Is the United States the Best Place for Women?

Women in the United States have the best quality of life of any developed nation, according to the Better Life Index recently released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The index combines eleven different measures of wellbeing, including health, education, income, and life satisfaction. Australia gets top honors for overall wellbeing, but U.S. women top the rankings (women in red, men in black; you’ll probably have to click to read this chart):

Any such index rests on many assumptions and value judgements, of course. So kudos to the OECD for providing a completely interactive version of the index. If you don’t like the way they combine the eleven factors, you can roll your own index and see what happens.

Among other things, that allows you to drill down on each of the individual factors the OECD considers. The “life satisfaction” element reveals that the United States is an outlier in another way: the disparity between women’s life satisfaction and men’s:

Korea has the largest gap, with women reporting much higher satisfaction than men. The United States has the second largest gap, with women noticeably more satisfied than men. (But do note that by this metric alone, the United States is not the best place for women–several countries are higher.)

If you like data, interactive graphics, and international comparisons, you’ll probably enjoy putting the OECD’s Better Life Index through its paces.

Is the Reliability of Public Opinion Surveys Declining?

Public opinion surveys provide a wealth of information about beliefs in America and around the world. For example, they document how much public approval for same-sex marriage has been increasing, how Facebook has infiltrated many of our daily lives, and how humanitarian aid affects how citizens of other nations view America.

But pollsters face a significant challenge. As the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press notes in a new study, survey response rates continue to plummet:

Fifteen years ago, more than one in three of households responded to surveys. Today, that rate is less than one in ten.

That increases the cost of reliable surveys — to get a reasonable sample, you need to try to contact more households. Even more important, declining participation raises the question of whether the minority of respondents are representative of the population as a whole. The Pew Research Center study took a close look at that question:

The general decline in response rates is evident across nearly all types of surveys, in the United States and abroad. At the same time, greater effort and expense are required to achieve even the diminished response rates of today. These challenges have led many to question whether surveys are still providing accurate and unbiased information. Although response rates have decreased in landline surveys, the inclusion of cell phones – necessitated by the rapid rise of households with cell phones but no landline – has further contributed to the overall decline in response rates for telephone surveys.

A new study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that, despite declining response rates, telephone surveys that include landlines and cell phones and are weighted to match the demographic composition of the population continue to provide accurate data on most political, social and economic measures. This comports with the consistent record of accuracy achieved by major polls when it comes to estimating election outcomes, among other things.

This is not to say that declining response rates are without consequence. One significant area of potential non-response bias identified in the study is that survey participants tend to be significantly more engaged in civic activity than those who do not participate, confirming what previous research has shown. People who volunteer are more likely to agree to take part in surveys than those who do not do these things. This has serious implications for a survey’s ability to accurately gauge behaviors related to volunteerism and civic activity. For example, telephone surveys may overestimate such behaviors as church attendance, contacting elected officials, or attending campaign events.

However, the study finds that the tendency to volunteer is not strongly related to political preferences, including partisanship, ideology and views on a variety of issues. Republicans and conservatives are somewhat more likely than Democrats and liberals to say they volunteer, but this difference is not large enough to cause them to be substantially over-represented in telephone surveys.

In short, opinion surveys likely overstate civic activity, but otherwise appear to track other observable political, social, and economic variables.

Energy Security, the Infographic

The Congressional Budget Office is out with another fine infographic, this time on energy security.

The entire infographic is too big to post here, but here’s how Andrew Stocking and Maureen Costantino portray America’s energy sources and uses:

One of the most notable features is the absence of any link from natural gas to transportation (some natural gas is used in transportation, of course, but not enough to make the cut for this image). Given the ever-growing divergence between oil and natural gas prices, I wonder whether that will still be true a decade from now? Or will someone finally crack the natural gas to transportation fuel market in a big way?

Jobs Report – The Soft Side of Mediocre

As expected, today’s jobs data showed a slowing labor market. Payrolls expanded by 115,000 in April, less than hoped or expected. Upward revisions to February and March added another 53,000 jobs, however, so the overall payroll picture is better than the headline. The unemployment rate ticked down to 8.1%, the labor force participation rate slipped to 63.6%, weekly hours were unchanged at 34.5, and hourly earnings increased a measly penny from $23.37 to $23.38.

Put it all together, and this report is on the soft side of mediocre.

Unemployment and underemployment both remain very high, but they’ve been moving in the right direction. After peaking at 10% in October 2009, the unemployment rate has declined by about 2 percentage points. The U-6 measure of underemployment, meanwhile, peaked at 17.2% and now stands at 14.5%:

(The U-6 measures includes the officially unemployed, marginally attached workers, and those who are working part-time but want full-time work.)

A Sunday Numeracy Quiz

My Sunday reading turned up three examples of glaring numeracy errors. I make plenty of my own errors, so I have sympathy for the perpetrators. But I did want to highlight them as examples of what can happen when quantitative thinking runs off the rails. And the need to remain mathematically vigilant in your daily life.

So please take this short numeracy quiz. My answers after the fold.

1. How much has teen drinking declined?

In today’s New York Times Magazine, Tara Parker-Pope makes the case that teenagers are more conservative than their parents were. For example, the fraction of high-school seniors who reported that they had recently consumed alcohol fell from 72% in 1980 to 40% in 2011.

I have no beef with those statistics (or that trend), but I do wonder about the chart used to illustrate it. Do you see anything wrong in this visual?

2. What’s a fair way for students to hedge their bets on today’s Super Bowl?

A few pages later (in the ink-and-paper edition), the NYT’s Ethicist, Ariel Kaminer receives a letter from a parent whose child was offered a bet on the Super Bowl … by their school. Leaving aside the propriety of book-making in the class room, what do you think of this wager?

My school charged a dollar for students to bet, or “predict,” which team would win the Super Bowl. It was $1 for one team, and if you won, you would get a candy bar. If you bet $3, you could choose both teams and guarantee your candy bar. Is this legal or even morally right?

3. How much does federal compensation exceed private compensation?

In Friday’s Wall Street Journal, finally, Steve Moore makes the case that federal workers are overpaid. What’s wrong in the following excerpt? (ht: Brad DeLong)

Federal workers on balance still receive much better benefits and pay packages than comparable private sector workers, the Congressional Budget Office reports. The report says that on average the compensation paid to federal workers is nearly 50% higher than in the private sector, though even that figure understates the premium paid to federal bureaucrats.

CBO found that federal salaries were slightly higher (2%) on average, while benefits — including health insurance, retirement and paid vacation — are much more generous (48% higher) than what same-skilled private sector workers get.

Continue reading “A Sunday Numeracy Quiz”

Getting Better But a Long Way to Go

Friday’s jobs data confirmed that labor markets are getting better, but slowly. Payrolls expanded by 200,000, the unemployment rate fell again to 8.5%, weekly hours ticked up from 34.3 to 34.4, and hourly earnings rose by 0.2%.

Of course, there is still a long, long way to go. Unemployment and underemployment both remain very high, but they’ve been moving in the right direction. After peaking at 10% in October 2009, the unemployment rate has declined by 1.5 percentage points. The U-6 measure of underemployment, meanwhile, peaked at 17.2% and now stands at 15.2%:

(The U-6 measures includes the officially unemployed, marginally attached workers, and those who are working part-time but want full-time work.)

You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure Correctly, NYC Crime Edition

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

That’s good advice, as far as it goes. But it has a dark underside: managing the measurement rather than actual outcomes.

Over at the New York Times, Al Baker and Joseph Goldstein recount a troubling example. To keep reported crime rates low, New York’s Finest may be under reporting the crimes that actually occur:

Crime victims in New York sometimes struggle to persuade the police to write down what happened on an official report. The reasons are varied. Police officers are often busy, and few relish paperwork. But in interviews, more than half a dozen police officers, detectives and commanders also cited departmental pressure to keep crime statistics low.

While it is difficult to say how often crime complaints are not officially recorded, the Police Department is conscious of the potential problem, trying to ferret out unreported crimes through audits of emergency calls and of any resulting paperwork.

As concerns grew about the integrity of the data, the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, appointed a panel of former federal prosecutors in January to study the crime-reporting system. The move was unusual for Mr. Kelly, who is normally reluctant to invite outside scrutiny.

The panel, which has not yet released its findings, was expected to focus on the downgrading of crimes, in which officers improperly classify felonies as misdemeanors.

But of nearly as much concern to people in law enforcement are crimes that officers simply failed to record, which one high-ranking police commander in Manhattan suggested was “the newest evolution in this numbers game.”

Better Than Feared, But Still Mediocre

America’s job market has been down so long, today’s mediocre report looked like up.

The headline figures — payrolls up 117,000, unemployment rate down a tic to 9.1% — were better than most forecasters anticipated. That’s a relief.

And many details moved in the right direction as well. Revisions to May and June added another 56,000 jobs, the U-6 measure of underemployment ticked down to 16.1%, and hourly earnings were up 0.4%.

But we still need much stronger job growth if we are ever going to get America back to work. Both unemployment and underemployment remain stubbornly high:

(The U-6 measures includes the officially unemployed, marginally attached workers, and those who are working part-time but want full-time work.)

Ranking U.S. Economic Recoveries

The Wall Street Journal has a lovely graphic this morning illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. economic recoveries since World War II.

No surprise, the current recovery is long on weaknesses and short on strengths:

The graphic is based on a very similar one the IMF included in its recent overview of the U.S. economy (officially known as the 2011 Article IV Consultation).  I’ve pasted the original IMF graphic below.

Continue reading “Ranking U.S. Economic Recoveries”