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Afghan schools under attack; the perils of stock-tip spam; marriage as a matter of life and death; Vietnamese astrology gets it right

Marry or Die

You’ll live longer if you tie the knot rather than stay single, a new study suggests, and if you stay married rather than split up. Using 1989 and 1997 data from the National Health Interview Survey and the National Death Index respectively, and measuring across a variety of demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, researchers found that being unmarried significantly increased one’s chances of dying during the period studied, and that this held true for a variety of causes—from cardiovascular disease to “external” causes like accident and suicide. (The correlation between never marrying and dying from an infectious disease was particularly strong, but this was presumably because of the impact of AIDS on gay unmarried men during the period studied.) Married people had a better life expectancy than widowed or divorced people, but having once been married was better than never having married at all: the widowed had a 39 percent greater risk of dying than the married, and the divorced or separated had a 27 percent higher risk, while the risk was 58 percent higher for those who had never wed in the first place.

“Marital Status and Longevity in the United States Population,” Robert M. Kaplan and Richard G. Kronick, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health


School’s Out

One of the most ominous signs that the Taliban and warlords in Afghanistan are trying to return to power is the emergence of a terrorist campaign against the country’s schools, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch. Inlate 2005, attacks on teachers, schools, and aid workers sharply increased, and the trend has continued into this year. Schools have been rocketed and burned, teachers murdered (one by beheading), and bombs detonated in classrooms. “Night letters”—written threats ordering teachers and students to stop their work—have been posted at mosques and schools. (A late-2005 letter delivered a threat to “put acid on [the] faces” of girls attending school in Kandahar, prompting the local community to stop sending any girls over the age of ten to school.) Since schools are, for many Afghans, the main point of contact with the government, the terrorism campaign against education has been particularly damaging. Attacks on schools and education aid workers have “stunted and, in some places, even stopped … development and reconstruction work,” a situation that is already beginning to turn people in the south and southeast (the least secure regions) away from the central government. Unless the government of Afghanistan and the U.S.-led coalition take steps to increase security and protect schools, the report states, the country faces a “crisis of insecurity,” and another generation of Afghans will lose the chance for education and advancement.

“Lessons in Terror: Attacks on Education in Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch


E-mail spammers endure legal harassment, exclusion from polite society, and the disgust of nearly every computer user. But a recent paper suggests why they persist: spamming is an easy way to part fools from their money. The paper examines the price fluctuations of stocks promoted in unsolicited “hot tips” e‑mails sent during 2004 and 2005. On the day before the spam was sent, the touted stocks tended to get bought up (presumably by the spammers), and their prices rose. They rose again on the day of the spamming, as the gullible made their purchases, then plummeted, as the spammers sold high and left their marks clutching mediocre stocks. On average, a spammer could make a 4.9 percent profit in two days. The technique is probably legal, the authors write, as long as spammers disclose their interests in fine print (many do). Under securities law, if e‑mail users are naive enough to take stock tips from strangers on the Internet, then their losses are their own damn fault.

“Spam Works: Evidence From Stock Touts and Corresponding Market Activity,” Laura L. Frieder (Purdue University) and Jonathan L. Zittrain (Harvard Law School)

The Workplace

Eve’s Curse

Women earn less than men, on average, and call in sick more often, a new study has found. Two (male) Italian economists blame two-thirds of the sick-day gender gap, and more than a tenth of the male-female wage differential, on menstrual cycles. Analyzing three years of employee data from an Italian bank, they found that women were more likely than men to miss work in twenty-eight-day cycles. When women turned forty-five, however, the male-female difference vanished. (Many men missed work every twenty-eight days, too, but the authors attribute their cycles, at least in part, to the “Monday morning effect—the well-documented loathing that workers of both genders evidently reserve for the first day of the workweek, which at four-week intervals will resemble a menstrual cycle.) In addition to costing women wages directly by decreasing productivity, the authors hypothesize, these absences are regarded by managers as signs of poor performance. Overall, the study attributes 11.8 percent of the earnings gap between men and women, and 13.5 percent of the promotion gap, to menstruation-related absences.

“Biological Gender Differences, Absenteeism and the Earning Gap,” Andrea Ichino and Enrico Moretti, National Bureau of Economic Research


Gilded Plowshares

The occupants of the ten rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council may, in effect, be trading their votes for cash, argues an article in The Journal of Political Economy. When nations begin their two-year terms on the Security Council, the aid they receive directly from the UN jumps 8 percent. Once a country’s term expires, aid immediately drops to pre-membership levels, leading the authors to reject the possibility that temporary members receive more aid because they have become more visible. During periods when the Security Council is very active (and when temporary members’ votes are more valuable), annual aid for developing countries holding temporary seats rises 166 percent. The authors single out the United States as an especially likely vote buyer: rotating members receive 59 percent more U.S. foreign aid while on the council, and their gains in direct UN aid come primarily via UNICEF, an organization seen as a center of U.S. influence.

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