Tuesday, January 17, 2023

No form of pandemic preparedness helped to ameliorate or shorten the pandemic; compared to other countries, the US did not perform poorly because of cultural values such as individualism, collectivism, selfishness, or lack of trust

Is it possible to prepare for a pandemic? Robert Tucker Omberg, Alex Tabarrok. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Volume 38, Issue 4, Winter 2022, December 14 2022, Pages 851–875, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxrep/grac035

Abstract: How effective were investments in pandemic preparation? We use a comprehensive and detailed measure of pandemic preparedness, the Global Health Security (GHS) Index produced by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security (JHU), to measure which investments in pandemic preparedness reduced infections, deaths, excess deaths, or otherwise ameliorated or shortened the pandemic. We also look at whether values or attitudinal factors such as individualism, willingness to sacrifice, or trust in government—which might be considered a form of cultural pandemic preparedness—influenced the course of the pandemic. Our primary finding is that almost no form of pandemic preparedness helped to ameliorate or shorten the pandemic. Compared to other countries, the United States did not perform poorly because of cultural values such as individualism, collectivism, selfishness, or lack of trust. General state capacity, as opposed to specific pandemic investments, is one of the few factors which appears to improve pandemic performance. Understanding the most effective forms of pandemic preparedness can help guide future investments. Our results may also suggest that either we aren’t measuring what is important or that pandemic preparedness is a global public good.

JEL H12 - Crisis Management I10 - General I18 - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health

According to AAA, "about 70 percent of the entire increase in driver fatal crash involvement [between May and December of 2020] was specifically among males under the age of 40"

Traffic Safety Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Fatal Crashes Relative to Pre-Pandemic Trends, United States, May–December 2020. Brian C. Tefft, Meng Wang.  AAA Foundation for
Traffic Safety, Dec 2022. https://aaafoundation.org/traffic-safety-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-fatal-crashes-relative-to-pre-pandemic-trends-united-states-may-december-2020

Abstract: Despite a brief reduction during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States surged in 2020 to its highest level in over a decade. The purpose of the research reported here is to advance the understanding of how safety on U.S. roads changed during the pandemic, beyond its initial months, by comparing the involvement of specific crash-, vehicle-, and driver-related factors in fatal crashes during the eight-month period of May through December 2020 to what would have been expected had the pandemic not occurred and pre-pandemic trends continued. Data from all fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2011 through 2019 were used to develop statistical models of the monthly number of fatal crashes through December 2019. These models were then used to forecast how many fatal crashes would been expected in each month of 2020 without the pandemic. Overall, the number of traffic fatalities in 2020 was 2,570 (7.1%) more than expected based on pre-pandemic trends. However, a sharp decrease in traffic fatalities in March and April 2020 partially offset an even larger increase later in the year. During the eight-month period of May through December 2020, the number of traffic fatalities was 3,083 (12.1%) more than expected. Importantly, however, this increase was not uniform across all factors examined. This Research Brief identifies specific crash-, vehicle-, and driver-related factors that contributed most to the overall increase in traffic fatalities during this period, as well as others that continued to follow pre-pandemic trends or that even decreased.

Key Findings: A total of 38,824 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. in 2020, 2,570 (7.1%) more than forecast from models developed using data from 2011 through 2019 (Figure). In April 2020—the first full month of the pandemic—the number of fatalities was much lower than what would have been expected based on pre-pandemic trends. By May 2020, however, the actual number of fatalities was similar to historical levels. The number of fatalities greatly exceeded forecasts based on pre-pandemic trends for the remainder of 2020. In May through December collectively, there were a total of 28,611 traffic fatalities nationwide, which was 3,083 (12.1%) more than expected based on pre-pandemic trends.

The increase in traffic fatalities was not uniform across crash-, vehicle-, and driver-related factors. Scenarios present in greater than expected numbers in fatal crashes in 2020 included evening and late-night hours, speeding drivers, drivers with illegal alcohol levels, drivers without valid licenses, drivers of older vehicles, drivers of vehicles registered to other people, crash involvement and deaths of teens and young adults, and deaths of vehicle occupants not wearing seatbelts. In contrast, several crash types followed pre-pandemic trends (e.g., crashes in the middle of the day; crash involvements of drivers with valid licenses; pedestrian fatalities), and a few decreased (e.g., crashes of elderly drivers; crashes during typical morning commute hours).


Road Deaths Surged Alongside Covid — But Who Died, Exactly? Kea Wilson. StreetsBlog USA, Jan 9 2023. https://usa.streetsblog.org/2023/01/09/road-deaths-surged-alongside-covid-but-who-died-exactly


The study verified that the absence of traffic jams played some role in allowing drivers to reach dangerous speeds on too-wide roads, but the researchers also found that the most significant differences between their forecast and real-world death totals happened in the dead of night, when most roads have always been congestion-free.

Between 10 p.mm and 1:59 a.m., deaths were nearly 22 percent higher than expected; during the typical morning rush hours, by contrast, deaths were actually 6.3 percent lower than the model anticipated they'd be. The late afternoon and evening rush hour, meanwhile, "did not differ significantly from the forecast."

2020 also saw an increase in hit-and-runs, which clocked in at 31.2 percent higher than originally forecast.

According to AAA, "about 70 percent of the entire increase in driver fatal crash involvement [between May and December of 2020] was specifically among males under the age of 40." Tefft suspects that increase may have been particularly driven by the minuscule subset of young, male motorists who were emboldened to do risky things on the road when the world shut down, though the data doesn't tell him exactly why.

People in more developed and modernized countries experience more love with their partners, but at a high level of modernization, mean love levels tend to drop

Modernization, collectivism, and gender equality predict love experiences in 45 countries. Piotr Sorokowski et al. Scientific Reports volume 13, Article number: 773. Jan 14 2023. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-26663-4

Abstract: Recent cross-cultural and neuro-hormonal investigations have suggested that love is a near universal phenomenon that has a biological background. Therefore, the remaining important question is not whether love exists worldwide but which cultural, social, or environmental factors influence experiences and expressions of love. In the present study, we explored whether countries’ modernization indexes are related to love experiences measured by three subscales (passion, intimacy, commitment) of the Triangular Love Scale. Analyzing data from 9474 individuals from 45 countries, we tested for relationships with country-level predictors, namely, modernization proxies (i.e., Human Development Index, World Modernization Index, Gender Inequality Index), collectivism, and average annual temperatures. We found that mean levels of love (especially intimacy) were higher in countries with higher modernization proxies, collectivism, and average annual temperatures. In conclusion, our results grant some support to the hypothesis that modernization processes might influence love experiences.


Many descriptive works show how love experiences may change with various levels of modernization34,35. Other study supported such claims based on the analysis of incidences of love in narrative fiction throughout centuries11. However, based on quantitative, cross-cultural data, our study is the first to provide evidence on how love experiences vary concerning different levels of human development and modernization indexes. We observed that, in general, participants from countries with higher (compared with countries with lower) levels of HDI, World Modernization Index, and gender equality experienced more love with their partners, controlling for participants’ sex, relationship length, countries’ average annual temperatures, and collectivism level. However, after reaching a certain, relatively high threshold of modernization (e.g., in the case of HDI—0.85), mean love levels tend to drop. Overly simplifying, we can conclude that more modernized countries have a higher level of all love subscales (though this effect is more pronounced for intimacy than passion), but the highest levels of modernization do not promote intense love experiences.

Furthermore, the results provided tentative evidence that higher mean levels of intimacy and commitment are positively related to countries’ level of collectivism. It is especially interesting, considering that previous studies highlighted the importance of romantic love in relationships established in more individualistic cultures7,23,26 as opposed to more collectivistic cultures, in which, historically, arranged rather than love marriages have been more prevalent36,37. On the other hand, collectivistic values promote a more relational view of romantic relationships38. Thus, individuals from more collectivistic countries might be more altruistic towards their partners5,39, which could naturally lead to more intimate and stronger bonds between the lovers40. However, the observed relationships ceased to be significant when controlling for participants’ age. Also, we did not observe any links between passion level and country’s collectivism index. Considering the most recent cultural changes in collectivistic values in various countries41, future studies could investigate whether individual levels of collectivistic beliefs might be more related to experiences love than country-levels of collectivism.

Relatively modest relationships between modernization indexes and passion suggest that passion is rather stable across different modernization levels, and that what carries the relationship between the passionate love (i.e., passion to intimacy ratio) and modernization indexes is higher intimacy in countries with higher modernization indexes. A growing body of research provides evidence for biological antecedents of passion and its role in reproduction (see, e.g.,42,43,44), and thus, the stability of passionate experiences across various countries seems unsurprising. Furthermore, in line with previous works3,44,45, we observed lower levels of passion and intimacy, and higher levels of commitment among participants with longer relationship duration.

However, questions regarding the mechanisms behind the observed patterns of changes in intimacy/commitment are more challenging to answer. The simplest explanation might be that people from countries with higher modernization indexes tend to emphasize the friendship aspect of relations with their partners46. Indeed, some studies provided evidence that individuals from countries with higher modernization indexes expect love to be based on mutual attraction and emotional closeness31,47. Apart from the environmental and economic factors already tackled in the introduction (i.e., the growing importance of romantic love in adulthood possibly resulting from changes in parental emotional investment and better living conditions11,16,48,49), we can also hypothesize other possible explanations.

For instance, cultural changes stem from processes of democratization, emancipation of love34,50,51, gender shifts, and increasing gender equality52,53. Because love becomes increasingly dependent on the capitalist market, such processes may also promote specific love patterns (that is, more intimate love but not that much of sexual love47,54). We might also consider social changes in terms of cultural perception of reproduction or, in general, postponed reproduction in countries with higher modernization indexes55,56. Several of these factors may be responsible for the observed increasing role of intimacy in societies with higher modernization indexes. Future research should focus on disentangling modernization components, which would shed more light on which specific factors drive the observed patterns.

Furthermore, we observed a distinctive drop in the mean levels of love among participants from countries that reached a relatively high level of modernization (e.g., in the case of HDI, the threshold was 0.85). This suggests that, although country’s economic development generally promotes more intense love experiences, reaching a certain developmental point might reverse these beneficial love effects. Such hypotheses have been indirectly laid by ethologists studying animal behaviors57,58. For instance, in a classical study, Calhoun57 observed that mice thrived when granted unlimited access to all necessary resources. However, mice started to lose interest in mating and reproduction when the situation was too good for too long. We can only speculate to which extent such an animal model might apply to humans.

Interestingly, research on the role of temperature in social interactions evokes heated discussions. We found some evidence that a country’s average temperature is positively related to love experiences. When controlling for other factors, we found that participants from countries with higher annual temperatures reported higher levels of love (though this effect was the strongest for passion). However, raw correlations showed the opposite patterns, meaning that participants from countries with higher temperatures experienced lower intimacy and commitment levels. As results of previous studies also yielded contradictory conclusions28,29, future investigations might attempt to deepen our understanding of the role of climate and temperature on humans’ feelings and behaviors.

Although the current study sheds new light on the cultural evolution of love, it is not free of limitations. First, despite recruiting a relatively large number of participants from various cultures, one needs to bear in mind that the studied sample was not representative of any of the 45 countries. Moreover, our participants were relatively well-educated and from urban areas (see Fig. 3), which makes them even less representative of less modernized countries. Second, although we used one of the most famous love scales, the Triangular Love Scale27, the scale has been criticized for high correlations between love components59,60. Furthermore, the TLS might not reliably distinguish participants with high levels of love61. As love measures are not perfectly correlated (their correlations tend to vary from 0.00 to even 0.83, see62,63), it would be interesting to test the present results' robustness using different love measures. Third, we have focused on cultural and environmental variables at the country-level. Future studies could investigate whether individual-level factors identified in the present study contribute to love experiences in a similar vein. There is some evidence that, for instance, psychological collectivism might impact love patterns differently64.

Figure 3
Locations of data collection. Countries (in blue) with corresponding study sites (cities in orange).

In conclusion, our study—one of the largest studies on cross-cultural differences in love experiences to date—provided evidence that, at least at the beginning of the twenty-first century, love is a near universal human experience. The results of the present investigation offer valuable insight into cultural and environmental factors related to countries’ variability of love experiences. Although our research is correlational and no causal conclusions can be made, one may hypothesize that cultural changes in the level of a country’s modernization index may affect patterns of love (i.e., may increase experiences of intimacy and commitment). More studies conducted in countries with lower levels of modernization using a longitudinal design might address this hypothesis.

Our study showed that love experiences differ across cultures. The results corroborate previous research findings on similarities and differences in how people chose their love partners65 and how their choices affect their relationship satisfaction66,67. However, as a concluding remark, we would like to highlight that we believe there is no better or worse way to experience love. On the contrary, understanding different love patterns may be crucial in studying the vast phenomenon of love. Exploring how love differs across cultures may result in identifying the love hardships of couples from different cultural backgrounds, which may, inter alia, promote developing more accurate and effective strategies in couple counseling.

Opiates of the Masses? Deaths of Despair and the Decline of American Religiosity

Opiates of the Masses? Deaths of Despair and the Decline of American Religion. Tyler Giles, Daniel M. Hungerman & Tamar Oostrom. NBER Working Paper 30840, January 2023. DOI 10.3386/w30840

Abstract: In recent decades, death rates from poisonings, suicides, and alcoholic liver disease have dramatically increased in the United States. We show that these "deaths of despair" began to increase relative to trend in the early 1990s, that this increase was preceded by a decline in religious participation, and that both trends were driven by middle-aged white Americans. Using repeals of blue laws as a shock to religiosity, we confirm that religious practice has significant effects on these mortality rates. Our findings show that social factors such as organized religion can play an important role in understanding deaths of despair.