Friday, March 31, 2023

Understand what people desire most in a work of art... "In nearly every country all people really wanted was a landscape with a few figures around, animals in the foreground, mainly blue"

The age of average. Alex Murrell. Mar 20 2023.

In the early 1990s, two Russian artists named Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid took the unusual step of hiring a market research firm. Their brief was simple. Understand what Americans desire most in a work of art.

Over 11 days the researchers at Marttila & Kiley Inc. asked 1,001 US citizens a series of survey questions.

What’s your favourite colour? Do you prefer sharp angles or soft curves? Do you like smooth canvases or thick brushstrokes? Would you rather figures that are nude or clothed? Should they be at leisure or working? Indoors or outside? In what kind of landscape? 

Komar and Melamid then set about painting a piece that reflected the results. The pair repeated this process in a number of countries including Russia, China, France and Kenya.

Each piece in the series, titled “People’s Choice”, was intended to be a unique a collaboration with the people of a different country and culture.

But it didn’t quite go to plan.

Describing the work in his book Playing to the Gallery, the artist Grayson Perry said:

“In nearly every country all people really wanted was a landscape with a few figures around, animals in the foreground, mainly blue.”

Despite soliciting the opinions of over 11,000 people, from 11 different countries, each of the paintings looked almost exactly the same. 

[Komar and Melamid, People’s Choice]

After completing the work, Komar quipped:

“We have been travelling to different countries, engaging in dull negotiations with representatives of polling companies, raising money for further polls, receiving more or less the same results, and painting more or less the same blue landscapes. Looking for freedom, we found slavery.”

[full piece at the link above]

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Women consistently reported less inequality for themselves than they reported for their group, and for both sexes, political leanings predicted support for gender equality more strongly than perceived personal and societal inequality

Political Ideology Outdoes Personal Experience in Predicting Support for Gender Equality. A. Timur Sevincer, Cindy Galinsky, Lena Martensen, Gabriele Oettingen. Political Psychology, March 27 2023.

Abstract: Indices of gender equality provide an inconsistent picture of current gender inequality in countries with relatively high equality. We examined women's and men's subjectively perceived gender inequality and their support for gender equality in the general population and in politicians, respectively, in three countries with relatively high gender equality: the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany (total N = 1,612). In both women's and men's perceptions, women were treated more unequally than men. However, the inequality that women perceived was larger than the inequality men perceived. Additionally, women reported they personally experience less inequality than women as a group (person-group discrepancy). Finally, women's and men's left/liberal (vs. right/conservative) political ideology turned out to be a relatively more powerful predictor of support for gender equality than perceived personal and societal inequality. We discuss reasons for why political ideology emerged as the strongest predictor of equality support and sketch out implications for policy efforts toward promoting gender equality.

Inconsistent Indices of Gender Equality

The indices estimate gender inequality by looking at indicators for inequality from various life domains to calculate an overall inequality index. Inconsistencies arise because the indices may focus on different domains and use different indicators, scale formats, and calculation formulas.

Global Gender Gap Index

The GGGI focuses on four domains: economy, politics, education, and health. It uses indicators such as income, women in ministerial positions, literacy rate, and sex ratio at birth, among others. The GGGI calculates women's disadvantage compared to men and can take values between 1 (complete disadvantage for women) and 0 (no disadvantage for women). Advantages for women on some indicators (more women holding degrees than men) do not cancel out disadvantages on others.

Gender Inequality Index

The GII focuses on the same four domains as the GGGI: economy, politics, education, and health. It uses different indicators however: women in the workforce, women in parliament, academic degrees, maternal mortality, among others. Like the GGGI, the GII calculates women's disadvantage compared to men and can take values between 0 (complete disadvantage for women) and 1 (no disadvantage for women). As with the GGGI, advantages for women on some indicators do not cancel out disadvantages on others.

Basic Index of Gender Inequality

The BIGI focuses on three domains. As the GGGI and GII, it focuses on education and health. It also focuses on life satisfaction. And it uses different indicators than the GGGI and GI: years of secondary education, life expectancy, and self-reported well-being, among others. Unlike the GGGI and GII, the BIGI calculates women's and men's disadvantage compared to each other. It can take values between −1 (complete disadvantage for men) and 1 (complete disadvantage for women), with 0 being equality (no advantage/ disadvantage for women or men). With the BIGI, advantages for one gender on some indicators can cancel out disadvantages on others.

Actively Supporting Gender Equality

Gender equality involves not only equal rights but also equal access to resources and opportunities. Arguments for improving gender equality involve moral reasons (both genders1 should be treated equally fairly) and economic reasons (the economy benefits when both genders are treated equally fairly). In principle, both genders may benefit from more equality (when social norms allow both men and women to take on whichever role they prefer).

As for what leads people to actively support equality, the starting point may be some objective disadvantage (e.g., fewer rights for one gender). Support for equality may also be instigated, however, by people subjectively perceiving inequality, disadvantage, or injustice (van Zomeren et al., 2008). Several mediating mechanisms have been proposed for the link between inequality perceptions and equality support. These involve shared identity or fate with the disadvantaged (Jenkins et al., 2021), political involvement (Castle et al., 2020), and efficacy to bring about change (van Zomeren et al., 2008), among others.

Perceived Personal Versus Societal Inequality

Research on how people perceive inequality distinguishes between inequality people personally experience and inequality people believe their group experiences. The inequality people personally experience is how they perceive themselves treated compared to a member of another group. This perceived personal inequality is also known as personal discrimination or egoistic relative deprivation. The inequality people believe their group experiences is how they perceive their group is treated compared to another group. This perceived societal inequality is also known as group discrimination or collective relative deprivation (Foster & Matheson, 1995; Moghaddam et al., 1997).

People often report the inequality they themselves experience as being different from the inequality their group experiences. For example, members of historically disadvantaged groups (women) reported experiencing less discrimination personally than they reported their group experiences, even though they were objectively discriminated against (Crosby, 19821984). The literature identified four reasons for this person-group discrepancy: First, people deny personal disadvantage to avoid discomfort and maintain a sense of control (Ruggiero & Taylor, 1995). Second, they exaggerate their group's disadvantage to promote change (Taylor et al., 1990). Third, they overestimate their group's disadvantage because examples of the group's disadvantage come easier to mind (availability heuristic; Moghaddam et al., 1997). Fourth, they compare themselves to a different reference group when estimating personal disadvantage (themselves to other group members) versus group disadvantage (their group to another group; Kessler et al., 2000). Because many societies have achieved more gender equality in the last decades and respective studies are now at least 25 years old (Crosby, 19821984, Moghaddam et al., 1997), we were interested in how much gender inequality women and men would perceive in present time and whether there would still be a person-group discrepancy. Moreover, both perceived personal inequality and perceived societal inequality should promote readiness to reduce the inequality (Kessler et al., 2000).

Is the Dark Triad Desirable? Evaluating the Attractiveness of Fictitious Characters for Short- and Long-term Relationships

Dragostinov, Yavor, and Tom Booth. 2023. “Is the Dark Triad Desirable? Evaluating the Attractiveness of Fictitious Characters for Short- and Long-term Relationships.” PsyArXiv. March 26. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Most of the literature on the attractiveness of Dark Triad traits has focused on female mate choice and low versus high trait levels. This study assessed how people with male and female sexual preferences evaluate potential romantic partners who display either low, medium, or high levels of Dark Triad traits for short-term and long-term relationships. Nine fictitious persons in the form of vignettes (with facial images) were presented to every participant. The faces were selected from an existing image bank and matched for physical attractiveness. Study 1 (n = 478) used a fixed composition for face and trait description, while the composition for Study 2 (n = 793) was randomized. Mixed-effects modelling was implemented for both studies. Study 1 demonstrated people with a male preference perceived medium levels of all traits as the most attractive for short-term relationships. Low levels of Narcissism were perceived as the most attractive for long-term relationships by both groups. For Study 2, the low levels were perceived as the most attractive for both types of relationships by both groups. Findings from Study 1 were consistent across previous Dark Triad attractiveness literature, while findings from Study 2 contradicted them. Differences between the two studies are discussed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Moderate Beer Consumption Is Associated with Good Physical and Mental Health Status and Increased Social Support

Moderate Beer Consumption Is Associated with Good Physical and Mental Health Status and Increased Social Support. Antonio Moreno-Llamas, Ernesto de la Cruz-Sánchez. Nutrients 2023, 15(6), 1519; March 21 2023.

Abstract: There is little large-scale evidence on the effect of alcoholic beer consumption on physical, mental and, above all, socio-emotional health. Here, we conducted a secondary data analysis of the 2012 and 2017 National Health Surveys with 33,185 individuals aged 18 years and older to assess beer consumption in relation to self-perceived health, functional limitations, mental health, and social support. Logistic regression models assessed the association of alcohol consumption (abstainers, ex-drinkers, occasional drinkers, moderate beer drinkers, and heavy beer drinkers) with self-perceived health (poor or good), limitations of type (none, physical, mental, or both) and intensity (none, mild, or severe), mental health (poor, average, or good) and social support (poor, average, or good). Analyses were adjusted for sex, age, occupational social class, educational level, place of residence, survey, part-time physical activity, dietary information, smoking, and body mass index. Compared to abstainers, occasional and moderate beer drinkers were associated with better mental and self-perceived health and social support, and were less likely to report mild or severe physical limitations. In contrast, former drinkers were associated with worse indicators of self-perceived health, physical health, mental health, and social support than abstainers. Alcoholic beer consumption showed a J-shaped relationship with self-perceived, physical, mental, and social-emotional health, with better values at moderate levels.

Keywords: alcohol; beer; mental health; social support; daily functioning; public health

Disclaimer: this poster is a tee-totaler!


4. Discussion

4.1. Main Findings

Our results showed that moderate beer consumption may imply associations with better self-perceived, physical, mental and socio-affective health. Furthermore, our study replicated the J-shaped relationship between health and beer consumption in which moderate beer drinkers (women: 1 standard unit of drink per day; men: 2 standard units of drink per day) described the healthiest state even after controlling for health-related lifestyle behaviors (smoking, diet, and physical activity), BMI, socioeconomic status, and demographic factors. Compared to abstainers, drinkers who reported occasional alcohol consumption or moderate beer consumption were more likely to report higher self-perceived health, mental health, and social support, while they were also less likely to report mild and severe limitations and physical and/or mental limitations. Conversely, former drinkers were more likely to describe worse indicators of self-perceived health, daily limitations of type and intensity, mental health, and social support. The J-shaped relationship between beer and health was observed in both women and men, although women showed associations with better health status at lower doses than men. This health improvement with moderate doses of beer was observed mostly in drinkers aged 40 years and older, while little or no association was found among those under 40 years of age. Sensitivity analyses without those reporting severe acute drinking episodes showed the same results.

4.2. Comparisons with Other Studies and Potential Hypothetical Explanations

Previous empirical evidence is consistent with our findings. Regarding the relationship of health with alcohol consumption, in our case beer, several meta-analyses have investigated and re-analyzed the effects of alcohol consumption and drinking patterns on, primarily, physical health in terms of mortality and morbidity [2,4,6,11,40]. In summary, although there is a large body of research, the evidence remains uncertain. The use of reference groups such as abstainers alongside ex-drinkers and occasional alongside moderate drinkers has generated controversy in contributing to the famous J-shaped (or U-shaped) alcohol–health relationship, as other medium and large-scale studies with more robust and comprehensive methodological designs have found only detrimental health consequences [11,12,13]. However, the updated Global Burden of Disease review added that there may be benefits without gender differences for people over 40 years of age who consume between 0.114 and 1.870 standard units of drink daily, i.e., a moderate drinking habit [7]. In our study, we observed an improvement in health status with moderate doses of beer in drinkers aged 40 years and older and little or no association among those under 40 years. In addition, a randomized Mendelian study from the UK Biobank found that alcohol consumption of up to 17 standard drinking units per week (i.e., 2.43 standard drinking units per day) does not lead to premature ageing or death from telomere shortening [41]. From a physiological perspective, experimental research has suggested that low doses of alcohol can improve cardiovascular health, lipid profiles, redox status, and the immune system [9,17,18,19,20,21]. In our work, occasional and moderate beer drinkers (women: 1 standard unit of drink per day; men: 2 standard units of drink per day) were more likely to describe better physical health in terms of reduced functional limitations in type and intensity, but also in other relevant components of health that have received less attention, such as perceived health, mental health and socio-emotional domains.
Certainly, these aspects of health may involve biases, but on the other hand, they may also represent the physical, mental, and socio-emotional health of individuals and how they interact with their daily living conditions as a reflection of their quality of life. Our study is the first to encompass all these factors, as beer consumption shows better indicators of physical, self-perceived, mental, and socio-emotional health in moderate beer drinkers than in abstainers and ex-drinkers. Previous studies in Spain had found that high alcohol consumption was associated with poorer self-perceived health and no differences in socio-affective health [42]. On the other hand, other studies in small samples of populations aged 55 and over showed that moderate consumption of wine, a fermented beverage like beer, was associated with better self-perceived health, mental health and vitality, similar to our results for those aged 40 and over [43]. In Spain, a region with a pattern of alcohol consumption rooted in social gatherings and consumption with other foods compared to northern European countries, could partially and hypothetically explain these differences in mental and socio-affective health between abstainers and ex-drinkers compared to occasional and moderate drinkers. It is noteworthy that these data were also replicated in some Nordic countries, both under and over 40 years of age, which makes the internationalization of the results possible [32,44]. Danish researchers observed in 693 participants aged 29–34 years that simple wine drinking was associated with positive social, cognitive and personality development, while beer consumption reflected some negative outcomes [32]. Furthermore, in Finland, a longitudinal cohort of 2468 people aged 40–55 years indicated that wine consumption reduced cardiovascular mortality and increased quality of life and mental health, but no effect was observed for beer consumption [44]. A sociological study by Sayette et al. in 2012 suggested that, in spontaneous meetings, alcohol consumption, compared to placebo and non-drinking, facilitated the formation and creation of new small groups with casual and strangers meeting each other [45]. They also reported greater positive expressiveness, satisfaction and happiness in creating these new social bonds in the alcohol setting [45].
Loneliness and social isolation (stress caused by the discrepancy between actual and desired social relationships) have recently been characterized as a health risk factor, associated with premature mortality and poorer cardiovascular, metabolic, neurological, and mental prognosis [25]. However, we should also mention the possible hidden risks of moderate drinking. Moderate drinking in conjunction with these social meetings could mask and skew consumption towards higher levels of intake. We found that heavy beer drinkers were more likely to report higher self-perceived and mental health, and fewer mild and severe daily limitations. However, habitual and high alcohol consumption could be a health-damaging behavior [16,17,19]. In this respect, the interdependence of different health-related lifestyles should also be taken into account, as health-damaging behaviors can often occur together. In our study, heavy beer drinkers also reported a higher prevalence of tobacco use and a poorer diet, while the groups with the best diet and the lowest tobacco use were abstainers and ex-drinkers. However, the latter two groups also reported the highest prevalence of sedentary behavior. These results alert, on the one hand, to the need for further research on alcohol consumption and, on the other hand, to the interconnectedness and clustering of these behaviors, in which high beer consumption may be a double-edged habit and a health risk factor.

4.3. Study Limitations

Despite the potential implications of our findings, the results should be taken with caution due to the several limitations of the study. Firstly, although our study includes two waves of the National Health Survey, representative of the Spanish population, the cross-sectional nature of its data precludes establishing a cause–effect relationship between beer consumption and the subsequent development of a certain health value, as the same participants were not followed longitudinally over time. Secondly, the assessment of health status, alcoholic beer consumption, and some of the health-related lifestyle variables was done through self-reporting by individuals, which may imply under- or overestimation. This type of measurement also involves specific biases associated with memory and recall, mainly on quantitative variables, which are more pronounced in older people and those with very low alcohol consumption [30]. Some types of health-related lifestyle variables may also contain biases related to individual or family socio-economic status and place of residence. For example, behaviors that are socially perceived as harmful may be underestimated by social desirability and subject compliance [30,46]. However, the design of the SNHS, comprising a large sample size representative of the Spanish adult population, allows for a comprehensive assessment of alcohol consumption, such as frequency of alcohol consumption in the last twelve months, frequency of regular weekly drinking from Monday to Sunday in general and specific to different types of alcoholic beverages in number, and in grams of alcohol, in order to establish accurate cut-off points for drinking behaviors. However, in the SNHS, in those drinkers who reported drinking 2–3 times per month, 1 time per month or less than 1 time per month, the exact total alcohol consumption overall and between types of alcoholic beverages was not subsequently assessed. Similarly, beer drinkers were established when their total alcohol consumption came predominantly from beer (more than 50%). In this case, to ensure an adequate sample size for comparisons between groups, we proceeded as follows, defining the groups into non-consumers (abstainers), ex-drinkers (separate from abstainers), and moderate and heavy beer drinkers [30,31,32]. Furthermore, our study only focuses on Spain, so the cultural and social context might influence not only alcohol consumption, but also physical, mental, and social self-perception, which might be different in countries outside the Mediterranean context.

4.4. Future Research

Future research should encompass many complementary directions. Special efforts should be devoted to further elucidating the complex relationship of alcohol consumption with health through both physiological and epidemiological research. More evidence is needed not only on general health or mortality, but also with special attention to the mental, social, and emotional domains in relation to light and moderate alcohol consumption in general and beer consumption in particular. Along these lines, different socio-affective domains such as family, friends, partner, work, or leisure could be assessed separately, as well as implementing the measurement of the number and quality of social relationship networks, which in turn may also be closely associated with mental and self-perceived health. Longitudinal studies between alcohol and beer consumption and health outcomes (physical, mental, and socio-affective) would provide strong causal evidence, as would replication of the results in other regions with cultural differences in alcohol consumption, such as in Northern Europe. Therefore, future research should also include multi-country studies to compare possible variations according to country context in relation to beer consumption and subjective perceptions of physical, mental, and social health. In addition, the inclusion of non-alcoholic beer in population-based health surveys could reveal whether the association between moderate consumption and improved health is due to alcoholic or non-alcoholic compounds in beer, which could support non-alcoholic beer as a healthier and more consumer-friendly alternative through public health policies.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Anti-opiates' effects: Opioid Receptor Blockade Lowers Self-Esteem

Shifting the Sociometer: Opioid Receptor Blockade Lowers Self-Esteem. Kristina Tchalova, Sophie Beland, Mona Lisa Chanda, Daniel J Levitin, Jennifer A Bartz. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, nsad017, March 24 2023.

Abstract: Given the evolutionary importance of social ties for survival, humans are thought to have evolved psychobiological mechanisms to monitor and safeguard the status of their social bonds. At the psychological level, self-esteem is proposed to function as a gauge—sociometer— reflecting one’s social belongingness status. At the biological level, endogenous opioids appear to be an important substrate for the hedonic signalling needed to regulate social behaviour. We investigated whether endogenous opioids may serve as the biological correlate of the sociometer. We administered 50 mg naltrexone (an opioid receptor antagonist) and placebo in counterbalanced order to 26 male and female participants on two occasions approximately one week apart. Participants reported lower levels of self-esteem—particularly self-liking—on the naltrexone (vs. placebo) day. We also explored a potential behavioral consequence of naltrexone administration: attentional bias to accepting (smiling) faces—an early-stage perceptual process thought to maximize opportunities to restore social connection. Participants exhibited heightened attentional bias towards accepting faces on the naltrexone (vs. placebo) day, which we interpret as an indicator of heightened social need under opioid receptor blockade. We discuss implications of these findings for understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of sociality as well as the relationship between adverse social conditions, low self-esteem, and psychopathology.

Keywords: opioid, naltrexone, self-esteem, belonging, social connection, sociometer theory

No Appreciable Effect of Education on Aging-Associated Declines in Cognition: A 20-Year Follow-Up Study

No Appreciable Effect of Education on Aging-Associated Declines in Cognition: A 20-Year Follow-Up Study. Giovanni Sala et al. Psychological Science, March 24, 2023.

Abstract: Education has been claimed to reduce aging-associated declines in cognitive function. Given its societal relevance, considerable resources have been devoted to this research. However, because of the difficulty of detecting modest rates of change, findings have been mixed. These discrepancies may stem from methodological shortcomings such as short time spans, few waves, and small samples. The present study overcame these limitations (N = 1,892, nine waves over a period of 20 years). We tested the effect of education level on baseline performance (intercept) and the rate of change (slope) in crystallized and fluid cognitive abilities (gc and gf, respectively) in a sample of Japanese adults. Albeit positively related to both intercepts, education had no impact on either the gc or the gf slope. Furthermore, neither intercept exhibited any appreciable correlation with either slope. These results thus suggest that education has no substantial role (direct or mediated) in aging-related changes in cognition.

Further evidence that news recommendations on search engines and social media do not create the feared filter bubbles and echo chambers

More of the Same? Homogenization in News Recommendations When Users Search on Google, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Efrat Nechushtai, Rodrigo Zamith & Seth C. Lewis. Mass Communication and Society, Mar 23 2023.

Abstract: Amid concerns over algorithmic gatekeeping and the power of digital platforms to serve as engines for polarization and disinformation, we examined the performance of algorithmic recommendation systems as news intermediaries by crowdsourcing search results about newsworthy topics. This study offers a crowdsourced audit of the recommendations made by Google, Google News, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to ideologically, geographically, and demographically diverse U.S. participants (N = 1,598), examining the extent to which search algorithms on major platforms personalized results and drove traffic to particular kinds of websites. The findings of our cross-platform analysis show that rather than creating filter bubbles, the sorting mechanisms on platforms strongly homogenize exposure to information, at least among its top results. This effect was evident across search terms and platforms. At the same time, each platform prioritizes different types of content, with professionally produced news dominant on some platforms but not others, and politically conservative mainstays like Fox News being particularly recurrent.

Inconsistent and Very Weak Evidence for a Direct Association Between Childhood Personality and Adult Ideology

Fasching, Neil, Kevin Arceneaux, and Bert N. Bakker. 2023. “Inconsistent and Very Weak Evidence for a Direct Association Between Childhood Personality and Adult Ideology.” PsyArXiv. March 23. doi:10.31234/


Objective: Past research in (political) psychology has put forward that individual differences in psychological needs shape ideology. Most evidence supporting this claim is cross-sectional. Two previous longitudinal studies showed preliminary evidence that childhood personality traits linked to negativity bias correlate with political ideology in adulthood, yet these studies have limitations. We add depth and breadth to the study of the childhood personality-adult ideology link with additional data, measures, and measurement approaches.

Methods: We report the results from two longitudinal studies (combined N=13,822) conducted in the UK that measure personality traits in childhood (5-11 years old) and political ideology from puberty (age 16) to early (age 26) and middle adulthood (age 42).

Results: We find very weak and inconsistent evidence that childhood personality traits related to negativity bias are directly associated with general conservatism, social conservatism, or economic conservatism across different stages of adulthood. Across the board, Bayes Factors most often indicate strong evidence for the null hypothesis.

Conclusion: We offer evidence that the results of previous research are not as robust or as consistent as many scholars in the extant literature presume. Our findings call for more, not less, research on the link between childhood personality and political ideology.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Family happiness is idealized over personal happiness in the majority of countries (49-nation study)

Family First: Evidence of Consistency and Variation in the Value of Family Versus Personal Happiness Across 49 Different Cultures. Kuba Krys et al. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, March 22, 2023, Volume 54, Issue 3.

Abstract: People care about their own well-being and about the well-being of their families. It is currently, however, unknown how much people tend to value their own versus their family’s well-being. A recent study documented that people value family happiness over personal happiness across four cultures. In this study, we sought to replicate this finding across a larger sample size (N = 12,819) and a greater number of countries (N = 49). We found that the strength of the idealization of family over personal happiness preference was small (average Cohen’s ds = .20, range −.02 to.48), but present in 98% of the studied countries, with statistical significance in 73% to 75%, and variance across countries <2%. We also found that the size of this effect did vary somewhat across cultural contexts. In Latin American cultures highest on relational mobility, the idealization of family over personal happiness was very small (average Cohen’s ds for Latin America = .15 and .18), while in Confucian Asia cultures lowest on relational mobility, this effect was closer to medium (ds > .40 and .30). Importantly, we did not find strong support for traditional theories in cross-cultural psychology that associate collectivism with greater prioritization of the family versus the individual; country-level individualism–collectivism was not associated with variation in the idealization of family versus individual happiness. Our findings indicate that no matter how much various populists abuse the argument of “protecting family life” to disrupt emancipation, family happiness seems to be a pan-culturally phenomenon. Family well-being is a key ingredient of social fabric across the world, and should be acknowledged by psychology and well-being researchers and by progressive movements too.

Lifespans of the European Elite, 800–1800: Marked increases around 1400 and again around 1650

Lifespans of the European Elite, 800–1800. Neil Cummins. The Journal of Economic History, Volume 77, Issue 2, June 2017, pp. 406-439.

Abstract: I analyze the adult age at death of 115,650 European nobles from 800 to 1800. Longevity began increasing long before 1800 and the Industrial Revolution, with marked increases around 1400 and again around 1650. Declines in violent deaths from battle contributed to some of this increase, but the majority must reflect other changes in individual behavior. There are historic spatial contours to European elite mortality; Northwest Europe achieved greater adult lifespans than the rest of Europe even by 1000 AD.


This study has characterized adult noble lifespans from 800 to 1800. The consistent and large association uncovered between sex and plague mortality for nobles runs counter to the indiscriminate reputation of the Black Death and counter to recent paleodemographic analysis on skeletons from fourteenth century London (DeWitte Reference Dewitte2009).Footnote 30 If plague killed more women than men, a simple supply-side effect increasing female agency in the marriage market could explain the origin of the European Marriage Pattern (Hajnal Reference Hajnal, Eversley and Glass1965; De Moor and Van Zanden Reference David, S. Ryan and Andrea2010; Voigtländer and Voth Reference Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim2013). Of course this is a premature speculation, the patterns reported here would have to be convincingly established for the population at large.

The sharp decline in the proportion of male nobles dying from battle, from over 600 years of a steady 30 percent, to less than 5 percent in the sixteenth century, predates the arrival of the Industrial Revolution by two centuries. The long-run decline in violence is cited as one of the principal correlates of the emergence of the modern World with the “civilizing process” needing the transformation of warrior nobles into gentleman courtiers (Elias Reference Elias1982).Footnote 31

One can perhaps ask why did battlefield violence decline among European nobility. Nobility certainly did not lose its taste for military life. The Wars of Religion following 1500 were aristocratic feuds at least as much as earlier wars.Footnote 32 However, the decline in battlefield death amongst nobles corresponds to the emergence of modern warfare; artillery, standing armies, and the replacement of privilege with merit.Footnote 33 The power of hereditary warrior status declined in battle as modern and larger standing armies, led by increasingly wealthy princes, focused upon artillery and infantry (Keen Reference Keen1984, pp. 1, 238–53). The decline of cavalry meant that nobility became officers, inherently a more administrative role than before (Keen Reference Keen1984, p. 240). In war, nobility still led, but from the safety of the rear guard, not the front lines.Footnote 34

I estimate the time-trend of adult noble lifespan over the millennium between 800 and 1800. The findings on the timing of the modern rise in age at death agree almost exactly with de la Croix and Licandro (Reference De and Omar2012) (the birth cohort of 1640–1649). The nobility are, in general, forerunners of Europe's mortality transition as David, Johansson, and Pozzi (Reference David, S. Ryan and Andrea2010figs. 3(a) and 3(b), p. 28) argue too.Footnote 35 This may provide a clue for those who seek to explain why mortality declined. There could be an important role for individual behavior and a demonstration effect (e.g., hygiene and other behavioral traits) as this rise predates modern medicine or any public health measures. It also predates the Industrial Revolution.Footnote 36 Whilst modern evidence suggests that life expectancy does not matter for economic growth (Acemoglu and Johnson Reference Acemoglu and Simon2007), the case has not been proven for the preindustrial era.

Unlike de la Croix and Licandro (Reference De and Omar2012), this study argues that lifespan was not a stationary trend before 1650. There are significant oscillations, most importantly the sharp Europe-wide rise in noble lifespan after 1400. The rise is stronger over the 1400–1600 interval in Ireland, Scotland, and in particular, England and Wales (Figures 11 and 12). This pattern has remained hidden. Only long and deep time series of at least a millennium in length could uncover it. For England, this result can be directly compared with existing estimates of adult mortality. The dramatic rise from the fourteenth to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries revealed in Figure 12(a) is in broad accordance with Russell's estimates of life expectancy at age 25 (e25) for tenants-in-chief of the crown from the Inquisitions Post Mortem (Smith Reference Poos, Jim, Richard and Hicks2012Figure 10, p. 79). However, recent re-estimates of e25 for these same data (Poos, Oeppen, and Smith Reference Poos, Jim, Richard and Hicks2012) suggest a much higher level and a flat trend, at about 30 years, during the fourteenth century. Monastic evidence from communities in Durham, Canterbury, and Westminster points to a decline in e25 from 1450 to 1500 (Poos, Oeppen, and Smith Reference Poos, Jim, Richard and Hicks2012Figure 8.2, p. 162). This is not the pattern I find. Figure 12(a) reports the opposite trend for the English elite: a sharply rising trend in predicted average age at death, for those dying over 20, from 1450–1500. The evidence I have assembled and analyzed in this article strongly suggests a strong improvement in lifespan in the fifteenth century for the English elite.

No conclusions can be drawn as to why adult noble lifespan increased so much after 1400. No known medical innovations in Europe before 1500 could be responsible.Footnote 37 Nutrition, in terms of calories consumed, also cannot explain this rise. These elites could be expected to have always filled their bellies. For this reason, those who argue that the “modern rise of population” was a result of nutrition, the equality of aristocratic and peasant lifespans in the past has presented a paradox (see Fogel (Reference Fogel, Engerman and Gallman1986, pp. 480–84) and McKeown (Reference McKeown1976, pp. 139–42)). Robert Fogel attributed this “peerage paradox” to the vast quantities of alcohol the English elite consumed (Reference Fogel, Engerman and Gallman1986, p. 483). Perhaps diet changed in other ways. The late fourteenth century did witness an increase in the proportion of manuscripts on health.Footnote 38 Works such as the Tacuinum Sanitatis, incorporating Arabic and Ancient knowledge, recommended moderation in food and alcohol, adequate rest, and exercise and, similar to modern medicine, emphasized the importance of vegetables and fruit to human health (Janick, Daunay, and Paris Reference Janick, Marie and Harry2010). Of course, the actual effect of these manuscripts is speculation at this point.

The rise in elite adult age at death for those born after 1400 could also be the result of a Darwinian selection effect from the half century of recurring plague that returned in 1347. Plague killed those susceptible to plague but would also have purged the population of other frailties that may have been correlated with plague susceptibility.Footnote 39 However, most people, even during the plague era, died from other causes.Footnote 40 The real long-term demographic effect of the Black Death could have been through its effect on the disease climate. Noble lifespan in Figure 8 corresponds closely to the trend in real wages in England (Clark Reference Clark2005fig. 4, p. 1311)Footnote 41 and to recent estimates of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita (Broadberry et al. Reference Broadberry, Bruce and Alexander2015, p. 206). Improved nutrition amongst the general population, from higher real incomes via Malthusian dynamics, could have led to a reduction in the incidence of other infectious diseases among plague survivors and their offspring.Footnote 42 Nutritional status did little to diminish plague lethality (see Fogel Reference Fogel, Engerman and Gallman1986, table 9.11, p. 481) but together with a “purging” effect, the Black Death could have led to an improved climate against infectious disease, especially in cities.

The cause of the 1400 rise in adult noble lifespan is unknown. Presently only speculations can be made. Future empirical work, perhaps linking estate account books (to reconstruct diet) to specific time and location (rural/urban) effects and genealogies of the kind analyzed here, will have great potential to answer this mystery.

This article documents a geographic pattern to European elite lifespans. The mortality gradient runs South-North and East-West, and has existed since before the Black Death. The long existence of such a geographic “effect,” and the factors which are causing it, may have implications for recent work which stresses the “little divergence” between the Northwest Europe and the Southeast (Voigtländer and Voth Reference Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim2013; Broadberry Reference Broadberry2013; de Pleijt and van Zanden Reference Acemoglu and Simon2013). The Black Death is not the first turning point. There was something about the Northwest Europe long before 1346 that led to nobles living longer lives.