George Lakoff’s The Political Mind

Chris of Mixing Memory is doing us the service of a chapter by chapter review of George Lakoff’s The Political Mind. This should be fun! I told Chris that reading Lakoff talking about the minds of conservatives is kind of like me opining with supreme confidence as to the deep motivations behind why so many homosexual men prefer being “bottoms.” The is fact that I’m not a homosexual male myself, nor have I read a great deal of literature on the topic, or even communicated with homosexual males about the issue and their motivations behind their preferences, is besides the point. Now only if there was a large audience of heterosexuals who knew no gay people interested in buying books about the topic!

Your generation was more into sexualizing young girls

Remember that better time when college coeds frolicked on the quad lawn, safe from the eyes of older males, who were drawn instead to the allure of a mature woman? Indeed, doesn’t it seem like nowadays, in our Girls Gone Wild culture, we shove females into the sexual spotlight at ever younger ages? That’s what you’d conclude from the 50,000 alarmist results that a Google search for “+sexualizing +young” returns, in particular the recent panic over 15 year-old Miley Cyrus posing semi-topless for Vanity Fair. The cropped picture to the left is of Elizabeth Ann Roberts, who was 16 when she was photographed nude as Playboy Playmate of the Month — of January 1958.

On an intuitive level, though, we know that the culture must be more hostile than before to sexualizing young females — there would be no hysteria if it were acceptable. Plus, suburban housewives and city-dwelling cougars have never hogged so much of our attention. Still, let’s turn to three datasets that show the trend is, if anything, toward sexualizing increasingly older females in popular culture. We will look at data across the decades on beauty pageant winners, girls featured in nude magazines, and hardcore porn actresses.

First, take the winners of the Miss America beauty pageant, a competition determined mostly by how closely the contestant fits the ideal look of the time. A writer for the website Seduction Labs has already done an extensive analysis, so I took the age data from his work. Here is how Miss America’s age has changed over the decades:

It sure looks like Miss America is getting older — the ones from before 1940 are quite young — and this is true: Kendall’s tau for the correlation between year and age is +0.50 (p = 3 x 10^(-10), two-tailed). Admittedly, estimating the youth-obsession of each year with only one data-point — the winner from that year — is less desirable than averaging all contestants’ ages for that year, but the data are hard enough to come by that this is the best we can do.

Next, consider the Playboy Playmates of the Month, averaged for a given year. While the 1950s had fewer data, each year still had at least 7 data-points. Using 12 data-points to estimate each year should make us more confident in the results, shown here:

Again, the average Playboy Playmate is getting older: Kendall’s tau for the correlation between year and age is +0.44 (p = 3 x 10^(-6), two-tailed). The trend is clearly not linear, though, since there was a decrease in age at least from the mid-1950s, when the data begin, throughout the 1960s.

In response to a criticism brought up in the comments to the post showing that the popularity of blonds is recent, I’ve also calculated Kendall’s tau based on the raw month-by-month data-points, rather than yearly averages: it is +0.18 (p = 1 x 10^(-10), two-tailed). As I mentioned to the commenter, I think it’s more instructive to look at the year’s average since the Playboy people likely have a target girl in mind for the year’s subscription, based on the perceived demand. That is, the Playmates within a given year are comparable to the Miss America contestants for a given year — they are chosen to fill out a year’s run, and Miss April could just as well have been Miss December. Still, even by this perhaps overly stringent standard, the trend is positive and significant.

Finally, we look at actresses in hardcore porn movies. Collecting a representative sample of active females in a given year would be incredibly arduous, so instead I took famous actresses and determined how old they were when they made their first movie, and entered this as a data-point for the year in which they started making movies.

The lists I used are the AVN Hall of Fame, the XRCO Hall of Fame (which barely added anyone else), and a list of female porn stars by decade drawn up by the porn geeks at Wikipedia. I required each year to have at least 5 data-points; if there were too few, I merged that year’s data with an adjacent year (whichever had fewer data-points than the other choice), so that the data-sparse year is excluded and the beefed-up year is included. This mostly affects the 1970s and early 1980s. Here are the ages of first-time porn stars by year of their first movie:

There is no increase or decrease over time: Kendall’s tau for the correlation between year and age is nowhere near significance. There are several apparent upward and downward trends, though. This might be the only example of the 1980s and early 1990s showing greater progress by the declinists’ standards. I recently analyzed a large, representative sample of porn stars and found that their average age is 23, for what it’s worth. Again, that’s what we really want to see: the age of the typical actress for a given year.

Maybe girls enter at earlier ages in recent times but don’t reach their peak in popularity until they are in their early 20s. Another drawback of looking at age at first movie is that it ignores the recent popularity of “MILF” actresses — maybe it’s just that the variance in age is increasing. Admittedly, these pornstar data are not ideal.

Finally, we examine the popularity of beauty pageants specifically for teenage contestants. While I don’t have datasets to analyze, such as the annual TV ratings, there is enough information on them to get a rough picture. First, there is Miss Teen USA, the adolescent version of Miss Universe. It was created in 1983, reached its peak for ratings in 1988, and has declined in popularity afterward, to the point where it may not even be televised anymore. And second, there is Miss Teenage America, which was created in 1962 and was last televised in 1977. Judging by its corporate sponsorship and celebrity hosts, it must have been somewhat popular. There are other beauty pageants for teenagers, but they are not even televised, and so do not count as evidence of an obsession with youth. Rather, we see a shift away from throwing young girls into the purely sexual spotlight.

Since there are no huge long-term swings up and down in these data, as opposed to the cases of sluttiness and violence, all generations can say that they’ve improved over previous generations, or at least done no worse. If any generation is to be accused of sexualizing younger girls in popular culture, though, it is surely the older ones. It is true that the current culture does not value women over 30, but that has never been the case — just the opposite.

As with sluttiness, part of the declinists’ misperception may be due to fashion trends, such as even prepubescent girls wearing adult-inspired clothing. That’s hardly evidence of their being sexualized, though — no guy is actually looking at them as a sex object, and dressing like an adult doesn’t make you behave like one sexually. While it may be a bizarre fashion trend — though more bizarre than when pre-pubescents started wearing two-piece bathing suits? — it doesn’t reflect a sexualization of the young.

What’s causing this trend toward older sex symbols? Oh, I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll get a bunch of half-baked ideas in the comments, so I’ll get the goofball ball rolling. Women are having their first kid later, if at all, so there’s a wider age range of females who haven’t ruined their figure by giving birth. Still, according to the analysis of Miss America winners at Seduction Labs, there are other trends: starting around 1960, winners became taller, less buxom, and less hourglass in shape, in addition to older. In short, the feminine ideal in popular culture has been worn down by the march of the masculine minxes. It’s a mistake to blame this on the women’s movement of the 1970s, though, since most of these trends began in the early-to-mid-1960s. Radical feminists were just jumping on the bandwagon and trying to steal credit for it.

Though it’s harder to measure, the manliness of these sex symbols’ faces has surely increased — go back and look at some of the Playboy Playmates from the late 1950s through the late 1960s. They look like girls, not butch transvestites (NSFW, obviously). I see this as a form of cultural decline, of course, but the declinists who decry our obsession with youth could not be more wrong.

The paucity of libertarianism

A few weeks ago I read Brink Lindsey’s The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America’s Politics and Culture. One strange thing is that because I’ve watched Brink on BloggingHeads.TV on occasion could hear the prose with his particular cadence and delivery. Really weird. In any case, The Age of Abundance is a social history of the 20th century which makes the case that despite the persistence of a partisan divide our culture has operationally congealed around a rough libertarian consensus. In short, a free market of money and lifestyle choices. I think there is a strong argument that can be made for this, as evidenced by Matt Yglesias’ qualified admission as to the rapprochement between the Left and the market, or the phenomenon of South Park Conservatism.

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Increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases amongst the older

Doubling Of Sexually Transmitted Infections Among Over-45s In Under A Decade. Dare we say an “epidemic???” If you want to push the envelope of course, She was 82. He was 95. They had dementia. They fell in love. And then they started having sex. In any case:

While the numbers of infections identified in younger age groups rose 97% during the period of the study, those identified in the over 45s rose 127%.

“Indeed, it may be argued that older people are more susceptible [to sexually transmitted infections] as they are less likely to use condoms than younger people,” they say, adding that as successive waves of people with more liberal sexual attitudes and behaviours age, the problem is likely to worsen.

I guess the “safe sex” message just isn’t getting through to the less young.

Related: Your generation was sluttier.

We have to the technology; we can rebuild the race!

Baby to be born free of breast cancer after embryo screening:

The couple produced 11 embryos, of which five were found to be free from the gene. Two of these were implanted in the woman’s womb and she is now 14 weeks pregnant.
By screening out embryos carrying the gene, called BRCA-1, the couple, from London, will eliminate the hereditary disease from their lineage.

Obviously the headline is hyperbolic in this specific case. Changing probabilities is not necessarily a guarantee. But I think the bigger picture here warrants serious notice. Armand Leroi has outlined the major issues, so I won’t review them again….

Bygone brunette beauty: Fashion in hair color

Long-time readers know that one of my beliefs that I’ll stop at nothing to prove is that blond women are not sexier than brunettes, whatever other appeal they obviously have for many men. Point-estimates of the current popularity of blond hair neglect the fact that standards of beauty can change over time — within boundaries, to be sure, but still. Perhaps we only live in a blond-obsessed world today, while brunettes may have ruled in the past. Indeed, I will show just that. Furthermore, the shift toward blonds parallels several other shifts toward a more masculine ideal of female beauty since the early / mid-1960s.

The data come from Playboy Playmates of the Month (“Playmates”) from 1954 to 2007. We need to look at sources that pander to popular demand in sexual tastes, which excludes runway fashion magazines (not used by males for fantasy purposes) as well as data on high-ranking Hollywood actresses (who are esteemed only in part based on their looks). We also need comparable data that stretch over decades, and that provide us with many data-points for each year — in a worst case scenario, we might look at something like Miss Universe winners, but estimating the value of blond-obsession for a given year with only a single data-point is hardly ideal. Playmates, though, yield 12 data-points per year.

In the name of scientific discovery, I looked at pictures of every Playmate [1], and coded her hair color as either 1 for blond or 0 for non-blond. Dark blonds counted as blond, light browns as non-blond. Redheads counted as blond if they had very fair, strawberry blond hair, and as non-blond otherwise. The point is not to measure the popularity of the full spectrum of hair colors — just blondness. A small handful of Playmates had several hair colors within the single issue they appeared in. I coded these as 0.5 because their pictures were split pretty evenly between blond and non-blond hair — maybe due to wigs, I don’t know.

I then took the fraction of blonds in a given year and plotted these over time. Here is the raw scatter-plot, together with 3-year and 7-year moving averages that smooth it out:

The scatter-plot suggests an increasing trend, and this is true: Kendall’s tau for the correlation between year and percent blond is +0.27 (p = 0.01, two-tailed). [2] However, because each year’s value can only take on roughly 12 values (1 / 12, 2 / 12, etc.), there are a lot of tied years, which may underestimate the true correlation. Kendall’s tau for the correlation between year and the 3-year moving average of percent blond is +0.47 (p = 2 x 10^(-6), two-tailed), and is +0.64 (p = 2 x 10^(-10), two-tailed) when the 7-year moving averages are used. Using a moving average gives us a better idea since they can take on far many more values, and so produce fewer ties.

Whichever one we choose, it is clear that blonds have increased quite a bit in popularity over the decades. At the same time, the trend is clearly not linear: there is a decrease in blond-obsession at least from the mid-1950s, when the data begin, to the early / mid-1960s. There follows an increase, and an apparent reversal since the turn of the millennium — please god, let it be so. This looks periodic, like a fashion cycle.

In trying to account for this trend, we should try to be as general as possible. What other trends in female beauty show an increase after the early 1960s? I didn’t look at other aspects of the Playmates, but someone else has tabulated data on Playmates of the Year from 1960 to 2006 — again, estimating the popularity of some trait in a given year based on a single data-point is worst-case, but I’m relying on it here because I’ve already spent enough time collecting hair color data. The links in footnote 1 provide all the anthropometric data, though, so if you want to collect an analyze it, we will link to your analysis.

I calculated the Waist-to-Hip Ratio and BMI of Playmates of the Year from the above data, and Kendall’s tau for the correlation between year and WHR is +0.53 (p = 4 x 10^(-7), two-tailed), while between year and BMI it is -0.24 (p = 0.02, two-tailed). So, these sex symbols are increasingly losing their feminine hourglass shape and fatty softness — nearly all BMI points are below 20, so it’s not like they used to be fat but are now healthy. They are also getting taller: Kendall’s tau is +0.31 (p = 0.004); and smaller in the chest: Kendall’s tau is -0.35 (p = 0.001).

Someone else has also done an analysis of Miss America winners, and the exact same trends emerge there as well (see his graphs).

The common factor of all these trends is that the ideal of female beauty has become increasingly masculinized. Recall that males are more likely to be blond, so the hair color trend is part of the larger masculinizing trend. I didn’t look at eye color, but if it’s part of the overall trend, the earlier Playmates should be less blue-eyed than later ones, as blue eyes are also more typical of males. Skin color would be tougher to analyze; if it’s part of the same trend, it should get darker over time. Anecdotally, these two guesses seem to be true, but someone should look at the data to check.

It therefore appears that a preference for blonds should also correlate with a preference for taller and less curvy women. Again, someone else can look that up in the psychology literature and post in the comments. But the words “tall,” “thin,” and “blond” usually co-occur, don’t they? Whatever appeal such women have, raw sex appeal is unlikely to be among the top reasons. Blond hair correlates with something like introversion, and that makes sense since men on average are more introverted than women. So, maybe guys start digging blonds when they become more marriage-minded, or if they are inveterate monogamists. A blond will be less likely to be bouncing off the walls and being constantly out and about in search of social stimulation.

Bang a brunette, bank on a blond? It would fit with the trend toward lower sluttiness in recent times, which we expect to weed out the sex kitten types from popular culture. This suggests that dark hair is part of that highly sexualized image — something that was always obvious to everyone but the blond-lovers.

[1] For years 1954 to 1992, I used this source that contains the full shoot for each Playmate, and for 1993 to 2007, Playboy’s official website (if the single picture available on the Playboy site was ambiguous, I did a Google image search to get a better idea).

[2] You can easily calculate Kendall’s tau with this website, which I used here.

Heritability of voting

I just read an interesting new paper, Genetic Variation in Political Participation:

The decision to vote has puzzled scholars for decades…The results show that a significant proportion of the variation in voting turnout can be accounted for by genes. We also replicate these results with data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and show that they extend to a broad class of acts of political participation. These are the first findings to suggest that humans exhibit genetic variation in their tendency to participate in political activities.

Here’s a figure which really cuts to the chase:

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