Surprise, surprise: Kids whose time is less structured are better able to meet their own goals, and the most productive nation, for the fifth year in a row, is Switzerland, where employees enjoy 28 days of federally mandated vacation time. What can we learn from these two news items, especially together?
1) Take your vacation days. That’s what they’re for, if you’re lucky enough to get them at all. Obvious? Not to most Americans:
Because America leaves firms to their own devices on break policy, the amount of PTO (paid time off) Americans get varies vastly between socioeconomic classes. Only half of low-wage workers (bottom one-fourth of earners) have any paid vacation, the study found. Compare that to 90% of high-wage workers (top one-fourth of earners): The 77% of Americans who do get paid vacation time get an average of 13 days. … working too hard is making us stressed, sick and disengaged from our jobs, says Brigid Schulte in the Washington Post. We rank in the bottom section of the work-life balance scale from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. But part of the blame can be placed on the American workforce itself: Only 56% of Americans take the vacation time that’s given to them, according to a study by the employment firm Hudson.
That’s maddening. If you’re not using your days, give them to me! I’m still only on episode 3 of the new season of “Orange is the New Black.”
2) Let your kids roam free and everyone wins. Less driving for you, more being driven — in an organic, internal way — for them.
Children who spend more time in less structured activities—from playing outside to reading books to visiting the zoo—are better able to set their own goals and take actions to meet those goals without prodding from adults, according to a new study by the University of Colorado Boulder. The study, published online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, also found that children who participate in more structured activities—including soccer practice, piano lessons and homework—had poorer “self-directed executive function,” a measure of the ability to set and reach goals independently.
Last month, I spoke to an audience of about a hundred postdocs at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Wondering whether I was alone in my fraudulence, I decided to finally go ahead and ask.
“How many of you,” I polled the audience, “actually enjoy doing lab work?” Remember that these are people who’ve performed laboratory research for a decade or more, who would spend that very afternoon at the lab bench, and who are actively and fervently pursuing careers doing more lab work. Here’s how many hands went up: Three.
I can’t be the only scientist who feels like a fraud. But we don’t talk about it. No one volunteers to proclaim their inadequacies. In fact, scientists go to great lengths to disguise how little we know, how uncertain we feel, and how much we worry that everyone deserves to be here but us. The result is a laboratory full of colleagues who look so impossibly darn confident. They’re the real scientists, we tell ourselves. They can follow the entire seminar. They read journals for pleasure. Their mistakes only lead them in more interesting directions. They remember all of organic chemistry.
Do we allow our humanities majors to articulate — or even just feel — more ambivalence than our #STEM majors? Are scientists and doctors and engineers fronting all the time because they sense laypeople need them to? Is it because when you wear a white coat, you have to project authority? It’s the white coat, isn’t it? What if the coat were plaid, or came with elbow patches?
+ R-rated Seth Rogen and Zac Efron comedy “Neighbors” threw a wild keg party and chased “The Amazing Spider-man 2″ out of the top spot this weekend, bringing in $51 million. Even more valuable: Dana Stevens gave “Neighbors” a thumbs up, so it’s safe for thinking people everywhere.
+ OpenRoad Media has published a top 12 list of Best Residencies and Fellowships for Writers, featuring Yaddo and MacDowell of course as well as some lesser known ones all around the country. Good timing: Alexander Chee is in the midst of his Amtrak Residency right now. I’ve done two writers residencies — one at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and one at the Vermont Studio Center, plus the Summer Literary Seminars program in Lithuania. Either I’ve been extremely lucky or one can’t go wrong with time and space to write, plus community. Each one of those programs has changed my life.
+ Eat, Pray, Crib. Buy bestselling author Liz Gilbert’s fantastic amazing perfect house in New Jersey, complete with Skybrary, for $999,999. What’s that? More literary house porn, you say? Compare / contrast with the Berkeley house of power couple Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon.
According to two recent articles, science as a field is male-dominated and old-fashioned in a patriarchy way, and, if that weren’t enough, suffering from funding problems. The Washington Post reports that science isn’t simply unfriendly to women but also to dudes who want to be good dads:
The majority of tenured full professors at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, who have the most power to hire and fire and set the workplace expectation of long hours, are men who have either a full-time spouse at home who handles all caregiving and home duties, or a spouse with a part-time or secondary career who takes primary responsibility for the home. And it’s not just women who are being squeezed out of academic science, the study concludes. It’s also men who want to be more active at home. … “Academic science doesn’t just have a gender problem, but a family problem,” said Sarah Damaske, a sociology professor at Penn State and one of the report’s authors. “We came to see that men or women, if they want to have families, are likely to face significant challenges.” …
Damaske said age didn’t play a role in their findings. Some men in egalitarian partnerships were well into their 60s. And some graduate students in their 20s had traditional marriages or planned not to have children in order to dedicate their lives to their careers.
Science, man. Always bringing us down. The ice caps are melting, the coral reefs are dying, restaurants are less safe than food trucks, everyone’s a little bit racist. The latest blow comes from UConn, where experts took some time off from cheering for their women’s basketball team to figure out whether resumes from job applications that list affiliations with campus religious groups get fewer responses than resumes that don’t. The short answer? Yes, with an “and.” (The “and” being that the effect held true for every religion tested, even a made-up faith, except one.)
Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that applicants who included a religious reference in their applications were less likely to get responses than those who did not, an effect that held true across most faiths. … The study used Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, pagan and a made-up religion called Wallonian identities across different applications. All in all, résumés with a religion mentioned got 33% fewer responses than the completely secular ones.
There was one outlier — according to the report, résumés listing a Jewish affiliation received more responses than those listing other religions. “Not only did Jewish applicants not face discrimination but they also actually may have received preferential treatment by some employers — that is, they were more likely to receive an early, exclusive or solo response from employers, compared with all other religious groups combined,” the researchers wrote. “This suggests there is a subset of employers who show a preference for Jewish applicants.”
What’s going on here? Scientists don’t like to speculate — as bloggers, that’s our job — so they don’t draw any conclusions except, maybe, leave even your leadership role in your worship group off your resume if you want to get more calls. But we have some deeper thoughts.
The Atlantic and New York Magazine present complementary features about racism in America. Jesse Singal points out that “Racism Doesn’t Work The Way You Think It Does” and Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of America’s foremost public intellectuals, makes “The Case for Reparations.” #longreads Get some coffee, take some deep yoga breaths, visualize our minds opening. OK. Ready?
Let’s start with NYM’s Singal and circle back to Coates later in the day when we’ve had a chance to fully digest his argument. Singal’s article points out that people in positions of power discriminate without meaning to, because they are more likely to help other folks like them:
an important new paper soon to be published in American Psychologist argues that “in present-day America, discrimination results more from helping ingroup members than from harming outgroup members.” In other words, racist outcomes can arise without much actual racism, simply through the very human tendency to help out people with whom you have something in common. …
Human beings have a deep, ages-old drive to help out those with whom they have something in common, even if it’s something as simple as living on the same street or going to the same church. The problem is that because of how stubbornly persistent segregation is in most facets of American life, “something in common” tends to have a racial component. In addition to putting these sorts of day-to-day experiences into a broader context, Greenwald and Pettigrew’s argument also helps explains why the national debate over race is so dysfunctional. If the question isn’t really about who is oppressing whom (whether explicitly or implicitly), but rather about how, through our acts of kindness, we are unwittingly driving segregation and other aspects of the racial divide, that’s a very different conversation, and potentially a less vitriolic one.
Is there anything to be done? The article doesn’t say, and neither do the psychologists themselves, at least not yet. But being conscious of the actions we take on a daily basis, and the unintentional way we prop up and perpetuate prejudicial systems, is a good first step.
Doree Shafrir has written a fascinating Buzzfeed confessional about deciding whether or not to freeze her eggs. One issue to consider: cost.
I told my therapist that I was considering freezing my eggs, and she said she thought it was a good idea if it would alleviate some of the anxiety I felt about dating, and I said it would but it would also cause me a different kind of anxiety because it was so expensive in New York City — thousands of dollars in tests, then thousands of dollars for the drugs to stimulate egg maturation, then thousands of dollars for the extraction of the eggs. All told I would be looking at close to $15,000 to buy myself a few years of reduced anxiety, plus $2,000 or so each year to keep them frozen. I told myself it could be amortized over, say, five years and then it didn’t seem so bad. Still, I needed to come up with the money, so I cashed in a couple of 401(k)s from short stints at other jobs that had a couple thousands dollars in them each, and put a freelance check in my savings account, and figured I would charge the rest.
How much is it worth to you to quell a real and debilitating anxiety? My mom always says, If you can solve a problem with money, it’s not a real problem. But if you have to cash in 401(K)s and run up credit card debt to give your fertility a fighting chance, you’re not solving a problem with money at all; you’re potentially impoverishing your future self to benefit your present, and trading one immediate anxiety for another eventual one.
Attention K-Mart shoppers! Worrying about money does not make you better at money. I repeat, worrying about money does not make you better at money.
The act of worrying actually hurts, not helps. … worrying about money hurts your ability to think clearly about everything else in your life. In a separate study, researchers found that financial worries affect cognitive abilities.
The article goes on to call fretting “a useless habit” that you might be able to curtail by asking yourself simple questions, like, “What am I really worried about? Is it something in my control?” and “If it’s not in my control, do I gain anything by worrying about it?” To which I say: … maybe. Some people are anxious! It’s a hard habit to shake and sometimes it goes deeper, into how we’re wired. But even leaving chemical imbalances aside, most of us who worry do not expect to gain anything by worrying; we worry because it’s how we interact with the world and the seemingly gleeful way it throws surprises at us.
Still, it can be freeing to hear Science say, in that resounding, definitive voice Science uses, that worrying doesn’t help. It allows us to say, “Why bother?” And then maybe say it again, with a smile, and again, until we begin to believe it. It’s kind of like how hearing that doing exercise you hate doesn’t make you thin. WHY BOTHER WHY BOTHER WHY BOTHER have an ice cream sandwich and take a yoga class instead.
Image via Lewis Minor