One and a half years ago, I blogged about a working paper by Simen Markussen, Knut Røed and myself showing that access to commercial television channels during childhood and adolescence reduced cognitive ability scores and high school graduation rates of Norwegian men. Now, a substantially revised version is forthcoming in The Journal of Human Resources. (Preprint here.) The effects appear to be driven by consumption of light television entertainment crowding out more cognitively stimulating activities.
SOS Children’s Villages Norway have a project for schools that they call a reverse Advent calendar, in which pupils collect funds every day and learn about the organisation’s projects. I think that is a great concept, combining doing some good, letting kids join in the do-gooding, and teaching them something about the world at the same time. I wanted something to implement at home for my 8-year old, however, and when I did not find anything, I decided to make my own.
I felt that to prepare something for all the 24 days before Christmas eve would probably require too much work to do it properly, and would also risk turning the reverse calendar into a chore, so I decided to go for every other day. I wholeheartedly support the thinking behind GiveWell’s strategy of efficient giving, and therefore took as a basis the seven top charities from GiveWell, combining three of those working on deworming to create three groups:
1. Against Malaria Foundation (AMF)
2. Schistosomiasis Control Initiative (SCI)
3. END Fund for work on deworming, Sightsavers for work on deworming and Deworm the World Initiative
5. Malaria Consortium for work on seasonal malaria chemoprevention
I added four groups from their six Other Standout Charities (GiveWell’s descriptions):
6. Development Media International produces mass media to promote improved health behaviors in developing countries.
7. Food Fortification Initiative and Project Healthy Children work to reduce micronutrient deficiencies through food fortification programs.
8. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN)’s Universal Salt Iodization program and Iodine Global Network (IGN) aid salt iodization programs in developing countries.
9. Living Goods supports a network of community health promoters in sub-Saharan Africa.
That made 9 charities in total. I also wanted to have represented some well-established charities that my son might have heard of or come across himself, and that I believe do important work but that for various reasons are not able to cut it in the kind of evaluation that GiveWell performs. Thus for the final three I chose:
10. Red Cross
11. Doctors without borders
12. Amnesty International
For each charity, I prepared a one-page document presenting some of the charity’s work in simple language and with some illustrations. (Tip: The organisation Effektiv altruisme, which bases its recommendations on GiveWell, has material available in Norwegian about some of the top charities.) I wanted each donation to be presentable as a round number, and since giving NOK 100 per day had some salience, I settled for an average of NOK 200 (€22) per gift. I ended each document with the words “We give X kroner to cause/charity”.
GiveWell recommends prioritizing the Against Malaria Foundation because they have the most valuable current funding gap, so I decided to allocate 900 NOK to them, 200 to the other four of the top five, and 100 to the rest.
All the envelopes were with Christmas stickers and hung from the curtain pole. The first picture above shows how it looked in the end.
Two papers in The Economic Journal November 2014 deal with how childhood information may predict adult outcomes.
Frijters, Johnston and Shields consider the question Does Childhood Predict Adult Life Satisfaction? Using repeated surveys of people born in the UK in 1958, they are able to explain only 7 % of people’s adult life satisfaction with a very wide range of family and childhood variables. Interestingly, exploiting the panel dimension, they estimate that around 40 % of adult life satisfaction is a trait (i.e. fixed), so it is surprising that their first number is so low. It is as if type of childhood almost does not matter. Education and wages are predicted much better.
I do not know if information on time preferences would have helped, but Golsteyn, Grönqvist and Lindahl at least claim that Adolescent Time Preferences Predict Lifetime Outcomes in their article in the same issue. They find that Swedes who were future-oriented (had low discount rates) as children went on to obtain more education, better grades, higher incomes, and better health (obesity and mortality) as adults than their more impatient peers. The authors are admirably clear that they are not estimating causal effects.
I have always liked time use surveys and would love to use them more, for example to write posts like this one at Vox. Now I have recently begun working a little with some such Norwegian surveys, so here is a little about recent developments in how young Norwegians spend their leisure time.
(Apologies for the unsatisfying look of some of the graphs, they are simply lifted from an online resource.)
In short, since 1970 fewer of us are reading an average day (turquoise), while more area watching television (light blue), and recently using internet (included in “Other” (dark brown)).
Is that a bad thing? Well, that depends, but if it is passive television entertainment that crowds out reading, I would not be surprised if that had some long term consequences.
Many reported the paper on smart phones and child injuries by Craig Palsson the previous days. The finding is that the construction of 3G networks in US cities may have lead to increased use of smartphones, less supervision of children, and more children going to hostpital with injuries. I believe most parents are too restrictive, so I was happy to see the following sentence regarding the welfare effects:
“Even though child injuries should not be taken lightly, some might argue that parents were oversupplying supervision or that injuries help build character, and therefore the smartphone-induced injures are welfare enhancing.”
Though I would rather call it a sign that the children are more physically active, which is good for both body and brain, as shown by a recent RCT. And as I have written about before, children tend to be very active during self-organized play.
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:
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.