Gentrification predicted by social media data


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Gentrification – the process by which a deprived area becomes affluent – can be predicted by data from location-specific social media networks.

The Cambridge University study took data from location-specific social media networks, such as Facebook places and Foursquare, to show that the ‘poor to posh’ process can be identified when high levels of deprivation and social diversity are seen to develop in an area.

Data crunch

Predicting gentrification is more than a spike of social media users tweeting about Radio 4 programmes. It is data analysis of social media check-ins which reveal behaviours derived from the particular places that people go.

37,000 users and 42,000 venues in London were used to build a network of Foursquare places and Twitter visitors, totalling half a million check-ins over a ten-month period.

Researchers quantified the social diversity of various areas by distinguishing between places that:

  • brought together strangers versus those brought together friends
  • attracted diverse individuals as opposed to those attracting ‘regulars’

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Height increase linked to democracy, LSE study finds


creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by HeyThereSpaceman.:

A study by the London School of Economics and Social Policy (LSE) has found that men who live their first 20 years under a communist regime are significantly shorter than those who grow up in a democratic society. Women’s heights remained unaffected.

3,000 residents of Slovakia and the Czech Republic participated in the study with researchers analysing data regarding individual birth dates, income and height.

Slovaks born in democracy were found to be on average 1.5cm taller than their counterparts who lived under a communist regime. Continue reading

Recessions Good For Male Health But Bad For Females


Boys who leave school or university during a recession experience better health in later life compared to those that leave during an economic “boom.”

In girls, however, the situation is reversed. Females have poorer health in later life if they leave school during a time of recession.

The study by economists at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), is published at the same time as figures which show Eurozone youth unemployment to be as high as 24.4%.

The paper, “Are economic recessions at the time of leaving school associated with worse physical functioning in later life?” is published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology.

The study’s findings are indicative of the future health of the generation who now face joining the labour market in a time of global recession. Continue reading

Poverty of Mind: the Cognitive Debt of the Poor

A study by UK Warwick University has proved that poverty has a negative causal effect on cognitive ability. The effect is significant — equal to losing a full night’s sleep or comparable to the reduction of cognitive performance in alcoholic adults compared to non-alcoholic adults.

The pressures of poverty exhaust cognitive resources, hinder the ability to make positive life choices and shackle the poor to life-long poverty.

The study, “Poverty Impedes Cognition” led by Dr Anandi Mani, Economics Professor at Warwick University, sheds new light on the cycle of poverty and shows for the first time that it is the flaw of poverty, not the poor, that maintains the poverty trap.

The poor, in this view, are less capable not because of inherent traits, but because the very context of poverty imposes load and impedes cognitive capacity. The findings, in otherwords, are not about poor people, but about any people who find themselves poor.”

Research techniques

Poverty,  defined  broadly as ” the gap between one’s needs and the resources available to fulfill them,” enabled the study to be opened up in both developed and developing countries.

To prove the hypothesis that monetary concerns tax the cognitive system, cognitive exercises were conducted on participants recruited from a New Jersey Shopping Mall consisting of a “poor” group with an average household income of $20,000 and a “well-off” group with an average income of $70,000.

The findings of the laboratory tests were backed up with field tests on farmers; ideal candidates for study due to the cyclic experience of poverty and wealth during the planting cycle.

Test 1 – poor v rich group

The two groups were given identical reasoning tests designed to induce thoughts about finance, specifically their own. Participants were asked to problem solve to find the best method of repair for a car. One solution involved a minimal cost of $150, the other $1,500. The solution involving $1,500 reduced cognitive performance among the poor but not in the well-off group. Dr Mani comments on the significance –

Just as an air traffic controller focusing on a potential collision course is prone to neglect other planes in the air, the poor, when attending to monetary concerns, lose their capacity to give other problems their full consideration.”

The hypothesis of the cognitive testing was thus proved. Financial problems were not seen to cause concern in those with sufficient resources.

For those without adequate funds the “load” of a financial problem was shown to overwhelm the cognitive system –

We hypothesized that for the rich, these run-of-the-mill financial snags are of little con- sequence. For the poor, however, these demands can trigger persistent and distracting concerns.” Dr Anandi Mani.

Test 2 – Harvesting cognition

Farmers were tested for their cognitive ability during the planting cycle. Before harvest when “poor,” farmers were less likely to perform well in cognitive tests. After harvest when “rich,” the cognitive performance of farmers significantly improved. This proved the cognitive depletion in the same group of people who experience cycles of wealth. According to researchers, the findings could not be explained by nutrition, time available, stress or work effort alone.

The human cognitive system has limited capacity Preoccupations with press- ing budgetary concerns leave fewer cognitive resources available to guide choice and action.”

A New Insight into Poverty

Research into poverty has focused mainly on the behaviors of the poor; low attainment in education, struggling to keep appointments, poor budgeting in personal finance, low engagement with services. This study is the first to look into how the behaviors that exasperate poverty first come about.

Researchers hope that the findings inform policy makers to make education, training, health and funding straight forward and easy to access. Policy makers should avoid all complexity or a “cognitive tax” on the poor –

First, policy-makers should beware of imposing cognitive taxes on the poor just as they avoid monetary taxes on the poor. The data reported here suggest a different perspective on poverty: Being poor means coping not just with a shortfall of money, but also with a concurrent shortfall of cognitive resources.”

Researcher suggest simple and no cost interventions could help people, such as –

  • smart defaults (selections put in place that serve most people)
  • help to fill out application forms
  • planning prompts
  • reminders for appointments

Policy and Poverty

Filling out long forms, preparing for a lengthy interview, deciphering new rules, corresponding to complex incentives,all consume cognitive resources. Policy-makers rarely recognize these cognitive taxes; yet, our results suggest that they should focus on reducing them” (report excerpt)

The benefit system can be labyrinthine. Historical decisions by government can mean that puzzling systems are in place to serve the most vulnerable.

In a deprived UK coastal town, a community centre for section 4 failed asylum seekers supported by the UK Border Agency UKBA are given food vouchers — their only means of support.

A food voucher is issued but with no means to buy a bus ticket to reach the out of town supermarket for which they are eligible– a large superstore on the furthest outskirts of town. It’s a 2 mile walk of 45 minutes for those who know the best route.

This town is a dispersion centre for newly failed asylum seekers, many have just arrived from other parts of the UK to eek out a non-life where everything is a no-no. No right to work, no medical care, no attending free community training or volunteering even. The weekly voucher was their lot.

This was the case in 2010. Shortly after an “Azure” card replaced the one-store only vouchers to enable fairer shopping.  According to The Guardian, the card rarely worked at point of sale. Navigating hurdles — as impossible as they are daily, leaves little in terms of the cognitive resources, or hope, necessary to create a better life.


Science Magazine: Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function

Medical News Today article

Rules for Asylum Seekers Section 4

Image credit: with thanks to Kalilo of RGB
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