All posts filed under “Society

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Facebook, There And Back Again

Two months ago, on March 17th, the news broke that a company called Cambridge Analytica was using Facebook to compile user data to target American voters.  The scandal, led to a multitude of events, from Facebook testifying in congress, to them changing their privacy policy (only slightly). On Wall Street, these news stories led to a 16% decrease in Facebook share prices, from $185,09, to $152,22 ten days later. However, now that the daily news stories on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have passed, share prices have gone up again and closed at $186,99 on May 11. It shows how reactionary stock markets are. (source)

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Mind Over Body

Elite chess players live longer than the general population and have a similar survival advantage to elite competitors in physical sports. This is the conclusion of a recent study, performed by the University of Queensland, aimed to examine if the survival advantage of elite athletes counted for mind sports as well. The study found that life expectancy of chess grandmasters (GMs) at the age of thirty, was 53.6, compared to 45.9 for the general population. There was little statistical difference between chess masters and Olympic medallists. The accompanying figure shows the survival rate of GMs and OMs from 28 countries relative to the general population from the same countries, and shows just how much longer both GMs and OMs live compared to a regular Joe. The study brings up multiple arguments for the statistical differences between GMs and the general population:

  • To be able to attain the Grandmaster title an individual may be encouraged to make necessary health improvements (e.g. reduced smoking and alcohol consumption, improved nutrition, more regular cardiovascular exercise, etc.) to improve one’s cognitive performance.
  • There is evidence that suggests that playing chess can reduce the risk of dementia, as well as physically alter the structure of the brain
  • Becoming a chess grandmaster may provide an economic and social boost, which has been strongly linked to increased life expectancy



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No, Strikes Are Not Making A Comeback

On the first of May, we celebrate International Workers’ Day, a commemoration of labourers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labour movement. One of the ways the labour movement (via unions) impacted society, was through strikes. In the last decades, we’ve seen a dramatic decrease of strikes throughout the world:

These stats go hand-in-hand with the decline of trade unions; according to data from the International Labour Organization, the labour union density (percentage of amount of workers in trade unions vs all workers) has decreased in all major economies. However, workers in The Netherlands have bucked that trend in the last couple of years. According to data published by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) today, the amount of strikes surged since 2011 and was at its highest in 2017 since 1989, whereas the labour unions grew thinner and thinner. Although this was quite the headline, looking at the amount of lost working days, this was nothing more than an anomaly. The amount of strikes in The Netherlands have risen over the last seven years, but the amount of one-day strikes was a big part of that: looking at lost working days, the statistics have roughly remained the same. The role unions play in the strikes have remained the same: in eight of the ten cases were part of the strike. In conclusion, although the headlines in Dutch news make you believe that strikes are making a comeback, they roughly remained the same. (source in Dutch)

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Housing Prices Surge Across The EU

On Wednesday, the European Union published data on housing prices across the EU for the fourth quarter of 2017. Housing prices across the EU surged on average by 4.5% in the fourth quarter of 2017, year on year, according to Eurostat. As shown in the graph, the highest annual increase in house prices in the EU for the fourth quarter of 2017 was recorded in Ireland (+11.8%). Interestingly, looking at Dublin alone, housing prices have increased by a whopping 90% since 2007. Only Italy saw it’s housing prices decrease compared to Q4 of 2016: a decrease of 0.3%. (source)

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Closing Up Shop in the UK

Although it looks as if the worst of the financial crisis is over, more and more physical stores are closing in the United Kingdom, according to data by the Local Data Company (LDC) for PwC. Subsequently, fewer shops are opening up. On an average day in 2017, eleven shops would open in the UK, while sixteen would close. The biggest victims of this development were fashion and footwear stores. According to PwC, most of the decline can be attributed to the fact that wage growth failed to keep up with inflation, the volatility of the pound since the Brexit decision and the ongoing rise of online sales. Not all is lost for physical stores: there was a rise in the number of beauty shops in 2017, while cafes, coffee shops, ice-cream parlours and bookstores also increased in number.

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Socially Useless Jobs

In a new paper, two Dutch economists, Robert Dur and Max van Lent found that about 25% of a dataset of 100,000 workers from 47 countries find their job socially useless, or are in doubt about it. There are important differences between countries, sectors, occupations, and age groups, but no trend over time. The table above shows the job categories that the most workers find don’t contribute (much) to society. Artists and economists stand out.  On the bottom (another table) Dur and Van Lent show firefighters and librarians, of whom 0% find their jobs useless.(source)