Monthly Archives: January 2014

Children and happiness

Contemplating whether or the number of children to have? Take a look at “A Global Perspective on Happiness and Fertility” by Margolis and Myrskylä. The authors use data from 25 years of the World Value Survey, totalling 86 countries and over 200 000 respondents. They are interested in what the relation between what people answer on the question “Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, quite happy, somewhat happy, or not at all happy?” and their number of children.

Margolis and Myrskylä find that a higher number of children is associated with lower happiness, but stress that looking at this in the aggregate is highly misleading. This is shown by breaking the data down by subcategories and plotting the results. In particular, they “find that the association between happiness and fertility evolves from negative to neutral to positive above age 40,” as shown e.g. here:


FIGURE 3 Happiness and number of children by age and sex, from Margolis, R. and Myrskylä, M. (2011), A Global Perspective on Happiness and Fertility. Population and Development Review, 37: 29–56. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2011.00389.x

So more children may pay off in the long run. Though it must be said that this is just descriptive, but valuable and interesting nevertheless. There are more graphs like this one, and the results can be understood simply by looking at the graphs.

With also the recent report that “economists with two or more kids tend to produce more research, not less, than their one-child or childless colleagues” in hand and just having achieved the second, I am expecting a short-term boost in productivity and long-term in happiness.


Confused about debates about cybersecurity? A series of posts by Henry Farrell at the Monkey Cage blog seems a good place to start. First out, the importance of recognising that the two main sides have different points of view on what “security” means:

[C]ybersecurity is riven by disagreements over what security is in the first place. Is it a technical problem (which could be solved by computer system administrators, working alone or quietly coordinating with each other)? Or is it a national security problem (which requires a large scale collective effort, organized by the U.S. government, to defend against existential threats to the homeland)?

Do thought experiments in ethics have external validity?

A runaway train car is on its way to kill five people on the tracks. You have the power to direct it to a sidetrack on which there is only one person. Do you do it?

A well known thought experiments in ethics. However, will people’s judgments when thinking about such cases transfer to the real world? A group of researchers constructed virtual realities to improve the realisticness of the scenarios. Their finding: People acted in a more utilitarian way (sacrifice the one to save the five) in the virtual reality than in the text case. The virtual reality scenarios were deemed to be more emotionally arousing as measured by skin conductance.

H/t: Gary King

(Note: Very small sample size – 38.)

Welfare helps the children of the poor and unemployed

That may sound obvious, but debates about welfare too often focus on the worthiness of the recipients, i.e. the adults. 

Matt Yglesias summarises a recent academic study of a cash transfer scheme that took place during the Great Depression in the US. Kids of mothers who received cash transfers went on to earn more, live longer, have better health and obtain more schooling. These were really long-term – lifetime – outcomes. 

Monthly book roundup – December

Books finished in December:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class (Wildavsky Forum Series), by Robert Frank. Good short version of Frank’s ideas about positional goods, inequality, expenditure cascases, taxes, etc.

The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson. Did the US military have a program that tried to teach soldiers how to stare animals to death? This and related questions are explored in Ronson’s book about supernatural methods and the military. It is funny but does raise real questions about knowledge, on part of both the protagonists and the reader.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. The classic story of the good, but boring Dr Jekyll who transforms himself into the vital and evil Mr Hyde. Jekyll comes to loath him, but has become addicted. I enjoyed it.

Reports from Nuremberg, by Harold Burson. Radio reports from the Nuremberg trial. We hear the formal indictment, which consisted of four charges:
1. Conspiracy
2. Crimes against the peace, planning, preparing , initiating and waging a war of aggression in violation of int treaties.
3. War crimes. Wanton destruction of towns, villages and cities not justified by mil necessity.
4. Crimes against humanity. Extermination, enslavement and deportation of peoples, persecution on political, racial and religious grounds.
Will try to prove in open court.
24 names. 20 present. 12 sentenced to death, 7 to prison terms, 3 acquitted, 2 trials did not proceed. Get to know the courtroom and the people involved through the radio report. The apparent normality of the accused is mentioned explicitly.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not sure what to say that this story was about, but an entertaining, absurd plot. Very short.

Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age, by Steven Johnson. Peer networks to save the world! The book lacks a discussion of possible trade-offs (like “Everything bad is good for you” had). Not Johnson’s best.

All of These People: A Memoir, by Fergal Keane. Journalist Fergal Keane’s stories of trouble in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and personal life. Fitting to read now, as Nelson Mandela just passed away. I did not know that the apartheid regime in South Africa was engaged in torture. Keane makes a point of always being understanding of his subjects. I do not know Keane as a journalist, but the book was ok.

The Unnamed, by Joshua Ferris. Tim has to walk. Why or where to he does not know, despite his efforts to find out. Existentialism.

Then We Came to the End: A Novel, by Joshua Ferris. Office life. Read about half of it. Some funny bits.

Ratings and additional books are in the library.