Friday, April 18, 2008

Late 2020 submission

I didn't make a submission to the 2020 summit. Partly I've been influenced by those, like Guy Rundle, who argue the whole thing is undemocratic. Also I figured that any idea I had would have been proposed by at least one other person.

I certainly haven't read all the submissions (who has) but so far I haven't seen any mention of the following suggestion, so I thought I may as well post it here.

My proposal would be a major investment in universities in regional centres. For reasons everyone is probably very familiar with I'm all for a massive increase in investment in the tertiary sector, particularly the research component. I'd like to see Australia reach the OECD average, instead of slipping steadily towards half that level.

That's certainly an idea many summitteers will be pushing. I'm not sure how many will be talking about regional allocation though. Spending the money in the regions has a few advantages. Firstly, with our major cities bursting at the seams its a great way to promote decentralization. It will also help overcome the "elitist tag" that gets dumped on anyone who wants to spend more on knowledge related fields.

We're already putting more (although nowhere near enough) into teaching medicine at regional universities in the hope the graduates will be more likely to stay outside the cities and address the shortage of rural doctors. I think this might work for other fields as well (note the "might").

But finally, I think there is a lot to be said for having at least a couple of university towns - places where the university is the driver of the local economy and everyone knows this. So even people who have no direct connection with tertiary education know that what is good for the university is good for them and feel connected.

There is no way we can establish an Oxford by 2020 even in a regional centre which already has a university. However, I think that by 2020 we can get JCU, UNE or Deakin Warnambool to the point where they are considered as good in many areas as the Universities of Melbourne or Sydney, and they're on the way to being considered in similar terms to many of the American university towns.

I wouldn't want to see any money taken out of the city universities, but I'm happy for them to get a shrinking proportion of a growing pie if the government gets serious about more tertiary funding.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Anybody out there?

Having been at this for a week or so, I do wonder whether I have had so much as a single reader. Can't really blame anyone if I don't. I'm far from sure I've yet said anything worth reading.

However, if by chance you have stumbled on this site and read at least one other post besides this, please do tell me. I can probably manage to come up with a prize for the first comment received, particularly if you actually manage to respond to something I've said.

Is there really a man shortage?

One of the comediennes in the comedy festival said something in passing about "We've got a man shortage in this country". She said it as if it was something we all knew, her value-add was combining it with whatever else she was talking about.

At her age (mid-20s) its clearly untrue, but when applied to people in their 30s and 40s I think it is one of those factoids that is out there, largely unquestioned but probably untrue.
I'll admit I have something of a vested interest in knocking this one down. If there really is a shortage of eligible men in my age-group then my non-existent love life looks even more pathetic than it might otherwise.

Still, I think the basis of the claim is pretty dodgy. Whenever a news outlet refers to a "man shortage" in a particular age group and area they point out either the ratio of men to women in that demographic, or the ratio of single men and women. (These things are a pretty easy story for lazy journalists whenever a new batch of census data comes out).

But its not that simple. Most obviously, such stats leave out people who are same-sex inclined. The general belief is that there are more male homosexuals than female ones, so the supporters of the myth will wail about how this makes things worse - that's if they don't blame the whole thing on too many gay men.

For most people, that's where the situation ends. But it ignores at least two complicating factors, both of which significantly shift the balance IMHO.

Firstly, it assumes everyone only has one partner. I think that honest polyamory is too rare to be a significant factor here (as possible evidence, my spell-checker doesn't even recognise the word). But what about people who are having affairs. There are plenty of cases where married men have at least one mistress, who is sufficiently committed to the man that she's out of the singles market. The same thing happens in reverse of course, but far less often. I googled "infidelity statistics" and came up with claims that:

22 percent of married men have strayed at least once during their married lives.

14 percent of married women have had affairs at least once during their married live

I'm not sure the site is the most reliable, but I don't think there is much doubt about the general trend. Of course, more of the men will have had sex with prostitutes, so that may even the balance a little. Nevertheless, if even 5% more married/defacto men are having ongoing relationships on the side it's enough to soak up all the supposed excess of single women.

The other factor is something I's imagine is harder to back up with research, but is anecdotally pretty strong. The whole "number of men divided by number of women" thing assumes that every heterosexual person wants a relationship.

Its fair to say that pretty much every unpartnered man I know, or have known, wants some sort of sexual contact. Some want an ongoing relationship. Some are just after casual sex. Many would take whatever they can get. And of course some are a lot choosier than others. However, I've only ever met two men under 60 who, for a period of over a month, were saying they didn't want something1. On the other hand, its very common for women, particularly post-breakups, to decide they're really not interested for a while. The while can be just a month or two, but I've known it to stretch out to years.

It always ends of course, but at any one time there's an awful lot of women who're actively avoiding relationships. Account for that, and you'll find the 30s-40s man shortage is just another media myth.

1It may or may not be significant that one of them was gay.