Saturday, May 07, 2011

Masculine Men and Masculine Women Die Sooner

Friedman and Martin use an ingenious measure of masculinity and femininity, which allows for some nuanced calculation of how these gendered styles relate to longevity.

To measure degrees of masculinity and femininity, they took the subjects’ preferences for specific occupations and preferred activities. Then they scored those occupations based on the actual ratio of men to women within them. Comparing preferences with actuality, the researchers could distinguish masculine men, masculine women, feminine men, and feminine women.

Which then led to this interesting finding:

The more masculine men and the more masculine women had an increased mortality risk, while the more feminine women and the more feminine men were relatively protected.

More masculine people do riskier things. More importantly, though, they make smaller and weaker social networks that might insulate them from life-shortening social risks.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Children of Divorce Die Sooner

Friedman and Martin's Longevity Project reached this somewhat surprising conclusion:

Children from divorced families died almost five years earlier on average than children from intact families. … In fact, parental divorce during childhood was the single strongest social predictor of early death.

Divorced kids die earlier of all causes. The sons of divorce were significantly more likely to die violently, by accident, suicide, or fighting.

One of the big factors in later life tied to earlier death is that the divorced kids were more likely to divorce themselves.

If the divorced kids made happy marriages and found work they liked, they lived longer than the other divorced kids, and almost as long as the children from intact families who also made happy marriages and found meaningful work.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Optimism Can't Fend Off Death

The cheerful do not live longer. So conclude Friedman and Martin in The Longevity Project.

The cheerful are more likely to have better health in the short run. They are more likely to follow through with medical treatments and therapy regimens because they believe that things will work out well. Pessimists are more likely to quit early, or not even try, because they do not expect a good result.

Friedman and Martin speculate that optimists may be disheartened if things do not work out quickly, and so suffer worse stress or depression which negates the health advantage of cheerfulness.

I am in favor of cheerfulness. I believe, and teach to my kids and my students, that everything will work out just fine. I think Friedman and Martin make a mistake in conflating cheerfulness with optimism (and at one point with a "happy-go-lucky" attitude).

Optimists expect things to work out well. Cheerful people deal with reality with good cheer. Both attitudes help you get through illness better. But optimism can't fend off death. However, cheerfulness helps you deal with death better. SO optimism (which I think is what Friedman and Martin are really measuring) can have a good health effect without having a longevity effect.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why Conscientiousness Leads to Long Life

I previously noted the main point of Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin's The Longevity Project.

The fruit of an eight-decade longitudinal study of talented kids, begun in 1921 by Lewis Terman, the book comes to this conclusion:

"Conscientiousness … turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life … The young adults who were thrifty, persistent, detail oriented, and responsible lived the longest."

Friedman and Martin offer three reasonable guesses about why this is so.

First, the conscientious are usually prudent, taking only sensible risks.

Second, they may be healthier in general - not just healthy living, but healthy basic constitutions.

Third, they create healthy relationships with other people, which not only makes us healthier, but also happier.

Go persistent prudence!

Monday, May 02, 2011

We Killed Bin Laden the Right Way

The September 11 attacks were a surprise mass murder of civilians designed to create terror. Fighting and killing the people who did that is about the clearest case of justified war I can think of.

The United States mobilized to find Al Qaeda, especially its leader Osama bin Laden, and capture or kill them. We asked the government that was harboring Al Qaeda, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, to help us, or at least get out of the way. They considered it, but decided to continue sheltering our enemy. That made the Taliban an enemy too. We removed the Taliban regime in order to get at Al Qaeda.

When bin Laden fled to Pakistan, we made the same request of the Pakistani government. They decided to help us find Al Qaeda. We learned, the hard way, that some Al Qaeda sympathizers within the Pakistani government were tipping off the enemy, so we cut back on what information we shared with the Pakistani government. Finally, after a long search and excellent intelligence gathering, we found Osama bin Laden. We sent in a small team of Americans who captured and killed the enemy. They did not kill civilians, and none of our guys were lost. Bin Laden's corpse was identified, given Muslim funeral rites, and buried at sea to prevent anyone making a shrine of his grave.

That is doing war the right way.

The many distractions that were added by opportunists to this basic story were huge costly mistakes, designed to serve personal or venal interests. But those mistakes should not distract us from the clear narrative of the right war fought the right way.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Don't Rush to Sanctify Your Old Boss

Pope John Paul II was beatified yesterday by his successor and close ally, Benedict XVI. To do that Benedict had to suspend the normal five-year waiting period to begin the drawn-out beatification process. John Paul died six years ago, so the speed-up was not huge. Still, I think it imprudent.

I am a Presbyterian. The internal politics of the Catholic Church are their business. I think John Paul was a great man and a force for good, especially in the struggle against communism and other kinds of materialism. Nonetheless, I am not really commenting here on the whether John Paul II is worthy of religious veneration, and am not qualified to have an opinion on his qualifications for sainthood.

Rather, I think rushing to judgment for permanent honors is a bad idea for anyone. I think it is always good policy to wait some years for the passions of the moment to cool. I am particularly suspicious when those in power move to permanently honor their patrons and fellow partisans. That smacks of an attempt to sanctify current policies, not just former leaders. I think this is just as bad (and much more common) when practiced for secular political leaders. The Catholic Church's canonization process rarely involves people who were powerful in any ordinary sense. But in the case of John Paul II, it does.

I hope the church waits a long time, with much deliberation, and probably a new pope, before it decides whether to elevate the beatified pope to sainthood.