Top 30 Countries for Paid Leave & Holidays

Out of office – vacation at sea

Sometimes you can’t wait to get off the laptop and just head to the beach. When it comes to paid leave, however, some countries just have it better than others. I was interested in looking at which countries have the highest amount of paid leave, and which are not so lucky.

Only major countries were used for this comparison. Though there was some conflicting information, I mostly used data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the International Labour Organization. The numbers below represent the total number of paid leave days (followed by the breakdown of paid vacation days, and paid public holidays, in parentheses like this).

Keep a few things in mind when reading through this information: These numbers are only the minimum, and many companies give bonuses in the form of paid holidays for seniority. Furthermore, most of the companies actually have different numbers depending on what area of the country you are in. Therefore, you should take these numbers with a grain of salt – they don’t apply to everyone. What I tried to do is rank the bare minimum.

  1. Austria – 38 (25 paid vacation days, 13 paid public holidays)
  2. Sweden – 36 (25, 11)
  3. Iceland – 36 (24, 12)
  4. Brazil – 35 (22, 13)
  5. Denmark – 34 (25, 9)
  6. Finland – 34 (25, 9)
  7. Spain – 34 (22, 12)
  8. Egypt – 34 (21, 13)
  9. Poland – 33 (20, 13)
  10. Italy – 32 (20, 12)
  11. Russia – 32 (20, 12)
  12. France – 31 (30, 1, plus 10 more non-paid public holidays)
  13. Portugal – 31 (22, 9)
  14. New Zealand – 31 (20, 11)
  15. Belgium – 30 (20, 10)
  16. Australia – 30 (20, 10)
  17. Germany – 29 (20, 9)
  18. Ireland – 29 (20, 9)
  19. United Kingdom – 28 (20, 8 plus 1 more in Scotland)
  20. Norway – 27 (25, 2)
  21. Netherlands – 27 (20, 7)
  22. India – 27 (12, 15)
  23. Turkey – 26.5 (12, 14.5)
  24. Greece – 26 (20, 6)
  25. Switzerland – 20+ (20, unsure…)
  26. Canada – 19 (10, 9)
  27. Israel – 19 (10, 9)
  28. Singapore – 18 (11, 7)
  29. China – 16 (11, 5)
  30. Japan – 10+ (10, unsure…)

You probably noticed that the US is nowhere on these lists. The US is the only industrialized nation with no such minimum paid leave.

What you won’t notice is the confusing number of Japan. In reality, there are probably around 8-12 public holidays, which would certainly raise its ranking (this is surely the case with Switzerland as well). However, the real confusion is the fact that Japanese people are famously not using their paid leave afforded to them by their employers. Why?

Sadly, the Japanese work culture makes taking paid vacation very difficult, especially in the private sector. In many (if not most?) cases, if an employee took all of their paid vacation days – completely within their rights, afforded by the employers – it would essentially be grounds for dismissal. This is not something you will ever see written down, because it is entirely unofficial. However, Japanese workers know that taking all your allowed days off would indicate a lack of commitment.

So the number of Japan should be much higher, but it still doesn’t mean that these paid leave days are actually (able to be) utilized. Therefore, you can imagine how many of these numbers are misleading, based on cultural circumstances, company differences, and variation among regions within each country.

All in all, it seems clear that European nations, especially Scandinavian and Western European countries, have the most paid holidays.

I wonder how much a flight to Austria costs?…

 

[December 8 Update: I found a graphic from Yougov that looks at a point I raised regarding Japan – not just having the option of taking paid leave, but actually taking it. Of the countries investigated, it shows that the UK take the most paid leave days, followed closely by Denmark and Germany. The most common reason for not taking all of an employee’s paid leave was that they want to stock up for an extra-long holiday the following year (26%). The next two are that the employee just never really got around to it (22%) and there wasn’t a good enough reason to take one (17%). Only 6% said they did not take holidays because they didn’t want to miss the enjoyment of doing their work.]

Who takes paid leave Infographic

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How to Think About Employment

Jobs Silhouettes

In order to learn more about the world, I have become interested in the study of what affects absolutely everyone throughout their adult lives: work. This article is meant to serve as a primer, to briefly introduce the key concepts and basic theories that are most commonly used to conceptualize what we know about work, employment, and management. I have attempted to explain and simplify fundamental models, frameworks, and theories, and these should be helpful when considering the broad topic of international business.

 

Capitalism

Before we jump into employment, we should talk about capitalism. Defining capitalism is challenging, but I will define it as follows: The economic system in which the means of production and exchange of wealth is owned and maintained by private individuals/corporations (as opposed to state-owned means of wealth).

There are many different varieties of capitalism, but it is important to talk about the two main – or “ideal” – ones. I also mention about what this means for employment after describing how they differ.

Liberal market economies (LMEs) such as the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are characterized by competitive market arrangements, competitive inter-firm relations, and deregulations. LMEs are generally concerned with short-term capital and public financial information such as the stock market, and their responsibility is to the shareholders.

  • For employment, this means workers get formal education for general skills from high school and universities, they work full-time and may change jobs many times in their careers. Wage bargaining is done at the firm level, which is difficult because unionization is low, and wage distribution is unequal.
  • This makes for an environment where managers have more power and therefore make the important business decisions without much employee participation.

Coordinate market economies (CMEs) such as Germany, Japan, and Scandinavia are characterized by non-market relationships, strategic and collaborative interaction among firms, and niche production (as opposed to director product competition in LMEs), and their responsibility is to a wide variety of stakeholders.

  • For employment, this means workers learn industry-specific skills from apprenticeships (e.g., Germany and Austria), and work shorter hours, but they tend not to change jobs much in their careers. Trade unionization is comparatively high, so wage bargaining is done at the industry, sectoral, or national level, making wage distribution more equal.
  • This makes managers in CMEs more likely to cooperate with employees for important business decisions.

Now we are ready for comparing employment relations.

 

Comparative Employment Relations

Comparative Employment/Industrial/Labour Relations (often abbreviated as CER or CIR) is a very recent field, developed as a more international offshoot of ER/IR, which began as a field around 100 years ago. CER began only around 30 years ago, when textbooks were beginning to get published with the word “Comparative” in the title. Though some critics question its true interdisciplinarity, CER generally involves economics, psychology, sociology, law, labour studies, personnel management, and political science. Therefore, these perspectives serve to make sense of the potentially confusing mess of information.

Institutional Perpectives

Institutionalists” believe that institutions are what make employment relations differ between societies. (Note: Institutions are essentially anything organized and important in our lives, such as education, hospitals, law, marriage, police forces, mass media, etc.)

[spoiler effect=”blind” show=”Different Types of Institutionalist Perspectives”]

Neo-liberalism: A doctrine that emphasizes deregulation – a “freedom to manage,” without state intervention. This may entail privatization of public enterprises, control of organized labour, tax cuts, government downsizing, and expanding international markets. Proponents do not like state-owned industry and trade unions whose responsibility it is to represent and benefit workers. This view has caused controversy for producing “winners” and “losers” nationally and globally.

Neo-corporatism: This view emphasizes partnerships between labour unions (organizations who represent employees), employers’ associations (organizations who represent employers), and the state. This entails decision-making through consensus, government intervening in order to moderate market forces (so people can be protected), high taxes, and involvement of the “stakeholder.” This is especially prominent in Coordinated Market Economies (CMEs) such as Germany, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia.

  • In discussions of neo-corporatism, you may hear the word “tripartism,” which is the economic policy that entails cooperation, negotiation, consultation, and compromise between labour, business, and the state.

Marxism: You’ll never get through a decent discussion of society or business without talking about Carl Marx. This view suggests that the state is biased in favour of the upper class, and that the lower classes do not have nearly an equal level of power in society. As you can imagine, Marx was not a fan of neo-liberalism.

[/spoiler]

 

Universal Perspectives

Universalists say that common models of economic or social organization can be applied to all contexts. Here are five sub-types (you’ll notice some overlap with other schools of thought) of universalists, accompanied by a brief verbalized perspective on business.

  • Economists: “The free market makes the best outcomes.”
  • Marxists: “Globalization is making the struggles of capital and workers a worldwide issue.”
  • Contingency theorists: “Organizations are certainly similar, but we should alter our management approach based on the specific characteristics of the organization.”
  • Lean Production proponents: “We should eliminate waste and not overwork; and then we’ll see what really adds value.”
  • Best Practice proponents: “Why bother with anything other than the ‘one best way’ of doing things?”

Delery and Doty (1996) argue that when it comes to Strategic Human Resource Management, there are really three perspectives we should be concerned with:

  • Universalistic (best practices) – Some HR practices are better than others, so the best practices should be used.
  • Contingency (best fit) – HR policies must be consistent with other aspects of the organization, namely the organization’s strategy.
  • Configurational – HR policies should fit horizontally and vertically. Horizontal fit is the consistency of HR practices within the firm; vertical fit is the alignment of HR with the organization’s strategy.

In fact, one of the most common debates among management theories is about about “best practices” vs. “best fit,” which will be the subject of a later article.

 

Cultural Perpectives

Culturalists see culture as the main explanation for observed differences between societies. Anyone who has ever taken a cultural anthropology or sociology course knows that culture is not an easy word to define, but Hodgetts and Luthans (2003) defined culture with six traits, arguing that cultures are: 1) learned (not biological), 2) shared (no such thing as a one-person culture), 3) transgenerational (you can’t wake up one day and have a new culture), 4) symbolic (they’re based on using one thing to represent another), 5) patterned (a change in one part of its structure will change another), and 6) adaptive (cultures evolve over time).

Low and High Context

One example of how differences can be seen via culture was described by Hall & Hall (1990), who developed models of high- and low-context cultures.

  • Low context cultures include North America, Scandinavia, West Germany, and Switzerland. They are characterized by emphasizing time management and punctuality, and a clear distinction between work and home life. High context cultures include Japan, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Southern Europe.
  • Whereas low context cultures focus more on what you say, high context cultures focus more on how you say what you say, which means body language is considered much more important than for their low-context counterparts. In Japan, for example, productive meetings might occur despite the lack of overt communication of a subject two parties want to discuss. In other words, high context cultures also pay attention to the things that are not being said.

As you can imagine, these cultural differences make for challenging meetings when it comes to international business. The language barrier is only one small issue; the non-verbal differences are another other matter entirely.

Hoftsede’s IBM Surveys

A very influential study was conducted by Geert Hofstede, who called culture the “software of the mind” (2001). He took data obtained through two surveys conducted (in 1968 and 1972) on 116,000 IBM employees in over 60 countries.

He devised four dimensions (then added a fifth in 1987, and a sixth in 2010) that could be compared among all cultures, and suggested what this would mean for management.

[spoiler effect=”blind” show=”Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions”]

  • Power Distance – Acceptance of a hierarchy or unequal power structure. (North America and Northern Europe have low power distance; but many countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Southern Europe are content with hierarchy and paternalism)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance – Acceptance of ambiguity and risk. (US, UK, and Sweden are examples of low uncertainty avoidance; whereas Germany, France, Japan, Italy, Latin America, and Mediterranean have high uncertainty avoidance, opting for more bureaucratic rules and regulations.)
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism –  Being concerned with your own vs. the group’s well-being. Hofstede suggested that as countries economically advance, they become more individualistic. US, Canada, UK, Australia, and New Zealand tend to be individualistic, and Eurasia, Latin America and developing countries tend to be more collectivistic.
  • Masculine vs. Feminine – Bring on the stereotypes… “Masculine” values were rated by things like high earnings and a challenging career, whereas “feminine” values were considered personal relationships, nurturing and sharing, and consensus orientation. Japan, Austria and Latin countries were considered masculine, whereas Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands were considered more feminine.
  • Long-term vs. Short-term Orientation (added in 1987) – Eastern nations are more long-term, strategic thinkers, emphasizing perseverance; Western nations are more short-term thinkers, more concerned with the present, putting pressures on people to demonstrate immediate achievements.
  • Indulgence (vs. Restraint) (added in 2010) – Nations such as USA, UK, and Australia, have high indulgence, referring to the freedom it allows people with which to feel gratification and enjoy life and have fun. Nations such as China, Romania, and Russia rate low on indulgence, which means they suppress gratification by regulating it with strict social norms. Italy and Arab countries also rank quite low.

[/spoiler]

It should be mentioned, however, that Hofstede’s research was not without criticism. Academics have scrutinized the study for its scientific merit, such as by arguing that limiting the participants to IBM employees may make the study ungeneralizable to the rest of the population.  As for the concepts of culture, critics note that this theory treats culture as though it does not evolve over time, and does not take into account sub-cultures or multiculturalism that may skew results (e.g., thanks to immigration); not to mention the fact that cultures don’t all simply fit within our well-defined national borders.  Lastly, critics state that the study is out of date, since many of the values and attitudes of the participants may have changed over the years (especially with the advent of the internet and increase globalization efforts), and concepts like “masculine” and “feminine” are merely stereotypical nonsense (feminism was not so prominent when he devised this theory).

Trompenaars’s Manager Studies

After having several years of conducting surveys on professionals in many different countries around the world, Dutch organizational theoriest Fons Trompenaars teamed up with British management philosopher to create another large-scale study among managers. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997) took Hofstede’s approach and created their own set of cultural dimensions, focusing more on humans’ interpretations of the world. Their study was conducted in the early 1990’s, involving surveys of over 15,000 managers in 298 countries. They devised a theory of seven cultural dimensions, which I have given examples of and explanations for below:

[spoiler effect=”blind” show=”Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner’s Cultural Dimensions”]

  1. Universalism vs. Particularism – How much we apply universal principles/rules to social situations, or if we alter our approach based on the specific context. US, UK, and Australia ranked high on universalism; China, Latin and developing countires ranked high on particularism. This sounds like it may support Hall & Hall’s high and low context distinctions (1990).
  2. Individualism vs. Communitarianism – This is the same as Hoftede’s individualistic vs. collectivistic differentiation, but this study had a wider range of countries, and a more modern sample, contradicting some of Hoftede’s conclusions. For example, Mexico (as well as the Czech Republic) moved towards individualism with greater market liberalism; but Japan is still one of the most collectivistic countries in the world.
  3. Achievement vs. Ascription – The difference between being congratulated for what you have done or for who you are. For example, a Mitsubishi employee in Japan is seen as high-status by virtue of affiliation with a prominent company. In the USA or the UK, it would be a task within such a company that would warrant praise.
  4. Neutral vs. Affective – To what extent you express emotions. For example, Mexicans are highly affective/emotional, whereas Japan is considered more “neutral” (i.e., not overtly emotional).
  5. Specificity vs. Diffuseness – Specificity just means that we consider our work and our private lives separate (i.e., not adding colleagues onto your facebook), which is common in Western countries. Diffuseness refers to integrating your work and private life to have the “whole person” involved in the business, and this is more common in Eastern countries.
  6. Sequential vs. Synchronic – Perceptions and orientations (i.e., past, present, or future) of time.
  7. Inner vs. Outer Directedness – This refers to how much control a group has over themselves, or if there are external factors (or luck) that influence the group.

[/spoiler]

These are just some of the many cultural perspectives that explain in what ways we differ across the world. They are by no means the only ones, but they are some of the most important and influential ones, despite their limitations.

 

Approaches to Industrial Relations

When we consider industrial relations (i.e., the relationship between employers, employees, the state, and trade unions) there are four major approaches to use. With each perspective is another way to interpret things like conflicts in the workplace, so they are all useful.

The Unitary Perspective

The unitary approach recognizes every work organization as a harmonious whole that exists for a common purpose. Collective bargaining (and trade unions in general) are considered to be unnecessary and anti-social, serving only to cause conflict between the two non-competing, cooperative parties.

For employees, this means there should be flexibility in the workplace, they should have a say in important business decisions, and any unionization should be for the purpose of enabling better communication between them and management. For employers, the business strategy should be well understood by the workers, HR policies and reward systems should should unify and motivate workers and increase loyalty. Conflicts are thought to be caused from a lack of information.

The Pluralist Perspective

The pluralist perspective sees conflicts as normal, inevitable, and not even necessarily a bad thing. Managing employees is less about control and more about persuasion and coordination, so trade union membership is actually encouraged by management. As long as they have trained employees who can deal with conflicts and create resolutions, the company can thrive. When necessary, it would be best to use independent third-parties for arbitration.

The Radical Perspective

Often called the Marxian/Marxist approach or the conflict model, this perspective views the employment relationship as a class system, and that conflicts will always occur under this system. Namely, there is an imbalance of power between the employer (capital) and the employee (labour), and they both fight for more bargaining power. Marxist theories have appeared throughout this article, so by now you should be familiar with this pessimistic view.

The Systems Approach

The systems approach views workers as part of a system within a larger system. There are three key components we need to understand the relationship between employer and employee in this approach: The environment, interaction, and the output (rules). The “environment” is the set of legal, economic, social, political, technological, etc. forces that influence these subsystems. The “interaction” refers to the communication between various departmental functions, such as procurement, production, sales, marketing, HR, etc. The “output” is the set of rules that the industrial relations actors (i.e., employees, employers, unions, and the state) need to preserve a good employment relationship. These rules include the contractual conditions of employment (called substantive rules), and procedural rules which are to determine how those first rules are made and interpreted.

 

Conclusion

If you are studying human resource management or international business, some of these theories and models will undoubtedly surface. It is important to familiarize yourself with such perspectives in order to understand what we already know about employment and industrial relations. Without overwhelming you, I hope you have found these frameworks useful. In later posts I may delve deeper into employment topics from these very perspectives.

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Japan, One of the World’s Safest Nations

Nagano Police - animeIn a country where the April cherry blossoms signify the beginning of the school year, where watermelons are considered a welcome dessert, and where clothing is prohibited at the hot-springs, the Japanese people can enjoy the peace and security that has been cultivated through centuries of history. But just how safe is it really in Japan?

In order to answer this question, we need to parse out the meaning of the word “safety.” First of all, let’s consider what most people are thinking: Crime. Japan has an already very small crime rate, which Nippon.com reports as actually falling in recent years:

The number of reported crimes in Japan peaked at 3.69 million in 2002 and has since been on the decline, according to the Ministry of Justice’s 2012 white paper on crime. A major contributing factor is the ongoing reduction in thefts, which account for over half of reported crimes.

[. . .] Crimes like murders by stalkers and child kidnapping cases receive sensational media coverage, but many smaller crimes remain unreported and unresolved. So even if the reported crime rate is falling, this does not mean that ordinary citizens feel safer.

Some crimes, including bank transfer scams targeting the elderly and drug offenses, have grown more frequent in recent years. Cybercrime is also growing in frequency and scale.

The point here is that most people think about crime when they think of safety. In fact, most people think of violent crime. And when it comes to violent crime, Japan is incredibly safe.

Looking at the victim rates for 10 common crimes including robbery, extortion, and theft, Japan’s 2005 rate was 9.9%, the second lowest for any OECD country, behind Spain.

For serious crimes (murder, robbery, rape, and assault) it consistently had the lowest rate. Japan’s victim rate rose from 8.5% in 1990 to 11.9% in 2000, but fell again to 9.9% in 2005.

On a more anecdotal note, everyone who comes to Japan for an extended period of time (e.g., teaching English for a year, a very common route) has the same story after they get here. It goes something like this: “I accidentally lost/dropped my wallet/bag, and I only realized an hour later… but sure enough, it was returned to me later without anything taken!” I am sure Japanese tourists must be some of the least street-smart people in the world, taking for granted the lack of crime that contrasts with the experience so many people have in other countries.

In fact, this feeling of safety isn’t simply limited to the small-town statistics that cover the majority of the country. The Safe Cities Index for this year, a ranking produced by the Economist said that Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world, actually ranks as the world’s safest. In fact, Japan’s 2nd-biggest city – Osaka – ranks 3rd. Can you imagine your country’s two biggest cities ranking in the world’s top 3 safest? This is a distinction any nation would be happy to boast about.

However, less people think about safety as the more unanticipated dangers that lurk just around the corner, so to speak. Japan is, after all, one of the most seismically active countries in the world. And with such activity comes the problems that last far longer than the shakes themselves. The trauma, the lingering mental and community issues, as well as economic costs plague the already devastated areas. For example, the effects of the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and radiation disaster at Fukushima are still being felt today.

Such incidents remind us that no amount of education and preparation strategies can prevent the forces of nature. This is something that most people (for understandable reasons) don’t think about when considering national safety.

The Bottom Line

Japan is without a doubt an exceptionally safe country. Especially when it comes to violent crimes, it is practically a utopia. As Japan-expert and journalist Jake Adelstein mentions, “Even gangsters live in fear of Japan’s gun laws.” When it comes to earthquakes, it’s one of the more dangerous places, but unanticipated disasters happen in every country, especially now that climate change is creating more extreme weather throughout the world.

So for all of Japan’s problems (every country has plenty), keep in mind that Japan is one of the most safe and secure places in the world.

 

[Edit: The story of a woman in America who was arrested for leaving her children alone (while still in her line of sight) in order to go for a job interview is remarkable to Japanese people. The woman was physically only meters away from her children, but this was enough to apparently be considered a crime. In Japan, children routinely go to school (go anywhere, in fact) by themselves; but some countries would consider this child abuse. This incident just reflects the state of personal safety that contrasts with other societies.]

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Visiting Professors in the 21st Century

audience speaker perspectiveI am fascinated with the topic of visiting professors. Students perk up when they hear that a guest lecturer comes to visit, and it’s often a point of pride when they can name-drop them to their peers. That’s a good thing for the institution, of course, but is it a good thing for the people who are there to be educated?

In his 2009 book, The 30-Day MBA, author Colin Barrow says that sometimes the system of visiting educators are not as good for the students as they are supposed to be. The book explains how this system works, or at least as it pertains to business schools (bold words added):

The prospectus of business schools will, where they have them, feature their star faculty. You can’t however, be certain you will see much of them while you are there. In order to keep their stellar positions, such academics have to lecture around the globe as visiting professors in other schools. They need to attend several conferences a year, as that is the primary way to keep abreast of new job opportunities. In order to get to conferences in the first place they have to publish papers in learned journals.

Learned journals are where academics display their intellectual prowess to a very limited audience. The average readership of a double-blind referred article, that is, one that has been selected by a respected peer group of academics that have not been given the author’s name, is three. The purpose of being published is to have sufficient high-quality citations to ensure that your school maintains and improves its research rankings, and so its position in the league tables, and to be eligible for promotion.

In other words: Big name-professors want to make big money. To this end, they must publish papers, get their research cited, attend conferences, and visit other schools, generally in that order. But here’s where a problem comes into play, as the authors continue:

Except in so far as it polishes the business school’s brand, this activity is of little benefit to its current student. Only a tiny fraction of 1 per cent of the research published in journals results in useful knowledge. That’s not to devalue the activity totally, as knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in business is vital, however inefficiently gained. The problem is that in the pursuit of this knowledge the student’s welfare can be neglected. For example, it is common practice for seminars to be run by PhDs with little or no experience beyond the walls of the classroom in which they are teaching.

In fact, in some schools some subjects are not even taught be a ‘warm body’. Basic accounting, for example, from double-entry bookkeeping through to ratio analysis, is often covered using self-learning software. Nor can you even be certain that where you are taught, your teacher will mark and access your work. That job is often outsourced, much as with school external exams – GCSEs and the like.

In fact, the more successful the business school is at recruiting students the less likely you are to be taught and evaluated by the best teachers – unless of course you are on an executive development course, when you will almost certainly be taught by the best faculty, who may also be prospecting for consultancy assignments.

That’s not to say that the system is terrible and that there are no benefits. The benefits are largely obvious – you can hear the insight from an intelligent professional. But this book seems to be referring to star professors who are visiting business schools in the UK. An article by one American professional tells a very different story.

Policy analyst and former visiting professor Rachel Leventhal-Weiner wrote in Salon about her experience, which I found very insightful. Her experience was in the American higher education system, particularly at the undergraduate level:

Once upon a time, the “visiting” title meant something. It signified a certain level of status—you were good enough in your field to leave your own institution and grace another with your presence. You were a specialist and you were talented. Today, however, that is no longer the case.

The entire American higher education system is moving in the same cynical direction, hiring fewer long-term faculty members and more visitors. Accordingly, the “visiting” qualifier is now an empty signifier meant to confuse both students and job seekers.

Like its counterparts, “in-residence” or “term,” the visiting title is meant to distinguish contingent faculty members from long-term, tenured colleagues. These suggestive adjectives are meant to mislead, because visiting and in-residence positions are typically one step away from the lowly “adjunct” status in the faculty hierarchy. Visiting professors are affiliated with institutions on a short-term contract, and rarely, despite the grumblings of the labor market, result in transition to a long-term, tenure-track position. [. . .] In a survey of chief academic officers conducted by Inside Higher Ed, at least one third of institutional leaders agree that their institutions are becoming more reliant on non-tenure faculty and this trend will continue in the future.

As you can see, this sounds very different from the star-faculty status alluded to above. However, some of the problems are still observed in Leventhal-Weiner’s article:

Visiting professors face the same pressures as their tenured peers to publish and serve their disciplinary community, distracting them from their students and compromising the quality of the undergraduate academic experience.

Visitors may be cobbling together several jobs to make a living wage or distracted looking for their next long-term gig. Many campuses offer opportunities for course development money, for travel expenses for scholarly activities, or to pay student research assistants but as a visiting professor, my colleagues and I are unable to plan for such long-term commitments. Building social capital and adjusting to the rhythm of a new job takes time and in a visiting job, time is not on your side.

Faculty members are part of students’ intellectual and personal development outside of the classroom, [. . .] but students who double down on their relationships with contingent faculty may come up short when they try to cash in on this social capital down the road. Though most students assume faculty member have a long-standing relationship with the institution, they typically don’t know anything about the faculty hierarchy, remaining clueless about the difference between an assistant professor, an associate professor, and a visiting assistant professor.

Visiting professors tend to be less connected to campus resources and are often unable to serve as advisors, mentors, or confidants due to lack of time and their tenuous relationship with the institution. When students want to discuss the possibility of an independent study for the following year, it is impossible to commit. As my own contract negotiations stretched into registration last spring, I found it difficult to explain to my students that I was unsure if I would even be counted among the faculty ranks come fall semester. [. . .]

My advisor warned me about the perils of taking a “visiting” job. Visiting professors are subject to the same standards and the same scrutiny as their peers (and competitors) who stayed an extra year in graduate school to work on their publication record or who (luckily) found tenure-track positions. After holding a one or two-year position, most visiting professors have sunk all of their time into their teaching and perhaps also into service for their institution, leaving little time for research. After two years at my current institution, I know that I feel like a real professor even if I’m merely visiting for another few months.

An article from Inside Higher Ed concurs that visiting professors are becoming more frequent, saying that they “have increasingly become the entry point for new scholars coming out of graduate school and headed towards an uncertain future in academia.” The article goes on to explain some of the things that make this difficult for the .

In entering a visiting position, scholars are likely to face a number of gray areas. In teaching, for example, my experience at a small liberal arts college was that undergraduate students (unsurprisingly) made no distinction between me and other, tenure-track and tenured faculty in the department. This meant that, while I had no formal advising commitments, I was still asked to provide informal advisement, to supervise independent study projects, and to teach more rigorous honors variants of my courses. While I was not required to carry out any of these responsibilities, it was difficult to say no to students who came looking for guidance.

On the other hand, the article mentions that the benefits of this type of job (aside from the compensation) includes access to “professional development opportunities that are not available to other types of contingent faculty.” I suppose depending on who you are, there may be many other benefits, such as the lifestyle of traveling/moving from place to place. Of course, not everyone would consider this a good thing, but as in most jobs, it’s a matter of opinion.

The Bottom Line

I have not made this post in order to denigrate the ‘visiting professor.’ Instead, I am more interested in explaining what it is, because it seems clear that most people cannot distinguish between an adjunct, visiting, or full professor. It seems that this is becoming a gradually more wide-spreading phenomenon, and if you’re a young academic, you might want to start looking into this. Whether it’s an option you want to take or a path you hope to avoid is up to you.

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The Deadliest Machine on Earth?

car that shoots BGWhat’s the deadliest weapon known to humankind? An atom bomb? A virus? Maybe it depends on how we look at history, or the definition of the “weapon.” But in modern times, in our civilized societies, the statistics always point to the lethality of machines. We hear about the dangers of airplanes all the time, but the truth is that car crashes are immensely more common, no matter what part of the world. For one country, however, there’s gradually less reason to fear cars now. Not because the roads have become dramatically safer, of course, but because guns will soon dwarf cars in numbers of fatalities.

The United States of America. A truly exceptional country. The only industrialized nation that believes guns are fundamental to its culture. The USA boasts the only gun violence record of a third-world country, despite being a first-world nation. From the Economist:

According to data gathered by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), deaths caused by cars in America are in long-term decline. Improved technology, tougher laws and less driving by young people have all led to safer streets and highways. Deaths by guns, though—the great majority suicides, accidents or domestic violence—have been trending slightly upwards. This year, if the trend continues, they will overtake deaths on the roads.

The Centre for American Progress first spotted last February that the lines would intersect. Now, on its reading, new data to the end of 2012 support the view that guns will surpass cars this year as the leading killer of under 25s. Bloomberg Government has gone further. Its compilation of the CDC data in December concluded that guns would be deadlier for all age groups.

Naturally, with more guns on the streets, law enforcers are on edge (and for very good reason). Therefore, a new statistic showed the insanity of the American gun culture by comparing it to the United Kingdom, where the police rarely even carry firearms. As Daily Kos says:

A total of 111 people were killed by police in the United States in March of 2015. Since 1900, in the entire United Kingdom, 52 people have been killed by police.

Australia’s 25th prime minister, John Howard, wrote a piece in the New York Times in 2013 called “I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too.” In it, he said:

In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Law and Economics Review found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.

I imagine this mic.com piece is entitled the same thing Howard was thinking: “Australia Has Eliminated Gun Massacres By Doing What the U.S. Doesn’t Have the Guts For.”

Regardless of the reasons for why gun control hasn’t been passed yet, it seems clear that if trends continue, guns will surpass cars in numbers of people killed by them in America.

Apparently the only thing worse than guns would be… well, cars that shoot guns.

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Top 10 Most Lucrative Psychology Careers & Sub-fields

Meeting w dataWhether or not you found yourself looking for an area of psychology that suits you, you’re researching potential career paths, or you’re warning your child about the terrible mistake they’re about to make, you must be curious to know who makes the most money in psychology. Is it the neuroscientist? The sports psychology expert? The clinical practitioner? The psychology professor? The answer is clear, but it may surprise you. Read on to find out what it takes to be a well-paid psychologist, and find out how much they make.

The List Below

Before we begin the countdown, however, a few points should be made about this list. There are tons of websites that have information on careers in psychology, but I find many of them misleading. First, some put careers like psychiatry on their lists, which I don’t think is warranted. Since psychiatrists are were required to complete a medical degree (and do a 4-6 years of residency), it should not be considered in the same area as psychology, even if the actual job itself has a lot of overlap with clinical psychology. In other words, I don’t consider psychiatry to be a sub-field of psychology. But if it was… sure, it would be #1 on this list.

Also, the salary of some of these sub-fields of psychology aren’t just based on aptitude and experience, but education. For example, you could still become a high-paying human resources manager with just a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a lot of experience at a company, but you’ll never be a high-paid clinical psychologist without advanced degrees and further certification. So keep in mind that this is a list of averages, not outliers. They are not reflecting the entry-level salary, but with several years of experience.

Lastly, I am largely using information obtained from American sources, and therefore I am using US dollars as currency. But the main point about this is not to get a sense about the true salary of these jobs (there is a massive range of salaries, so don’t just rely on the average salaries I present here). Rather, the point of showing the salaries is to show the relative differences between sub-fields.

Top 10 Most Lucrative Careers in Psychology

10) Health Psychology

  • Average Salary: Around $50,000 or $60,000 (varies greatly by specialization)
  • Top Earners: Specialized experts with PhD’s make $100,000+
  • Education: 6-8 (8 for community psychology)

Health psychology is all about helping people change their attitudes and behaviors about their health. This includes diet, eating habits, smoking, substance abuse, and even exercise. The term “health psychologist” isn’t specific enough to reliably report their salary, but most of the salaries appear quite low until you start getting into the various specializations. For example, in this category, I include substance abuse counselors, as well as occupational and community health psychologists.

Substance abuse counselors help people suffering from addictions, and make anywhere from $40,000 to $70,000 on average (salary reports vary greatly). Occupational health psychologists help those in the workplace setting, and command a salary of around $94,000 (as you will see later in the list, some of the highest salaries are from business settings). Community health psychologists may work for local governments, city councils, substance abuse centers, schools, local shelters, etc. and they try to solve problems that might involve public safety or work closely with community leaders. Community psychologists with PhD’s make around $86,000.

9) Sport Psychology

  • Average Salary: $55,000 USD
  • Top Earners: $100,000+
  • Education: 6-8 years

Sport psychology is a great choice to do with just a master’s degree (but you’ll make a lot more with a PhD). For sports lovers who want to practice psychology without the hardships of earning a doctorate, this is a very fulfilling career. Some sports psychologists work with athletes or teams to improve performance. Others conduct research on topics such as motivation and concentration to help contribute to our body of knowledge in sport psychology. If you make a name for yourself by helping enough teams or individuals win tournaments, you may land yourself a job with a famous athlete or a national team. Naturally, this is where the real money is, but of course it’s extremely competitive.

8) School Psychology

  • Average Salary: $72,000
  • Top Earners: The top 25% make around $89,000 (+other ways to supplement income)
  • Education: 6-8 years

This is a hard sub-field to place on this list, because salary information is all over the place, and very country-specific. For example, one American source says the average salary is $58,000 while another says $90,000 (again, this is not the range, but claims of the mean). In Canada, the average salary after a few years of experience would indeed be closer to $90,000, but would also cap at a certain point (at least in the public school system) unless there was further education (i.e., a PhD). In Japan, school psychology is barely practiced at all, and virtually no one even understands the concept of a school psychology. Therefore, the majority of the information on school psychology comes from America.

School psychologists make students learn better, and make teachers educate better. They may conduct cognitive assessments on children, work with the families of a student, talk to school administrators about larger issues, help teachers work with “difficult classes,” etc. They are like in-house consultants for the education system.

The #1 complaint I hear from school psychologists around the world is that there’s much more paperwork than they expected. And if I am to gleam anything from the anecdotes of school psychologists who have posted their opinions online, it’s that many people in the US are regretting getting into school psychology. This is despite the fact that US News ranks it as the #1 best social service job. And in fact, other nationals seem to have different experiences, from the levels of respect they feel as school psychologists, to the way they operate, such as by working in cohesive teams with other professionals (e.g., social workers).

There are also positive things about school psychology irrespective of location. First, you can be a practicing school psychologist with only a master’s degree, and the salary is quite good. In fact, this is one of the few things on this list that I would say you would be fine stopping at a master’s degree. School psychologists generally work regular 8-hour days (depending on the school), and get the summer off, when school is not in session, which means only 10 months out of the year. Furthermore, many school psychologists can supplement their income by running workshops during the summer or other off-time periods.

7) Correctional & Forensic Psychology

  • Average Salary for Correctional Psychologist: Around $71,000 or $80,000
  • Average Salary for Forensic Psychologist: $60,000
  • Top earners in forensic/correctional psychology: Around $110,000
  • Education: 6-8 years

If you like CSI and want to solve crimes by catching killers… well then, forensic psychology might not be for you! Sure, depending on where you work, you might be doing some of the same stuff you see on TV (such as interviewing suspects), but most forensic psychologists are just psychologists who utilize their expertise in the context of the legal system. It’s much more common for forensic psychologists to deal with things like custody disputes, performing visitation risk assessments or evaluating someone’s mental health so it can be used to help make a legal decisions. In other words, forensic psychologists are basically clinical psychologists who work in the criminal justice system, which is why many of them actually have degrees in clinical psychology.

Correctional psychologists try to assess (and possibly diagnose) and treat people in the prison system, which may include the families of prisoners. When it comes to the salaries of correctional psychologists, the range varies greatly based on location. For example, the average salary made in Mississippi is apparently $89,000 (17% higher than the country’s average) compared to $55,000 in Hawaii (27% lower than average). But from pretty much all of the sources I have seen, correctional psychologists get paid more than forensic psychologists. The reason for this is because correctional psychologists work in prisons, which can obviously be dangerous, depending on the inmates themselves.

6) Experimental Psychology & Academia

  • Average Salary: Around $70,000 or $76,000
  • Top earners in experimental psychology: Researchers with PhD’s make $116,000
  • Top earners in academia: Full psychology professors make $109,000
  • Education: 6-8 years (6 years for employment at a research center; 8 to become a professor) + 4 to 7 years for post-doctorate fellowship and/or tenure at a university (during which time you would essentially be employed on a long probationary period)

I know many people would not want me to put experimental psychology and academia in the same category. However, the description of “experimental psychologist” is considerably vague (i.e., one could study anything from social psychology to consumer psychology), I want to put it in the same category as a professor, who also does a lot of research. So let’s first talk about professors.

In the past few years there have been many articles talking about how professors have one of the best jobs, but there is always a lot of backlash from disgruntled professors now, claiming that their hours, pay, and respect, are not nearly as good as others think. People look at 5 hours of class-time per week and think it’s barely working, but obviously many more hours go into the preparation for classes, as well as creating and marking exams. Furthermore, in order to progress through your career, you have to oversee the work of others graduate students, attend and present research findings in outside meetings and conferences, and volunteer your time to join committees and peer-review others’ articles.

The holy grail of academia is tenure (e.g., full-time employment with incredible job security), but if you fail to reach tenure at one institution, you will be blacklisted from all others (hence the phrase “publish or perish”).  The silver lining is that academics generally choose when their responsibilities can be done. For example, they decide their own office hours and generally how/when their labs are run. Also, many professors write books (textbooks or otherwise) which can be a major boost to their income, especially when they manage to come out with a new edition every few years, changing only the mistakes and writing up new examples. There’s also the research grants that professors can receive, which (I have seem for myself) can reach up to more than a million dollars, depending on what you’re studying and how well you can write up a grant request.

As for experimental psychologists, you’ll definitely want a PhD if you want a high salary. Both experimental psychology and academia are great career paths for those who have something they want and love to research. But if you don’t love the research you are doing, or there’s not one topic that you’re particularly fascinated by, I wouldn’t recommend these paths for you.

5) Developmental Psychology

  • Average Salary: Around $71,000 or $87,000
  • Top Earners: Research administrators and those working in hospitals make around $110,000
  • Education: 6-8 years

Developmental psychologists deal with psychology throughout the lifespan. They know a little bit of everything in psychology, from childhood to advanced age, without going into the more specialized areas such as brain science or sport psychology.

For this reason, I consider the growing sub-field of geropsychology part of this category. Such psychologists generally work in universities or healthcare facilities, researching and helping people improve the quality of their lives. The high-paying opportunities come after earning a PhD, but no matter if you stop at a master’s level, the job prospects are looking very good, because of the aging population. In the decades ahead, the demand for geropsychology will continue to grow.

3~tied) Human Factors / Engineering Psychology

  • Average Salary: $80,000
  • Top earners: Consultants with PhD’s can make around $179,000
  • Education: 6-8 years

Unlike most of the categories on this list, the average salary from every source I have seen has been right around $80,000.

This is one of the least-known sub-fields of psychology. To understand this area, let’s first distinguish it from business psychology. Think of a business psychologist as someone who might improve a work environment by changing the behaviour of employees. A human factors or engineering psychologist would basically do the opposite – improve the behaviour of employees by altering the environment.

For example, a human factors psychologist might deal with ergonomics, such as by making their desk the right height for an individual, or using a chair with comfortable lumbar support. These are just two small examples of how they would try to make the most optimal work station possible. Other examples of what a specialist might do in this career is someone who would make changes to industrial machinery or even the cockpit of a plane, by having certain buttons configured in a user-friendly way, and making the displays eye-catching without being distracting. This sub-field is kind of like applied cognitive psychology.

3~tied) Clinical & Counseling Psychology

  • Average Salary: Around $73,000 or $87,000
  • Top earners: Private practice/self-employed clinical psychologists with many clients can make around $250,000
  • Education: 8 years (+ around 2 years of residency)

This is a very difficult sub-field to place on this list. It’s the same for most high-paying psychology sub-fields, but for clinical psychology, I feel particularly compelled to say “it depends!” Private practice or self-employed clinical psychologists generally get paid significantly more than those who work in a hospital setting. In general, you may double your salary from when you start (about $50,000) after a decade of work experience. Whatever the case, clinical psychologists generally start in a mental-health institution, and after they have enough experience (and especially after making a name for themselves as an expert in a particular area) they make the choice of doing private practice. Depending on the location, self-employed or private practice clinical psychologists can make huge sums of money. But naturally, the most lucrative areas in which to work are the most competitive.

Clinical psychologists are trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders. For this reason, I include counseling psychology in this category. Counseling psychologists generally deal with the less severe cases of mental illness, but the situation is similar in terms of salary (though clinical psychologists are more employable). In addition, I also put military psychology in this category, because it deals with the mental health and stability of people in the military, as well as their family. One source puts the median annual salary of military psychologists at $120,000, but this is surely unique to the USA. Note that while you can become a military psychologist with only a master’s degree, it requires that you have military experience as well.

2) Neuropsychology

  • Average Salary: $90,000
  • Top earners: Top 10% makes around $143,000
  • Education: 8 years

The brain sciences are not for the people who don’t like to study or research. If you want a high-paying job in neuroscience, you will have to learn a lot in school, read tons of books, and watch a lot of documentaries. It’s extremely difficult, but incredibly fascinating. Luckily for brain scientists, the money is good, especially if you specialize. Many neuroscientists perform cognitive tests and run brain scans in clinical settings, while others may do experimental research in pharmaceutical labs.

The ones in clinical settings are called clinical neuropsychologists, and they generally require a supervised clinical practicum/internship. With the aging population, there is a lot of job growth in this sub-field. But all though the starting wages and average salary are quite high, the earning potential for clinical neuropsychologists does not seem to be as high as you would expect; but the hours are usually good for these professionals, so at least there is a great deal of work-life balance. If you do not work in a clinical setting, you may be part of a research center or a university (see #5 for more).

1) Industrial-Organizational Psychology

  • Average Salary: $98,000
  • Top earners: Top 10% makes around $225,000 (a minority of adept consultants with top-tier clients make up to $350,000)
  • Education: 6-8 years

No matter what you call it – business psychology, occupational psychology, work psychology, etc. – you’re dealing with psychology in the context of business and the workplace. This means there’s a lot of data analysis involved, so it’s not the job for everyone. There are two main ways people can leverage their knowledge of business psychology in the workforce. One way is to become a consultant, such as an industrial-organizational psychologist (IOP) who is brought in to increase worker productivity or screen applicants for a position. The other is to join a human resources department in a company, who might want to climb the corporate ladder from recruiting the best people to creating the HR strategy for the company. And then there are also HR consultants, which are similar to IOP’s.

The real reason they get paid so much is, to put it simply, because the companies/clients they work for can afford it. It’s the same for other types of psychology (for example, a national football team will be able to pay much more than a local one), but in general, this is the most lucrative sub-field of psychology. In fact, if you look up any list of top-paying jobs (i.e., not limited to psychology) you will usually find industrial-organizational psychologist near the top. It’s not unheard of to see them pulling in the salary of doctors after a decade or two of experience and a proven track record. Of course, this assumes you have a doctorate degree, because they get paid much more than their less-educated counterparts.

So here’s a free tip for those of you who are considering this sub-field for the money: Graduate from a business or management department, not a psychology department. According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, the difference between earning potential for a professor who graduated from a business department rather than a psychology department is about $100,000. When it came to IOP’s with doctorates, the range of top earners was slightly above $200,000 for those who graduated from psychology departments, whereas it almost reached $350,000 for those who graduated from business departments – a difference of almost $150,000.

The best part about entering this sub-field? It’s one of the fastest-growing career paths on the market. In other words, you can get paid a great salary, and there are new opportunities popping up every day for these professionals.

The Bottom Line

If you want to make good money in psychology, your best bet is with a PhD. And as you can see, some of the most well-paying opportunities involve healthcare, but the big winner is in the business world. On average, the most well-paid psychologists are those who work in big corporations, usually as consultants.

Of course, you have to do what makes you happy to wake up in the morning – something you’re excited to do every day. Because if the only reason you’re considering a high-paying job is because money will bring you happiness, you may as well just do a job that makes you happy to begin with; because at least that way you’re guaranteed to afford it.

 

Sources:

  1. http://psychology.about.com/od/careersinpsychology/ss/The-9-Highest-Paying-Psychology-Careers.htm#step-heading
  2. http://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/highest-paid-jobs-in-psychology/
  3. https://www.selfdevelopment.net/psychology/psychology-types/average-salaries-according-to-different-psychology-types
  4. http://www.bestpsychologydegrees.com/25-most-lucrative-careers-in-psychology/
  5. http://www.onlinepsychologydegree.info/top-highest-paying-jobs-field-psychology/
  6. https://www.higheredjobs.com/salary/salaryDisplay.cfm?SurveyID=24
  7. http://www.careerprofiles.info/highest-paying-criminal-justice-jobs.html
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Who’s More Believable: Science Expert or Random Internet Commenter?

Doctor computer - wtf you gotta be kidding meIn the latest battle of the war on science, many ignorant parents are risking the lives of their children and others by choosing not to vaccinate their children. This is a terrible idea, but the false, unethical, fraudulent, discredited, expunged research that claimed to have found a link between vaccines and autism (which is not even remotely true, in case that wasn’t clear enough) has lived on because of celebrity endorsements and a campaign of stupidity. Unfortunately, a new study shows that when it comes to the dissemination of information, vaccine experts are seen as no more credible than a random commenter on the internet.

Experts vs. Commenters

The study from Washington State University is described from Vocativ as followed:

Researchers conducted a pair of experiments with 129 participants. In the first experiment, the study’s subjects were shown two mock public service announcements, one that purported to be a pro-vaccination message sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the other an anti-vaccination message from the National Vaccine Information Center. They were then shown a series of fictitious online comments that appeared to be in response to the official messages. The participants were given no information at all about the commenters.

After reviewing the PSAs and comments, the participants completed a questionnaire about their opinions on vaccination. To their surprise, the researchers found that the participants were as persuaded by the commenters as they were by the PSAs, even though they had no knowledge of commenters’ background or expertise.

“That kind of blew us away,” says Ioannis Kareklas, the study’s lead author. “People were trusting the random online commenters just as much as the PSA itself.”

The researchers replicated the study afterwards, telling participants that the comments were not random, but were instead written by literature student, a health care lobbyist, and a doctor who specializes in infectious diseases. In this case, the comment was more persuasive when it the participants believed they were written by the doctor. I suppose this is a good thing, though I would of course concede that just because you have an MD it doesn’t mean you are smart, or even right about your medical advice. In fact, plenty of TV doctors have profitable nonsense propagated to millions of viewers every day, including the most famous, Dr. Oz.

What’s going on here?

The first problem is cultural. It starts with the fact that we have become so obsessed with famous people like celebrities, that we actually listen to what they have to say simply for being recognizable; not for being knowledgeable. (There’s no better example of this in the so-called vaccine “debate” than Jenny McCarthy).

Then the media covers such stories trying to be “neutral,” saying “well you say vaccines are good, but she says they’re not, so let’s hear both opinions.” But giving equal time to both sides is not actually fair, because it falsely makes it appear as if they are equal. Let’s be clear – they’re not. If we looked at the evidence for a link between vaccines and autism,  it would stack up in the same way as a debate between someone who believes the earth is flat and everyone else who has graduated elementary school. No one cares about your anecdotes and hunches; when talking about something as important as public health and safety, the only thing that matters is the scientific evidence.

The other problem is a social psychological one. Think about that message you see when you browse an online retail store like Amazon… “Other people who have bought this item have also bought…” Indeed, one aspect of our psychology that’s being exploited by various companies is the fact that we like getting recommendations. According to Gigaom,”Netflix claims that 75 percent of what [movies] people watch comes from some sort of a recommendation.” But that is often a recommendation from a friend (or someone you know on Facebook). But we are so much more simple-minded than that.

Receiving a recommendation from a friend can be a powerful motivator to buy, but there’s also merely getting a recommendation from someone unbiased (or at least, someone you perceive to be unbiased). For example, if your friend works for a shoe store and she tells you that she found a great shoe for you, she is possibly biased (e.g., she thinks her own brand is the best, she wants to make commission off a sale, etc.). And who is more unbiased than a random person on the internet? You don’t know each other, so they have no reason to lie about a product being good. At least, that’s the idea.

Combine the two and you get an unbiased friend, the power of which might be exemplified in the success of Tupperware parties – a bizarre cultural phenomenon whereby friends have organized commercialization-themed parties. But we’re so simple-minded that not being friends is not such a big deal. Since we like people who are like ourselves, the mere similarity of someone buying what we might have bought makes us more likely to take into consideration what some random person (or people) view as good enough to purchase. (“Well if everyone else likes this book as well, maybe it would be good to buy too?”)

So what does this have to do with vaccines? Regarding the study above, there was no bias on the part of the anonymous commenters – they could have been anyone. It’s the same thing as the anonymous recommendation on Amazon.  For Amazon, you’re being influenced by a nameless consumer on Amazon who has no stake in your purchase. It’s basically the same thing as in this study.

You may also be interested in… (the solution)

The answer is, as usual, education. But not how you think.

Yes, of course, being educated on the vaccine-related science in question would solve a lot of problems; but I mean education in general. People who are highly educated (for example, with a MSc, PhD, MD, etc.) presumably had to work hard in their studies. If you earn a doctorate, we can make a legitimate assumption that you are an expert in that field. And considering how hard it is to obtain such a degree (there’s a reason they call it “publish or perish”), people who have finished such advanced degrees surely appreciate the difficulty of making that achievement. So when someone else earns it, these more educated people would have a sense of the expertise of someone else.

For example, if someone with a PhD in brain science talks to someone with a PhD in astrophysics, of course they wouldn’t totally understand each other’s fields, but they would appreciate how much the other knew, because they would be cognizant of their own expertise. Compare this to a high-school dropout (no offense to my high-school dropout readership) who cannot fathom the level of expertise in either of these highly educated individuals. Obviously if the general population is not educated, they often cannot appreciate the difference between their knowledge and an expert’s knowledge of a subject. (See: Dunning-Kruger effect)

So my solution is not a particularly pragmatic one – raise the educational level of the general population. I’m assuming this would only start with a radical change in economics, which would only happen with a major change in politics. But now we’re getting into the specifics of individual countries, as there are already several nations that provide completely free university education (and yes, even in English).

Maybe that’s why you don’t see so many anti-vaccination movements in those countries.

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Japan Crime, Business, and Education Stats in 2015

Rainbow Bar GraphIt’s not easy to predict what kinds of trends we might see this year, but many recent investigations have shed some light on various aspects of Japanese society. They might be based on information from a few years ago, but there has been a lot of research into recent crime trends, innovations in business, and changes in society. Let’s take a look.

Crime

There were some disturbing trends in the last few years, such as the number of kidnappings of children under 13 exceeding 100 for the first time in 9 years (reaching around 200). There’s also the increase in domestic violence for previous investigations, at a record high in 2009, only to be beaten by an increase of 20% in 2010 (around 33,000 reported cases that year). And unfortunately, the number of foreigners arrested for crimes rose by 8% in 2013, almost half of which were from Chinese people (perhaps because US military and foreign people with permanent residency status were not included).

As far as schools go, it’s also a bit disconcerting to see that there were almost 4000 teachers penalized for corporal punishment in the 2013-2014 school year, which of course means there were many more than 4000 cases (because not all cases are reported or held to account, and one teacher may have been responsible for multiple cases). To add to the transgressions by educators, sex abuse by teachers rose 40% from 1999 to 2011.

However, It was reported a few years ago that Japan had only half the reported amount of crimes in 2012 as it had in 2002, which is a pretty massive leap in just a single decade. Furthermore, the overall crime rate has continued to go down over the years. While there will always be crimes to report – if for nothing else, then at least the more innocent crimes (such as negligently staying in a foreign country a day longer than you realized your visa is valid for) –  Japan remains one of the safest places in the world.

Education

Perhaps it’s the plunging birth rate that’s brought employers to lower their standards for accepting students, but regardless of the reason, we haven’t seen this many Japanese high school students able to secure jobs after graduation for two decades. But if they can’t get a secure job, maybe they can secure a spot at a top business school? Not of it’s at Harvard University, where there are now about 4 or 5 Japanese applicants to Harvard Business School every year. That’s not accepted students, that’s just the number of applicants.

Of course, not aiming for one of the best business schools in the world isn’t necessarily a problem that needs to be solved; but I consider it a bad thing that over 40% of Japanese students believe that they will rarely use English in the future. Hopefully efforts like the increase in many middle schools to demand higher standards of English just to be accepted make a positive difference. (I don’t actually think putting more English on an entrance exam is actually going to solve the national English problem, but at least the sentiment means they’re valuing English more).

Business

Considering the dwindling numbers of Japanese people, it’s probably a good thing that Japan is beginning to widely adopt self-checkout counters. Instead of cashiers, more Japanese people can spend time in other jobs. As long as it’s not a used-car salesman, of course, because the sale of used cars hit a record low last year, from the time records were kept in 1978.

In general, it seems on the surface that the Japanese working population has lots to be optimistic about for 2015. As companies’ profits recover, they’re willing to hire more workers. The availability of jobs rose last month to its best level in 22 years, and the unemployment rate fell 0.1 point to 3.4%. It is being reported that there are now about 115 positions for every 100 job seekers.

On the other hand, Japan Today reports that companies are actually doing more firing than hiring, and that “more than half of Japanese who are laid off will still be out of work a year later.” A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) mentioned that “a significant fraction of Japanese workers are laid off each year and then face long periods of joblessness before finding work, often at much lower wages.” Considering how many companies are still willing to wait for the “perfect candidate” before lowering their standards to actually fill a vacant position, it’s easy to understand why the recruitment industry is doing so well in this economic climate.

Hoping for 2015

As you can tell by the fact that I brought up the plunging Japanese population a few times, one of the hot topics in Japan now is the demographics. I’m sure you will be hearing about the fact that Japanese people aren’t having nearly enough children, and the population is rapidly shrinking. Some have been suggesting that immigration is the answer, but I would say, anecdotally, that this is not a widely-accepted opinion.

In the end, if there’s any trend I’d like to see, it’s the one predicted by Reuters – that the economy will improve a lot this year. Maybe when the economic environment is better, the demographics may come around as well.

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Mass Shootings – Increased incidents, or just increased reporting?

Gunshot skull wallpaper stkOne of the most fascinating contentions out of Steven Pinker’s 2011 book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” is that we are actually in the most peaceful time in world history. It may be hard to swallow at first – how can you honestly say, with all the bloodshed going on today, that we are in the most peaceful time ever? Pinker argues that we are not in a peaceful time, but it is most likely more peaceful than before. Back when the world had no internet, no phones, no newspapers, etc., there were massacres that people simply didn’t hear about like we do today. Since we can see violence on the news everyday now, it just seems like it happens more now. Whether or not you are persuaded by his well-researched book, we should look at contemporary violence and ask about a similar thing: Are mass shootings happening more now? Or are they just being reported more often?

The answer may surprise you, but it is quite clear. By looking back just a few decades, the Harvard School of Public Health made a timeline which shows a very clear trend. The only thing that we have to wonder about is the definition of a mass shooting. Mother Jones had this to say about the definition:

There has never been a clear, universally accepted definition of “mass shooting.” The data we collected includes attacks in public places with four or more victims killed, a baseline established by the FBI a decade ago. We excluded mass murders in private homes related to domestic violence, as well as shootings tied to gang or other criminal activity. (Qualitative consistency is crucial, even though any definition can at times seem arbitrary. For example, by the four-fatalities threshold neither the attack at Ft. Hood in April nor the one in Santa Barbara in May qualifies as a “mass shooting,” with three victims killed by gunshots in each incident.) A report from the FBI on gun rampages, issued in late September, includes attacks with fewer than four fatalities but otherwise uses very similar criteria.

It’s certainly true that by manipulating statistics (such as by limiting the definition of mass shootings) you could probably weaken the argument, but the timeline below paints a stark picture.

Mass Shootings Timeline 1982-2014 stk

Are mass shootings being reported more? Hell yes, but that’s because they are occurring more. In fact, in the United States, gun deaths are so common now that news programs only show ones that are the most sensational. Considering how often they occur, we can understand why – if they were all reported on thoroughly, there would be no other room for anything else.

Reknowned social psychologist Robert Cialdini talked about what he called “social proof” in his famous 1984 book, Influence. Social proof is essentially the desire to do something because others are doing it, such as the case of peer pressure. The social proof model was applied to copycat suicides, which could be a further explanation for why there are more mass shootings now. People imitate the behaviour of people they deem similar to themselves; and this creates a deadly snowball effect that we can see in the numbers.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that there is actually data that suggests that suicides increase after reports of suicides. In other words, the more people hear about other people killing themselves, the more likely they are (statistically speaking) to do the same.

So is it any surprise that media coverage of school shootings may actually contribute to a perpetuation of further school shootings? Researchers in the United States obviously have a lot of data to sift through, considering how many shootings there are around the country (there were 13 school shootings just in the first month of 2014). But so far, experts are expecting that the studies will point in the same direction. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz described it in a BBC interview from 2009 like this:

We’ve had 20 years of mass murders throughout which I have repeatedly told CNN and our other media, if you don’t want to propagate more mass murders, don’t start the story with sirens blaring. Don’t have photographs of the killer. Don’t make this 24/7 coverage. Do everything you can not to make the body count the lead story, not to make the killer some kind of anti-hero. Do localize the story to the affected community and make it as boring as possible in every other market. Because every time we have intense saturation coverage of a mass murder, we expect to see one or two more within a week.

Unfortunately for the “greatest country in the world,” one of the deadliest, most accessible weapons ever invented have become such a characteristic part of the culture that they are unlikely to give them up soon. This is despite the fact that it’s been exactly two years since 20 elementary-school students were gunned down in a single incident that rocked the nation.

Honestly, though… what do I know? I am totally ignorant of the joys of owning a gun, because I have the misfortune of living in a country where their ownership is illegal – Japan.

On second thought, I would rather not know what it’s like to have guns as a part of my life than accept rampant and random gun deaths as an inevitability. They should not be an inevitability, but an anomaly.

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Top 10 Stunning Misconceptions of the Effects of Smartphone Usage

Mobile-mobility phone backgroundPhones nowadays are not simply the modes of communication anymore, they’re compact and sophisticated computers. The world has gone digital, and most children growing up today have no sense of what it is like to live without being connected. The concept of being offline is essentially a punishment, and the age at which youngsters start using these devices is gradually decreasing. Despite the ubiquity of this technology, though, we still don’t know some of the ramifications about this cultural evolution, because the research, let alone the technology itself, is so new. But we are learning more about how our psychology is being affected by phones, and here is a list of ten of the most surprising changes.

In 2009 the Personal Finance Education Group found that children get their first cellphones at an average age of eight. In 2013 uSwitch.com found that the average age was 11, but almost one in ten received their first phone by age five. Another 2013 study by MobilePhoneChecker.co.uk found that the average age was seven. Whatever the number may in fact be, we know some of the obvious perils of talking on the phone. For example, texting while driving is incredibly dangerous, yet some people do it at the risk of themselves and others.

In order to understand the full spectrum of attitudinal and psychological changes our digital society is facing, here is a list of studies that demonstrate our misconceptions towards smartphones and how we use them.

1) Taking lots of pictures won’t make you remember more

The misconception: “The more pictures I take, the more I’ll be able to remember the events I took!”

The reality: “What the hell is that from?” / “When did I take that picture again…?” (you gotta read the study for that)

You can look at the study here, but this quote is very clear:

If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them.

2) Smartphones don’t motivate you to do physical exercise

The Misconception: “Now that there are exercise apps, I’ll finally be able to work out as if I had my very own personal trainer!”

The reality: “Hey look – an open bag of Cheetoh’s!”

The 25 best fitness apps? In the time it takes me to read this and try out some apps, I could actually complete a workout. If you really can’t think of anything, just go for a run or do some push-ups. Something is better than nothing, and the science says that if you’re using your smartphone, you might be hindering your chances of getting a good workout, just like being a couch potato.

3) Overheard phone calls make it harder to concentrate

The misconception: “Just tune the conversation out – no harm, no foul.”

The reality: Even if you try to tune it out, it’s still harder to focus on whatever you’re doing.

This is noise pollution on a whole new level. It’s one thing to listen to music or hear two people conversing; but when your brain actually has to fill in the blanks and try to seek patterns in peripheral information that you’re not trying to pay attention, your brain doesn’t have as much faculties to focus 100% on whatever you’re intending to focus on. A 2010 study showed that hearing only half of the conversation distracts us, and a 2013 study found that it’s indeed more distracting than background talking.

4) It’s getting harder to read people’s Emotions

The misconception: “It’s amazing to see the variety of faces of people from around the world, in all their glorious expressions of emotion and…”

The reality: “Is he smiling… or crying…?”

Imagine every picture you saw was as emotionally ambiguous as the Mona Lisa. Is she happy? Is she sad? This ambiguity is becoming more prevalent as smartphone usage increases, and it was the subject of a fascinating study from the UCLA (bold is mine):

The psychologists studied two sets of sixth-graders [. . .] 51 who lived together for five days at the Pali Institute, a nature and science camp about 70 miles east of Los Angeles, and 54 others from the same school. (The group of 54 would attend the camp later, after the study was conducted.)

The camp doesn’t allow students to use electronic devices — a policy that many students found to be challenging for the first couple of days. [. . .]

At the beginning and end of the study, both groups of students were evaluated for their ability to recognize other people’s emotions in photos and videos. The students were shown 48 pictures of faces that were happy, sad, angry or scared, and asked to identify their feelings. [. . .] They also watched videos of actors interacting with one another and were instructed to describe the characters’ emotions. [ . . .]

The children who had been at the camp improved significantly over the five days in their ability to read facial emotions and other nonverbal cues to emotion, compared with the students who continued to use their media devices.

5) Texting while walking makes you slow down and swerve

The misconception: “I’m totally careful when I text, honest!”

The reality: “Hey, watch where you’re–!” *water fountain*

Sure it might not seem like a big deal, but thousands of people get into accidents while texting every year. If it’s not from falling off of train platforms or into public water fountains, it’s getting hit by a truck, or a bus. So when researchers from the University of Queensland say “cognitive distraction, altered mechanical demands, and the reduced visual field associated with texting are likely to have [a negative] impact,” keep in mind that it could be the difference between life and death. It’s a dangerous world out there, especially if you’re walking into traffic with your head down.

6) We don’t care about privacy so much anymore

The misconception: “I understand the value of personal privacy and the freedom to use my technology as I please.”

The reality: “Well… I’m not doing anything wrong, so I have nothing to hide. Do you?”

This is great news for the NSA. With people so willing to give up their privacy rights, we’re allowing apps to know exactly where we are, we’re skipping through complex contracts that may exploit our private information, and we’re weakening some of the institutions that keep us democratic. You know, things like… free press. But who cares, right? According to researchers from Tel Aviv University, we’re gradually losing our concerns about these issues:

“[Smartphone users] are more likely [than conventional phone users] to reveal private information in public spaces, and less likely to believe that their digital conversations are irritating to those around them.”

As we know from #3 above, the second part of the statement is wrong. And as I touched on above, the first part of the statement is alarming. If you really don’t care about digital privacy… then why don’t you tell me your email address and password?

7) Smartphones don’t connect you more to others

The misconception: “Now that I have a phone, I’ll be connected to everyone forever!”

The reality: “I wonder what my friend’s doing now? Whatever – angry birds!”

First of all, a significant amount of our waking time is spent just checking our phones (for messages, the time, news, etc). Of course, we say it’s “just a habit,” instead of calling it what it really is: an addiction. Why? Probably because we are unaware of how often we check our phones, trying to fill in 20-second elevator rides with a chance of stimulation. As a study from 2011 found, our attachment to our phones isn’t so much about staying connected with others, but staying entertained.

But doesn’t our ability to connect with others make us more likely to do so? No, of course not. Didn’t you read #2 above? Science Daily says this about a 2012 study from the University of Maryland:

The researchers found that after a short period of cellphone use, subjects were less inclined to volunteer for community service when asked, compared to control-group counterparts. Talking on a cell phone reduces the desire to connect with others, they explain. [. . .]

The authors cited previous research in explaining a root cause of their findings: “The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.” This results in reducing one’s desire to connect with others or to engage in empathic and prosocial behavior.

Just like how exercise apps make us less likely to work out, the greatest device ever invented to connect people from a distance has lowered our desire to use it for that very reason. Which leads me into the bedroom.

8) Keeping a phone by your bed is bad for your sleep

The misconception: “I need my phone by my bed, or else I can’t sleep.”

The reality: “Well… just one last tweet before bed. After this one…”

Perhaps it’s from the buzzing sounds of getting a text or an email, or maybe it’s the mere fact that you know you may be contacted at any moment. Regardless of the reason why, research very clearly shows that keeping a phone by your bed reduces the quality of your sleep. In fact, Mayo Clinic provides yet another example of why it’s harmful:

Smartphones and tablets can make for sleep-disrupting bedfellows. One cause is believed to be the bright light-emitting diodes that allow the use of mobile devices in dimly lit rooms; the light exposure can interfere with melatonin, a hormone that helps control the natural sleep-wake cycle.

With that said, I should admit my hypocrisy – I sleep with the phone by my bed, since I use it as alarm clock. But hopefully I can stop this in the future, because a reduction in a quality of sleep can be seriously detrimental to both health and daily productivity. This is why it’s also slightly worrying that more travelers are bringing their tablets, computers, etc. on vacations. It’s nice that there is free Wifi in your vacation spot, but if you can’t relax even on your off time, then what’s the point? Working on the beach is still working.

9) Texting is bad for your physical health

The misconception: “Look how fast I can type and send these texts…”

The reality: “Wow, I am seriously getting old or something…”

Is it any surprise that smartphones are used more by younger people than older? Not really. But we seem to forget the implications of that fact. Since this first generation to grow up with smartphones, the detrimental effects of over-usage simply can’t be seen in older individuals. Unfortunately for people who have the heads down in their phones, they may soon find that they complain about the same pains that their grandparents complain about, at a much younger age. From Forbes:

It takes time [. . .] for awareness of a new condition to spread throughout the medical community. Some doctors who have never heard of “text neck” don’t think to ask patients with neck pain about their phone or computer habits. [. . .]

A 2011 study [. . .]  found that 53 percent of mobile phone users suffer numbness or neck aches. Another [study. . .] discovered that 83 percent of subjects reported some hand and neck pain during texting — but also displayed other signs of tension, like holding their breath and increased heart rates. [. . .]

The physical stress of texting adds to the accumulated buildup of pressure in neck muscles already strained by the amount of time many of us spend in a flexed posture while sitting at desktop computers. Holding your head in such a posture can add up to 30 pounds of extra weight on your upper vertebrae which, in addition to straining the upper fibers of your trapezius muscles, can pull your spine out of alignment.

As far as neck pain goes, it really comes down to simple physics. The further down your head slumps while looking at your phone, the more weight you are putting on your neck, and the worse it is for your health. If everyone would just hold their phones up higher when they used them, it wouldn’t be such an issue. Unfortunately, we’re lazy, and don’t want to hold a 2-pound device up for a long time.

10) Selfies don’t make you more confident

The misconception: “Great, now everyone can tell me how great I look!”

The reality: “OMG! Why isn’t everyone telling me how great I look?? Maybe I should just send one more…”

It’s not necessarily the act of taking a selfie that’s psychologically harmful, but the feedback that comes from it. Public display creates an opportunity for which emotions can be manipulated and attitudes can be formed – attitudes such as “I’m ugly,” or “no one likes me,” or perhaps the most detrimental for young girls, “if I show a little more, then I’ll be praised.” When you open yourself up to the scourge of the internet, you’re opening yourself up to ridicule, and most of us aren’t ready to deal with that ridicule.

Psychiatrist David Veal reveals some of his professional experience, saying “Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take selfies.” He says “This is a serious problem. It’s not a vanity issue. It’s a mental health one which has an extremely high suicide rate.” Clinical psychologist Lucie Hemmen explains this phenomenon like this:

There’s a continuum of health and authenticity in what you shoot and post. A secure, mature person is going to post selfies that are spontaneous and not overly engineered or edited, and they’re going to do it less often. A more insecure person is going to post staged or sexualized photos, and they’re going to do it so much that they become consumed by it and the comments they receive.

If you’re wondering about the “it’s not a vanity issue” quote above, don’t worry – it’s also about vanity. In fact, a widely circulated study published this year found that selfie-addiction is linked to narcissism, low self-esteem, and mental illness. Of course, this doesn’t mean that taking selfies means you’re a crazy, insecure narcissist; but there is a correlation with this psychological classification and obsessive taking of selfies.

This is why Thailand’s Ministry of Health has taken the phenomenon of selfies so seriously, warning that they should only be taken occasionally. One beach in France even went so far as to put up a “NO BRAGGIES ZONE” sign in an attempt to ban them all together. A “braggie” is a selfie used to brag to friends and families back home. Not only did the beach owners consider this a public nuisance, but the research suggests it may be a serious personal detriment.

The Bottom Line

I hope it doesn’t turn you into a technophobe, because I certainly am not. In fact, not only am I guilty of some of these as well, but I am probably addicted to my smartphone. The saddest part? You probably are too.

I think there is good news, though. The more I come across research like this, the more my mind changes regarding the way I should interact with such technology. I remember learning that there may be an epidemic of hearing-impaired individuals in a few decades, because of the increase of people with mp3-players and iPods blasting their music at full volume. This ended up changing the way I listened to music on the go. Maybe it’s time to change the way we interact with (and in) the digital world.

Maybe it’s time we put down the phone.

Just after this one last text…

 

References:

Henkel, L. (2013). Point-and-Shoot Memories: The Influence of Taking Photos on Memory for a Museum Tour Psychological Science, 25 (2), 396-402 DOI: 10.1177/0956797613504438
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