Gongol.com Archives: April 2024

Brian Gongol

April 7, 2024

News Big game energy

For the entire history of mass media up until now, the default order has always been to report men's sports first and women's sports second (if at all). With the exceptional popularity of the University of Iowa's women's basketball team, we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of that order. ■ Iowa's tournament games have beaten the ratings for almost all professional sports in the past year -- including the World Series and the NBA Finals. That's an exceptional turn of events. ■ It speaks to the indisputably transformative talent on display, of course. Yet it also points to the fact that when we want to see changes in the world, it's not enough to assume that money is the only element that matters. ■ Funding will always matter, but people's willingness to apply and refine their own skills do, too. But there is also the wholly unquantifiable element of human energy: Call it drive, will, momentum, spark, or something else, there's a characteristic that breaks the inertia of inaction and pushes people to do better. ■ Women athletes have been demonstrating terrific skill for decades. But the requisite energy is showing up in unprecedented ways. The world's most dominant individual athlete is the incredible Simone Biles. Women's wrestling is the fastest-growing sport in high schools. And the most-recognized player in college basketball is Iowa's Caitlin Clark (and there are two other women among the top five). The energy is on the side of reshuffling the old order.

Health Smaller families and tougher care choices

Japan is finding itself in a demographic trouble spot, with a labor market that is almost entirely employed, but a shrinking population of working-age people. The country's overall population is shrinking at a -0.41% annual rate, and the country has roughly one retiree for every two people of working age. ■ The United States is more youthful in many ways (with a ratio of about half as many retirees to working-age people, for example), but we're at risk of some similar hazards. Our birth rate isn't very high, and without our comparatively high rate of incoming migration, we could be facing a pretty alarming set of figures, too. ■ What's worth noting is that while much of the attention to birth and immigration rates tends to focus on the labor market, the consequences are no less important for the basic aspects of old-age care. Large families have traditionally been a source of social security (in the generic sense), and considerably smaller families will have to deal with their elders in different ways than in the past. ■ This could, paradoxically, make extended-family relations more important than when families tended to be much larger. We cannot just assume that there will be enough workers to adequately staff retirement homes, or that the funding will be readily available to outsource that care. ■ One in five families with children are raising lone offspring. That's bound to have consequences down the line, when care decisions (and other choices) have to be made on behalf of elderly relatives. It's not unlikely that nieces and nephews will end up caring for aunts and uncles, or that cousins will need to step in as de-facto brothers and sisters for one another, far more often than was the case when US households used to average nearly 6 people. ■ These are the factors that don't get captured in reports on workforce alone, and they're masked as well when immigration matters so heavily to net population growth. Japan may be well ahead of the United States in the changing tide of big-country population figures, but it's important to note some of the vital ways in which we're already likely to experience parallel trends. There are only so many ways in which robots will be able to "care" for us in the future.

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