Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Comparative Impact of Cash Transfers and a Psychotherapy Program on Psychological and Economic Well-being

The Comparative Impact of Cash Transfers and a Psychotherapy Program on Psychological and Economic Well-being. Johannes Haushofer, Robert Mudida & Jeremy P. Shapiro. NBER Working Paper 28106, November 2020. DOI 10.3386/w28106

Abstract: We study the economic and psychological effects of a USD 1076 PPP unconditional cash transfer, a five-week psychotherapy program, and the combination of both interventions among 5,756 individuals in rural Kenya. One year after the interventions, cash transfer recipients had higher consumption, asset holdings, and revenue, as well as higher levels of psychological well-being than control households. In contrast, the psychotherapy program had no measurable effects on either psychological or economic outcomes, both for individuals with poor mental health at baseline and others. The effects of the combined treatment are similar to those of the cash transfer alone.

COVID-19: 91pct of stories by US major media outlets are negative in tone vs 65pct for scientific journals; stories of increasing cases are 5.5x stories of decreasing cases even when new cases are declining

Why Is All COVID-19 News Bad News? Sacerdote, Bruce and Sehgal, Ranjan and Cook, Molly. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 28110, Nov 2020.

Abstract: We analyze the tone of COVID-19 related English-language news articles written since January 1, 2020. Ninety one percent of stories by U.S. major media outlets are negative in tone versus fifty four percent for non-U.S. major sources and sixty five percent for scientific journals. The negativity of the U.S. major media is notable even in areas with positive scientific developments including school re-openings and vaccine trials. Media negativity is unresponsive to changing trends in new COVID-19 cases or the political leanings of the audience. U.S. major media readers strongly prefer negative stories about COVID-19, and negative stories in general. Stories of increasing COVID-19 cases outnumber stories of decreasing cases by a factor of 5.5 even during periods when new cases are declining. Among U.S. major media outlets, stories discussing President Donald Trump and hydroxychloroquine are more numerous than all stories combined that cover companies and individual researchers working on COVID-19 vaccines.

Weak consistency between self-reported emotional states by expressers and their facial emotional displays; low accuracy both of human perceivers and of the automatic classifier to infer subjective feelings

The emotion–facial expression link: evidence from human and automatic expression recognition. Anna Tcherkassof & Damien Dupré. Psychological Research, November 24 2020.

Abstract: While it has been taken for granted in the development of several automatic facial expression recognition tools, the question of the coherence between subjective feelings and facial expressions is still a subject of debate. On one hand, the “Basic Emotion View” conceives emotions as genetically hardwired and, therefore, being genuinely displayed through facial expressions. Consequently, emotion recognition is perceiver independent. On the other hand, the constructivist approach conceives emotions as socially constructed, the emotional meaning of a facial expression being inferred by the perceiver. Hence, emotion recognition is perceiver dependent. In order (1) to evaluate the coherence between the subjective feeling of emotions and their spontaneous facial displays, and (2) to compare the recognition of such displays by human perceivers and by an automatic facial expression classifier, 232 videos of expressers recruited to carry out an emotion elicitation task were annotated by 1383 human perceivers as well as by Affdex, an automatic classifier. Results show a weak consistency between self-reported emotional states by expressers and their facial emotional displays. They also show low accuracy both of human perceivers and of the automatic classifier to infer the subjective feeling from the spontaneous facial expressions displayed by expressers. However, the results are more in favor of a perceiver-dependent view. Based on these results, the hypothesis of genetically hardwired emotion genuinely displayed is difficult to support, whereas the idea of emotion and facial expression as being socially constructed appears to be more likely. Accordingly, automatic emotion recognition tools based on facial expressions should be questioned.

Number of live births predicts biological age acceleration in post‑menopausal, but not pre‑menopausal, women

Parity predicts biological age acceleration in post‑menopausal, but not pre‑menopausal, women. Talia N. Shirazi, Waylon J. Hastings, Asher Y. Rosinger & Calen P. Ryan. Scientific Reports (2020) 10:20522. Nov 2020.

Abstract: Understanding factors contributing to variation in ‘biological age’ is essential to understanding variation in susceptibility to disease and functional decline. One factor that could accelerate biological aging in women is reproduction. Pregnancy is characterized by extensive, energetically‑costly changes across numerous physiological systems. These ‘costs of reproduction’ may accumulate with each pregnancy, accelerating biological aging. Despite evidence for costs of reproduction using molecular and demographic measures, it is unknown whether parity is linked to commonly‑used clinical measures of biological aging. We use data collected between 1999 and 2010 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n= 4418) to test whether parity (number of live births) predicted four previously‑validated composite measures of biological age and system integrity: Levine Method, homeostatic dysregulation, Klemera–Doubal method biological age, and allostatic load. Parity exhibited a U‑shaped relationship with accelerated biological aging when controlling for chronological age, lifestyle, health‑related, and demographic factors in post‑menopausal, but not pre‑menopausal, women, with biological age acceleration being lowest among post‑menopausal women reporting between three and four live births. Our findings suggest a link between reproductive function and physiological dysregulation, and allude to possible compensatory mechanisms that buffer the effects of reproductive function on physiological dysregulation during a woman’s reproductive lifespan. Future work should continue to investigate links between parity, menopausal status, and biological age using targeted physiological measures and longitudinal studies.

The Dutch on How Rich is Too Rich? Most do not consider extreme wealth itself a severe problem & object to the government’s enforcement of limits to wealth & income, but widespread support exists for increased taxation

How Rich is Too Rich? Measuring the Riches Line. Ingrid Robeyns, Vincent Buskens, Arnout van de Rijt, Nina Vergeldt & Tanja van der Lippe. Social Indicators Research, Nov 25 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Is it possible to identify a ‘riches line’, distinguishing the ‘rich’ from the ‘super-rich’? Recent work in political philosophy suggests that this is theoretically possible. This study examines for the first time the empirical plausibility of a riches line, based on novel data collected from a representative sample of the Dutch population. The data reveal that the Dutch indeed draw such a line, namely between 1 and 3 million euros. Strikingly, respondents agree on its approximate location irrespective of their own income and education. Although most do not consider extreme wealth itself a severe problem and object to the government’s enforcement of limits to wealth and income, widespread support exists for increased taxation of the super-rich if that would improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable members of society.

Conclusions and Discussion

The data used in this study is the very first attempt of which we are aware that aims to establishing a riches line using judgements of people using a quantitative approach.Footnote3 Hence it must be seen as the first in a series of empirical studies looking into the evaluative question of whether society believes that there is an upper limit to how much wealth can contribute to the standard of living of a family, and the normative question of whether society thinks such an upper limit should be reinforced.

The first conclusion is that it is indeed possible to establish a riches line empirically. There appears to be a clear difference what “rich” and “super rich” means for people. Similar to the poverty line, this riches line proves to be a social construct. An implication is that politicians can use the riches line to discuss the level of riches in society, in a similar way as is already done in discussions about the poverty line. The evaluative claim which indicates that people can estimate what is super rich is thus supported. A riches line has already been developed in previous work based on the income distribution (Medeiros 2006; Concialdi 2018). We now have developed one which is based on judgements of people themselves.

The second conclusion is that such a riches line is not necessarily a norm for people. They do not perceive extremely rich people as a problem in itself. When a statement is presented in the abstract, not many people are in support of limiting extreme riches. By the same token, we can also conclude that a larger share of the population has a problem with riches when the statement is made concrete by means of a real-life situation. People thus appear in support of measures to limit riches when presented with specific cases of extraordinary wealth, and also when the societal gains from such limits are made salient. Most people are in support of a tax on the incomes of the super-rich if they are also told what that money will be used for—and if that money benefits the most vulnerable people in society.

The instrument we have shown seems to be able to establish how a certain population (in this case a representative sample of people in the Netherlands) thinks about where a riches line should be and at what point there might even be broad consensus that the riches line is reached. One advantage of our vignette method is that we provide respondents with an illustrative description of wealth of families rather than providing just a number of income or capital. We believe that this way of picturing helps respondents to judge richness more easily. In addition, the data have shown that the vignettes are also rightly chosen: we have quite fine-tuned distinctions around where respondents indicate that the riches line should be, while we also include the extremes where hardly any respondents think such a family is too rich or where almost everyone holds that such a family is too rich.

Clearly, the disadvantage of an illustrative instrument as this is that it is rather context dependent. The descriptions and variations used here might be reasonable for countries that have a similar welfare state infrastructure as the Netherlands. Countries with a significantly different type of welfare state, for example with a health care system or educational system that has a significant private sector, or without public pension provisions, might need to add those items to the vignettes in the questionnaire. In addition, the descriptions should be certainly adjusted if one were to use a similar methodology in less developed countries. This also implies that the outcomes might be used to guide politics within a certain country, but the method is less suitable to guide more global distributional questions. The context-relative nature of the measures we have adopted also implies that when societies change drastically over time, the measure might require adaption. At a methodological level, it should be noted that this vignette based set-up is flexible and easily adaptable to settings that require different variables while the essence of the analyses can remain the same. Finally, it is important to stress that this empirical method reveals the views by a population of people on when a person can be qualified as ‘extremely rich’, but does not directly address normative questions as to what reasons we might have for considering someone too rich, let alone what (if anything) would follow for policies.

Future research should take further steps towards refining the methodology for constructing and measuring the riches line. One question is whether mixed quantitative–qualitative methods, such as Q-methodology, would confirm the appropriateness and validity of quantitative surveys such as the one designed for this study. After we completed our study, a Report was published in which the idea of riches line was tested empirically with focus groups in London (Davis et al. 2020). One interesting line of future research would be to apply both the qualitative methods used in that study with the quantitative methods used in our study, and analyze possible differences in the results.

A second topic for further research relates to the context-sensitivity of absolute riches lines. To what extent does this make comparisons between the phenomenon of ‘superriches’ in different countries difficult, and how exactly? As we argued above, the content of the vignettes needs adapting in case the method we proposed is used in significantly different contexts. But what does this imply for intertemporal and international/interregional comparisons of studies of riches? Are they simply impossible, or are the merely difficult, and if so, what makes them (im-)possible? This study focused on the Netherlands, and it would be very interesting to investigate how the methodology can be generalized for different countries and to study whether it would be possible to quantify by means of an international comparative study to what extent the riches line depends on the economic development, policies and culture of a country.

In addition, subsequent research may probe the robustness of the tentative relationship between descriptive judgements and normative judgements identified here. Others may investigate whether public support for government policies imposing a riches line would be greater if concrete benefits of such policies were specified. Citizens may be unwilling to support policies that limit a person’s wealth if it is unclear what society would gain. Future studies may also make a clearer distinction between inequality generated by processes that people see as unfair and processes experienced as fair, such as income from employment being taxed differently than income from business activity (profit) or from capital gain. People may find ‘fairness’ important, which may not always be the same as ‘equality’ (Starmans et al. 2017).

Seniors Across Europe: The value of the car is, among all wealth components (houses, bank account, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, debts and mortgages), the form of wealth most related to life satisfaction

The Rolling 50s (and More): Cars and Life Satisfaction Among Seniors Across Europe. Gaël Brulé, Laura Ravazzini & Christian Suter. Applied Research in Quality of Life, November 24 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Cars represent a valuable real asset that most individuals use on a daily basis. Although cars are a form of material prosperity like income and other forms of wealth, the link between cars and subjective well-being (SWB) is barely covered in the existing literature. Furthermore, few existing contributions are scattered across specific cultural contexts. Here, we analyze the relationship between cars and the SWB of seniors in different European countries using the SHARE dataset. We construct multilevel and fixed-effect models to explore the extent of economic, infrastructural, and cultural factors and how they can explain this relationship. The results show that the value of the car is, among all wealth components (houses, bank account, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, debts and mortgages), the form of wealth most related to life satisfaction. In addition, cars matter less (a) in affluent societies, (b) where rail infrastructure is more developed, and (c) where people hold fewer materialistic values. We discuss these results in the framework of the functional and positional value of cars, i.e., respectively, the value derived from it regardless of others and the value derived from it vis-à-vis others.


We found that cars have a significant and positive influence on the happiness of seniors in Europe. Their contribution is higher than housing wealth, money available for current expenditures, and other financial assets. This relationship between cars and SWB is observable in every European nation at different intensities. Differences across countries are linked to economic, infrastructural, and cultural factors. The relationship is also observed in longitudinal models. This increase is moderated by the level of affluence of the country: If there is economic growth, then an increase in car value becomes less important for SWB.


The Influence of the Context on the Relation Between Cars and SWB

One of the main findings of this paper is that the influence of cars matters more in less affluent countries although the relation is far from being systematic. Although seniors in countries such as Denmark enjoy having a more expensive car, they do so to a lesser extent than seniors in less affluent countries such as Greece. Part of this can be explained by the quality of infrastructures especially train infrastructure. Cars matter less in places where train infrastructures are better. Besides economic and infrastructural reasons, one can also see that values have an influence on the car-SWB relation. In countries where material possessions are more valued, owning an expensive car brings more happiness. Once introduced, the interaction term between importance of being successful and car value as well as the interaction term between importance of being rich and car value make the car-SWB relation insignificant. This also means part of the relation is carried out by values.

Contrary to the contribution of Okulicz-Kozaryn et al. (2015) in the USA, it seems that in Europe, having a more expensive car than an average frugal car is influential for seniors’ SWB. However, there is a difference between the two studies in the population studied; Okulicz-Kozaryn et al. (2015) observed the entire population while we only examined seniors. Materialistic values are more prominent among older generations (Inglehart 2008); this is likely to have an influence. Furthermore, public transportation is more developed in Europe than in the USA, and the effect of cars in Europe is probably more positional because the functional value can be derived by other means of transportation.

Functional Value or Positional Value

Hirsch (1976) distinguishes the functional value from the positional value of goods in general. We defined the functional value of cars as a driving unit and the positional value as anything that would come on top. Thus defined, this means that households owning a car can benefit from the functional value of the car, and the positional value is represented by the relative value of the car. In this case, a more expensive car has a higher positional value than a cheaper one independent of the type of car other people own. Our analysis shows that both the functional and positional values of a car have independent and additive effects on the life satisfaction of seniors. Individuals benefit from having a car, and more expensive cars bring more satisfaction. Here, there are two ways in which we operationalized the positional value of cars: (1) by looking at the national average car value and 2) by looking at the top 25% of car value in each country. These values are considered to be average and do not include the individual passion for driving that some people would consider as pleasure and is not necessarily positional. Furthermore, functional and positional values might not be fixed concepts; functional and positional value could evolve with economic growth or technological evolutions. What used to once be considered functional and positional values might become simply functional after some time once the item is considered to be “normal” (e.g., air conditioning in European countries).