Economics of sex

Really interesting article in Slate on why so many loser guys seem to be nonetheless successful in having sex with more successful women.  Short answer: supply and demand:

But just as critical is the fact that a significant number of young men are faring rather badly in life, and are thus skewing the dating pool. It’s not that the overall gender ratio in this country is out of whack; it’s that there’s a growing imbalance between the number of successful young women and successful young men. As a result, in many of the places where young people typically meet—on college campuses, in religious congregations, in cities that draw large numbers of twentysomethings—women outnumber men by significant margins. (In one Manhattan ZIP code, for example, women account for 63 percent of 22-year-olds.)

The idea that sex ratios alter sexual behavior is well-established. Analysis of demographic data from 117 countries has shown that when men outnumber women, women have the upper hand: Marriage rates rise and fewer children are born outside marriage. An oversupply of women, however, tends to lead to a more sexually permissive culture. The same holds true on college campuses. In the course of researching our book Premarital Sex in America, my co-author and I assessed the effects of campus sex ratios on women’s sexual attitudes and behavior. We found that virginity is more common on those campuses where women comprise a smaller share of the student body, suggesting that they have the upper hand. By contrast, on campuses where women outnumber men, they are more negative about campus men, hold more negative views of their relationships, go on fewer dates, are less likely to have a boyfriend, and receive less commitment in exchange for sex.

Bad news for my male students.  In large part due to the heavy emphasis on science and engineering, NC State is 55% male.  A sharp contrast with the overall university population of 57% female.

Do juries do more harm than good?

There’s been a really interesting court case recently here in Raleigh where a plastic surgeon got super drunk and drove his car into the back of another, killing an aspiring ballerina.  I was quite surprised when he was charged with second degree murder, as that charge means the defendant acted with malice.  That certainly seems to be pushing it on a matter of drunk driving (though, a quick google search reveals this charge is actually used a decent amount of the time).  Anyway, in this particular case, 10 of the 12 jurors went for second degree murder, but the final conviction was for involuntary manslaughter due to the 2 hold-out jurors.  I’ve got to think that I would have emphatically joined those two.  Obviously Raymond Cook acted atrociously and should be punished significantly, but I have a hard time seeing actual malice in the actions of a doctor who gets totally drunk at a bar and then heads out driving at very high speed.  Super stupid and very criminally negligent?  Yes.  Malice?  No.  I have to wonder the degree to which emotions affected the decision of these 10 jurors with the constant references to this attractive young aspiring ballerina.  This bit in the linked story caught my attention.

Prosecutors also played a DVD tribute to Shapiro which was shown during her memorial service. The video showed Shapiro throughout her dancing career, performing and posing for photos with family and friends.

I think it is totally appropriate to take the magnititude and consequences of the crime into the punishment phase, but what in the world does this have to do with whether Raymond Cook was actually guilty or not?  It seems to me, it’s simply too easy to prey on the emotions of jurors.

I was already thinking this yesterday, when the thoughts were reinforced by this week’s spectacular This American Life (a replay from 2005) about a totally innocent man who spent 21 years in prison for a murder no sensible person should have ever believed he committed.  In the first trial  11 of 12 jurors voted to acquit him.  Yet, in the second he was unanimously convicted.  Based solely on the testimony of a well-known fabricator who impeached his own credibility right there on the witness stand and the fact that all the circumstantial evidence pointed to another defendant who actually was the murderer.  At the sentencing, the judge basically apologized for the jury’s ruling.

I like the quote, I don’t know where from, along the lines of Democracy is the worst political system, except for all the others.  I used to wonder that about jury trials, but I honestly wonder if we wouldn’t be off with a legal system that was fundamentally similar to what we have, but where decisions were made by judges rather than juries.

And lastly, if you’re not listening to This American Life at least semi-regularly, what’s wrong with you?

Malpractice Myths

In their ongoing pursuit to pass policy with no basis in analysis or actual (as opposed to the made-up variety) facts, the Republicans in NC have passed legislation to place damage caps on malpractice awards while claiming– despite any evidence– that this will bring down health care costs.  I wrote about the Malpractice Myth years ago, but it’s clearly time to revisit the issue.   Here’s what I (and Consumers Union) wrote then:

In a terrific book, the Medical Malpractice Myth, by Tom Baker puts the lie to these malpractice cap policies.  The problem is not that jury awards are too high, it is that there is way too much malpractice.  Furthermore, the evidence suggests that malpractice (including so-called “defensive medicine”) makes up an incredibly trivial portion of our overall health care spending.  Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) nicely summarizes:

Every ten years or so, we hear about a medical malpractice insurance “crisis,” eventually followed by an evening out and lowering of medical malpractice insurance rates. The reason is that insurance  companies rely on both premiums and investment earnings to pay claims. When the stock market is doing well, insurance companies often lower premiums to the point where they are unprofitable, simply because they can invest those premium dollars in the market and make money. When the stock market falls, as it has in the last two years, premiums go up.

Last Fall, Maggie Mahar wrote a great post in the Health Beat Blog summing up all the evidence against the GOP talking points (and there’s a lot of that evidence):

New findings indicate that putting limits on malpractice awards and enacting similar tort reforms are unlikely to do much to curb the nation’s surging health care costs. In fact a new study, published last week in Health Affairs suggests that costs associated with medical malpractice are far less than the $650 billion figure (26% of all money spent on health care) cited by some Republicans who have made tort reform a cornerstone of their vision for “bending the cost curve” in health care. The newly calculated figure, $55.6 billion, represents just 2.4% of health costs…

It turns out that this isn’t quite accurate either. Another Health Affairsstudy (the September issue focuses on malpractice issues) finds that doctors worry about malpractice suits and practice almost as much defensive medicine in states like Texas where reforms are in place as in those that have no limits on malpractice awards.Even if tort reform led to a 10% reduction in the premiums doctors pay for malpractice insurance, the reduction in defensive medicine would result in asavings of less than 1% of total medical care costs in every specialty…

Defensive medicine—or the unnecessary use of tests and procedures—is, as Burgess suggests, a “learned methodology” that is seemingly ingrained in physicians from the minute they begin their professional training. In June, a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that 91% of surveyed physicians (from a range of specialties and primary care practices) believe that they and their colleagues order more diagnostic tests and procedures than are needed in order to protect themselves from malpractice suits. Is this overwhelming fear of liability a realistic concern? Or is defensive medicine sometimes used as a justification for over-utilization of care that generates more income for a practitioner or his institution? Or, do doctors sometimes order unnecessary tests because their well-heeled and/or well-insured patients want them and they just want to keep their customers happy?

Back in 2004 the CBO report did question the motivation of those doctors who claim that they order excess tests and procedures to avoid lawsuits:

“Proponents of limiting malpractice liability have argued that much greater savings in health care costs would be possible through reductions in the practice of defensive medicine. However, some so-called defensive medicine may be motivated less by liability concerns than by the income it generates for physicians or by the positive (albeit small) benefits to patients. On the basis of existing studies and its own research, CBO believes that savings from reducing defensive medicine would be very small.”

Lots of good stuff there.  Baker outlines some really good ideas on malpractice reform– we really could use it– in his book, but award caps most certainly are not the reforms we need.  And once again, show Republicans to be profoundly unserious about actually creating good policy.

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