Monthly Archives: September 2015

Are we overscheduling our kids from the moment they’re born? The real ‘labor’ economics

Jay L. Zagorsky, The Ohio State University

Are we overscheduling our children even from the moment of their birth?

We live in an on-demand world. Movies are shown on request, food is delivered on call and drivers arrive when beckoned. As an economist, not a medical doctor, I was surprised to find new data that suggest more babies are showing up when scheduled rather than on their own time frame.

Numerous writers have suggested that parents, teenagers and children are all overscheduled. Should birth be scheduled too?

The baby boom

In the early 1970s, an influential review of when women gave birth found that “[m]ore human births occur between 1:00 and 6:00 am than at other times of day.” Today, this no longer happens, since most babies in the US are born midafternoon in the middle of the week.

Not only does this issue set the tone from the very beginning of our lives, but it also is occurring on an enormous scale. Currently, the US has about four million births each year. To put that number in context, Canada, our northern neighbor, has a population that is almost 36 million people. This means every decade more babies are born in the US than all the people living in Canada!

Not only are large numbers born, but childbirth is a big business since the “cumulative costs of approximately four million annual births is well over US$50 billion.”

When are babies born?

Starting in 2003, states across the US began switching to a new standardized birth certificate that gathers much more information than the old birth certificate. Part of the extra information is the exact time of day when each child was born. The below table shows the time and day when babies were born, taken from the five most recent years of publicly released information.

This table shows the time and day when babies in the US are born, from 2009 to 2013.
Author’s calculations

There is no reason to expect that babies prefer leaving the womb on any particular day of the week. This means that births should be roughly evenly spaced out throughout the week. However, the table’s shaded gray bottom row shows this even spacing doesn’t happen. Instead, only 20% of all babies are born on Saturday or Sunday. If births were evenly distributed, about 29% (two days out of seven) of all births should occur on the weekend.

Babies are also not born randomly throughout a particular day in the US. If babies were born evenly spaced during the day, each of the table’s four time slots should have about 25% of all births. However, the shaded gray far right column shows far more babies than expected are born between noon and 6:00 pm. Interestingly, the midnight to 6:00 am time frame is now the least likely period for a baby to be born, capturing only 16.4% of all births. This is a far cry from the 1972 review quoted above that found the early morning hours were the most likely time for women to give birth.

The yellow numbers in the center of the table show the most likely time for a baby to be born is Tuesday afternoon, closely followed by Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. The least likely time for a baby to be born, shaded in green, is very early Sunday or Monday morning.

Why the change?

There are primarily three ways to give birth: vaginal delivery, induced delivery and Cesarean section. Looking at the time of day when births occur using each method shows very different patterns (see graph here).

Vaginal births happen more or less evenly spaced out during the day, with a slight bump in the early morning hours. C-section births typically happen either around 8:00 am or noon. Induced deliveries typically happen around 3:00 pm.

Why are so many babies now born on Tuesday afternoons instead of early in the morning, like the data from the 1970s showed? Births today are more likely by C-section or induction.

The percentage of women who give birth by C-section has dramatically increased over time (see graph here). In 1991, about 23% of all women giving birth had a C-section, but by 2010 this was almost 33%. Since only about one-quarter of all women who undergo a C-section did a trial of labor, this indicates many C-sections are scheduled (see table 14 here). C-sections may be scheduled by the doctor, or by the mother, or as emergency procedures. Unfortunately, birth records don’t indicate why a C-section was performed.

The same trend occurred for births that were induced (see graph here). In 1990, about 10% of all women giving birth were induced, but by 2010 the share had more than doubled to almost 24%.

There are many potential reasons for the increases in C-sections and inductions. Examples range from improved medical imaging that lets doctors determine with more accuracy uterine and fetal conditions during the last few weeks of pregnancy to a desire by doctors to avoid any type of problem to either mother or unborn child.

Is scheduling a reason?

Scheduling to meet the convenience of doctors and other medical staff is likely one factor driving this shift in birth times. Data on when doctors and other medical professionals work show the vast majority are currently on the job from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Relatively few work during the wee hours of the night and early morning.

The shift from vaginal childbirth to C-section or induction has moved more babies from being born in the middle of the night to times more closely aligned with health care workers’ daily schedules. Research suggests that when doctors and patients have an opportunity to decide when to schedule a birth, the doctor’s preferences win out about three-quarters of the time, possibly because doctor’s value their leisure.

Scheduling by mothers might be a contributing factor in a small number of cases. Research has found that some Chinese mothers appear to be scheduling their sons’ births to avoid unlucky days and ensure a lucky birthday. Tax implications also have a small impact on births around New Year’s Eve.

The March of Dimes, a non-profit devoted to preventing birth defects, is concerned about scheduling; it runs a campaign asking mothers to wait until 39 weeks before giving birth. The National Institutes of Health convened an expert panel that estimated 2.5% of all births in the United States are cesarean deliveries done on maternal request, but cautioned that it has “little confidence in the validity of these estimates.”

Does it matter?

So what does this trend mean for the health of the baby and the mother?

There is research that suggests it is more dangerous to have a baby in the middle of the night, when less medical staff is available. But the actual riskiness of vaginal childbirth, C-section or induced delivery is affected by a whole host of factors depending on the mother’s, child’s and hospital’s characteristics.

This shift from unscheduled births to setting birth times is unparalleled in history. There is a clear benefit to scheduling a birth when there is a medical need. However, when there are no medical concerns, there are advantages to being flexible and spontaneous.

As a middle-aged male, I will never give birth. However, I think our lives are diminished when every event is scheduled, starting from the moment of birth. What do you think?

Jay L. Zagorsky, Economist and Research Scientist, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How on-call and irregular scheduling harm the American workforce

Lonnie Golden, Pennsylvania State University

As we head into the holiday weekend, many of us know with certainty what days and hours we’ll be working over the coming week. We’ll enjoy September 7 in honor of Labor Day and then return to our offices first thing Tuesday morning to begin a shortened workweek.

A significant share of the workforce, however, isn’t quite so fortunate. Millions of employees awake every morning without knowing what time they’ll start work, how long their shift will last or even if they’ll be working at all, regardless of what the company schedule says.

Whether it will truly be a “labor day,” and compensated accordingly, remains up in the air for these workers until they get a call confirming that they need to come in to work and for how long.

This type of on-call scheduling has always been a component of certain occupations, such as doctors, firefighters and substitute teachers, a risk compensated for in their salaries. But in recent years this practice has spread to jobs like retail sales work, among the fastest-growing occupations and for which there is little or no extra compensation.

The growing frequency of employees being required to be “on call” during the day or sent home early before their scheduled shift ends became an issue of public concern in April, when New York’s attorney general asked 13 retailers in the state about their scheduling practices, requesting that show they are in compliance with its laws.

Perhaps that’s what prompted Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret and Gap to announce plans to soon end the practice of on-call scheduling. But the battle won’t be over until far fewer workers are exposed to the hazards of irregular work schedules and shifts that do not reflect their choice.

So why should we care how employers schedule their employees’ work? First, let’s look at how on-call scheduling works and who’s affected.

Always on call

The practice stems in part from employers that have adopted sophisticated software allowing them to predict with greater precision how many shoppers will be in the store at a given time. Thus, they can minimize daily labor cost by monitoring in real time whether they need more employees, calling them in as needed with less than 24 hours’ notice.

This at least sometimes entails not being called in at all or being sent home upon arrival, soon after a shift starts or before the shift even begins without pay for the initially scheduled hours.

In New York and seven other states and Washington, DC, the law requires that employees be paid for a minimum of two to four hours of work – known as “minimum reporting pay” – if their shift ends earlier than planned or is outright canceled. Other states have no laws regulating the practice, although several have adopted proposals to require more advanced notice for scheduling or pay requirements for last minute changes to such schedules, to disincentivize this.

Obviously, this practice creates perpetual uncertainty for these employees, who neither know how much money they’ll make week to week or the times they’ll be free to address their other responsibilities. Many of these employees are trying to coordinate work with caregiving and/or schooling commitments, which are sectors not typically accommodating to sudden changes in a parent’s or student’s work schedule.

By contributing to income instability, this variability of work hours also adversely affects household consumption and the broader general economy, particularly when workers’ hours are restricted.

It is at least partly responsible for the stubbornly high rate of underemployment among workers who prefer full-time employment but had only part-time hours in the previous week (see table 8-A).

Increasingly, this is what employees’ work schedules look like.
Week chalk via

The on-call economy

Recent research findings from the Economic Policy Institute think tank, using General Social Survey (GSS) data up through 2014, provides a snapshot of irregular or on-call shift working:

  • About 10% of the workforce is assigned to irregular and on-call work shift times, a conservative estimate. Adding to this the 7% of the employed who work split or rotating shifts, about 17% of the workforce have irregular shift schedules.
  • By income level, the lowest-paid workers (under US$22,500 a year) are more likely to face irregular work schedules.
  • By occupation type, about 15% of sales and related occupations have such schedules, and they’re most prevalent in the services, hospitality and retail trade industries.

In a recent poll of working adults, conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Employment Insecurity Network at the University of Chicago, as many as 16% reported that their shift time was “irregular.” Another 5% said their shifts were “rotating” and 3% reported working a “split shift,” meaning that about one-quarter of the work force has unstable work scheduling.

The high proportion of workers reporting irregular work schedules is not terribly surprising given that 45% of those in the International Social Survey Program Work Orientations sample (in 2005) said that their “employer decides” their work schedule, while only 15% felt that they were “free to decide” their work schedule. This conforms to more recent findings that just under half of their sample of workers early in their careers said their daily start and end times are decided entirely by their employer, without their input.

More work-family conflicts and job stress

So beyond the impact on underemployment and economic recovery, why should we care if a share of Americans are working irregular hours? Because there may be adverse effects on employees who work irregular shift times, compared to those with more standard, regular shift times. This, in turn, might come back to undermine their job performance and thus, their employers’ long-term costs and bottom line.

The frequency with which a worker reports experiencing interference of their work with family time (which might entail, for example, missing children’s performances or games or helping with care) is exacerbated by having irregular shift work times. This association occurs for both hourly and salaried workers, for that latter group even stronger, even after controlling for their relatively longer work hours.

About 26% of employees with irregular or on-call schedules report “often” experiencing work-family conflicts, compared with 19% of rotating or split shift workers and only 11% with regular schedules.

Irregular hours are also moderately associated with higher work stress, and more so for hourly workers than for salaried workers. Moreover, irregular shifts also diminish time for important parent-child interactions crucial to promoting children’s development.

Hopeful signs

The announcements by retailers such as Gap and Abercrombie offer hopeful signs this harmful practice will soon be coming to an end.

Employees at those two retailers, for example, will soon be receiving notice of at least one week – and sometimes even up to two – of their work schedules. At Abercrombie, employees will be able to opt in to taking last-minute shifts, if they are interested, by responding to email alerts.

Such accommodations are sure to help many employees’ planning for household spending, daycare and classes. Many employers are starting to make changes on their own, perhaps prompted by the New York investigation or the looming prospect of passing national legislation that would create a legal right to request more advance notice or more predictable schedules.

The connections to work-family conflict, higher stress levels and potentially reduced productivity on the job themselves make for a strong “business case” for curbing and eventually eliminating the nefarious practice of on-call scheduling.

They also underscore the need for more scrutiny like the kind we saw from the New York attorney general and the adoption of preventative public policy measures such as the Schedules that Work Act. Many states and municipalities have adopted or are considering such reforms already, such as San Francisco and Minnesota. Let’s hope they prompt more employers to do the right thing, and adopt them on their own.

Lonnie Golden, Professor of Economics and Labor-Employment Relations, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The secret to a college football coach’s success

Stephen M Gavazzi, The Ohio State University

With the new college football season upon us, fans across the country are hoping their team could be the one crowned national champion on January 11 2016 in Glendale, Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium. Of course, who is ultimately successful will depend a lot on the talents of their players – and a healthy dose of luck.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the coach.

There are just a handful of coaches who have excelled at creating successful, sustainable programs over the course of many years. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and Gary Patterson come to mind.

How do they do it?

While all have their specific plans, I believe the most successful coaches emphasize success beyond the playing field. That may sound like a cliché, but it has to be more than just a platitude. There has to be a system.

After all, the stakes are too high for colleges and universities to employ coaches that are not dialed into their players’ developmental needs. We need only recall the recent scandal involving former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired after administrators discovered a pattern of abusive behaviors displayed toward his student athletes.

Ultimately, it’s coaches who are closely attuned to their players’ social and emotional development that seem to have higher degrees of sustainable, on-field success.

Rites of passage: turning boys into men

In an article for the International Sport Coaching Journal, I present a case study with Urban Meyer, coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes. The hope is to show how his particular system bears striking resemblance to a modern-day rite of passage.

The literature on rites of passage (also known as rituals of initiation) identifies three main phases through which children become adults:

  • it begins with a separation phase, one that marks the beginning movement out of the individual’s childhood status
  • next, the transformation phase involves a “betwixt and between” period of uncertainty, characterized by wavering back and forth from less mature to more mature behaviors
  • finally, the reincorporation phase represents the individual’s integration of the attitudes, values and behaviors required of prosocial adults.

There is overwhelming acceptance of the historical importance of rites of passage, especially in terms of their use to foster cohesiveness within social groups.

Additionally, the absence of separation, transformation and reincorporation experiences in contemporary society is thought to be significantly related to youth violence, drug and alcohol use, gang involvement, bullying and delinquency.

These dysfunctional behaviors are believed to be the misguided attempts of young people to create rites of passage for themselves, in the absence of mentors or positive influences.

Urban Meyer: the quintessential coach

Why choose Urban Meyer as a case study?

Well, I have to admit that ease of access plays a part for me, since we both work at the same university. But Meyer is a worthy subject. After fielding two national football championship teams at the University of Florida during the 2006 and 2008 seasons, he led the 2014 Ohio State University Buckeyes to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship.

Throughout his 13-year career as a head coach, his teams have won five conference championships and twice (2004 at Utah and 2012 at Ohio State) have registered undefeated seasons. It’s hard to argue with those kinds of triumphs on the field.

But I believe his efforts to create off-the-field success for his players are closely tied to his teams’ on-the-field accomplishments.

Underlying these efforts is what Urban Meyer has dubbed his “Plan to Win,” a competitiveness doctrine based on a set of core values for players that includes behavioral commandments (honesty, respect for women, no drugs, no stealing and no weapons) and a strong emphasis on classroom success.

Color-coordinating a ‘Plan to Win’

The key component of the Plan to Win is what he has named his Blue-Red-Gold (BRG) incentive system. Three color-coded stages – Blue, Red, and Gold – represent a ladder of privileges climbed by players as they display mature behavior both on the field and off.

As Meyer explained in a 2012 Columbus Dispatch article:

Blue stands for child, which means ill-equipped, defiant, disinterested. So if you’re in blue, we don’t think very highly of you, and we make that very clear. And every freshman who comes into the program is blue, for example… Guys who are red get nicer gear. If they want to change numbers, if they want to get a visor, if they want to move off campus, the answer for them then is maybe. You get up to gold, you do what you’ve got to do because gold means you’re a grown man. We don’t tell you when to study, things like that. Gold means you deserve to be treated like a man.

The BRG system is a comprehensive player motivation method that contains a variety of inputs and outcomes. Meyer and his coaches closely monitor player adherence to academic demands and behavioral expectations across all status levels, with meaningful rewards bestowed for appropriate behavior – alongside swift consequences for infractions.

Transitions in status (up or down) are handled by the entire coaching staff, who meet as a group every week to discuss player progress and deliberate possible transitions. When the coaches decide to promote a player, an announcement is made to the entire team in the form of a “graduation ceremony” that recognizes the player’s newfound “status.”

Transforming performance on – and off – the field

The BRG incentive-based system mirrors the rites of passage conceptual framework discussed earlier.

Blue can be equated with the status of a young child and, as such, beginning movement out of this status parallels the “separation” component of the rite of passage.

In turn, red is equated with a middle stage, similar to the “betwixt and between” state of adolescence that is marked by a “transformative” stage of development.

Finally, gold status represents the adult stage of development and all of the privileges and responsibilities associated with this marker of full maturity.

Meyer’s BRG system is so successful because the expectations are clear about what it means to grow up in the eyes of the coaching staff, and the behaviors that players must enact in order to achieve that status are well-defined.

When everyone’s on the same page off the field, it makes it easier to work as a cohesive unit – and win – on the field.

A recipe for success in sports – and all walks of life

Simultaneously, there is an explicit recognition that coaches serve as powerful male role models for their players.

For example, Meyer regularly hosts Family Night dinners so that players are exposed to the coaches and how they act around their loved ones.

There is a more spiritual component to this work as well, with various community engagement activities centered on “setting the table” for players to understand the importance of living a life in service to things greater than themselves.

Coaches who use ceremonies to mark player transitions mine a tradition that honors and recognizes accomplishment. For generations, various forms of promotions and recognition have been used to inspire athletes, soldiers and students alike.

Simply put, it’s a formula that works, and these rituals and rewards carry great psychological meaning for individuals.

While the details of Meyer’s Plan to Win may be unique, I believe the overall aims and basic structure are shared by many of the most successful coaches.

Case studies of other highly successful men’s coaches bears this out. For example, Pete Carroll’s success at both the college and professional football levels has been discussed as being based on factors related to self-knowledge, self-confidence and optimism.

The same can be said of coaches in high-performance women’s sports. Take, for example, legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, whose coaching style was reported to have involved high degrees of instructional behavior and praise offered to her players within a high-intensity environment.

In a 2008 book, Meyer stated his desire to remain in contact with his players long after graduation, noting that if they “become the best husbands and fathers they can be, then we have won at the game of life.”

By tapping into the deep historical traditions of “rites of passage,” coaches can help get the most out of their players, both on and off the field. And along the way, a lot of boys can be turned into fine, upstanding men.

Stephen M Gavazzi, Professor, Human Development and Family Science & Dean/Director, Ohio State Mansfield Campus, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.