Thursday, June 27, 2019

econlife - Who Is Likely to Live Alone? by Elaine Schwartz


Sort of like bookends, we tend to live alone before we are 30 and after we reach 65. However, many of us are “unpartnered.”



Who Lives Alone?

Among those of us who live alone, 58% have never been married, 21% are divorced, and 14% have been widowed. So yes, we are talking about a lot of people. One-tenth of all Americans and slightly more than one-quarter of all households are singles.

An NYU sociologist tells us that living alone is the logical result of four trends:

1. feminism
2. living in cities
3. communications technology
4. longevity

Pew Research meanwhile focuses on marriage, income, and education.

Marriage is one reason that the number of singles is up. In 2018, the average American woman married at 27.8 and her mate was 29.8. She is almost eight years older than her mother and grandmother when they married. Also, there are more people who never marry:




For men, affluence is a singles predictor. Below, $40,000 a year, less than one half of all men are married. Above, the figures climb. And once we get to $75,000-$100,000, two-thirds of all men have tied that knot.

From here, education makes a difference. People with bachelor degrees tend to have partners more than those who do not:



Where Do We Live Alone?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, singles are concentrated in 21 urban areas where more than 1/3 of every household is occupied by one person. One reason could be that all but one have a lower cost of living. Another relates to the widowed population:




An interesting single household fact: In 2017, Utah (19.6%) had the fewest single person households. At 45.2% Washington D.C had the most.

Our Bottom Line: Consumption Expenditures

Living alone shifts how we spend our money. It changes the consumption components of the GDP.

A BLS study from 2011 concluded that except for healthcare, singles in their 20s (especially late 20s) spend “considerably” more per capita on food and clothing, housing, and education than comparably aged married couples.

A more recent but less academic report looked at the bigger picture. It told us that single people take more vacations, are a “gold mine” for home entertainment equipment, going to the cinema, and dining out. And we should note that in China, Single’s Day has become a massive event.

Where are we? Affecting where we live, what we buy, and how we spend our time, the singles trend is a major economic phenomenon.

My sources and more: The Hill was a good starting point for the big picture on singles. From there, it made sense to find more on how singles spend and where the unpartnered live. Then, for further insight and detail, I suggest this New Yorker article, Pew, here and here, and this BLS study.


Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

econlife - A Dilemma: How Much to Pay for Our Privacy Protection by Elaine Schwartz


There is a doll whose name is Cayla. She has a pink skirt, a denim jacket, and a bluetooth connection. Like many toys, she can have a conversation with us.

While these dolls are all Caylas, their manufacturer says you can program in a new name:




But you won’t be the only one who knows her name.

Whatever we say to Cayla can be stored on a central server and then sold to anyone or any intelligence agency. The German government banned her because she violated their privacy laws.

For us also, Cayla is more than a toy. She takes us to the cost of protecting our privacy.

Privacy

Privacy History

We could say that we were concerned about privacy from people during the 19th century, from government in the 20th century, and now, from the corporation. Before the mid-19th century, privacy was not even a concern. The reason could have been that we had limited photography, no telegraph, no telephone.

The following Google Ngram search shows the word was not used very much in books until the 1960s:




Contemporary Privacy

A Google search, Amazon’s Siri, and a Facebook like all add to a data supply chain that lets corporations collect and sell data about our behavior. So too do our Smart phones, Smart cars, Smart dishwashers.

However, when told how much we share, our response to privacy protection is tepid. In a recent survey, 80% of the participants said they would want to protect themselves from their everyday technology but only 26% said they would pay for that protection. Asked if they would pay to see fewer online ads, 50% of the survey’s participants said no.

Our Bottom Line: The Cost of Privacy Protection

To understand why many of us are minimally concerned with privacy protection,  it might help to see its cost (economically defined as sacrifice) from two perspectives.

Collectively, the cost of losing our privacy is immense. Through our elections, our businesses, our personal and professional relationships, we can corrupt our basic institutions.

As individuals though, when we lose our privacy, life becomes easier. Our appliances work better, we remain in touch with our world, and toys are more fun.

So “bad” things happen as a society when we lose privacy but “good” things happen personally. You can see why we won’t pay to preserve our privacy. One by one, we cannot even fix the problem.

And perhaps that is why Germany banned Cayla. The only way we can and will pay for our privacy is together.

My sources and more: Thanks to a Crazy/Genius podcast on privacy for a good walk yesterday morning. Because of Crazy/Genius, I learned about Cayla the talking doll from the NY Times. As for the survey, it was reported by MarketWatch. And finally, you might enjoy (as did I) pondering what Justice Brandeis said about privacy.

Our featured image is from Pixabay.



Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

econlife - The Unintended Consequences of Plastic Bag Bans by Elaine Schwartz


When I walk with my friend Eli and her dog Dosa, we take our plastic bags. Originally from ShopRite or the local farm stand, the bags were filled with groceries. Now, handy for dog poop, they reside in a bin under my sink until I grab one.

In more than 240 U.S. municipalities, California, and soon New York, those bags have disappeared. Because of bag bans or bag fees, many fewer people are re-using them.

And that could be the problem.

Plastic Bag Ban Surprises

Through a DCB (disposable carryout bag) fee or a ban, we shop with many fewer lightweight plastic bags. Because paper bags and fabric totes replace them, our plastic waste plunges by millions of pounds.

But there is a problem.

Those paper bags and fabric bags have a substantial carbon footprint–more than what it took to make the DCBs. Just think of how a tree becomes paper. You are eliminating an environmentally benevolent plant, using toxic chemicals, and then doing some hefty processing and transporting. It gets even worse with a tote bag. To have a smaller global warming impact than a DCB,  your cotton bag has to be reused more than 131 times. Then, if those DCBs had become garbage hags at home, you have to use your tote as much as a whopping 393 times to offset a DCB’s global warming potential.

These are the amount of use numbers from a 2006 U.K. study that compared the global warming potential of DCBs (aka HDPEs) to reusable bags:



Furthermore, when there are no DCBs, we need more plastic garbage bags. Using data from California, one researcher reported a surge in demand for four gallon garbage bags while sales of other sizes also increased. The result was a massive consumption shift as we bought 11.5 million more pounds of garbage bags and used 40 million fewer pounds of DCBs.

You can see the pop in garbage bag sales just after the DCB ban:



At this point you could be thinking there’s got to be more and there is. We just have to look beyond the carbon footprint from greenhouse gases. When we consider all of the waste generated by plastic, we could arrive at a new conclusion. As always in economics, we have tradeoff. A ban creates more emissions but less non-biodegradable litter.

So, if you care about non-biodegradable litter, then the DCB ban is for you.

Our Bottom Line: Pigovian Taxes

A bag ban or fee could be called a Pigovian tax. Arthur Pigou developed the idea to cope with negative externalities. Defined as the harm done to an uninvolved third party when, for example, someone plays loud music in a dormitory or pollutes a stream, a negative externality needs an incentive to discourage its use. Dr. Pigou said the solution was a tax. When something becomes more expensive, people do less of it.

On a graph, the higher cost looks like this:


Bag bans and bag fees create a higher price. That price might not be in dollars but they do necessitate some costly inconvenience.

My sources and more: This Planet Money newsletter had all we need to know about the downside of the plastic bag ban. But for more detail, this paper and this U.K. study look more precisely at ban “leakage.” Lastly, the NY Times showed the regulatory side through New York’s new bag fee.


Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.