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First Lady Baby Naming Effect: Jacqueline vs. Hillary

Previously we examined the relationship between the elected president and how parents named baby boys by comparing the popularity of the president’s first name before he began serving versus after he began serving (see technical note below for the limitations in this method). For example, Franklin was only the 147th most popular name in 1931 but two years later it had jumped to being ranked 33rd as parents increasingly named their children after FDR.

Specifically, we defined the “presidential baby name bounce” as the difference between the average ranking in the four years after a president took office (post-inauguration) to the average ranking in the four years before the president took office (pre-inauguration). We observed the following:

From Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson, eight out of nine presidents saw a positive baby-naming bounce where positive means Americans were more likely to name children using the president’s first name after the president took office. Starting with Richard Nixon and ending with George Bush (43), there have been seven presidents. For each of these seven presidents, the “presidential baby name bounce” has been negative, not positive. That is to say, before Richard Nixon, parents generally were more likely to name children after the new president but starting with Nixon, the trend reversed and parents became less likely to name children after the president.

The biggest positive bounces were for Woodrow and Franklin.

We examined the same question using first ladies’ names and found a very different pattern. For the last 21 first ladies (starting with Ida McKinley), only four had a positive bounce. It is important to emphasize that this negative baby bounce should not be over-interpreted. When looking at the data as a time-series such as the graph below, we observed that for most of these names, there was a declining trend before the first lady took her role and that the first lady’s name generally didn’t appear to have much of an impact on baby naming.

That is with two major exceptions:

The only first lady with a major positive bounce was Jacqueline, a reflection of how the American public was captivated by Jacqueline Kennedy. This is reflected in the Jacqueline curve below from a pre-inauguration popularity ranking ranging from 85 to 111 to a post-inauguration range of 37 to 51 as the baby name become more popular.

The first lady with the most dramatic negative swing was Hillary, a drop in popularity that was certainly linked to the timing of Bill’s inauguration and her prominence on the public stage. Hillary was the 132nd most popular girls name in 1992 but has been out of the top 500 since 1994. In the curve below you can see the popularity rank of Hillary as a baby name moved from a pre-inauguration range of 132 to 209 to a post-inauguration range of 566 to 725 as the baby name became less popular. Spelling the name Hilary instead of Hillary had little change on the popularity trend. Hillary went from being the 233 most popular baby girl’s name in 1992 to being out of the top 1000 since 1994.

Higher rank means the name is less popular

This striking effect of many American parents avoiding naming their children Hillary is a reflection of how polarizing a figure Hillary Clinton was (and still remains today)

Technical note: The baby bounce metric is a pre-post comparison without controls which does not account for time trends. The same data set was examined as an interrupted time series, where we looked to identify if the pattern of name ranking over time experienced a change starting with the inauguration year. This method allows us to control for pre-inauguration trends. The data was acquired from the Social Security Online website

Typing class lesson

When I was in intermediate school, we had required courses and a limited number of optional classes.

Today I was thinking about my typing class. Yes, typing on a typewriter, with a ribbon, paper and even special Wite-out to correct typos.

My typing teacher insisted that “this class is very important since what you learn here will it will stay for life”. She was passionate about typing, walking rapidly up and down the classroom checking how everyone was performing on their lessons. Whenever she caught me looking at the typing keys she would announce to the class “we’ve got a looker”. My response to her was, “I can type 40 words a minute. Good enough.” Her answer was, “Never limit yourself. Learn to type correctly and you will type faster with less mistakes.”

As it turned out, my bad typing habits remained. The four-finger, stare-at-the-keyboard, hunt-and-peck method of typing I perfected in the 7th grade is still with me today…with a similar pace of about 40 words a minute.

Once in a while I type without looking at the keyboard, looking only at the screen. During those rare moments, it feels like I can fly. Usually at those moments, I remember her saying “we’ve got a looker” but today I remembered the more important point she was trying to make. That we should not limit ourselves.

So, to my 7th grade typing teacher I would like to say, thank you.
(Note: This last sentence was typed while looking only at the screen)

Tiger, Jack and the Endless Possibilities of Youth

With the upcoming Masters Tournament, I found myself thinking back to the days when many were sure that Tiger would eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Majors.

After all, Tiger had burst onto the pro scene in 1996 winning Rookie of the Year, SI Sportsman of the Year and the following year he took home the Masters. Tiger had some dominant years but also had to battle through some injuries. By 2008 he had amassed 14 Majors and, at 32, it seemed like a done deal that he was going to pass Nicklaus’ record. After all, Nicklaus was about 3 years older when he hit the 14 Majors mark. And then…

Here we are in 2015. Tiger is approaching 40 years old and hasn’t won a major since 2008, a longer barren stretch than Nicklaus ever suffered. Of course, Nicklaus had a late career surge capturing 3 majors in his 40s including the dramatic win in 1986 when he was 46.

I was in grad school when Tiger Woods took over the sports world and recall how he redefined golf as a cool sport for all ages and races. Like many people in their 20s, I was ready to explore this world of seemingly unlimited options and opportunities. I regularly met brilliant researchers who had already made their mark in science and I aspired to do likewise.

Today I am middle aged. The options and opportunities I am considering are narrower in scope but I have a better understanding of who I am and what is important to me. I choose my activities more carefully, trying to make the most of my more limited time and energy.

Every year it seems less and less likely that Tiger will catch Jack. He certainly lost his way both professionally and personally. But I bet there are a lot of people that, like me, would love to see him win at least once more. After all, even middle-aged people like us enjoy the reminders of the endless possibilities of youth.

Romney vs. Nixon: Tale of the Tape

Mitt Romney is leading the field of potential Republican candidates in a recent national Quinnipiac University survey.
While this might sounds impressive, it is important to recall that Mitt Romney faces long odds to being elected President in 2016.

Since 1900, there have been twenty candidates from the two major parties who lost their first general election for the presidency. Of those twenty candidates, the vast majority decided to never seek the party nomination again – including the last seven losing presidential candidates of major parties (McCain, Kerry, Gore, Dole, Dukakis, Mondale and Ford). In the past 114 years, the only person who lost his first general election and later won the presidency was Richard Milhous Nixon. With these long odds in mind, it is useful to compare Nixon in 1968 versus Romney in 2016.

Nixon (1968) and Romney (2016) have some clear similarities including (1) the fact that both Republican candidates had lost in relatively close elections, (2) the Democrats had held the White House for the preceding eight years and (3) the Democrats lacked an incumbent (Obama ineligible in 2016, Johnson declined to run in 1968).

As we can see in the Tale of the Tape below, there are some stark differences between Romney (in 2016) and Nixon (in 1968).


Nixon in 1968 had roughly 15 years of experience at the national level of politics including 8 years as the Vice President with all of the foreign policy experience one expects from that background.

Mitt Romney has been a one-term governor of Massachusetts, a much less extensive political background compared to Nixon in 1968. Romney also has little to no meaningful foreign policy experience outside of what would be gleaned in running the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, his business career and his 4 years as governor. Again, Romney falls far short of Nixon’s background in 1968.

Lastly, while both ran competitive elections in their initial losing efforts, Nixon’s margin of loss in 1960 was narrower than the margin of loss for Romney in 2012.

Of course, Mitt Romney would not be competing against Nixon. Rather, he would be running against a Republican field that so far lacks candidates with any way near Nixon’s level of experience as either an elected official in in the area of foreign policy. This suggests that Romney’s limitations as an elected official or in foreign affairs may not hinder him greatly in the primaries but these limitations could be targets for criticism in the general election.
Will Romney jump through the hurdles of choosing to run, winning the Republican nomination and then winning the general election? History suggests that his chances are slim and that he may not be as well-positioned as Nixon was in 1968.

Note: The historical irony in this Tale of the Tape is that Nixon’s main challenger for the Republican nomination in 1968 was George Romney, Mitt’s father. George Romney was criticized for his lack of foreign policy expertise.

America’s Lagging Female Political Representation

America continues to lag most other democracies in terms of female representation. This distinction is not one to be proud of yet our nation has been behind the curve on female political representation for generations.

Currently there are twenty female Senators, 16 Democrat and 4 Republican. In the House, there are seventy-nine female Representatives, 60 Democrat and 19 Republican. The number of women in the Senate and the House comprise the highest numbers ever in either body yet these rates of female representation are remarkably lower than other democratic countries.

In 2012, the US ranked 28th out of 34 OECD countries in terms of the share of women parliamentarians, topping only Korea, Ireland, Turkey, Chile, Japan, and Hungary. Comparatively speaking, this is a drop from 2002 as France, Italy, Hungary and others all leapfrogged over the United States in female representation.

Moreover, the disparity between the parties is painfully telling. Female representation among Democratic national legislators, at 30.4%, is in the upper-third of the OECD’s overall rankings. Contrarily, only 8.2% of the Republican national legislators are female. This ranks dead last compared to other OECD countries, a national embarrassment that needs to be addressed.

The lack of female legislators is also exhibited at the state legislative level. There, the percentage of female legislators rose from 8% in 1975 to 20.6% in 1995. In the 19 years since, the rate has only crawled up to 24.2%. The stagnation in progress needs to be addressed for America to catch up to other leading democracies. Approximately two-thirds of the female state legislators are Democrats, a less-extreme reiteration of the party imbalance seen at the national level.

Since being a state legislator is often a stepping stone to the national level, addressing the gender imbalance at the state level is critical to addressing it at the national level. In order to have more female state-level legislators, more women will need to express an interest in political careers as well as develop local-level experience such as community and school boards.

Two key differences emerge when comparing the US and democracies that are leading in female representation. The first is that many countries have implemented gender quotas, a mechanism that is unconstitutional in the US. The second is that countries using proportional representation systems often have higher female representation.

Making proportional representation the norm in state-level voting, as is done in many other leading countries, could address some of this gender imbalance issue. Voters would cast ballots for the party of choice meaning that gender biases would be restricted to what happens inside the party rolls themselves. Female candidates, who may have more challenges raising financial support, could rely more on party money. Of course, this presupposes that gender biases within political parties are less pronounced than the gender biases in the general public.

Proportional representation would also make room for third-party voices to be heard. It is likely that fewer voters would feel “orphaned” and that voter turnout would rise with rising confidence that their votes would have some impact.

Inertia is a powerful force. The two-party system in the US has muted the voices of many women and third-party. It is time America addressed these issues with proportional representation being one mechanism to chip away at our lagging democratic performance.

Government Policy on “Lost” Money Needs Revision

Few things can bring a quicker smile to one’s face than finding lost money …that is, until you wonder why it was ever lost.

My brother loved finding “lost” money. He used to hide $50 bills in his suit pockets and then forget, all so he could enjoy discovering money. He gave up this habit after I learned how to get quick spending money for trips to Atlantic City.

This week I enjoyed finding “lost” money courtesy of the NY State Comptroller. As documented in the NY Times, banks, insurers, utility companies and others have surrendered to New York State more than $13.3 billion. New York State holds this fortune due to people “neglecting to claim dormant bank accounts, back wages, dividend checks, utility and rent security deposits, rebates, safe deposit box contents and estate proceeds”.

Yesterday I went to the Comptroller’s website. It took seconds to enter my name into the Comptroller’s website and then scroll through the matches to find a record with my former address and my former employer. After completing the verification form, I began wondering about my found money. Could it be a missing paycheck? Could it be a missing tax reimbursement?

I smiled as I dreamed about how much it could be. But then it dawned on me, there was no reason for this money to ever be “lost”?

I had moved from my previous New York address four years ago and had left my previous employer ten years ago. If NY State wanted to connect me with my money they could have simply traced the mail forwarding from the Post Office. I file federal and NY taxes. If NY State wanted to connect me with my money, they could easily have linked my tax filing to the unclaimed funds and sent me a notification letter.

Finding money feels nice until you realize that the money was “lost” due to either willful negligence or gross incompetence. The NY State Comptroller is taking a pathologically passive approach to retaining other people’s money. They are choosing to ignore the information they have readily available to connect people with their rightfully due money. A minimal effort on the Comptroller’s part would result in thousands of people being reintroduced to assets that NY State has been sitting on for years.

The Comptroller needs to revise their current policy to one where they actively seek to connect people with their money.

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Putting Your Health Insurance Where Your Mouth Is

Open enrollment is fast approaching.

Last fall, I gave up my employer-based health insurance plan and jumped into New York’s health insurance exchange.
Why give up a good health plan that is partially subsidized by my employer to become one more person searching for an unsubsidized plan?

The first factor was principle. While the Affordable Care Act fell far short of my expectations for improving America’s health care system, it was a small step in the right direction. After years of emphasizing the importance of learning from the leading practices of other countries, I felt I should support this nascent system. As a healthy 41 year old, I was a “good bet” for any health insurance company and insurance pools need healthy people paying the full amount to balance out some of the negative selection.

The second factor was flexibility. By disconnecting health insurance from employment, I could make career decisions without having to add “where will I get health insurance?” to the equation.

This wasn’t a financial decision. Monthly premiums were nearly identical for my employer-based plan and my exchange-selected Platinum Plan. My new plan was not as comprehensive and was not accepted by my primary care physician or my dentist. This was inconvenient but manageable. I combed through the health personnel directory, called my new insurer for some guidance, and found new providers.

Open enrollment is fast approaching.

Last year many people were afraid of taking the risk of jumping into the pool. Today we know the exchange is working. There are over 7 million paying customers, costs have come in lower than expected and the number of companies offering plans next year will increase.

Many of my friends and acquaintances have jobs with employer-based health insurance. Many have been vocal advocates of the Affordable Care Act. They have talked about the need for America to improve its public health system. They have talked about the injustice of America’s uninsured. They have talked about the fact that Americans pay far more for health than other countries yet our life expectancy is below that of other wealthy countries.

It is time to talk less and do more. It is time to put your insurance where your mouth is.

Open enrollment is fast approaching.

This fall I will again get insurance on the exchange instead of through my employer. What about you?

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We Can Save Lives Easily. Why Won’t We?

Published in Written by Anke Hoeffler and Howard Steven Friedman


What if we told you that there was a deadly disease that wipes out thousands of people globally every day with little fanfare or international attention? It’s the second most common reason for death among those aged 15 to 49 and the number one cause of death for men and women aged 15 to 24. We already know about great policies to tackle this disease: several rich countries have cut their fatality rates from it by 50 percent since the 1970s, such that now 90 percent of the deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. And yet the disease was ignored completely in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, and has not been prominent in the post-2015 development discussions either.

Now: Does it matter to you that we aren’t talking about a disease, but rather about road-injury fatalities?
A preventable killer

Road-traffic deaths occur in all countries, but they are more common in developing countries, where the fatality rate is about twice that in high-income countries, despite these countries having far fewer cars per person. In fact, 90 percent of all fatal road traffic accidents occur in low- and middle-income countries. About half the people who die aren’t driving cars but are vulnerable road users like pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders and motorcyclists.

Road-injury fatalities are a growing global issue, rising by about 25 percent since 2000 as more people drive but safety regulations and enforcement have not caught up. Looking further into the future, the number of vehicles on the road and the number of road-injury fatalities will both grow. These trends project that in 2030, road-injury fatalities will be the fifth biggest killer globally, compared to far more studied areas like ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lower respiratory infections.

Road-injury fatalities, like many other major global killers, are often preventable. Australia, Canada, France and Sweden have all decreased their road-injury fatality rates by more than 50 percent since the 1970’s, when they had fatality rates comparable to those found in developing countries today. Many of the interventions that lead to this decline are well known, make intuitive sense, are scientifically effective—and importantly for cash-strapped governments, can pay for themselves immediately.

These interventions, like implementing blood-alcohol laws, speed limits, motor vehicle safety regulations, seat belt laws, helmet laws and child restraints, are a menu from which governments can select what is most implementable and culturally appropriate. Fines for noncompliance would mean that saving lives would benefit to government coffers almost immediately, in contrast to the long-term public investments that many other lifesaving investments require. Naturally, oversight would need to be implemented to ensure that the enforcement of new regulations is just.
Five easy fixes

With road-safety interventions effectively implemented, the impact is clear: more lives saved. For example, wearing a motorcycle helmet can reduce the mortality rate by 40%. Drinking and driving results in increased risk of crashes, injuries and deaths, but enforcing sobriety checkpoints and random breath testing can reduce crash rates and is cost effective. Wearing seat belts reduces the fatality rate of both front and back seat occupants, while speed controls in high risk areas like schools and residential areas are effective at saving pedestrian lives. The interventions mentioned above are straightforward, effective and can fund themselves—yet less than 10 percent of the world’s population has adequate laws that address all five risk factors (speed, drunk driving, helmets, seat belts and child restraints).

Additionally, there are more advanced interventions that can reduce road-injury fatalities, including road safety assessments and improvements, improved emergency care for injured persons, and targeted analysis to identify high risk locations/victims, which would enable more targeted local policies and programs.

The world has seen tremendous progress in the past few decades on a number of important health fronts. Maternal deaths are down nearly 50 percent from 1990. Under-five mortality rates have also roughly halved since 1990. The number of people who have died of AIDS-related causes peaked in 2005 and has been steadily declining. At the same time, we shouldn’t ignore the growing catastrophe associated with easily preventable deaths due to road-traffic injuries.

History is Against a Romney Presidency

After losing in 2012 Mitt Romney stated that he is done running for president…but this is 2014 and rumors are swirling.

Before too much is made of Mitt Romney chances in 2016 it is important to realize that history is very much against there ever being a President Romney.

We can break this down to a simple three step process. For Romney to be elected in 2016, he would need to: (1) Seek the party nomination, (2) Win the party nomination and (3) Win the general election.

The first step is a huge hurdle. It requires the candidate to have emerged from the previous loss sufficiently strong physically, emotionally and politically. This is quite rare.

Since 1900, there have been twenty candidates from the two major parties who lost their first general election for the presidency. Only five of those twenty (25%) ever formerly tossed their hat into the party nomination ring again. To put it the opposite way, for a variety of reasons, seventy-five percent of losing candidates decided to never run for president again. As of 2014 the last seven losing presidential candidates of major parties (McCain, Kerry, Gore, Dole, Dukakis, Mondale and Ford) never again sought the party nomination.

Romney emerged from the 2012 loss reasonably strong. He did not run a terrible campaign, did not have an embarrassingly weak electoral performance, did not make a disastrous choice for a running mate and will not be considered “too old” in 2016.

If he does seek the nomination, Romney has to convince Republicans to back him again rather than a different Republican candidate. This is another high hurdle. Of the five losing presidential candidates who sought their party’s nomination again, three lost in the primaries: Wendell Wilkie, Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. This means that of those twenty losing candidates only two (10%) made it over the first two hurdles.

If Romney wins the Republican nomination, he then has to win enough electoral votes to be elected president, a feat he failed to do in 2012. He would need to energize his base more to improve supporter turnout and/or swing over more votes from the few remaining non-party loyalist voters.

Of the two candidates who made it over those first two hurdles, one (Adlai E. Stevenson*) was defeated in his second general election.

This leaves only one person since 1900 to have lost his first general presidential election and later succeeded at being elected president – Richard Milhous Nixon.

While a one out of twenty may seem like a long shot, I am sure some pundits are salivating at the opportunity to hear Mitt Romney proudly declare “Let me be America’s next Richard Nixon”.


* Adlai E. Stevenson (Democrat) lost soundly to Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican) in both the 1952 and the 1956 election

Note: Previously we discussed that a history paints a similarly bleak picture for Paul Ryan’s chances of ever being elected president.

China’s Dependency-Ratio Turning Point

Around this year*, China will reach or have reached an important turning point in their demographics. The total dependency ratio will begin increasing after 50 years of decreasing. China’s dependency ratio is projected to increase for decades and to surpass that of the United States in about 40 years.

China’s tremendous economic growth over the past few decades has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and has resulted in hundreds of millions of its citizens living longer and healthier lives. While there are many factors that played a role in this historic economic boom, one is demographics.

China’s fertility rate dropped sharply in the 1970s. In 1969 China’s total fertility rate (TFR) was 5.7. This means that an average of 5.7 children would be born if a woman were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children according to the age-specific fertility rates in 1969. The TFR had plummeted to 2.9 by 1978 and in 1979 China introduced the One Child Policy. The fertility rate fell below the replacement rate (approximately 2.1) in the early 90’s and today stands around 1.6.


When China had a high fertility rate, a large percent of its population was young. Between 1950 and 1980, more than one-third of the population, and sometimes more than two-fifths of the population, was less than 15 years old.

During this same time period, the ratio of the number of young people (defined here as less than 15) to the number of people of working age (15-64) ranged from 0.56 to 0.72. This ratio, known as the youth dependency ratio, was much higher than the old age dependency ratio. The old age dependency ratio (the ratio of the number of people over 65 to the number of people 15-64) ranged between 0.07 and 0.09. The sum of the youth dependency ratio and the old age dependency ratio represents the total dependency ratio which ranged between 0.63 and 0.78 from 1950-80.

The sharp fertility drop and sustained long-term lower fertility has produced very predictable outcomes in terms of demographics. During the first few decades after the decline in fertility, the youth dependency ratio declined (as there were less children being born) while the old age dependency rate increased. Because the fertility drop was so quick in the 1970’s, the youth dependency ratio declined more rapidly than the old age dependency ratio increased. As a result, for a few decades the total dependency ratio declined. This total dependency ratio was 0.69 in 1980 fell to 0.48 in 2000 and is currently around 0.37. Populations that have low dependency ratios can grow rapidly if there are sufficient investments in education, job opportunities, and other areas.

dependency ratio nadir 2

Now, 45 years from the start of the sharp fertility decline in China, we have reached a turning point. The total dependency ratio will increase after decreasing steadily for 50 years. China’s old age dependency ratio is growing rapidly as people live longer and there are less workers are available to support their expenses. While population estimates always have some level of uncertainty, this turning point in the dependency ratio is happening now and marks a long-term shift for China.

China will “grow old” in a similar manner of Japan, who experienced a sharp fertility drop in the 50’s (from TFR of 4.3 in 1949 to below replacement by the late 50s). In fact, demographically one can think of Japan as being about three decades ahead of China in terms of its benefits and challenges (with, of course, some major differences such as scale and relative average wealth).

Median age

The Chinese government is aware of this turning point in the dependency ratio but the details of exactly how this demographic shift will impact economics, geopolitics, and society more broadly remains to be seen.

*This analysis is based on population estimates from the World Population Prospects (2012) Medium Variant.