Thursday, January 19, 2023

The influence of sexual activity on sleep

The influence of sexual activity on sleep: A diary study. Carlotta Florentine Oesterling, Charmaine Borg, Elina Juhola, Marike Lancel. Journal of Sleep Research, January 16 2023.

Summary: Aiming to promote overall health and well-being through sleep, the present studies examine to what extent sexual activity serves as a behavioural mechanism to improve sleep. The relation between sexual activity, i.e., partnered sex and masturbation with or without orgasm, and subjective sleep latency and sleep quality is examined by means of a cross-sectional and a longitudinal (diary) study. Two hundred fifty-six male and female participants, mainly students, completed a pre-test set of questionnaires and, thereafter, a diary during 14 consecutive days. The cross-sectional study was analysed using analysis of covariance and demonstrated that both men and women perceive partnered sex and masturbation with orgasm to improve sleep latency and sleep quality, while sexual activity without orgasm is perceived to exert negative effects on these sleep parameters, most strongly by men. Accounting for the repeated measurements being nested within participants, the diary data were analysed using multilevel linear modelling (MLM). Separate models for subjective sleep latency and sleep quality were constructed, which included 2076 cases at level 1, nested within 159 participants at level 2. The analyses revealed that only partnered sex with orgasm was associated with a significantly reduced sleep latency (b = −0.08, p < 0.002) and increased sleep quality (b = 0.19, p < 0.046). Sexual activity without orgasm and masturbation with and without orgasm were not associated with changes in sleep. Further, no gender differences emerged. The present studies confirm and significantly substantiate findings indicating that sexual activity and intimacy may improve sleep and overall well-being in both men and women and serve as a directive for future research.


The present cross-sectional and longitudinal (diary) studies aimed to investigate whether specific sexual activities (i.e., partnered sex and masturbation with or without orgasm) affect subjective sleep latency and sleep quality. The cross-sectional study showed that partnered sex with orgasm as well as masturbation with orgasm are perceived to reduce sleep latency while increasing sleep quality in men and women. Both men and women found that partnered sex and masturbation without orgasm increased sleep latency and decreased sleep quality, albeit men perceived stronger negative effects. The longitudinal study yielded diverging results. Specifically, while partnered sex with orgasm significantly shortened sleep latency and improved sleep quality, masturbation with orgasm did not affect the respective sleep variables. The effects of partnered sex without orgasm and masturbation without orgasm did not have strong enough effects on sleep latency or sleep quality to be detectable in the present design. Although women indicated a higher average sleep quality than men, gender was not found to significantly moderate the relation between sexual activity and sleep.

The present results largely support the hypothesis that sexual activity with orgasm results in reduced subjective sleep latency and increased subjective sleep quality in both men and women. While both studies found significant effects of partnered sex, masturbation – though retrospectively perceived as sleep-promoting – did not exert detectable effects in the longitudinal study. As masturbation with orgasm was indeed perceived to effectively promote sleep when assessed in retrospect, the results may suggest that, in fact, both sex with a partner and masturbation impact sleep latency and sleep quality, while the effect of partnered sex may be stronger and thus more salient. This postulate aligns with findings by Brody and Krüger (2006), who have shown that orgasm following sexual intercourse results in a 400% higher post-coital prolactin surge than masturbation-induced orgasm. As prolactin promotes sleep and is part of a feedback loop communicating sexual satiety, the increased post-coital surge of prolactin may explain why partnered sex is often perceived as more satisfying than masturbation and why the sleep-facilitating effect of sexual activity with orgasm is more salient when a partner is involved, as also found by Pallesen et al. (2020) and Gallop et al. (2021).

The finding that both partnered sex and masturbation without orgasm yielded no – or even negative – effects on sleep point to the relevance of orgasm and its concomitant psychophysiological effects. As orgasm is established to increase the heart rate and blood pressure and results in the release of oxytocin and prolactin – hormones, both postulated to influence sleep (Brody & Krüger, 2006; Fekete et al., 2014; Gianotten et al., 2021; Lipschitz et al., 2015) – neuroendocrine changes following orgasm may contribute to the reduction in sleep latency and increase in sleep quality following partnered sex with orgasm. The present observations are in accordance with earlier findings by Pallesen et al. (2020). Although Lastella et al. (2019) found that sexual activity is also reported to affect sleep when orgasm is not taken into consideration, the percentage of men and women reporting improved sleep latency and sleep quality increased when specifically asked about sex with orgasm. Further, reported gender differences indicating that perceived effects of sex on sleep are stronger in men were non-apparent when orgasm was assessed and may therefore emanate from a gap in orgasm frequency between men and women. Therefore, the discrepancy in results may also stem from less nuanced wording of items applied by Lastella et al. (2019). In a more recent study, Sprajcer et al. (2022) found that orgasm frequency explained 3.1% of the variance in subjective sleep latency, as participants reporting an orgasm “every time” sexual activity occurs fell asleep on average 12 min faster than those who less frequently or never report orgasm.

Given that masturbation with orgasm did not produce significant changes in longitudinally assessed sleep, orgasm per se does not sufficiently explain the reduction of sleep latency and increased sleep quality following partnered sex with orgasm. Other factors accompanying partnered sex with orgasm may also contribute to its positive effects on sleep, such as the mere experience of intimacy with one's partner promoting couple bonding (Kruger & Hughes, 2011), well-being, and emotion regulation (Gianotten et al., 2021) and may thereby improve sleep. Germane to this, non-sexual touch and cuddling have been shown to have calming, sleep-promoting effects, especially for women (Dueren et al., 2022). Compared with masturbation, partnered sex is often associated with more intense and longer-lasting physical activity – resulting in a heightened relaxed state afterwards – which may explain why partnered sex without orgasm resulted in a borderline-significant effect on sleep quality in the diary study despite being reported significantly less frequently than partnered sex with orgasm (n = 85 vs. n = 173). Lastly, the psychological effects of relationship satisfaction, loving and feeling loved, as well as having a sense of belonging or security also warrant consideration and have been shown to impact sleep (Kent et al., 2015; Troxel et al., 2007). Sprajcer et al. (2022) found that individuals who are emotionally satisfied fall asleep on average 10–12 min faster than emotionally unsatisfied individuals, and that orgasm frequency and emotional satisfaction are higher if sexual activity occurrs with a long-term partner, compared with casual sexual relationships. These findings highlight the importance of considering emotional and relationship factors when deriving inferences on the effects of sexual activity on sleep. Anyhow, if penetration has occurred, the positive effects of intimacy on sleep may be undermined if women, and even more so men, do not achieve orgasm. Both women and men retrospectively reported negative effects of sexual activity without orgasm on sleep. This negative perception, although not supported by the longitudinal findings, may be attributed to adjuvant emotions such as frustration, dissatisfaction, uncomfortable bodily sensations resulting from sexual arousal without orgasm, or confounding events that prevented sexual activity from resulting in orgasm.

The hypothesised gender difference suggesting that the effects of sexual activity on sleep are stronger in men than in women was not supported, as changes in subjective sleep latency and sleep quality following partnered sex with orgasm did not differ between men and women. This finding corresponds to results of Kruger and Hughes (2011), who also did not find any gender differences in the influence of sexual activity on sleep, and of Lastella et al. (2019), who did not find a gender difference when sex with orgasm had occurred. The absence of gender differences in the sleep effects of sexual activity with orgasm may be due to comparable endocrine processes following orgasm in men and women (Georgiadis et al., 2009; Mah & Binik, 2002). The widely held notion that men fall asleep faster than women after sexual activity may have emanated from the existing gender gap in achieving orgasm, i.e., women are less likely to reach orgasm during heteronormative sexual activity than men (Blair et al., 2018). Case numbers of the present study corroborate this notion, as although the sample consists of more than twice as many women as men, men reported a higher number of occurrences of both partnered sex and masturbation with orgasm. While following heteronormative scripts, women tend to engage in sexual activities that frequently result in orgasm for men but less often for women (e.g., vaginal penetration only, which does not suffice to achieve orgasm for most women; Lloyd, 2022). Research has further shown that the male orgasm frequently signifies the end of sexual intercourse (Opperman et al., 2014), which decreases the opportunities to achieve an orgasm for women. Women might simply reach orgasm less often and, therefore, less frequently benefit from the sleep-promoting effects of orgasm, which, in turn, may explain why society and cross-sectional research relying on self-report data postulate that men fall asleep faster following sexual intercourse with orgasm.

4.1 Limitations and future directions

While the results of the present study underpin the positive effect of sexual activity on sleep, several aspects may limit the interpretability of the findings. The convenience sampling procedure that also made use of a university-student participant pool of a Dutch University possibly limits the generalisability of the results, as most of the participants are young adults from western countries. As the understanding of sexuality concepts varies greatly across cultures (Hall & Graham, 2012), using a more diverse, inclusive sample is encouraged in future replications to increase external validity. Furthermore, suggestive wording in the pre-test items and normative responding based on the general widespread opinion of the sleep effects of sexual activity possibly resulted in recall and acquiescence bias and might contribute to the variability in results between the cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis. The longitudinal study was a preliminary attempt to bring a more thorough and objective insight into the impact of sexual activity on sleep. Yet, the borderline-significant effect of sexual activity without orgasm on sleep quality warrants further investigation, as it may point to a possible effect in the population that was underpowered (power = 0.51) and not detectable due to a small number of cases of partnered sex without orgasm (n = 85), of which the majority (n = 71) was reported by women. Thereby, examining this effect with a higher number of cases may be valuable, especially for female samples in which sexual activity without orgasm is particularly frequent, compared with male samples.

Due to the purely observational nature of the present study, future research might benefit from investigating the relationship between partnered and solo sexual activity, genital responses, the endocrine processes possibly underlying the effect sex has on sleep, and the psychophysiological markers of sleep in an experimental setting, thereby furthering what has only been done by Brisette et al. (1985). Another pathway could be to use a multi-modal machine learning approach implementing wearable devices to detect whether subjective and objective relations of sex and sleep patterns correlate. Self-monitoring the beneficial effect of sexual activity on sleep may have positive psychological effects and promote self-awareness.

Future research may consider differences between the effects in hetero- and homosexual couples and non-binary individuals, which were underrepresented in the present sample, as well as the effects different types of sexual activity have on sleep. Further, it is important to highlight that, by reducing sexual activity to partnered sex and masturbation, the present study applied a comprehensive – but restricted – definition of sexual activity. This served the extension of previous research in order to establish an underlying relationship between sexual activity and sleep. For future research, it would be important to apply a more inclusive, integrative conceptualisation of sexual activity by including a wide variety of sexual practices. Moreover, circumstantial factors such as having a new-born or small children, which possibly require frequent night-time engagement, may also be considered in future work, as both sex and sleep endure significant challenges and changes following the birth of a child (Kahn et al., 2022).

4.2 Strengths and implications

As the first to build upon previously conducted cross-sectional studies while also including a longitudinal design, the present study corroborated and extended the evidence for a sleep-promoting effect of sexual activity on sleep. By conducting an analysis in which the data are not aggregated but analysed with respect to their nested structure using MLM, the present study offered the opportunity to clarify diverging results regarding gender differences, type of sexual activity (masturbation vs. partnered sex), and the role of orgasm appraised by prior research. Moreover, controlling for relevant covariates, especially alcohol consumption which appeared to obscure the relationship between sexual activity and sleep, was valuable in the present study and is recommended for future research. The 14-day duration of the diary study, that includes weekdays as well as weekends, demands increased commitment of participants and further increases the value of inferences.

By using a cross-sectional design resembling the study conducted by Pallesen et al. (2020), their main findings could be replicated. The present study shows that both men and women perceive sexual activity followed by orgasm to reduce sleep latency and increase sleep quality (Gallop Jr. et al., 2021; Lastella et al., 2019; Pallesen et al., 2020). The results of the diary study corroborate the finding that sexual activity improves sleep while highlighting the effect partnered sex has on sleep, compared with masturbation. The heightened effect of partnered sex may partly be explained by the increased neuroendocrine changes following intercourse-induced orgasm, in combination with the valuable effects of experiencing intimacy with one's partner. Penetration and sexual intercourse aligned to heteronormative scripts may not necessarily be required to experience the beneficial effects of sexual activity on sleep. This notion is supported by the borderline-significant effect of partnered sex without orgasm on sleep quality, which is frequently reported by women and shows that intimacy alone may be sufficient to experience positive effects on sleep.

The present discordance of results between the cross-sectional study measuring the perception of the effects and the longitudinal study measuring the actual experience underlines the importance of applying objective measures and prospective measures appraising the perceived effect to the concepts of interest, as the subjective experience of sleep was shown to be a strong predictor of physical and mental well-being and cross-sectional methods are prone to be influenced by expectations and norms surrounding sexuality. In general, the same heteronormative implications of sexuality that underlie the orgasm gap between women and men may influence conceptions about “normal” sexuality – thereby resulting in confounded popular notions, such as men falling asleep first following sexual intercourse. Therefore, culture-specific norms and beliefs surrounding sexuality warrant consideration when interpreting the results of subjective research on sexuality.

The outcomes of the present research have important implications for sleep- and sexual medicine, as they highlight the value of considering partnered sex, masturbation, orgasm, and intimacy as a means to promote good sleep. The establishment of a relationship between sexual activity and sleep serves as a directive for future research to identify possible underlying mechanisms, such as endocrine or social-psychological processes, and to attempt an establishment of the effect using objective measures.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good?

What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good? Jesse Singal. The New York Times, Jan 17 2023.

Diversity trainings have been around for decades, long before the country’s latest round of racial reckoning. But after George Floyd’s murder — as companies faced pressure to demonstrate a commitment to racial justice — interest in the diversity, equity and inclusion (D.E.I.) industry exploded. The American market reached an estimated $3.4 billion in 2020.

D.E.I. trainings are designed to help organizations become more welcoming to members of traditionally marginalized groups. Advocates make bold promises: Diversity workshops can foster better intergroup relations, improve the retention of minority employees, close recruitment gaps and so on. The only problem? There’s little evidence that many of these initiatives work. And the specific type of diversity training that is currently in vogue — mandatory trainings that blame dominant groups for D.E.I. problems — may well have a net-negative effect on the outcomes managers claim to care about.

Over the years, social scientists who have conducted careful reviews of the evidence base for diversity trainings have frequently come to discouraging conclusions. Though diversity trainings have been around in one form or another since at least the 1960s, few of them are ever subjected to rigorous evaluation, and those that are mostly appear to have little or no positive long-term effects. The lack of evidence is “disappointing,” wrote Elizabeth Levy Paluck of Princeton and her co-authors in a 2021 Annual Review of Psychology article, “considering the frequency with which calls for diversity training emerge in the wake of widely publicized instances of discriminatory conduct.”

Dr. Paluck’s team found just two large experimental studies in the previous decade that attempted to evaluate the effects of diversity trainings and met basic quality benchmarks. Other researchers have been similarly unimpressed. “We have been speaking to employers about this research for more than a decade,” wrote the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in 2018, “with the message that diversity training is likely the most expensive, and least effective, diversity program around.” (To be fair, not all of these critiques apply as sharply to voluntary diversity trainings.)

If diversity trainings have no impact whatsoever, that would mean that perhaps billions of dollars are being wasted annually in the United States on these efforts. But there’s a darker possibility: Some diversity initiatives might actually worsen the D.E.I. climates of the organizations that pay for them.

That’s partly because any psychological intervention may turn out to do more harm than good. The late psychologist Scott Lilienfeld made this point in an influential 2007 article [] where he argued that certain interventions — including ones geared at fighting youth substance use, youth delinquency and PTSD — likely fell into that category. In the case of D.E.I., Dr. Dobbin and Dr. Kalev warn that diversity trainings that are mandatory, or that threaten dominant groups’ sense of belonging or make them feel blamed, may elicit negative backlash or exacerbate pre-existing biases.

Many popular contemporary D.E.I. approaches meet these criteria. They often seem geared more toward sparking a revolutionary re-understanding of race relations than solving organizations’ specific problems. And they often blame white people — or their culture — for harming people of color. For example, the activist Tema Okun’s work cites concepts like “objectivity” and “worship of the written word” as characteristics of “white supremacy culture.” Robin DiAngelo’s “white fragility” trainings are intentionally designed to make white participants uncomfortable. And microaggression trainings are based on an area of academic literature that claims, without quality evidence [], that common utterances like “America is a melting pot” harm the mental health of people of color. Many of these trainings run counter to the views of most Americans — of any color — on race and equality. And they’re generating exactly the sort of backlash that research predicts.

Just ask employees at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which had to issue an apology after it posted an Okunesque graphic that presented rational thought, hard work and “emphasis on scientific method” as attributes of “white culture.”

Then there are the lawsuits. As The New York Times Magazine noted in 2020, at least half a dozen people who had been employed by the New York City Department of Education filed lawsuits or won settlements in cases relating to mandatory D.E.I. trainings. Racial affinity groups, a popular intervention in which participants are temporarily separated by race so they can talk about, well, race, have perhaps proved even more problematic. They’ve sparked complaints in places like Jacksonville, Fla. (where a principal was temporarily reassigned after she attempted to separate white students from students of color to discuss “cultural issues”), and Wellesley, Mass. (where the creation of racial affinity groups for students provoked a now-settled lawsuit from a conservative group).

Not every complaint is valid, not every lawsuit has merit and backlash to conversations about racial justice is nothing new. Martin Luther King Jr. had an unfavorable rating of 63 percent before his assassination. If common diversity trainings definitively made institutions fairer or more inclusive in measurable ways, then one could argue they are worth it, backlash and mounting legal fees notwithstanding. But there’s little evidence that they do.

So what does work? Robert Livingston, a lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School who works as both a bias researcher and a diversity consultant, has a simple proposal: “Focus on actions and behaviors rather than hearts and minds.”

Dr. Livingston suggests that it’s more important to accurately diagnose an organization’s specific problems with D.E.I. and to come up with concrete strategies for solving them than it is to attempt to change the attitudes of individual employees. And D.E.I. challenges vary widely from organization to organization: Sometimes the problem has to do with the relationship between white and nonwhite employees, sometimes it has to do with the recruitment or retention of new employees and sometimes it has to do with disparate treatment of customers (think of Black patients prescribed less pain medication than white ones).

The legwork it takes to actually understand and solve these problems isn’t necessarily glamorous. If you want more Black and Latino people in management roles at your large company, that might require gathering data on what percentage of applicants come from these groups, interviewing current Black and Latino managers on whether there are climate issues that could be contributing to the problem and possibly beefing up recruitment efforts at, say, business schools with high percentages of Black and Latino graduates. Even solving this one problem — and it’s a fairly common one — could take hundreds of hours of labor.

The truth, as Dr. Livingston pointed out, is that not every organization is up to this sort of task. Ticking a box and moving on can be the more attractive option. “Some organizations want to do window dressing,” he said. “And if so, then, OK, bring in a white fragility workshop and know you’ve accomplished your goal.”

The history of diversity trainings is, in a sense, a history of fads. Maybe the current crop will wither over time, new ones will sprout that are stunted by the same lack of evidence, and a decade from now someone else will write a version of this article. But it’s also possible that organizations will grow tired of throwing time and money at trainings where the upside is mostly theoretical and the potential downsides include unhappy employees, public embarrassment and even lawsuits. It’s possible they will realize that a true commitment to D.E.I. does not lend itself to easy solutions.

Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) is the author of “The Quick Fix: Why Fad Psychology Can’t Cure Our Social Ills” and a co-host of the podcast “Blocked and Reported.” He writes the newsletter Singal-Minded.

Women respond more strongly to negative, but not positive emotional stimuli than men

Are women truly “more emotional” than men? Sex differences in an indirect model-based measure of emotional feelings. Ella Givon, Rotem Berkovich, Elad Oz-Cohen, Kim Rubinstein, Ella Singer-Landau, Gal Udelsman-Danieli & Nachshon Meiran. Current Psychology, Jan 16 2023.

Abstract: Common beliefs regard women as being more emotional than men. However, assessing differences in emotional feelings holds methodological challenges because of being based on explicit reports. Such research often lacks an explicit measurement model, and reports are potentially biased by stereotypical knowledge and because of existing sex differences in the ease of emotion-label retrieval. This pre-registered analysis employed an evidence accumulation model that has previously been validated for describing binary (un)pleasantness reports made in response to normed emotion-eliciting pictures. This measurement model links overt binary (un)pleasantness reports with the latent variables processing efficiency and a bias to report a certain emotional feeling. Employing online rather than retrospective reports that do not involve intensity rating, together with an explicit measurement model overcome the aforementioned methodological challenges. Across nine different experiments (N = 355) women generated negative emotions more efficiently than men. There was no sex difference in the bias to report negative emotions and in positive emotions. Post hoc account of the results emphasizes the greater relevance of negative emotions for women, given their evolutionary role as primary caregivers who should show enhanced sensitivity for dangers to their offspring (“fitness threat”), given their heightened likelihood of being themselves exposed to physical violence and given their traditional social roles that still remain relevant in many societies.

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,

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.

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.


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 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.

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.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The moral imperative is not towards making people’s lives better, but performative demonstration that you are on the side of righteousness, that you have not only ticked all the right boxes but done so with a song in your heart

The morality of growth. Robert Colvile. CAPX, January 3 2023.


One of the most striking phrases to enter the political lexicon in recent years is ‘degrowth’. This is the idea that capitalism and its obsession with growth are a cancer on the planet.

When you talk to environmental activists, they insist that ‘degrowth’ isn’t about making people poorer. It’s just, according to the movement’s official website, about reducing ‘the material size of the global economy’. We should, they argue, ‘prioritise social and ecological wellbeing instead of corporate profits, over-production and excess consumption’.

This is, to me, one of the most purely wicked ideas that humanity has come up with in recent years. It is a call for others to have less, coming from those who already have so much – and who have mostly never known anything but the extraordinary comforts of our modern world.

The fact that malnutrition, poverty, infant mortality and all other indices of deprivation have plunged across the world in recent decades is the blessed fruit of the economic growth that has taken place. The faster you grow, the better the lives your citizens are able to enjoy – and the more you can invest in either mitigating the damage from climate change, or developing the kind of technologies that might actually bring it to a halt.

To say that growth is the enemy is, in fact, the ultimate example of white privilege – the privilege to tell billions of people across the world that their ambitions for heat and light, water and sanitation, medicine and education aren’t actually that important in the grand scheme of things.

A couple of years ago, in August 2020, I delivered a lecture for the Centre for Policy Studies and 1900 Club called ‘The Morality of Growth’, which inspired this current essay. The case I sought to make was that we have a moral duty not just to support growth, but to oppose policies that diminish opportunity. The mindset that apologises for growth and innovation, I argued, is one that leaves less for the most vulnerable – in Britain and beyond.

In particular, I argued that while the claims of the ‘degrowth’ movement might seem both marginal and laughable – what mainstream politician would really stand up and say that we need to actively shrink the world economy? – British politics is afflicted by a diluted version of the same syndrome. Too often, we pay lip service to growth, but aren’t willing to actually do what it takes to deliver it. Like the football team that always falls short, we just don’t want it enough.

This debate has become all the more urgent as the pandemic and cost of living crisis have driven home to people quite how little growth we have had in recent decades, and quite how little we have to look forward to. Indeed, it is both telling and depressing that the most interesting debate in British economics at the moment, triggered by my friend Sam Bowman’s essay on ‘Boosters’ vs ‘Doomsters’, is not about how to get growth back up, but whether we can get it back up at all.

A society without growth is not just politically far more fragile. It is hugely damaging to people’s lives – and in particular to the young, who will never get to benefit from the kind of compounding, increasing prosperity their parents enjoyed. It is striking that the fastest-growing societies also tend to be by far the most optimistic about their futures – because they can visibly see their lives getting better.

By temperament, I am what Sam calls a ‘Booster’ – that is, I believe that we are not in fact doomed to irrevocable decline. Indeed, the focus of most of our work at the Centre for Policy Studies is coming up with policies that help Britain grow. But in this essay, I want to do something different: not to set out specific ideas for growth, but make the fundamental argument, not least in light of the recent political convulsions in the UK, that we need to treat growth as a moral good – and treat the many obstacles to it not just as unfortunate but as a moral outrage.


Where did the growth go?

Let’s start by making a very basic point: there isn’t enough growth to go round.

Since the financial crisis, real GDP growth has been the most consistent since the Second World War. Unfortunately, it has been consistently abysmal. Not once in the decade before the pandemic did a rolling average of GDP growth go above 3% – the first time that had happened in living memory. And even before the economy plunged into its coronacoma, the projections for the next few years were of further stagnation.

Things look even worse if you don’t just look at GDP, but GDP per head. Data from the World Bank shows that in the UK, average GDP growth per capita across the 1980s was 2.5%. During the 1990s, that fell to 1.9%. In the 2000s, thanks partly to the financial crisis, it fell again to 1.2%. In the 2010s, it stood at just 1.1% – even before the apocalyptic impact of the pandemic.

In other words, like in an Indiana Jones movie, the growth ceiling of the British economy is grinding inexorably downwards.

You can see this decline and fall even more clearly if you strip out the recessions. During the Lawson boom, GDP growth per capita went over 5% for two years in a row. Gordon Brown inherited per capita GDP growth of 3.6% in 1997 – but the economy has never even come close to hitting that again, with the exception of the artificial rebound after the pandemic.

In short, the idea that our troubles began with the financial crisis, or the fact of Tory government, is wrong-headed. Even in the years before the 2008 crash, growth per capita was only running at between 1.6% and 2.4% – which may look like unimaginable prosperity now, but was still much lower than what had come before.

To put it another way, when our politicians promised to ‘abolish boom and bust’, it turns out that they actually just abolished booms.

The ‘Doomster’ argument, if we use Sam’s categorisation, is that this decline – while historically unprecedented – is now to a large extent baked into the economy. He cites the work of Dietrich Vollrath, whose book Fully Grown argues that a combination of factors have combined to lower productivity and hence growth: a decline in geographic mobility; an ageing population and shrinking workforce; and the inexorable growth of services as a proportion of the economy, where the potential for productivity gains is lower. (It’s worth pointing out that unlike some of his British acolytes, Vollrath actually sees this as a natural and in many ways welcome result of America’s increasing prosperity – an argument which, as Sam points out, rings rather less true for a country where GDP per capita is roughly 30% lower.)

British Doomsters, adds Sam, do accept that good policies can make a difference on growth, but they tend to think they will have only a marginal impact, or be too hard to push through. They might also point out that these problems are by no means confined to the UK: even with the headwinds from Brexit, our paltry growth performance between 2010 and 2019 eclipsed that of the even feebler eurozone.

The counter-argument – made by the ‘Boosters’ – is that Britain’s performance has been so lacklustre that there are all manner of ways to improve it. We have obvious and longstanding problems with productivity, and business investment. Our failure to build sufficient housing, stretching over a period of decades, has had devastating economic consequences. One of the most obvious ways to make the country more productive is to ensure that the best workers can find places to live near the best jobs. On that front, we have absolutely failed.

The problem, though – arguably the biggest problem in British politics – is that our failure to grow becomes self-reinforcing. At a time when we should be more obsessed than ever with growing the cake, we have become ever more focused on how to share it. In fact, it is precisely because there has not been as much growth to go around that we fixate on the size of the portions.

Jeremy Corbyn was the perfect symptom of an age in which, with riches harder to come by, those who do have riches become the object of envy and resentment.

At the Centre for Policy Studies, we believe that the only way to deliver growth – proper, sustainable, cake-growing growth – is by supporting the private sector. Every job created, every product sold, every pound in tax paid, is a tiny victory in the war for our collective prosperity.

So the key question is: how ready are we to prioritise that?

The decline of business

The first thing to say is that Britain is – despite the brief irruption of Corbynism – an admirably business-friendly country.

As Liz Truss pointed out in a speech in 2019, there was an 85% increase over the three years before the pandemic in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds setting up businesses. Britain is consistently one of the strongest performers in terms of the ease of doing business, and indeed starting a business. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows that the proportion of Britons involved in some form of entrepreneurial activity has increased from 15% to 20% since the turn of the millennium – and the proportion of us who own our own businesses has doubled. There also seems to have been a strong and sustained shift towards a more entrepreneurial culture in around 2010 – perhaps mirroring the change in governing party.

But things become more murky when you look not at the number of businesses we have, but what we think they should do.

A few years ago, we at the Centre for Policy Studies published a paper called  ‘Think Small’, which focused on the needs of small businesses in Britain and how to help them grow.

In the polling for it, we found an overwhelming consensus that the system of tax and administration to which those firms are subject is far more onerous than it should be – not just in terms of the amounts that are taken, but the sheer complexity of the process.

That survey also showed that people really like small businesses. They want them to prosper and grow.

And yet if you ask (as YouGov has via a regular tracker poll) whether businesses are regulated enough, only 12-14% of the country will answer ‘too much’, less than half the proportion who will say ‘not enough’. If you ask whether they pay enough tax, you get 48% saying ‘not enough’, and only 9% saying ‘too much’.

Analysis by the OECD and other institutions has consistently shown that taxes on businesses and investment are absolutely the worst for growth. Yet when Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak needed to pay for the costs of the pandemic, it was taxes on employers that went up first and most – because that was by far the most popular option.

More generally, there is a small forest of opinion research that will tell you that people these days don’t think the business of business should just be business – more people say that a brand’s ‘stance on wider society’ is very important than not at all important. (And yes, that sound you can hear is Friedman and Hayek spinning in their graves.)

A recent edition of Deloitte’s regular survey of millennials showed that they overwhelmingly feel business success should be measured in terms of more than financial performance. A foreword from its ‘global chief purpose and people officer’, which is a pretty telling title in itself, found that ‘if anything, the pandemic has reinforced their desire to help drive positive change in their communities and around the world. And they continue to push for a world in which businesses and governments mirror that same commitment to society, putting people ahead of profits and prioritising environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and income equality.’

In the 2022 edition of Deloitte’s survey, less than half of young people agreed that business was having a positive impact on wider society – the fifth consecutive year in which the percentage had dropped. Previous research by Matthew Elliott and James Kanagasooriam, for the Legatum Institute, found – even more starkly – that the words that young people most associated with ‘capitalism’ were ‘greedy’, ‘selfish’, ‘corrupt’, ‘divisive’ and ‘dangerous’. Frank Luntz, in more recent polling for the CPS, asked people whether they agreed with the statement: ‘When I look at corporate leaders and how they treat us, I just think ‘f*** them all’.’ By 50% to 23%, they agreed. (The only consolation is that the figures for politicians were even worse.)

There’s a fascinating case to be made that much of this ties into the broader culture war. YouGov has found that the focus on companies’ wider responsibilities is being driven by a group it called the ‘catalysts’ – the most influential, and opinionated, section of society.

To quote:

‘…catalysts are overwhelmingly likely to be members of the ABC1 social grades… and over two thirds… are in the highest AB brackets… Their favourite newspaper is The Guardian (31% vs. 4% nationwide) [and] they’re more likely to be left-leaning Remain voters: almost two-thirds (65%) voted for Labour, the Lib Dems, or the SNP at the 2017 General Election, while almost three-quarters voted to stay in the EU (73%).’

In short, half a century after Milton Friedman first set out the argument that the business of business is business, that argument is being decisively lost. And it’s being lost within the business community itself – even though people are pretty clear (as Frank Luntz’s polling showed) that when they’re actually making purchasing decisions, and living their lives, what they really want is good, cheap products, excellent service, and for companies to treat their workers fairly. Not to have an ice cream company like Ben & Jerry’s lecture them via its Twitter account on the Government’s policy towards refugees.

What’s less appreciated, however, is that all this is doing economic damage, because it’s not only diverting capital from productive ends but moving the policy debate away from what we actually need for growth.

In particular, there is a dangerous gap between what people think is happening in the business world and what is actually happening.

In a celebrated speech in 2012, Andy Haldane of the Bank of England pointed out that the UK had moved from employing one regulator for every 11,000 people working in the financial sector in 1980 to one for every 300 in 2011.

Financial regulation had become much more complex, with the latest Basel rulebook requiring large banks to carry out several million calculations, as opposed to single figures a generation ago. Over a single decade, the proportion of Citigroup’s global workforce devoted to compliance and risk went from 4% to 15%. George Osborne warned in 2013 about over-regulation leading to ‘the financial stability of a graveyard’. It is striking, and alarming, that Britain’s regulators – unlike many of their counterparts – have generally had no specific duty to promote growth, or to consider the dynamic impact of their decisions. And when the Government tried to bring one in recently, all hell broke loose.

The CPS has recently been carrying out extensive work on regulation. We will be publishing the full details later this year, but it is fair to say that our team were genuinely shocked by the ease with which Whitehall can impose extra costs on businesses and consumers, and the flimsiness of the justifications that have been used to do so.

But it is not just about regulation. In many firms, the proportion of people actively devoted to the core task of generating profits has shrunk and shrunk. Meanwhile, the global human resources industry grew from around $343bn in 2012 to $476bn in 2019, and the number of diversity roles has increased by 71% over five years.

The adoption of a wider definition of corporate purpose has been accompanied by a growth in the number of staff whose mindset is effectively public sector rather than private: their role is to ensure that the company does good and is good, rather than that it meets its targets. And of course, for many public companies those targets are in any case geared more towards meeting investors’ quarterly expectations than delivering long-term growth – or pleasing institutional investors such as Larry Fink at BlackRock, which have wholeheartedly embraced the gospel of ESG.

The death of Adam Smith

My argument, in other words, is that business has indeed been infused with morality – but the moral imperative is not towards making people’s lives better, but performative demonstration that you are on the side of righteousness, that you have not only ticked all the right boxes but done so with a song in your heart.

This flies in the face of a fundamental point made by Adam Smith. He famously said that: ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.’

This was, at the time, a revolutionary argument. For centuries, philosophers had stressed the importance of leading a good life. What Smith was saying was that – at least in economic terms – it was perfectly fine to look after number one, because in doing so you looked after numbers two through 20,000.

But today, that is no longer true. Today, you not only have to do good – by creating jobs, providing goods, paying taxes and dividends. You have to proclaim that you are doing good. And if you transgress those rules, you are cast out of polite society.

Recently, the journalist Ed West wrote a book called Small Men on the Wrong Side of History. It was about, in essence, how conservatives are losing the culture war. As he says in that book, ‘The Left has developed a moral monopoly, so that those outside the faith are under an unspoken obligation to prove their moral worth before their views can be heard.’

I was reminded of this a few years ago when I got a message from my local council leader:

‘It is no longer enough to be simply a low tax council,’ it said. ‘It is also not enough to say we are good at delivering services.

‘People’s priorities have changed, and their expectations have increased.

‘We need to work harder to be seen as being on the side of residents.

‘And we need to re-earn our place in residents’ hearts and their minds. This is what will determine where they put their cross.

‘Our key response to the changing times is Smart Growth and our commitment to be inner London’s greenest borough.

‘Smart growth is green growth and is fair growth for all.’

I’ve quoted that email at length for one simple reason: I live in Wandsworth. What was long the lowest-tax, toughest-minded council in the country. The place where the Thatcherites proved that you can win even in the heart of a Labour-leaning city by delivering, delivering and delivering.

Except that, according to that email, you couldn’t. (Not that it mattered: in the most recent elections, the borough voted in Labour anyway.)


It’s almost a quarter of a century old, but there’s a wonderful passage in the original Bridget Jones columns that perfectly sums this up, in which Bridget suddenly finds out that Mark Darcy, her new boyfriend, is a Tory.

The Tories, she explains, stand for ‘braying bossy men having affairs with everyone… then telling all the presenters off on the Today programme.’ Labour ‘stands for sharing, kindness, gays, single mothers and Nelson Mandela’. It’s not hard to know who to vote for.

The morality of growth

Because of shrinking growth, we’ve become more and more obsessed with how to share the cake, and who deserves which particular slice. But that has reached the point where it is actively preventing us from returning to growth – because the free-market machine has become gritted up.

There was a lot of coverage a couple of years ago, for example, of the fact that Apple is now larger than the entire FTSE 100. It seemed like proof of the superior dynamism of the US tech firms.

But there’s a more interesting story here. In the five years before the pandemic struck, the FTSE All Share index went up by 20%. But the actual collective market capitalisation of Britain’s listed companies was completely flat. In other words, shares went up, but the number of listed firms went down. In 2019, just 34 firms applied to be listed – the lowest since the financial crisis.

There are many reasons for this. But one of the simplest is that we have made it such a chore to be a listed company, and to be a director of a listed company, that fewer and fewer rational people want to do it. The result is that the kind of popular capitalism that Margaret Thatcher dreamt of – an economy built around mass ownership of homes and shares and savings – becomes harder to achieve.

In the City, and across the wider economy, we have tilted the balance towards security and away from risk. And in doing so we have lost the sense of the value of business. Of the urgency of growth. Of the idea that creating a job – any job – and growing the economy should be considered a heroic act.


In which environments is impulsive behavior adaptive? A cross-discipline review and integration of formal models

Fenneman, J., Frankenhuis, W. E., & Todd, P. M. (2022). In which environments is impulsive behavior adaptive? A cross-discipline review and integration of formal models. Psychological Bulletin, 148(7-8), 555–587, Jan 2023.

Abstract—Are impulsive behaviors an adaptive response to living in harsh or unpredictable environments? Formal models help address this question by providing cost–benefit analyses across a broad range of environmental conditions, but their various results have not been systematically integrated. Here, we survey models from diverse disciplines including psychology, biology, economics, and management to develop a conceptual framework of impulsivity. Using this framework, we integrated results from 30 models to review whether impulsivity is adaptive across a range of environmental conditions. We focus on information impulsivity, that is, acting without considering consequences, and temporal impulsivity, that is, the tendency to pick sooner outcomes over later ones. Results show that both types are adaptive when individuals are close to a critical threshold (e.g., bankruptcy), resources are predictable, or interruptions are common. When resources are scarce, impulsivity can be adaptive or maladaptive, depending on the type and degree of scarcity. Information impulsivity is also adaptive when environments do not change over time or change very often (but maladaptive in between), or if local resource patches have similar properties, reducing the need to gather further information. Temporal impulsivity is adaptive when environments do not change over time and when local resource patches differ. Our review shows theoreticians how ideas from different disciplines are connected, affords formal modelers to see similarities and differences between their own models and those of others, and informs researchers about which empirical predictions generalize across a broad range of environmental conditions and which ones do not. To end, we provide concrete recommendations for future empirical studies.

Public Significance Statement—We review and synthesize findings from 30 formal models from diverse disciplines to evaluate whether impulsive behaviors are adaptive or maladaptive in harsh or unpredictable environments. We focus on information impulsivity, acting without considering consequences, and temporal impulsivity, choosing sooner outcomes over later ones. Our synthesis provides six broad conclusions on the adaptive value of information and temporal impulsivity in different environmental conditions. We also provide recommendations for future research on environmental influences on impulsive behaviors.

Previous research from these authors: Impulsive behavior is not always adaptive in harsh & unpredictable conditions, it depends on the exact definitions of harshness, unpredictability, & impulsivity; may be adaptive when resource encounters are likely to be interrupted