with a negative emotion, in particular — so if it’s a very, very emotional memory and you’re trying to manage the feelings — that suppression, directly trying to will yourself not to feel bad —. 

DUBNER: That’s the way to go, you’re saying, right? That’s definitely the way to go.  

DUCKWORTH: No, no, no. This is going to come in last place, Stephen. 

DUBNER: Yeah. I thought so. 

DUCKWORTH: Very, very, very bad — which, by the way, is the way that most people think is intuitively the way you deal with negative emotions. Just don’t feel that way. So suppression is not good. I think he is actually a fan of strategically distracting yourself. For example, many people practice now a three blessings ritual. They simply name three good things that happened in the last day or so. We’ve done some talking about that in the past. So, that is a way of taking positive thoughts that do crowd out or replace the negative thoughts. And I have to just say that there’s a psychologist I really admire on this topic, Ethan Kross, who’s also a good friend. He trained under Walter Mischel, the marshmallow test guy. And he studies self-talk, the little conversations we have in our head.  

DUBNER: It’s what you people call “chatter,” right? That’s the psycho-phrase for it? 

DUCKWORTH: Ethan in particular says chatter is a great word for it, because it’s constantly going on. And sometimes we pay attention to our inner chatter and sometimes we don’t. But we all have inner chatter. And I think the most nefarious forms of chatter are these ruminatory, negative, pessimistic thoughts. It’s one of the strongest predictors of clinical depression there is. And his prescription is that you want to process things in a more reflective way. I think they would like you to spend more than two milliseconds on negative events, but fewer than 20 hours. And then you’re supposed to actually take action afterwards. Like, problem-solving as an orientation. And maybe you just do it fast, Stephen?  

DUBNER: Well, again, I don’t mean to claim that I’m really good at not ruminating, but I do think that practice helps and experience helps. And as I think about this topic, I think a lot of it does go back to the fact that I lost a parent when I was a kid. I was 10 when my dad died. And I’m not suggesting that everyone should go through this but it definitely was a lesson and an opportunity in how to process and deal with adverse events. And I’m not saying there isn’t perhaps some scar tissue from that. I mean, one thing that’s been observed about me, at least for many years, was that I was reluctant to form really close relationships with a lot of people because, as the psychologists would say, when you’re a kid and a parent dies —.  

DUCKWORTH: Oh, it’s an attachment-theory thing. You had an insecurity that you didn’t want to get close to people anymore.  

DUBNER: Right. Even if not a conscious reckoning of that, just this idea that someone that you assume is permanent is suddenly gone. And what do you do with that? So, I’m not sure that that is necessarily connected to my non-ruminatory nature now. But I do think that I learned from a pretty early age that if I dwell on sad or painful things from the past — at least I, personally, couldn’t find a way to turn that into something fruitful and productive. 

The way I could find it to be fruitful and productive would be to, as we’ve been discussing, process it, come up with a plan of action that’s often unrelated to the adverse event, and move into that plan of action. So maybe that’s a form of distraction that lies a bit short of denial. But I’m happy with it, honestly. 

DUCKWORTH: You should be happy with it, Stephen. The thing, I think, that happens to some people is they never discover the ladder out of the pit of rumination. You found a ladder. I don’t know if you tripped on it. I don’t know if somebody put it there for you. But you climbed out, and you’re like, “Oh, wait, there’s a much better way to move past negative events.” And I think this is partly why, maybe largely why, a lot of people go to therapy, is that they can’t find the ladder on their own. And all that happens is that they reinforce this habit. 

DUBNER: Yeah, I can see that. So, it seems that you’re not a ruminator. I’m not a ruminator. When I think about the ultimate non-ruminator, I think about a gangster who goes out and has to kill someone, and stabs them repeatedly in the face and the heart.  

DUCKWORTH: God, Stephen. That was vivid.  

DUBNER: And then goes home and eats a steak, bloody-rare.  

DUCKWORTH: I think that’s actually a scene from a movie.  

DUBNER: I’m sure it is. So, I’m guessing what we all want is to have the steak without having to do the murder? That’s the goal here, if you’re a meat eater?  

DUCKWORTH: You know, I think we have all ruminated. You could say that I’m not a ruminator. You could say that you’re not a ruminator. But we’ve all, both of us, and everyone, at some point dwelled on some negative memory. And the example of the assassin that can put the past totally in the rearview mirror without any residue that’s lingering — I think that tells us that it’s not entirely a bad thing that we have this capacity to ruminate. It’s just really that we don’t want it to become a real problem. And in fact, if we didn’t have the capacity to be bothered by an argument with our spouse or something that we should have said but didn’t, then what kind of human being would we be? We don’t want to be that assassin having the steak.  

DUBNER: Yeah. So, Angela, do you think that your sister, Annette, will be remotely satisfied by this answer?  

DUCKWORTH: Or will she ruminate about the terrible job that we’ve done with this wonderful question of hers? 

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio and People I (Mostly) Admire. This episode was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversations.

In the first half of the episode, Stephen and Angela discuss the effect of parental leave on gender equity. Stephen says he remembers reading about a Scandinavian policy that required new fathers to take paternity leave. He insists that his recollection must be incorrect, but he was actually right! In Sweden, new parents are entitled to 240 days of leave each. They are required to take a minimum of 90 days, regardless of gender. The remaining 150 days can be transferred to the other parent upon request. This number may be surprising for Americans. Out of the world’s 195 countries, the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only places that don’t have federally-mandated paid time off for new parents. While Sweden’s policy is undeniably progressive in comparison, the country still hasn’t escaped traditional gender expectations.Only 13 percent of Swedish couples share leave equally, and a recent study in the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy found that mothers with a first-born used approximately 9.5 months of paid leave, and fathers in the same group used just three months.

Angela then references gender-neutral tenure-clock-stopping policies adopted by many research-intensive universities in the United States. She says that she doesn’t think that there are studies on whether this policy affected equality, but in 2018 the American Economic Review did publish a comprehensive report on the measurable effects of this policy over a 25-year period. It found that while the policy may have attempted to level the playing field, at least in economics departments, it resulted in the reverse. In theory, no research is expected while the clock is stopped, but men are more often able to use the time to work on research if the productivity loss associated with having a child is higher for women. Men are subsequently 17 percent more likely to get tenure in their first job once an established gender-neutral clock-stopping policy is in place, while women are 19 percent less likely. 

Later, Stephen and Angela wonder what comes before a black belt. Angela guesses brown, and Stephen says maroon. Many forms of martial arts use belt colors to signify the wearer’s skill level. Often, white signals a beginner and black or red and white indicates a master. Brown comes before black in ju-jitsu,judo,karate, and several other martial arts. There is no maroon belt. 

Finally, during their discussion about rumination, Angela says that, “We all have inner chatter.” This is incorrect. Not all people have inner monologues. Russell Hurlburt, a psychologist who specializes in this area, estimates that the inner monologue is a frequent thing for only 30 to 50 percent of humans. Some people have absolutely no inner monologue and may instead experience their thoughts in more abstract ways

That’s it for the fact-check!

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No Stupid Questions is produced by Freakonomics Radio and Stitcher; our staff includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Mark McClusky, James Foster, and Emma Tyrell. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can also follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to And if you heard Stephen or Angela reference a study, an expert, or a book that you’d like to learn more about, you can check out, where we link to all of the major references that you heard about here today. Thanks for listening! 

Rebecca Lee DOUGLASS: As a ruminator who went to therapy for years to figure out how to stop ruminating, it was interesting to listen to that question.

DUBNER: Does it make you jealous to hear non-ruminators talk about it?

DOUGLASS: Oh, yes. And you’re like, “How does this happen? Why do people do it?” That ignorance is bliss. 

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  • Elizabeth Nyamayaro, former senior advisor to Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director for UN Women.
  • Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, founding editor, Annual Review of Clinical Psychology.
  • James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University.
  • Ethan Kross, professor of psychology and management/organizations at the University of Michigan.
  • Russell T. Hurlburt, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.



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