Archive | Trends/Studies/Research

Wanted: Another ‘Iron Lady’ To Take Britain In Hand

Britain has had quite a time of it over the past few months. Between sluggish growth and persistent unemployment, riots, strikes and the Euro crisis, many are wondering aloud whether what this country really needs is another Margaret Thatcher-style leader who would restore order and stability.

With Meryl Streep’s face plastered all over bus and tube stations advertising the new film “The Iron Lady,” it almost feels like Baroness
Thatcher herself has returned to save the day.

Many of us remember Mrs. Thatcher for her lengthy and dramatic stint on Downing Street in the 1980s, during which time she privatized state-owned industries, crushed trade unions and went to war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands.

But there’s another way in which Mrs. Thatcher made herself a household name the world over: she exemplified an unapologetic model for how to be a prominent woman in public life.

Read the rest of this article on The Washington Post’s She The People Blog

 

Image: Baroness Thatcher portrait by Downing Street via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Tips For Adulthood: Five New Facts About Generation Y

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

As an arm-chair scholar of adulthood, I like to collect facts and figures about the different phases of adulthood. Even though I’ve said before that I think the stages of life are defined less by a number than by a feeling, I still think it’s worthwhile to examine what the data are telling us about a given cohort. (Most recently, I did this when I presented five new facts about teenagers.)

In that vein, today’s topic is that much-discussed Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, young adults, under-30s or just “Gen Y.” Gen Y is defined loosely by those people born between 1982 and 1991, which makes them (roughly) between the ages of 18 and 30.

About six months ago, the New York Times Magazine broke a feature story about the “new 20 somethings” who seem to be taking forever to grow up: delaying marriage, changing careers several times, failing to achieve economic independence and other milestones of adulthood. Ever since then, there’s been a lot of interest in this age group – both what’s driving their delayed adulthood and what else we know about this demographic.

Here are five new facts about Generation Y:

1. Living at home longer may not be so bad. While one might be inclined at first blush to condemn Gen Y for failing to get its act together sooner, two new studies suggest that there may be advantages to delayed adulthood. One, from the University of Minnesota, argues that parental assistance in early adulthood actually promotes progress toward autonomy and self-reliance. The researchers found that while almost half of the young adults in their sample received either money for living expenses or lived with their parents (or both) in their mid-20s, only 10-15 percent received financial or housing help when in their early 30s. Moreover, as young adult children took on adult roles such as earning higher incomes or forming families, parental support began to taper regardless of age. Two sociologists from Oregon State additionally found that living at home longer may also foster closer bonds with one’s parents.

2. Millennials care more about parenting than getting married. A 2010 Pew Research survey found that 52% of Millennials say being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life, while just 30% say the same about having a successful marriage. In other words, there is a 22-percentage-point gap in the way Millennials value parenthood over marriage. When this same question was posed to 18- to 29-year-olds in 1997, the gap was just seven percentage points. Wow. Pew Research surveys also find that Millennials are less likely than adults ages 30 and older to say that a child needs a home with both a father and mother to grow up happily and that single parenthood and unmarried couple parenthood are bad for society. Given that we also know that young men are lagging behind young  women vis a vis jobs, income and graduate degrees, these attitudinal shifts may make a lot of sense: if these smarter, higher-earning young ladies want a kid, they may need to do it on their own.

3. Gen Y is isolationist. The Brookings Institution recently surveyed more than 1,000 young leaders about their views on foreign policy. Among the more striking findings was how solidly isolationist this group was in its foreign policy leanings. A full 58 percent of young leaders say that America is “too involved in global affairs” and should focus more on issues at home rather than things like building a stronger military or reducing poverty in the rest of the world. I found these results to be particularly fascinating in light of a recent study by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research,which  found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than they were in 1979. According to the findings, today’s students are generally less likely to describe themselves as “soft-hearted” or to have “tender, concerned feelings” for others. They are more likely, meanwhile, to admit that “other people’s misfortunes” usually don’t disturb them. In other words, while this is far the most connected generation vis a vis technology and the like, all that connectedness doesn’t seem to be translating to genuine concern for the world and one another.

4. Generation Y is changing its workplace priorities. While the initial take on Gen Y was that it was coddled, lazy and work-averse, that may turn out to be wrong. It’s true that 40% of 18-29 year olds either lack a job or underemployed. But according to an article in the Miami Herald, those who are working seem to be embracing a new more humble and realistic attitude towards work, one fueled by the hard reality of the recession. In today’s harsh, new economic climate, millennials realize that they can’t make the demands for raises, promotions, time off and training that they might once have done only a few years back. Nor are they reaching for the brass ring; they’re happy to do their best wherever they are on the corporate ladder and recognize that it may take awhile to reach the top. This sea change is consistent with a recent article in the New York times noting that millenials are embracing different kinds of careers these days, often “doing good” in the public sector (where the jobs are) rather than trying to score high-paying, high-powered jobs in the corporate sector.

5. Gen Y is More Confident and Optimistic. Another Pew Study – this one released last year – found that 18-to-29-year-olds remain optimistic, despite a job-killing recession, two wars and the threat of terrorism. In light of all the negative publicity around this generation, I, for one, was quite happy to hear this.

Image: ANC Young Adults Social CG Social 012 by roger_mommaerts via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

New Antidepressant Won't Harm Sex Life

Here’s some good news that should brighten up this cold and snowy January: The FDA has just approved a new antidepressant with minimal sexual side effects.

The most commonly used class of antidepressants — called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — has quickly risen to the top of the charts for their ability to treat depression. These include such household names as Prozac, Paxil and Zoloft. But there’s one problem with SSRIs: Many of them cause sexual dysfunction, including problems with achieving erection, delayed orgasm and loss of libido. As a result, patients frequently abandon their medication.

The new drug, vilazodone, was developed by the company Clinical Data and will be marketed under the brand name Viibyrd. (Yes, that’s right.) In clinical trials, it did not have a negative impact on sexual desire or function.

Read the rest of this story at www.PoliticsDaily.com

Prozac Sprinkles by Lushbunny via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Keep Your Brain Active As You Age

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I had a senior moment the other day. I was talking to my daughter about my elementary school, and I started listing my teachers one by one. But when I got to fifth grade, I drew a complete blank. I could envision the lady perfectly – plump, jolly, liked to wear purple – and even remembered that her name began with an “F.” But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember her name.

I can be forgiven this lapse, of course. It was, after all, 35 years ago (cough.) But it was another sign that as we age, our memories aren’t quite what they once were.

In that spirit, here are five tips for keeping your brain active as you age:

1. Work. Pay no attention to all those French people behind the curtain, striking their hearts out because Nicolas Sarkozy is about to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. New research reported in the New York Times last week shows that postponing retirement is actually better for your brain. Coining the phrase “mental retirement” to capture what happens when your brain is no longer getting regular exercise, the study shows that retired people as a group tend to do less well on cognitive and memory tests than people who are still working.

2. Walk. But in case you’d still prefer to be living on the beach at 65 rather than toiling away in an office cubicle, be sure that you walk a lot in paradise. Another study out last week shows that walking at least six miles a week may be one thing people can do to keep their brains from shrinking and fight off dementia. Which is good news for me, even in my new-found hip, urban status as the owner of a collapsible bike. One thing that not owning a car really does is get you used to good, vigorous walks.

3. Be Social. Back when I wrote about five reasons to be optimistic about middle age, I referenced some new research showing that  – contrary to the long-held view that our brains get fixed in early childhood – circuits in the adult brain are, in fact, continually modified by experience. (See #1.) Turns out that one of the things that keeps the brain developing as we age is being social. In addition to getting out and meeting people, people who volunteer and help kids also seem to age better and help their brains.

4. Use the Internet. OK, this one is controversial, especially coming from someone who warned you not to get an e-reader lest it chip away at your capacity to engage in sustained, concentrated thought. But there are two sides to every story. And a lot of scientists – Harvard’s Steven Pinker, for one – think that far from damaging our brains as we age, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales. Colin Blakemore, a British neurobiologist concurs. As he notes – reacting to the prevailing “internet ruins our minds” thesis:  “At its best, the internet is no threat to our minds. It is another liberating extension of them, as significant as books, the abacus, the pocket calculator or the Sinclair Z80.” So by all means, grab that new Kindle, Grandma. And get a Twitter account while you’re at it..

5. Eat lots of fish. Many parents will be familiar with the importance of essential fatty acids (EFAs) for brain development in utero and in young children. (Neurotic parenting confession #346b: Until my son – who was born allergic to just about everything – was two, we regularly spiked his rice milk with flax seed oil for precisely this reason.) But it turns out that these so-called “good fats” are also increasingly seen to be of value in limiting cognitive decline during aging. Fish, for example, is a great source of EFAs. Flax-soaked salmon, anyone?

*****

On Monday, I was over on www.PoliticsDaily.com talking about reform of the British welfare system.

Image: thyme salmon with leek coulis by elana’s pantry via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Divorce Hits Prime Time At HuffPo With Nora Ephron

Well, here’s a sign of the times. The Huffington Post is launching a new section devoted to divorce. It was conceived by writer/journalist/filmmaker Nora Ephron, who will also serve as founding editor.

In some ways, one’s tempted to ask: What took you so long? After all, as my colleague Bonnie Goldstein reported last week, marriage is at a historic low in the United States. And while U.S. divorce rates have declined slightly with respect to their all-time high in the early 1980s, they are still high by international standards. According to The National Marriage Project’s State of Our Unions 2007 report, for the average couple marrying for the first time, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation remains between 40 and 50 percent.

But, of course, it’s one thing to know that divorce is in the air and it’s another to say that out loud, as my colleague David Gibson noted last week with respect to divorce within Christian communities. Which is to say that when a mainstream publication like The Huffington Post makes divorce a special focus — on par with, say, “religion” and “politics” and “education” — that’s really saying something. (Full disclosure: I also write for the Huffington Post’s Living section.)

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Redesign At The Huffington Post by jessabean

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The Kindness of Strangers: It's A Small World After All

I was struck by an article in The Guardian last week about lost wallets.

The article reported on a recent study in which a company “dropped” 20 wallets containing £10 in cash, a photograph, tickets, receipts, stamps and several business cards in shopping centers, on public transport, in museums, cafes, and on the street in five British cities: London, Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff and Glasgow. Only two in ten of the wallets were returned to their owners and only around half of those (55%) contained the original sum of money.

The study caught my eye because I was recently one of those lucky 20%. I didn’t exactly lose my wallet, but I did lose an envelope containing 15 pounds (roughly twenty-three dollars). And here’s the kicker: the envelope didn’t have my name and address on it.

All it had was a hand-scribbled note that I’d written to a woman – we’ll call her Kelly – from whom I was buying a (British) Dustbuster before she moved back to America the next day. The note read something along the lines of “To Kelly from Delia. Thanks and Good luck!,” with the cash stuffed inside.

While walking to her house to pick up the Dustbuster, I’d apparently dropped the envelope on the ground along a busy London street. Because I couldn’t find the envelope when I got to her house, I assumed that I’d lost it for good and went to a bank machine to get some cash. But the next day, a stranger contacted me (and Kelly) by email to say that she’d found the envelope and because she knew that Kelly was moving (and vaguely knew that Kelly knew someone called Delia) she figured that it was us.

Can you believe it? I mean, what are the chances that this woman would a. see the envelope on that particular street, which is quite commercial and heavily trafficked b. bother to read my chicken-scratch and c. return it on a hunch? Bear in mind that I’d never met her before and barely knew Kelly either.

She is obviously a very nice person. To whom I am most grateful. (If you’re into this sort of thing you must listen to the This American Life episode entitled The Kindness of Strangers.)

I love this story because it illustrates the humanity in all of us. (OK, in 2/5 of us.) But it’s also a great small-world story. Sometimes I really do believe the whole Six Degrees of Separation thing (even if I’m not connected to Kevin Bacon. Sniff.) A friend of mine just posted on Face Book that her son is about to go off to college and it turns out he’ll be living right down the hall from his best friend in Kindergarten (whom he hasn’t seen in 13 years.) Again, what are the odds?

OK, so now it’s your turn to dish. What’s your best kindness of strangers and/or small world story?

C’mon folks. It’s a light news week. Let er’ rip…

Image: Castanza Wallet by rbieber via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Money And Happiness in Adulthood: The Value of Experience

“It’s amazing how many things in life would be better if you just had more money,” a friend of mine once observed. She wasn’t particularly sad when she said it, or even particularly wistful. In her view, it was just another of those life lessons you pick up along the way.

I’ve given her comment a lot of thought over the years because – let’s face it – we all give in to the temptation from time to time to imagine what we’d do if a boatload of money suddenly rained down upon us. In my current life stage, I’m quite certain that I’d purchase some additional childcare to help me with the daily schlep around North London between 3 and 5 p.m. Then there’s always that second home in Southern France I’ve coveted (and maybe another one in Hawaii…hey, why not? Live large.) And as a newly card-carrying member of the biking brigade, I’d sure love some of that fancy schwag that goes with the whole cycling thing.

Despite the apparent perspicacity of my friend’s casual remark – the relationship between money and happiness isn’t quite so straightforward after all. According to an article in The New York Times over the weekend, just getting more stuff doesn’t actually make you any happier. What counts is how you spend your money.

It turns out that spending money on experience-related purchases – the article cites things like concert tickets, French lessons, and sushi-rolling classes — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff. As a scholar interviewed in the article sums it up: “It’s better to go on a vacation than to buy a new couch.”

The article goes on to say that over the past few years, consumers have been gravitating more and more towards experience-rich expenditures. Indeed, one study by Thomas DeLeire of The University of Wisconsin and Ariel Kalil of The University of Chicago showed that the only category of consumption to be positively related to happiness was leisure: vacations, entertainment, sports and equipment like golf clubs and fishing poles. (Full disclosure: DeLeire and Kalil are both former colleagues.)

While much of that shift has been driven by the global economic downturn, many analysts are predicting that these changes are likely to last. Simply put, people have discovered – albeit by circumstance – that they actually prefer their pared down, leisure-oriented purchases to the more lavish consumption patterns of yore.

Which brings us to the staycation. I wrote last week about the rise of the staycation as a lifestyle choice in advanced, industrial countries like the U.S. and the U.K. But what the Times article is suggesting is that part of the staycation’s appeal is precisely that it gibes so well with leisure- (read happiness) oriented purchases like barbeques and movies and board games that enhance the value of experience over mere acquisition. Particularly over at The Huffington Post – where I also blog – commenters noted that their choice to “staycate” (is that a verb?) was driven less by financial squeeze than it was by the fact that were actually happier just staying home and hanging out doing simple things with their families.

I once wrote a post where I asked readers where they drew the line between what counts as a luxury vs. what counts as a necessity in their daily lives. (The post was occasioned by the acquisition of a new rice cooker in our household.) I confessed that for me, at least, a New Yorker subscription constituted a necessity, even though many would probably term it a luxury. But now that I’ve read this article, I’m thinking that the reason that I continue to value The New Yorker so highly is actually that it brings me so much happiness.

So I’m curious. As you narrow your spending to focus on what counts – (if you are, in fact, doing that) – what sorts of things do you find bring you the most happiness?

Image: I.T barbeque by alliance1911 via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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Stress Management: Can I Rent A Wife?

My colleague Joann Weiner recently wrote a post on Politics Daily in which she described the blissful, stress-free summer week she just enjoyed in Washington, D.C., while her family was out of town. She exercised . . . she went out to dinner . . . she tried beer ice cream . . . she even — gasp — took time to smell the proverbial flowers.

I’m happy for Jo. Truly I am. It’s just that after I read her post, I took one look at the way I’ve spent the last seven days and thought: What’s wrong with this picture?

You see, I’m having a different sort of week. I call it a “Calgon” week.

Don’t remember Calgon? Among other things, it’s a line of bath and beauty products. When I was a kid, there was this marvelous commercial in which this harried housewife in a pink bathrobe stood in the middle of her kitchen overwhelmed by various demands: the kids . . . the dishes . . . the dinner . . . the telephone. She’d throw up her hands and shriek: “Calgon! Take Me Away!” and, presto! She was magically whisked into a soothing bubble bath.

Pink bathrobe notwithstanding, that shrieking lady in the kitchen pretty much captures how I’ve felt this past week. It’s a week that’s featured, in no particular order: a major schlep to and from son’s camp located in absurdly difficult-to-access section of North London (Remind me, again, why we decided not to get a car?), reduced work time due to said schlep, husband on deadline whose frazzled hair increasingly resembles Albert Einstein’s, acute case of hostess anxiety brought on by not having entertained in four years because we lived in a closet, but somehow managing to schedule two events at my new apartment in one week (Should we do Red? White? Fizzy? And what is a tapanade, anyway?). Oh yeah. And did I mention the pink eye that’s now making its way through the house?

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

*****

I’m was also over on Politics Daily this week talking about David Cameron’s revolutionary approach to ending big government in the U.K.

Image: Calgon, take me away! by yourFAVORITEmartian via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Be Pessimistic About Middle Age

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I gave you five reasons to be optimistic about middle age. In brief: you’ll live longer, your brain will keep developing, you’ll be happier, your divorce may not be all that bad, and you’ll make loads of new friends on the AARP Facebook page.

But in addition to being an optimist, I’m also a realist. As promised, then, here are five reasons to be pessimistic about middle age:

1. Social services can’t keep up with aging population. Yes, people are living longer. That’s the good news. But the general aging of the population will also place enormous burdens on social services, including health care delivery, informal care-giving and the pension system. So a lot will hinge on just how healthy this new crop of centenarians is. About 80 percent of seniors have at least one chronic health condition and 50 percent have at least two. In theory, the health care reform bill passed last year in America should help address some of these problems. But some experts warn that our public policies  – including health care reform – just aren’t up to the task of ensuring that our aging population gets the medical care it needs. In the worst case scenario – not only in the U.S. but in other countries as well – the old and the young will enter into a zero-sum conflict, fighting for scarce health care and economic resources.

2. Suicide rates are up among middle-aged Americans. Alongside all the research discussed last week showing that happiness peaks at 50, a curious and sobering counter-trend has also emerged:  For the second year in a row, middle-aged adults have registered the highest suicide rate in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A variety of hypotheses have been tossed out to explain this trend, including easier access to guns and prescription drugs as well as higher rates of depression among boomers. One sociologist at Berkeley speculates that it’s a combination of having grown up during an era of cultural turmoil (the 60’s), together with greater competition for resources (due to baby boom) as well as the stresses induced by an extended period of young adulthood. Whatever the cause, it’s certainly nothing to be cheery about.

3. Midlife Crises Cost More. I noted last week that with the advent of a happy middle age, there may be fewer midlife crises. But for those boomers out there still looking for Plan B, it’s gonna cost them. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, mid-life crises – whether it’s traveling the world, playing the stock market or starting one’s own business (I’ll grant you, these are a bit tamer than some crises one might imagine!) – have all gotten quite a good deal more expensive in the last few years. Add that to a general unease in this age bracket about market volatility and you’ve got a recipe for widespread economic anxiety at middle age.

4. You’re more like to get an STD. So…late divorce isn’t so bad after all, as we learned last week. But sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are actually more of a problem for middle-aged populations right now than they are among the young (at least in the United States.) The highest number of newly acquired cases of HIV/AIDS have been found in middle-aged adults, ages 35 to 44. Next highest age group? Ages 45 to 54. The least affected group is the youngest group between the ages of 25 to 34. Some of this is because women over 50 – no longer afraid of getting pregnant – cease using condoms. So if you are planning on getting back out there with your new-found freedom, by all means come prepared.

5. Who wants to multi-task? One of my favorite cantankerous chroniclers of middle age is Howard Baldwin over on Middle Age Cranky. In a recent post, Baldwin wonders who really wants to learn that as we age, our brains actually improve their ability to problem solve and multi-task? Doesn’t that just mean that boomers will have fewer excuses available to them when they want to plea a senior moment? Just sayin’…

Image: condom display by vista vision via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Be Optimistic About Middle Age

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired by a barrage of recent scientific studies offering good news about middle age.

Middle age has long been conceptualized as that phase of life where we cease thinking about our potential as human beings, and start focusing on our limitations. No more. While not everything looks rosy (stay tuned for next week’s tip list), there are at least a few trends out there that do bode well for those of us hovering at the mid-point of our lives.

Here are five reasons to feel optimistic:

1. People are living longer. According to scientists, more people than ever before are living to older adulthood. In the U.S., the average lifespan has risen 30 years since 1900. And today’s older adults are better-educated, healthier, more active and more affluent than any previous generation. Plus, as I pointed out last week, the labor market is becoming more diverse and there will be more jobs for the over-55 set. So there’s lots more time – and more to do.

2. Our brains keep evolving. New research also shows that – contrary to the long-held view that our brains get fixed in early childhood – circuits in the adult brain are, in fact, continually modified by experience. The result? In some respects, we actually think better in middle age. Specifically, inductive reasoning and problem solving improves in the middle-aged brain. We get the gist of an argument better. We arrive at solutions more quickly. Even financial judgments peak in middle age.

3. People are happier over 50. This is also both surprising and welcome news. A survey of more than 340,000 people published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that overall feelings of wellbeing improve as we pass middle age. Specifically, levels of stress, worry and anger all dropped significantly for people in their fifties, while levels of happiness and enjoyment increased. While the study wasn’t designed to identify the causes of increased happiness, scholars speculated that with age comes greater wisdom and emotional intelligence. A similar study carried out in Canada also found that self-esteem is highest among middle-aged boomers. The corollary of all this research? We can probably expect to see fewer mid-life crises.

4. Even divorce can be positive. As the endless analyses of Al and Tipper Gore’s break up tell us, late divorce (i.e. divorce in marriages 20 years or longer) is increasingly common. But it’s also not necessarily a bad thing. A large number of articles that followed on the Gores’ split emphasized late divorce as a form of autonomy and self-actualizationespecially for women – rather than just sticking it out for longevity’s sake. For me, at least, that was the first time I’d seen divorce as a cultural trend discussed in positive terms.

5. The AARP has had a makeover. Yup, that’s right folks. The American Association for Retired Persons (that’s AARP for all those in the know) has had an on-line overhaul in order to cater to the digital demands of the over-50 crowd. So for all you aging Facebook-ers out there, you have a new on-line hang out.

Image: AARP by Somewhat Frank via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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