Dan Ariely Adds Insult To Advice

In his WSJ column, Dan Ariely does half-facetious Q&A from the standpoint of a behavioral economist. Alas, instead of sticking to economics, Ariely can’t resist the temptation to turn into Dear Abby from time to time.

Case in point. In the June 11 column, someone asks about a gift for a 45-year-old coworker.

Dan recommends getting the person reading glasses. I’m not making this up. He says people delay getting reading glasses because they don’t want to admit they’re aging and/or they don’t realize their vision is deteriorating.

“If you give your friend a pair,” says Dan Ariely, “you will spare him the procrastination, and he will immediately realize that he has been living in a blurry world. He might not immediately feel deep appreciation, but it would still be a very helpful present.”

Here’s how I responded in the Comments:

Glasses to a 45-year-old? You are saying that the only factor in choosing a gift is the person’s age, and then adding a false stereotype about age.

First, the stereotype. Not everyone needs reading glasses at 45, 50 or even older. Reading glasses have to be chosen for the individual’s eyesight. So the idea isn’t even practical.

Second, if someone asked about a gift for a gay friend, would you recommend Judy Garland records or a rainbow flag? Doesn’t your coworker have an identity beyond his age?

For anybody’s birthday, your gift choice should be guided by your friend’s interests if (and only if) you know them. It’s insulting to give a tea set to a coffee drinker, or to give a box of candy to someone who’s allergic to half the ingredients. Give an Amazon gift certificate.

Dan Ariely would never be allowed to take a dig at statuses like being black, Asian, Jewish, or gay. Yet an insensitive, equally objectionable reference to age? No problem.

Aging By The Numbers

Something to think about:

Paul Westhead was 68 years old when he coached the Phoenix Mercury to a WNBA championship.
Marynell Meadors coached the Atlanta Dream while she was 64 to 69 years old (including playoff appearances).
Bernie Sanders runs for president of the United States at 74.
Donald Trump and Hilly Clinton run for president at 69.
Joan Rivers won The Apprentice at 75.

Nobody would hire people of their ages for a corporate management or academic professorial job.

But it’s important to realize that in some ways these people are outliers. They benefit from a combination of genes and opportunities – seeds sown before they reached their sixties.

When looking at age, it’s about the variance, not the mean.

Pride and pitfalls of being an aging role model

Time Magazine – March 28, 2016 – page 62. The View Point Column.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writes, “But being a black role model is a double-edged sword of inspiration and frustration…The frustration for the black role model is knowing that thought you are proof it can be done – a happy lottery winner waving a million dollar ticket – the odds are so astronomically stacked against you that it sometimes feels as if you’re more a source of false hope and crushed dreams. A casino shill they let win so the suckers will keep playing the slots…”

If you’re black and you fail, he says, people will say “blacks aren’t up to the task.” If you succeed, they’ll say you had advantages from being black.

Let’s try replacing “black” with “aging.”

If you’re old and you fail (or, quite literally, fall), people will say, “It’s your age. What do you expect?”

If you’re old and you dance, work out or perform outstanding feats with technology, they say, “You’re doing well for your age.” Never mind that what you’re doing would be impressive at any age.

I once saw a television interviewer exclaiming over a white-haired woman who was jumping out of airplanes. That’s something most people won’t do, at any age. But the focus was on how old she was.

I get annoyed when younger women at the gym say, “You are amazing.” I’ve been working out for over 30 years. I’m in better shape than some younger people. Even doctors – on the rare occasions I see them – admit I’m in shape.

But I also must have gotten some good genes. And being old is still far from being a picnic, unless you’re running for president.

The Great Bone Density Myth

There’s very little evidence that “preventive” actions make a difference, especially in those over 65.

Bone density scans also are highly recommended but other measures (e.g., muscle tone, ability to rise from a chair) predict fractures more and bone density doesn’t predict hip fractures, as discussed here. I’d like to see references to articles showing that people on meds for cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc., actually experience different end points than those who are not screened. Often when you actually read those articles you find the relative differences are huge but the actual differences are barely noticeable. When you start quoting journal articles to doctors the conversation changes.

Aging and Being Single: Grandmother Hormones

Today’s New York Times Style section included an article, The Bliss of Grandmother Hormones by Dominique Browning.

She has a remarkably frank comment about aging:
“When we’re young, aging looks sort of yucky; frankly, even though it is extremely un-P.C. to say so, it looks sort of yucky when we get there, too. Hence, the magical thinking around skin creams.”

It’s not clear what we’re to make of that comment. Is she saying that yes, older people are ugly and therefore worthy of discrimination?

But, she says, all these concerns about aging disappear when one enjoys the pleasure of holding “a six-pound newborn boy” against “a heart burnished with the patina of age.”

Probably true. As a single person, I get a lot of pleasure out of holding my cat or snuggling with the dog. Age is a non-issue. Just mutual acceptance.

Maybe I should try for an op-ed about that. Not as PC as grandmothers but surprisingly common.