Thursday, September 29, 2011


My last post showed numbers indicating a large decline in the number of people who said that they enjoyed their time on the job more than time off the job.  But the two earliest surveys asked that question of everyone, while the others just asked it of employed people.  So I looked at one of the 1955 surveys to see what employed people said then.  They were more likely to say they enjoyed time off the job, but the margin was only 49%-39% (11% not sure, etc).  39% is still a lot higher than the later figures, so it looks like there was a real change.

Was that because work became less attractive to people or because leisure became more attractive?  Some of the surveys contained a question that sheds some light on that issue:  "Do you enjoy your work so much that you have a hard time putting it aside?"

                   Yes            No        DK
1955            50%          46%       4%
1955            51%          45%       4%
1988            33%          67%
2001            23%          77%

The 1955 surveys asked the question of everyone, not just employed people, but at least in the first of the two surveys, that didn't make any difference (employed people were a little more likely to say yes, but the difference wasn't statistically significant).    So Americans enjoy their work less than they used to, or at least are more likely to say they don't enjoy it.  Or if you're determined to be optimistic, like my friend and colleague Brad Wright in his new book, maybe you could say that we have a healthier attitude towards work--we still enjoy it, but are able to put it aside. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Work vs. leisure

"Generally speaking, which do you enjoy more--the hours when you are on your job, or the hours when you are not on your job?"

             On Job  Not On  Not sure
1955    43%   44%     12%
1955    39%   48%     13%
1988*   20%   68%     13%
1990*   18%   60%     22%
1991*   18%   68%     14%
1993*   22%   70%      8%
1999*   16%   77%      7%
2001*   19%   76%      5%
*Asked only of respondents who work outside the home (about 60% of total)

All surveys were by the Gallup Poll, except 2001 by IPSOS/Reid.  The difference between the 1950s and the later results is impressive.  It's possible that people who weren't employed outside the home in 1955 affected the results--they may have interpreted "on the job" as "while keeping busy", which could lead to favorable responses--but I don't think that could explain all of it.  Maybe conventional wisdom about changes in values during after the 1960s was right.  Social scientists don't like to admit it, but sometimes what everybody thinks is true actually is true.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"It seems that we need some kind of sociologist"

That's from Paul Krugman's presidential address to the Eastern Economic Association.  He argues that macroeconomics has regressed by abandoning Keynesian theory, and offers some speculations as to why before concluding that we need a sociologist.  Well, I'm a sociologist and I'm here to help.  Actually, I don't think that surveys are all that useful in answering this kind of question, and I know of only one survey of economists, from 1996.  Still, I wanted to take a look.  I began by constructing an index from questions about whether tax cuts are good or bad for the economy, whether it would be better for more or fewer workers to be union members, whether high taxes are holding the economy back, whether government regulation is holding it back, whether high taxes are a big economic problem, and whether the gap between rich and poor is a big economic problem.  The result is what you could regard as a measure of liberalism versus conservatism, although I didn't start out planning to create one.  I just began with a factor analysis of a larger number of questions, and this is the strongest pattern that emerged. 

My question was whether position on this index was related to age.  It was--younger economists were more "conservative."  The oldest economist in the sample (born in 1921) had a predicted value of 2.2; the youngest (born in 1969) had a predicted value of about -1.5.  By comparison, the average value of the index was 3.7 for Democrats, -0.7 for Independents, and -4 for Republicans.  So the difference between the oldest and youngest generations was about as big as the difference between Independents and Republicans--that certainly seems large enough to be of interest. 

I hoped to explore exactly when the change took place, but the sample was small, only about 200 cases, so it wasn't possible to tell much.  However, there was no discernible shift towards calling themselves conservatives or Republicans.  (There were more Democrats than Republicans, and most said they were moderate).  That is, it doesn't seem to have been a straightforward ideological movement. 

Krugman's hypothesis is that the cause of the change is internal--it results from the sort of models economists admire ("rigorous" rather than ad hoc).  Since I'm just speculating, I offer another--older generations of economists were influenced by the experience of the 1930s and 1940s, and younger ones by the 1970s, when you could plausibly argue that government efforts to manage the economy were the source of the problem, or at least making things worse. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

About a year ago, I wrote about a Gallup Poll from 1950 that asked people about where they would send a son to college if he could get in and they could afford it.   I recently ran across a similar question in a Roper/Fortune survey from 1949:  "if you had to pick one college or university in the United States where a boy could get the best education, regardless of cost, what one would you pick?"  The top ten (about 3000 people answered the question):

Harvard     258
Notre Dame  184
Yale        135
MIT         122
Cornell      78
Minnesota    67
Wisconsin    67
Columbia     62
Michigan     52
West Point   52
Ohio State   52

That's about the same as the Gallup list.  But Roper/Fortune also asked about where "a girl could get the best education."  The top ten:

Vassar      118
Wellesley    82
Smith        75
Barnard      66
Wisconsin    48
Minnesota    44
Berkeley     43
Northwestern 35
Winthrop     32
Ohio State   31

At the time, many of the leading universities didn't admit women as undergraduates.  Still, there were quite a few that did:  MIT, Cornell, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State from the top choices for boys, plus Penn, Chicago, Stanford, and others.  But the top four spots were taken by women's colleges.   I would have thought that Radcliffe would be at or near the top because of its association with Harvard, but it didn't make the top ten.  I wonder if some people said "Harvard" and were not counted (since Harvard College didn't admit women then).  Vassar's substantial need over the next three is also interesting.  But the big surprise is Winthrop, which I had never heard of.  It was a women's college in South Carolina--now it's coeducational and has become Winthrop University.  As I mentioned in the post on the Gallup survey, southerners didn't seem to have much regional loyalty when choosing colleges for a hypothetical son.  But maybe with a girl, ideas of the "best education" had a moral, social, and cultural component, and for some Southerners that could be had only in the South. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Youth of Yesterday

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Roper did a series of surveys for Fortune magazine that covered a wide range of topics.  One of them involved views of college students.  People were given a list of words, and asked to "pick the three or four that best describe your idea of what the average college student is actually like. (By that I don't mean what they should be). "  Here is the list, rearranged so that it's in order of most to least frequently picked.

Intelligent          47%
Ambitious            41%
Well-informed        33%
Well-mannered        29%
Hard-working         26%
Democratic           21%
Time-wasting         12%
Snobbish              9%
Radical               9%
Conservative          8%
Soft                  6%
Hard-drinking         5%
Over-worked           3%
Immoral               3%

Views were very favorable--"ambitious" could be seen as either positive or negative, but all of the other top choices were unambiguously positive.  Unfortunately, the Roper/Fortune series came to an end in 1949, and that's the only time the question was asked.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

"Washington" and Washington

The New York Times "Economix" column recently discussed the Gallup survey of economic confidence.  People in the District of Columbia were much more positive than people in any other state.  The column suggested that this fact helped to explain the gap between policy-makers and the public:  people in Washington aren't as worried about the economy.  And that's because Washington's businesses (government, lobbying, public relations) are all growing.  The article mentioned that many people who live in DC are poor and the unemployment rate is high, but didn't make much of that.  It occurred to me that there might be another factor:  views of the President.  People who support Obama might be more likely to say that the economy is doing well (or at least OK), and Obama got over 90%  of the vote in DC. 

A linear regression of the confidence index on the state unemployment rate and the percent voting for Obama in 2008 produced this:


For the District of Columbia, the unemployment rate is 10.8 and 92.5 percent of the 2008 vote went to Obama, so the predicted value is:


That's a higher predicted value than any state.  The actual value in DC is +11, which is considerably more than the predicted value, so this probably isn't the whole story.  But a major reason that the District of Columbia seems confident about the economy is that a large majority of the people who live there support Obama.  Of course, most of them aren't the "Washington" of politicians and lobbyists.  (And much of that "Washington" actually lives in Maryland or Virginia).