The Habits of Highly Annoying Get-Rich Gurus

Coverage on Australian news

Sorry for the extended holiday hiatus everyone. Both Brendan and I have been really busy and have struggled to find time for blogging. But now we’re back, so why not let us start the year with something horribly depressing and infuriating – Happy 2014 everyone!

This is something I saw at the end of last year, and have been meaning to write about since. It’s a list of comparisons of the habits of the rich and poor compiled by a US money guru called Dave Ramsey, culled from a book by fellow money advice guy, Tom Corley. I wouldn’t normally write about the witterings of random “Biblically inspired” American financial advisers, but this list got a lot of  coverage last year in the States. Admittedly, a lot of the coverage was negative; but with 470,000 Facebook likes, it obviously struck a chord somewhere. Continue reading

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Conference Announcement: Complex Systems, Health Disparities & Population Health: Building Bridges

Conference on Complex Systems, Health Disparities & Population Health: Building Bridges

February 24-25, 2014
Natcher Conference Center
NIH Campus, Bethesda, MD

Presented by the University of Michigan Network on Inequality, Complexity and Health

Improving population health and eliminating health disparities is a critical task, yet our efforts are stymied by the complexity of the task, involving as it does causes of poor health that range from public policy to the nature of our neighborhoods to how we behave to biology.  On February 24-25, 2014, at the National Institutes of Health Natcher Conference Center in Bethesda, Maryland, join scholars and practitioners from the United States and abroad to learn about and see examples of how complex systems science can help guide our research and policy efforts to eliminate health disparities and improve the health of our population.

For additional information:

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The Boris Johnson ‘Cornflake’ model of social mobility

Cornflake lifeboat

There are some Boris Johnson news stories we can all enjoy. Like that time he fell in a river. Or when he got stuck up on a zip-wire. Or even when he rescued that woman being menaced by youths – astride his trusty bicycle, the world’s most unlikely knight errant. Then there are the less fun stories, where he expresses an opinion about something and we have to take him seriously because he’s a senior politician and might actually be Prime Minister one day.

As such, I feel it is my sad duty to dig into his comments about IQ and social mobility, to see whether he is being “carelessly elitist”, or whether he might actually have a point. Continue reading

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What are elite universities for?


A perennial question in higher education is whether elite institutions like Oxford and Cambridge are doing enough to recruit people from outside the traditional pool of white private-school kids. Every year we have the same conversation, and reach the same conclusion: probably not. What I didn’t realise until recently was that this debate assumes something very specific about the role of the top universities. It assumes that the job of these institutions, the ones with the most resources and (supposedly) the best academics, is to find and train the most talented students. Continue reading

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New Evidence on Social Isolation and Mortality

Daniel Goldberg examines a new study establishing the link between social isolation and mortality, and asks what these findings might reveal about the pathways leading to health inequalities.

In his 2000 book Bowling Alone, sociologist Robert Putnam famously declared that “[i]f you smoke and belong to no groups, it’s a toss-up statistically whether you should stop smoking or start joining.”  This is obviously a provocative phrase, especially for the contingent of public health stakeholders that are undeniably a large part of Putnam’s current audience.

Putnam is one of the world’s foremost experts on the idea of social capital, which focuses on “social relations that have productive benefits.”  The concept is both highly contested and yet is generally regarded as extremely important in clear thinking about health inequities and the social determinants of health. Continue reading

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The Immense Benefit of Applying to One More College – A Natural Experiment

UnknownA college degree is more than a wall ornament – it represents immense financial benefits for graduates. These rewards have become even more apparent during the long financial downturn, which have seen widening wage and employment gaps between college graduates and those with only a high school degree. Studies also illustrate that getting students to attend more selective colleges puts them on a trajectory to perform better in the labor market after graduation.

In spite of the benefits of college, low-income and minority high school graduates are much less likely to attend any college – and selective colleges specifically – than are higher-income, white counterparts that have similar test scores and grades. Encouraging more disadvantaged youth to increase their application pool turns out to be a very inexpensive way to increase their college attendance rates and attendance of selective colleges in particular.

In a recent paper, Amanda Pallais studies the effect of a change to the ACT, a popular college entrance exam, that increased the number of free score reports sent to colleges from three to four starting in the fall of 1997. Continue reading

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The problem of low pay

Tesco Self-ServiceLow pay is a huge problem in the UK. Of the 11 million people currently living in poverty, 6 million have jobs. Some of this is due to under-employment – people who work, but can’t get full-time hours – but not all. For example, three quarters of children in working poor families have a parent who works full-time (see the Earnings section on page 97 of this report). It is entirely possible to have a full-time job and still not be earning enough to live on.

Continue reading

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Do people always create the same status hierarchies?


It’s been a while since we talked about the inequality hypothesis on this blog. It’s also been a while since I’ve seen any coverage of it elsewhere. For certain politicians and commentators on the left it seems to have settled into the status of fact (“we know that inequality causes all sorts of social problems”), while everyone else seems to have just forgotten about it. The torrent of academic studies has also slowed to a trickle – like everyone’s got inequality fatigue.

The trouble is that there are still some really interesting questions that need answering. One of the most fundamental for me is whether more income inequality really translates directly into stronger differentiation of social status. Continue reading

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The Psychology of Poverty and Welfare Reform

In the last few weeks in the UK there has been a surge in high profile figures – from TV chef’s to government ministers – blaming ‘poor people’ for their poverty. In this guest post, Joe Penny from the new economics foundation summarises recent research from behavioural psychologists on how poverty itself makes it harder to make good decisions (building on Rob’s post earlier this week that went into one part of this research in more detail), and explains why this matters for welfare policy and reform.  

Picture 1First there was Jaime Oliver, claiming that he couldn’t quite grasp poverty in the UK, where people made choices between massive TVs and nutritious food. Then, more recently, Michael Gove suggested that the rise in people accessing food banks was a result of poor financial management, rather than genuine need due to falling living standards and benefit sanctions.

Oliver and Gove are, of course, not alone in thinking or expressing these views. Narratives of welfare dependency have become more common place and increasingly assertive under the coalition government;  the the so-called Skivers and Strivers dichotomy is a well-known case in point. Poverty, according to this perspective, is caused by a culture of deviance, idleness, and dependency. The poor are responsible for their own plight. They cannot be trusted to make the right choices for themselves – or society more generally – and so are in need of paternalistic guidance (hence the current raft of welfare reforms).

But recent research suggests that this ignores the way in which poverty changes all of our decision-making – as I explain in this post. Continue reading

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Money worries are cognitive handicap for poor people

money worry

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, but am only just now getting around to it. At the end of August, Science published a paper showing that worrying about money has a significant impact on poor people’s cognitive function; i.e. when you’re poor, money worries take up valuable brain-space, distracting you from whatever else you might be trying to achieve

Continue reading

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