NEWSWIRE: 2/19/19

  • Op-ed writer Arthur C. Brooks writes that young adults have plunged the United States into “a crisis of love.” Brooks surmises that the precipitous decline in marriage among Millennials is rooted in their fear of rejection—a conclusion that is supported by this generation’s adoption of low-risk online dating apps and services. (The Washington Post)
    • NH: Valentine's Day is a fitting occasion to assess the strength of Eros, the Greek god (Cupid to the Romans) who causes a great deal of trouble among humans--yet also keeps humanity as a whole moving forward. Without Eros, there would be no demography.
    • Are Millennials impervious to Cupid's darts? As teens, they are dating less. Over the last 35 years, the share of high-school seniors who have been on a date has declined from 86% to 63%. And as young adults, they are marrying less, having fewer kids, and having them later. Back in 1967, 82% of 25- to 34-year-olds were married. By 1987, the share was 60%. Today, it is 40%. At the current rate, a third of Millennial women will never marry. The average age of first childbirth has risen to 28. Meanwhile, Millennials report more loneliness than older generations (see: "All the Lonely People"). Millennials themselves complain that the spirit of "romance" is dying in their achievement-oriented generation--in part because their serious courtship conversations so quickly gravitate toward career tracks, FICO scores, and prenups.
    • More surprisingly--and a bit more relevant to the Eros question--sexual activity is also down. I say surprising because the age of puberty is declining and attitudes toward premarital sex have become hugely more tolerant over the last 15 years. In the age of Tinder, we ought to be witnessing a bacchanalia. But no. After peaking with first-wave Xers (born in the early 1960s), the indicators are all falling. The share of high-school seniors who have ever had sex is steadily declining. The share of women who have never had sex by 24 is steadily rising. The lifetime median number of sexual partners is down. Etc. You get the idea.
    • Why is this happening? One big reason is a disappointing youth economy, which delays marriage and discourages long-term attachments. (See: "Are Finances Keeping Millennials from Marrying?") Others include declining male testosterone levels; always-on stress; less sleep; more anxiety surrounding cross-gender relationships in the #MeToo era; fewer instances of less-than-consensual sex; the eclipsing of in-person interaction by online interaction; and of course the ubiquitous availability of pornography. (See also: "Japan: Land of the Young and the Sexless" and "You're Not the Man Your Father Was.")
    • In his essay, Brooks is right to identify Millennial risk-aversion as a central theme running through many of these drivers. He points to young men unwilling to risk failure in proposing to women and to young couples unwilling to risk marriage until their careers are fully launched. The Millennial habit of subjecting every choice to menu-driven optimization may also be to blame--since the spirit of calculation may be as injurious to Eros as the fear of failure. Another meta-driver is the gender disorientation triggered by rapid relative gains in female education and employment at a time when many blue-collar occupations are disappearing. (See: "The Spread of the Pink-Collar Economy.") Revealingly, the biggest declines in marriage, births, and sexual activity--along with declines in income, homeownership, and net worth--are among young noncollege whites. Brooks says nothing about this.

A "Crisis of Love" on Valentine's Day. NewsWire - Feb 17 chart2

  • Standup comedian Dylan Roche is generating praise for his clean, easy-going routine—and for the fact that he’s only 14 years old. Effortlessly riffing off of his sheltered childhood and his fraught encounters with bullies, Roche could turn out to be the embodiment of Homeland Generation comedy. (Funny Funny Hotdog)
    • NH: There's an old saying: One generation's punch line is the next generation's set up line. Nothing better reveals our generational location in history than what we find funny. Here's an early example of what this emerging Homeland Generation may be bringing on stage. Dylan is relaxed and good-natured. His jokes are edge-less and self-deprecating. He seeks to please rather than shock. In the words of Joey Bishop, talking about his own smooth 1950s-era performers, "We tried more to be overheard than heard." Are we looking at the next rat pack of the 2040s?
  • On average, Boomer cannabis consumers spend $95.04 on cannabis products per month—the most of any generation. It makes sense given that Boomers are the most likely to be using these products to replace over-the-counter or prescription meds, making them the unsung linchpin of the industry. (Eaze)
    • NH: Hey, all you 60-somethings, your long strange trip ain't over! According to SAMHSA, 55- to 64-year-olds exceeded teenagers in weekly marijuana use for the first time ever in 2016 (see: “Boomers and Xers Toke Up”), in part because teen use is gradually declining but mostly because midlife use is rapidly climbing. Reason? Americans born in the late 1950s and early 1960s--yes, this is the prime Deadhead cohort group--are moving into that age bracket.
    • But stay cool, man: We no longer deal in smuggled stash and rolled cash. In a growing number of states, led by California, restrictive medical use laws are being widened to allow general adult use. That's lots of wind in the sails for delivery companies like Eaze, the so-called "Uber of weed" in California. Prime findings of the new Eaze report? Boomers are the biggest and fastest-growing cannabis buyers per capita. Partly for this reason, sales of CBC (a non-psychotropic cannabinoid), though still small, are growing very rapidly. Rather than get high, a lot of these older uses (especially older women) want relief from chronic pain, help with addiction to other drugs, or just a good night's sleep. Also: Vaporizers and edibles now comprise just over half of all cannabis deliveries by dollar value.

A "Crisis of Love" on Valentine's Day. NewsWire - Feb 17 chart3

  • The average Facebook user would require more than $1,000 to deactivate their account for a year, according to a recent auction-style study that actually paid the participants. Despite the social network’s well-documented troubles, its perceived value in users’ lives is hard to beat—unless your name is Google. (The Washington Post)
    • NH: I have some problems here--not so much with the design of the study itself, but with how these authors interpret it. Giving a huge wet kiss to Mark Zuckerberg, they basically argue that FB delivers, each year, a "free" consumer surplus equal to five times FB's colossal market cap. In fact, the study shows a huge variability in the "reservation price" offered by U.S. users--the median price was only $200. And clearly these numbers cannot be extended to Mark's "billions" in the developing world. More seriously, the study cannot measure path dependence, that is, how much users would be inconvenienced by moving to the next-best social media platform if it became available.
    • To believe the authors, one needs to suppose that Zuckerberg is voluntarily leaving hundreds of billions in annual revenue on the table by not charging this hefty reservation price. He's doing no such thing. He knows all too well that user trust is a rapidly wasting asset and that alternatives are always emerging.
    • A recent experiment by a Danish researcher, Morton Tromholt, offers an alternative way to look at Facebook's value. In a randomized controlled study of over 1,000 people, Tromholt looked at the responses of those who were chosen (by lottery) to quit Facebook for a week. He found significantly higher life satisfaction among those who quit--and the heavier their use, the higher their satisfaction boost. Why might people name a high reservation price for going without something when they feel better once they stop using it? Maybe because it's an addiction. And yes, some of Facebook's own founders insist that it was, from very beginning, designed to be addictive.
  • The unexpected death of a crypto exchange founder has stranded $136 million in customer assets. While enthusiasts have applauded crypto’s security as its biggest selling point, this case illustrates that it can also be a crucial flaw; the deceased was the only one who knew his exchange’s password. (The Wall Street Journal)
    • NH: It's instructive how a currency system designed to function "without relying on trust" (to use Satoshi Nakamoto's memorable phrase) is wreaking so much human damage because, well, no one can trust it. I'm talking about assets abducted in defunct crypto exchanges, ICOs that take the money and run, naive investors bankrupted by vertiginous price dives, and--above all--international gangsters who (more than any other type of transactor) actually find this to be a cost-effective means of exchange for goods and services. (See “Bitcoin: Don’t Look Down!")
    • Now witness a new issue: Crypto-owners who die without passing on their cypto-key. Survivors are often left with nothing but a PC that they cannot unlock. One is a friend of mine in California whose son died in a plane crash; his story has been widely circulated. The WSJ story is a bit more complicated because, in the eyes of some experts, the assets inside these accounts (owed to third parties) may already have disappeared before the owner died mysteriously in India. So no one can be sure if the assets are actually there. Nor if the owner actually died. This tale conjures up The X-Files or The Bourne Identity--a shadowy state of nature where everybody indeed slinks and scrambles "without relying on trust."
  • The viral success of recent recipes (#TheStew and #TheCookies) has inspired a piece on the rising appeal of home cooking among Millennials. Partly a reflection of their phase of life, home cooking is a perfect fit for a generation that wants to be healthy, to save money, to bond over shared experiences, and to get likes for beautiful photos. (Vox)

A "Crisis of Love" on Valentine's Day. NewsWire - Feb 17 chart10

  • Millennials are more likely than older generations to think that lying is acceptable in certain situations—including pretending a staged photo was spontaneous or inflating one’s resumé. The situation that gets them just as riled up as their elders is lying about one’s age in an online dating profile; while Millennials immersed in “hustle culture” don’t see the harm in talking themselves up, they draw the line at making themselves younger. (Deseret News)
    • NH: The noteworthy finding of this study is that, on every question, Americans on average are more tolerant of lying in 2018 than they were in 2006. This is almost certainly due to generational aging: The Silent Generation (least tolerant about lying) is aging out and Millennials and Xers (a lot more tolerant) are aging in. Diving deeper into the survey, we begin to see why this shift is happening: Younger generations, being less trusting of institutions, figure it's what you have to do to get by. This is especially true of Xers. Millennials, meanwhile, assume that they're just following the lead of their elders (inflating a resumé: hey, isn't that what everyone has to do--fake it until you make it?).
    • Religion btw is strongly and negatively correlated with toleration of lying. On every question, the religiously "unaffiliated" are significantly more likely to say that lying is "OK." Mainline Protestants are next most likely. And evangelical Christians least likely. Whether the religious are hypocritically hiding their actual behavior we'll never know because, well, they might be lying.

A "Crisis of Love" on Valentine's Day. NewsWire - Feb 17 chart4

  • A new crop of wearables enable users to track their alcohol consumption. These devices are a Millennial dream come true: They deliver real-time data directly to a smartphone, and some even feature a social networking aspect that enables friends to keep tabs on each other. (Cassandra Report)
  • A BBC piece dives into the online world of toxic celebrity fandom. The Internet has spawned countless online communities dedicated to supporting their favorite star, but these communities can turn nasty in an instant, leveraging their immense power into bullying campaigns against critics and even artists themselves. (BBC)
    • NH: Kelly Marie Tran, the Vietnamese-American star of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, found herself so vilified on social media that she terminated all of her accounts. Ditto for Ariana Grande, whose rabid fans ("Arianators") unexpectedly turned on her boyfriend. Cashing in on the value-added of a retail brand almost requires you to cultivate an obsessive fan base (see: "The Rise of the Obsessive Consumer"). Unfortunately, that sort of obsession can easily become deranged. Solution? Webroots Democracy suggests requiring pseudonymous accounts so that SM companies can always go after SM abusers if necessary. Better solution? Everybody just back off the SM a bit. I mean just look at those Arianators: In what universe does their behavior meet the sanity standard?
  • Even as a third of Americans say they sometimes feel lonely, nearly three-quarters of those people still say they have people to whom they feel close. Findings like this one from a new AEI report are a reminder that reducing loneliness and isolation will be a lot trickier than simply pointing the lonely toward new friends. (American Enterprise Institute)
    • NH: While it does not deny emerging evidence that America is more politically polarized and institutionally distrustful than any time in living memory, the AEI survey does offer one important corrective. It points out that Americans are still very trustful of their family, friends, coworkers, and local communities. For most people, these attachments are much stronger than their identification with an ideology or with a racial or ethnic group. It's only when we contemplate leadership or a policy agenda at the national level that our affiliations become dichotomous--as in, red zone versus blue zone.

A "Crisis of Love" on Valentine's Day. NewsWire - Feb 17 chart5

                                      DID YOU KNOW?

                                      Stay on My Good Side. Nearly a decade into the Instagram age, seasoned selfie enthusiasts have learned exactly how to present themselves in the best light—even if it means repeating a particular pose in each and every photograph. Celebrity divas like Mariah Carey were early pioneers, refusing to be photographed unless the camera captured their “good side.” But the rise of Instagram has democratized this practice. Aspiring selfie artists now can look up online how-to guides that teach practitioners how to use of angles and “micro-movements” to improve their photos. Hyper-specific selfie rules are about more than vanity. In the age of social media influencers, the difference between a perfect picture and an average one can mean big bucks. (See: “Under the (Social) Influence.”) What’s more, selfies have become inextricably tied to one’s online identity, which can affect everything from reputation to job opportunities. In the words of 29-year-old Eric Randall Morris, “A couple of years ago, selfies were more free. You didn’t realize you were constructing a social image or identity.”