A few interesting articles from the December 18, 2010 Economist magazine…
“Is it worth doing a PhD” notes that in Britain a man with a PhD earns 26 percent more than a man “who could have gone to university but chose not to” (i.e., a high school grad). In theory that extra 26 percent might make up for the 10+ years of lost wages during bachelor’s and graduate programs, but a man who gets a master’s degree earns a 23 percent premium. I.e., the difference in ultimate salary is nowhere near enough to make up for the lost wages of extra years in grad school and, in fact, in math and CS the premium does not exist. The economic damage of PhD programs is not limited to graduates, however. There are a huge number of dropouts and they tend to drop out after wasting many years in school (clinging “like limpets before eventually falling off”). As this is the Economist, the question of whether the PhD graduates might have had a lot of compensating fun during graduate school was not addressed.
In Economics Focus “Exploding misconceptions”, Barack Obama is quoted: “extremely poor societies…provide optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism and conflict.” The article cites studies by Alan Krueger of Princeton and Claude Berrebit of the RAND Corporation as well as surveys by the Pew Global Attitudes Project. Jihadists, including suicide bombers, turned out to have higher incomes and more education than average within their societies, e.g., in Lebanon or among the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The surveys of Muslims found that those with the most education were more likely to agree that suicide bombing against Western targets in Iraq was justified. As far as producing terrorists go, “citizens of the poorest countries were the least likely to commit a suicide attack”. (This dovetails with my November 2009 post “Who finances the Taliban and Al-Qaeda? We do.”)
Iceland, which let its banks fail, is compared to Ireland, which took on government debt to bail out its banks. Iceland had a painful brief period of adjustment and now is doing better than Ireland. (story)
The cover story “The U-bend of life” is about how average human happiness varies with age. Old people and young people are happy. The middle aged are miserable, with a reduction in happiness that starts around age 25, dips to a nadir at 46, and begins to rise again around 60. These data were adjusted for the presence of children and other responsibilities, supposedly. Tying this back to the first article discussed in this post, better educated people are happier, but the effect disappears when adjusted for income. A plumber or electrician who earns the same as a Ph.D. will be just as happy. [I guess one could argue that plumbing skill is in fact a “better education” than an abstruse Ph.D.]