Did you know that divorce is contagious? A recent US study found that divorce can spread through social networks, like a virus, passing among friends, siblings, even people you work with.
According to the researcher James Fowler, who followed thousands of people over 30 years, if your friend gets divorced, it increases the likelihood that you’ll get divorced by about 147pc. Friends share attitudes to divorce, so that if someone close to you – let’s say a good friend – gets divorced, it makes it more acceptable for you to divorce too.
This study reveals the power of context in our lives. People are influenced enormously by those around them. Things can become “normal” quite easily. We are highly social, interactive animals and we are inclined to copy those around us. We see this with all sorts of aspects of human behaviour, smokers hang around with smokers, drinkers with drinkers and, if obesity becomes commonplace, then it will proliferate because it is more acceptable.
In recent years there have been huge advances made in understanding the power of peer pressure and the willingness of humans to behave in a herd-like fashion. Our herd mentality flies in the face of economic analysis, which is based on the notion that each person is an independent entity who weighs up rationally what is in his best interest and acts autonomously to achieve the best for himself, irrespective of what those around him are doing.
The unfortunate thing for economists is that these rational, self-interested human beings don’t exist or if they do they are an extreme minority. The average person is profoundly influenced by the world around them and collective behaviour – rather than individual initiative – predominates. This is called the power of context.
I want to discuss the power of context with reference to unemployment in Ireland, because the figures on unemployment and long-term unemployment are extremely worrying. Is unemployment contagious?
One more thing to bear in mind is that periods of unemployment early in a career have profound long-term consequences. American research shows that being unemployed for more than 18 months in your twenties has a permanent negative impact on your lifetime earning. You don’t recover.
With that in mind, we should compare the rates of unemployment here and elsewhere in peripheral Europe with those of Germany, where young Germans are finding employment easily and young people in the rest of the periphery are not.
The question is whether unemployment – once it becomes normal or at least not unusual – becomes ingrained? Do people, when they see unemployment all around them, come to accept that this is their fate and begin the process, even when very young, of dropping out and off the radar screen? In short, does unemployment make people become unemployable, in the same way as divorce amongst your friends and peers make it much more likely that you too will get divorced?
If this is the case, then economic policy needs to be redirected toward intervention in order that young people find work quickly or, more to the point, that young people are qualified to do something when they leave school. This is where the German example is highly instructive because many German teenagers are trained in apprenticeships very early so that when they reach their early twenties they are able to actually do something. They have a skill, normally a hard skill such as a trade.
Look at the outcome of this apprenticeship policy.
Typically, two-thirds of young Germans begin an apprenticeship. Four out of five complete them. This means that more than half of all young people have completed an apprenticeship. They are work-ready when they finish. Two-thirds of these apprentices receive full-time employment at the company where they train.
Now look at the figures. Youth unemployment is 8pc in Germany, as opposed to over 50pc in Greece and Spain. In Ireland, 30pc of people under 25 are on the dole.
Not only does the apprentice system insure that young people are ready for work, it also matches the person with the company. In this way the education/apprentice system helps match the supply of young workers to the demand for them.
The situation in Ireland could not be more different. Here we have a strange state of affairs. Irish teenagers are much more likely to go to college than previous generations, but what are they able to do when they leave college? Are they qualified for something? Or could it be that they actually come out of university de-skilled?
There was a very interesting newspaper article recently addressing this issue. The writer, Ed Walsh, notes that we have dreadfully low levels of employment and yet thousands of unfilled job vacancies exist. Walsh points out that “Cisco senior vice-president Barry O’Sullivan told the Global Technology Leaders Summit last January that there are 5,000 unfilled vacancies in the hi-tech area and the summit heard that Ireland is producing only half the engineering and computer science graduates enterprise requires. Sean O’Sullivan, Avego chief executive, speaks of 20,000 jobs that could be filled if the right kind of talent was available in Ireland”.
Maybe, given this skills mismatch and the success of apprenticeships in Germany, we could look at re-engineering the way we regard education and training here. There is still a snobbery in Ireland toward the trades and people with dirty fingernails. Every mammy wants her children to grow up a professional, with a white collar and a corner office. Equally, there will be a push back from the vested interests in our education system, who are doing quite well out of the present set up.
But if unemployment can be contagious and if the power of context is as strong as it appears to be, then there is the real risk that young people become unemployable after the experience of youth unemployment. If this is the case, it is essential that Ireland cops on to the world around us and does something about this.
We hear a lot about our “great education system”, but what and who is it great for?
These are serious questions and every time a young person loses faith and loses hope because he or she is on the labour, these questions become more serious.
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I had to do this just once in my life, bucket list item ticked…. had to redraft the bucket list….recession you know and all that blah blah…
Speaking of Contagion….
I remember my many years working in the Bar trade,When the “Bar” was busy all day…
Sometimes..you would have a “request” to…. “change that pint willya something wrong wit it” now ..this guys pint may be full or 3/4 full..but before you knew it…the whole Bar would be up at the counter…demanding theirs be changed too..! some of these glasses would only have moisture in them ! So..when faced with a compliant..change the pint immediately,otherwise you would have contagion…Pub style.!!
David, good thoughts and certainly agree that the German system encourages youth to be work ready rather than helpless. However, we did have a good apprentice system here – the problem is that many of these apprentices are no longer needed, and secondarily the impact of the JLAs and Labour court salary setting processes escalated entry level wages in those sectors to unaffordable levels. For example I recall meeting the brother of friend who at 21 was getting almost 40k PA as a mechanic – he had qualified the previous year and the starting wage was – and is –… Read more »
Could we not have chosen a better and maybe less inflammatory example than divorce. Yes, it’s a cluster effect for suicide, intergenerational social welfare and so on. Oh, and I forgot, taking on excessive debt cos everyone else did. Lets debunk a few myths 1) The demand for Graduates in the likes of the Ciscos etc is for mentally menial low cost support jobs. They are not hi-tech. In fact an engineering grad finished their 1st year in college would do this stuff withe their eyes closed. I would advise any engineer to run a mile from the Googles. Ciscos… Read more »
Everybody Wants A Degree And Why Not… its time to Bring Back the Sponsored Apprenticeships… The problem with a degree is that people do a degree in something which they have absolutely no comprehension of or understanding how their degree is practiced within the working environment. They spend 3/4/5 years studying at something which the colleges and others oversold using images of shiny happy people portrayed in a lab or sitting around a conference table with engineering drawing. The reality is much different the chemist ends up trapped in a space suit in some sanitised factory, day in day out… Read more »
I have worked with German companies for many years, and seen their apprentice system first hand. Unlike Ireland, the apprenticeship doesn’t just relate to the standard trades such as electrician, plumber, bar-person etc, but also applies to factory roles, where the apprentice will work in warehouse, sales, manufacturing etc, and will work their way up the ladder over time. These companies tend to retain their staff for long periods, entire work life in some cases. With education costs increasing in Ireland limiting some LC student opportunities to move on to 3rd level, this would be an alternative option, especially as… Read more »
Good article David. You’ve nearly got this one right – I’ll come back to that. I have contended for quite a while that our economy is out of balance. You need a spread of job types across the economy to cater for all. Not everyone has go to college and more to the point, not everyone should go to college. We have got lost in the rhetoric of the “knowledge economy” and “high tech jobs”. We take these company MDs at their word and convince ourselves that we can shoehorn all our young population into high tech jobs. Nobody seems… Read more »
Great article David! We do indeed have to reevaluate our education system. Numerous students attend a university course for 3-4 years and many of these courses have less than 10 hours of practical instruction per week. Universities may argue that students need to study independently but the reality is that a lot of students become lazy and used to this easy-life routine. They may roll their sleeves up in the last year to get a 2.2 but even at this stage, a lifestyle has become ingrained which does make unemployment somewhat more tolerable due to the large amount of free… Read more »
@Joe Hack. Couldn’t agree more with what you had to say!! I saw it for myself when I was working as a process operator in a pharmaceutical factory. For most of the time I was working for that company there was some kind of expansion or extension works going on and there they were wearing ‘hard hats’ and suits walking around the place!! They were like ‘lost souls’in an environment they simply hadn’t a clue about!! It was all very well to graduate from college with a degree of one kind or another, but when it came to to the… Read more »
David, While there may be a skills shortage in tech, I wonder if some of the arguments stand up. As you are well aware, the first thing any economist starts talking about is supply and demand. If there is a shortage of people, has this increased demand driven up prices (i.e. wages)? I don’t believe it has. Has it modified any employer behavior? Are recruiters tracking down potential candidates and approaching them? I haven’t heard of any such instances. I work in tech and I remember the infamous dot-com boom and bust. The behavior of tech companies during that period… Read more »
Interesting post. I think you’re right that a gap has once again opened up between education and skills, and I think the IoTs have a role to play here. On the Fowler study, the scientist in me would worry about cause vs correlation – how did he eliminate the possibility that this is simply a strong correlation among people of similar social class and experiences? On context, I think you missed one – one imagines there is a difference between a young person in a job interview who has been unemployed in a country of high unemployment like ireland, and… Read more »
I agree with John above, I too have worked in IT, for the past 32 years. Shortage of skills ? , well I don’t know. During 2002 and 2003 there were thousands (perhaps 15,000) of unemployed IT people in Ireland, still RTE spouted it’s mantra of an IT skills shortage, I guess this was in order to get cheap “yellow pack” programmers from the non EU world. I don’t know why they do it, some of the requirements are just plain silly, listing 10 or more skill sets and expecting a perfect match. Apprenticeships well, I guess we’re not a… Read more »
We need to move from the concept of Job to one of Career. Gladwell’s guide of 10,000 hrs of practice in anything we do is the key to getting the best out of it and being good at it. Football, Singing, Shopkeeper, Plumber, Engineer, Doctor… A typical working year is 1,800 hrs. That is 5 to 6 years of sol id practice. What is your average duration in a job? 1-2 years. This is why is is so difficult to get deep specialists in Ireland about anything much. We are basically jack of all trades and master of none. The… Read more »
“The industrial economy won’t disappear, but the agenda will increasingly be set by those who make connection, not widgets.” “The industrial revolution is being consumed by technology… What the Internet has created is the connection revolution.” — Seth Godin. – The Icarus Deception For any person, especially young people this book(and others by the author) in my opinion is a is a must read. The old values and assumptions created by the industrial age are fading quickly, we need to adapt and connect – The art of moving forward lies in understanding what to leave behind. A related Link for… Read more »
A mate of mine set up a recruitment business orgainising summer jobs in Germany, Holland and the south of England for Irish students. With overtime, a worker could make €500 a week. When he tried to organise a similar scheme in Ireland, he was given two fingers by Irish employers who wanted to recruit school kids who would work for zero money. Foreign owned companies provide almost all the graduate recruitment in this country, the concept of paying and training a person causes an allergic reaction amongst tallentless Irish employers. Proportionately, 5 times as many Paddies as Brits are returned… Read more »
As somone who grew up with having the experiance of both the Irish and German education system I have to concur with what you have written David. Too much vested intrest over here and still the attitude that children are a raw material for the education system that must be filled with knowledge wheter suitable or not for them and moved down the educational conveyor belt to a quality control exam called the leaving cert. Where they are either rejected or approved for a further process called college.Which churns out another product,now rather substandard by EU and world standards[Que howls… Read more »
Apprenticeships seam to be dead in the water in this country,I know plenty of self employed trades men who not only will they not employ apprentices , they will. Not employed trades men.
Because they have been taken for a ride by the system in this country.
Hi, This article is a superb offering. It brought me to tears because for me personally it cuts so close to the bone. I trained as a construction manager and had to watch from the side lines during the boom whilst one accountant, sports star, dentist, doctor, you name it, after another who knew fuck all about the industry drove prices through the roof. Those of us who knew better were forced out of the industry knowing how unsustainable everything was. And now contracting prices are substantially below costs for the last five years so we still can’t get back… Read more »
I can not believe this!!! Are you actually saying that our education system is useless?
Interesting article. By pure coincidence there was a few of us in a bar last night (Not a regular occurence these days~)and the conversation shifted to occupations as I was reading the above article.All are aged between 35 to 45. Present there was a bar owner, builder, accountant,maintenance manager and a garda. Previous occupations included Bar manager, builder, painter,plumber and truck driver. While all are reasonably happy in what we’re doing at present each one of us agreed that we would like to do something else. Areas that arose were Horticulture, Child Psychology, Sports science, teaching and bakery. Now here… Read more »
> “Ireland is producing only half the engineering and computer science graduates enterprise requires” Unfortunately, as a middle-aged guy who did a science degree many years ago and now works in Ireland for a US multinational IT company, I don’t blame young people for not choosing to study engineering or computer science. Technical degrees simply don’t make economic sense. Sure, they’ll get you a job in a call centre paying 24K in Ireland, but if you want to earn an average industrial wage you’ll have to go abroad, or take a supervisor role that wastes all your studying. If you… Read more »
What young people need to learn: Step 1. Get up early in the morning, get dressed, wash your face, get out out of the house in the cold and rain, wait for the bus or the train with thousands of other commuters. Step 2. Your are obliged to work when you are in your work place and may only stop at the end of the day. Step 3. At the end of the day – make your way home again. With a bit of luck, your public transport comes on time to bring you home again. Be aware that there… Read more »
Only fools and horses work, son.
It’s not only the young who emigrate. Some of us David’s age emigrated for a second time over the last year or two after being ack in Ireland for over a decade. It’s one thing saying your goodbyes in Keoghs over a few pints in your twenties. Didn’t think I’d be doing it again in my forties :) Ah well, the world is smaller these days and if portability is a pre-requisite, so be it. It’s a good thing sometimes, after living in Berlin for many years, then Dublin, Hamburg is the new home these days. Great city, sure it… Read more »
In the Great Depression, unemployment seemed contagious, the soup queues reached 10 miles long all over the US. austerity by Wall Street seemed unavoidable – “TINA There-is-Alternative” the wailers of the day uttered. Look how quick FDR changed all that! Not by a Soviet “command economy”, nor by a liberal “competitive” circus, but by creative intervention. The US Constitution provided all the necessary tools. No dictatorship occurred (the Wall Street Business Plot was whistleblown), and we had a great example of grand progress. After WWII Germany applied some of this to rebuild in 10 year a power economy – no… Read more »
“But if unemployment can be contagious?” The discussion focuses on the relationship between education and youth unemployment, highlighting the successful German template, as, in there lies a proven solution for failing economies to adopt. “But what if unemployment is inevitable?” and Germany is an incongruous overachiever? Every forecast in popular economics books that I read could be abridged into one chapter entitled, “A Return To Full Unemployment” or perhaps into an axis chart with two diverging lines for population growth and employment demise. Unemployment will be the norm, for everybody, these forecasts simply follow the past trajectory and project it… Read more »
They need to start sending people to the Moon and further afield – in their hundreds of thousands, in their millions. Plenty of work up there getting them ship shape and habitable for human colonization of the Solar System. They need to forget about these ridiculous safety concerns and get on with it. If people want to take a risk on travelling in space for adventure and potential riches then let them go for it. As soon as people start procreating up there, then we are a multi-planetary species – which lets face it, we need to be as we… Read more »
You could strip out the first 4 paragraphs and start from “The average person is profoundly influenced by The Power of Context”. The references to divorce are off topic. No-one gets divorced because it is fashionable and to suggest so is nuts. American research shows … what I could have told you from experience We do recover and we know we are well on the road to good health when we learn the lie behind working for companies like Cisco who claim they can’t get the staff Their graduate interview process is an appalling psyops operation that should be outlawed… Read more »
My daughter got her honours degree last year after 5 years studying. SHE IS THE HARDEST WORKING PERSON I KNOW. She holds down two part time jobs and an internship. The two part time jobs pay less than ten euros an hour and the intern employer has not given her a bob in seven months but promises the world. She needs to do the slave labour for her cv otherwise she could be accused of being a lazy young person. Few Points Germany has significant industry we do not. Many technology companies offer very short term contracts do they can… Read more »
There are many things to be said about the nature of empployment, perhaps more than about the nature of unemployment, however, the rate of unemployment is not the exclusive problem for the worker unemployed, but equally those whoe still are employed. It is no secret that economist consider certain unemployment rates to be beneficial for the overall economic health. Perhaps it is about time to ditch those who still are clutching at the ancient bibles of Keynes, Hayek etc. and start to re-define the social-political-economical forces interacting on purpose to recognize positive driving forces that benefit all of us, instead… Read more »
Legalising Modern Slavery
Dr. G, Brian Lucey, Namawinelake
Get an education worth something to you.
Is/was he well educated??
The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law” – which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants – becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.
– Paul Krugman, 1998
Education of self preservation–get out of the euro before you are consumed. They are coming for your savings if you have any left. If the state will not leave , you as an individual can exit the euro. Silver and gold coin held in hand out of the banking system. http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-04-17/farage-unleashed-you-are-common-criminals In a debt based economy, if you don’t have a constant increase in borrowing, the economy contracts. But if the central banks’ answer continues to be buying more and more bonds – and printing vast sums of money to do so; at some point a trigger event will occur,… Read more »
During the Eighties..Apprentice Barman were always wanted..3 year apprenticeship with a day a week in College. The Bar trade was a good career.The hours were lousy but the buzz working in the right Bar was excellent & the money was good,..it was certainly better than a apprentice tradesperson. But it was a vocation more than a job. Then in the late eighties the “powers that be” decided it was cheaper to use part time labour than to hire & train apprentices. This over a 5 year period led to a scarcity of Senior Bar men. This led to Publicans “head… Read more »
Excellent article. A+. Haven’t time to read the comments yet, so a ‘brief’ musing as I wait for the taxi to the train..most folk just press ‘page down’ a few times, complain to DMcW why he hasn’t banned the Saxon Foe, etc. Here we go! Culture shapes Economics,not the other way around. When Thatcher said “Economics are the method. The object is to change the soul”, us “Gramscian Cultural Marxists” (rollseyes) did a total ROFLMAO! For, well, 3 decades.. And how we laughed at the ‘corrupt symbolism’ of her funeral parade, which will come back to bite the arse of… Read more »
This is a very interesting article and depicts a world that unfamiliar to the Irish. I emigrated back in the 60’s with a reasonable leaving cert and got in on a engineering apprenticeship in an organisation that had 55 thousand employees. I attended college for one day and three night per week – it was high pressure stuff in the beginning as most of the others had A levels or an ONC. The work environment was astonishing with cutting research and development going on all around. Everybody was on the top of their game, even the lecturers were acting as… Read more »
Reading the comments today, I get a terrible sense if desperation, a type of contagious “endism” where hope is gone.
Is that just my reading of the posts?
In contrast, as Andrew pointed out enthusiasm and hard work are also contagious. Maybe that’s the way we all show leadership by working hard, doing it enthusiastically and coaxing/compelling others to follow suit.
Hi David, What else could you really expect from all who contribute regularly to this blog?? This country continues ‘going down the pan’ and will continue on doing so as long as we have the same clowns running it. This supposedly new Insolvency Plan that’s being brought in is as far as I’m concerned a total and unmittigated con job!! Enda and co have made sure that the banks have the last word on everything!! Where is the democracy in that??? The banks caused most of if not all of the deep doodoo we find ourselves in and what do… Read more »
supports the opinions of many contributors
Can we make contagion positive? Viruses kill us. But we are starting to learn how to use their machinery to fix us as well. Bear with me on this… I am doubtful if a grand plan/ let’s make the solar system our back yard etc. will ever happen. But as long as we are run by vision-less leaders we will never be able to cost justify as we cannot read the future or consequences of such a paradigm shift. Long story short, No one would back it. It is terrible that the contagion of acceptance of trivial cost benefit analysis… Read more »
Life is short. I just found out that my ex-teammate, who had progressed to be coach of the Dominica national team, was killed in an accident earlier today:
Kirt was a great guy, he was a defender, and me being a forward, we used to kick lumps out of each other in training and laugh about it over a beer afterwards. Such is life.
David in response to your comment on negativity: Killing to goose that lays a functioning economy… David on a positive note – A consumer creates jobs; to do this the consumer must have money. The low paid or minimum paid do not create jobs, nor the supper rich, that is a fallacy. If your want to be positive about a healthy economy your fist need to look at the wages. The removal of the unions by the like of Thatcher along with some of her policy has partly brought us to where we are but of course the people are… Read more »
It really annoys me to hear human beings referred to as “animals” even highly social interactive ones.
“I am not an animal, I am a human being” – quote from The Elephant Man
Still a good article though.
It’s a fine spring night up Castlebalwin, Rural Sligo. Carnival Town. We make our own fun here and pale ale is the new drink of choice and why not. The pub is always closed! Who is to cater from the night worker or the man who enjoys a throaty draught when the sun comes up? No-one Real Pale Ale like all real beer is good for you. It is healthy and cures a multitude of illnesses whther real or imagined. Apathy, ignorance, depression, melancholy, blues, greed, envy and even stupidity have all reportedly been cured at one time or another… Read more »
David, I don’t mean to be a moan again but the functionality on the site is just crap – there’s no other word for it.
I’ve put out a lot of posts today (mostly gibberish admittedly) and to have to go back to the top every time after I post, with the comments all hidden again is frankly ridiculous in this day and age and a total turn off and time waster.
Any positive alterations and improvements would be very greatly appreciated.
Hoenig: Roosevelt Enacted The Glass-Steagall Act, from Which Sprang Decades of Stability and Growth Europe has a long history of “contagious” desperation, which De Cusa recognized in the 1460’s. His letter which Columbus had, changed all that. So to expect something from “europe” is desperation indeed. Instead let us now take example from FDR, Franklin Roosevelt, and show the world that Europeans have learnt from a long desperate history. Ireland alone was not destroyed by Rome and saved civilization then – has the New Roman Empire, Britain, succeeded in spreading desperation, DMcW? So shove the desperate empire, and get on… Read more »
Glass-Steagall is contagious, and lawfully so.
Glass-Steagall Crash Course for everyone who is sick up and fed with “desperation” !!
UN Human Rights Council To Investigate Greek Austerity
For the first time in postwar European history, the effect of the EU economic policies in a particular country will be investigated by the United Nations Human Rights Council. Cephas Lumina, the UN’s expert on foreign debt and human rights, will arrive in Greece on April 22, for a five-day fact-finding mission to assess the impact of the austerity forced on the country by the infamous Troika. He will report his findings to the Council.