Primary Sources

The European baby bust; life on two dollars a day; the bovine menace
Foreign Affairs

The Price of Stability

The Hashemite kingdom of Jordan is an oasis of relative calm in a chaotic region—and that might turn out to be a bad thing, warns a paper from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. American and European support for the Jordanian government, which is essentially an absolute monarchy under a constitutional veneer, represents “a classic case” of prioritizing strategic interests over political reform. But the repressive nature of Jordan’s government could harm the West’s strategic interests in the long run, the author argues. Unless some kind of democratic reform takes place, the various problems Jordan faces— “deterioriating conditions on its borders, a lack of tangible economic success, and an extremely unpopular foreign policy” (particularly its friendly relationships with Israel and the United States)—are likely to empower the country’s Islamist opposition and weaken the legitimacy of the government.

“Illusive Reform: Jordan’s Stubborn Stability,” Julia Choucair, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The Academy

The Mommy Track

Why do women fall off academia’s science track at a faster clip than men? The cause is not innate sex differences, a new study suggests, but neither is it a simple matter of gender discrimination. If a problem exists, the authors conclude, it’s about motherhood, not women in general. Using the 1973–2001 Survey of Doctorate Recipients, the study found that while women are less likely than men to enter tenure-track positions in the sciences, the difference is explained completely by “fertility decisions.” Single, childless women are between 11 percent (in the life sciences) and 21 percent (in the physical sciences) more likely to have a tenure-track job within five years of finishing their doctorate than single, childless men. Marriage and children, however, can give men an advantage. While married scientists of either gender are more likely than single scientists to be on the tenure track within five years, married men are 22 percent more likely than single men, while married women are only 5 percent more likely than single women. And children can hurt a woman’s chances significantly: Having a child of prekindergarten age took 8 percentage points off a woman’s chances of getting that tenure-track job. Mothers in science who do step onto the tenure track gain tenure and full professorship as quickly as non-mothers. But men always retain the edge: Each child of grade-school age in a male academic’s family actually increases by 3 percent the likelihood that the man will receive tenure. (Younger children have no effect on a man’s chances for tenure, and men’s promotion to full professorship is not affected by children of any age.)

“Does Science Promote Women? Evidence From Academia 1973–2001,” Donna K. Ginther (University of Kansas) and Shulamit Kahn (Boston University)

Criminal Justice

Revolving Cell Door

Hard time is supposed to be hard. But a new study says harsher prison conditions also make criminals measurably more likely to offend again. The study tracks nearly a thousand people released from federal prisons in 1987. Those whose federal inmate classification scores just barely landed them in low-security (rather than the cushier minimum- security) lockup ended up back in the pokey nearly twice as often as inmates whose scores were slightly lower. The paper’s findings cast grave doubt on the value of at least one model of deterrence, which holds that a few years of grim prison conditions will spook criminals back onto the straight and narrow. Whatever the deterrent effects of harsh prison conditions, the authors conclude, they may often be outweighed by the increased criminal propensities of the prisoners subject to them.

“Does Prison Harden Inmates?” M. Keith Chen (Yale University) and Jesse M. Shapiro (University of Chicago)

Poverty

Life on Two Dollars a Day

How do the world’s poorest citizens get by on less than $2 a day? A new paper examining the poor in Asia, Africa, and South America finds the expected litany of privations, along with a few surprises. Despite variance in living conditions—only 2 out of 100 poor rural Tanzanians had electricity, for example, but only 1 out of 100 equally poor rural Mexicans lacked electricity—poor people around the world reported high rates of sickness and infirmity and low rates of access to the financial infrastructure (formal loans, insurance, savings accounts) that might give them a firmer economic foothold. For the most part lacking steady employment, the poor were found to be remarkably entrepreneurial (nearly half of poor urbanites in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Nicaragua operated their own businesses), although debt remained a constant concern (94 percent of the Pakistani urban poor owed money). When poor people did have money to spare, they spent a surprising amount on entertainment (radios, TVs, weddings) and relatively little on food.

“The Economic Lives of the Poor,” Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Baby Bust

A paper by three Austrian population experts takes up Europe’s falling birthrates, which have dropped below replacement level in many countries, and investigates whether they are likely to rebound, level off, or continue to fall. Current United Nations projections estimate that birthrates will level off at around 1.85 children per woman in most countries. But it’s just as likely, the authors argue, that Europe will find itself caught in a “low fertility trap” that keeps driving the Continent’s population downward. They cite three elements that might create this cycle of childlessness. First, there’s the negative momentum created by a declining population, in which fewer women enter their prime childbearing years every generation, and their lower numbers lead to fewer births overall even if the birthrate suddenly returns to replacement level—and many fewer if it doesn’t. Second, people who grow up in a largely childless society may internalize a much smaller “ideal family size” and have fewer children. And third, as the population of Europe ages, the income prospects of younger workers will likely decline, creating an age of diminished expectations that will lead young people to delay having children still further, or have none at all. The low-fertility trap, the authors caution, is only a hypothesis, but it’s plausible enough to deserve “serious consideration”—especially since it may soon be too late for government policies to reverse the possible downward spiral.

“The Low Fertility Trap Hypothesis,” Wolfgang Lutz, Vegard Skirbekk, and Maria Rita Testa, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

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