Adam Smith Blog

Grim employment prospects for young people around the world

A NEW report from the International Labour Organisation has provided a snapshot of job prospects for young people around the world. Things have worsened this year following a period of slight improvement. Unemployment among 15-24-year-olds has risen to 13.1% in 2016 and is close to its historic peak of 2013. The rate is highest in Arab countries, at 30.6%, and lowest in East Asia, at 10.7%. The report also finds that even where jobs are available to young people, they often fail to provide secure incomes.

Youth unemployment is typically lower in poorer countries than in rich ones. This is because workers in less-developed countries have to take work just to make ends meet and, with few choices, end up in low-paid jobs with no security. Even in richer countries, the young often end up in less-secure employment than the older generation. In 2015, 25% of young workers in OECD countries were in temporary jobs and 26% were employed part-time, often on an involuntary basis. Those rates are more than twice as high as for workers aged 25 to 54.

In fact, young people with jobs are now at greater risk of living in…Continue reading

How to find exoplanets

THERE are two main ways of detecting new planets: the radial-velocity method and the transit technique. The first relies on the fact that a planet orbiting a star tugs it gently so that it oscillates between moving towards Earth and away from it. The velocities involved are tiny but the effect on the star’s spectrum can be measured from the ground. When a star is approaching Earth, its light is slightly bluer; when it moves further away, the light is slightly redder. For this method, the plane of the planet’s orbit need not be aligned with Earth.

The second method requires the planet and its star to sit in the same plane as Earth so that, seen from Earth, it crosses the face of its parent and thus slightly dims it. The difference in the light detected when the planet is in transit across the star compared to when it passes behind it allows us to determine not only its radius (the radial-velocity method just gives us its mass) but also the water content and chemical composition of its atmosphere, if it has one. 

The recent discovery via the radial-velocity method of Proxima Centauri b, a potentially earth-like…Continue reading

The rich are different at the Olympics

PREDICTING how many medals a country will win in the Olympics has become a cottage industry. Size and wealth are obvious factors: bigger countries naturally have larger pools of talent to draw from, and rich ones tend to have healthier populations and more resources to devote to sport. As expected, economic heavyweights like China, Germany and Russia were among the five countries that collected the most medals in Rio. And America comfortably topped the medal table, just as it did in London in 2012.

Academic studies have found that both population and per-capita GDP are strongly linked to Olympic triumph. No surprise then that total GDP yields a robust predictor of Olympic success—and is thus a convenient benchmark against which to measure countries’ sporting performances. At the Olympics, as in geopolitics, the country that punches the furthest above its economic weight is Britain. Based on GDP alone, we would expect Britons…Continue reading

The decline of “medal sweeps” at the summer Olympics

WHEN Kristi Castlin dipped at the line to finish third in the women’s 100m hurdles race on August 17th, her bronze medal was far more than a consolation prize. Her American compatriots also won gold and silver in the event, completing the first and only Olympic “medal sweep” (in which athletes from one country take all three podium places) in the 2016 games. It was also the first-ever sweep in the 100m hurdles, and the first for an American women’s track-and-field delegation. Although the United States is no stranger to perfect podiums—this was its 47th since the second world war—45 of them have been won by its men. In contrast, the former Soviet Union had an even split of medal sweeps by men and women. And when East Germany secured six sweeps in the 1980 Olympics alone, all of them were by women—though it was no coincidence that a record 11 medal sweeps occurred that year, when 65 countries, including America, boycotted the games in Moscow.

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Does hosting the Olympics make us happier?

Undercover Economist
The Rio Olympics close this weekend. Have they been worth it? Financially, surely not — as I wrote in June, host cities tend to pay handsomely for the privilege of providing the Olympic Games, and receive limited benefits in terms of infrastructure and reputation. But not every expenditure needs to turn a profit. Many of […]