Humor, Gender, and YouTube Research

While peer reviewed research is the gold standard for results, sometimes more informal research can be pretty darn interesting.  I got sent an interesting informal study this week that I thought was quite fascinating despite (or perhaps because?) it lacked typical rigor.

This study was based on humor and gender.  Now, as a matter of course most gender research annoys me.  Gender is the biggest subgroup you can have (3.5 billion of each, give or take) and any conclusions you draw must be taken with the knowledge that much of the data will vary wildly.  This is fine if your goal is something like, oh advertising that will appeal to a larger number of women or men in specific.  However, if your goal is to address something to a specific man or woman (like say therapy) gender generalizations can only give hints of paths to follow, and will rarely tell the story for one person.  One of the bigger challenges couples therapists face is actually convincing clients that it doesn’t matter what most men do, it matters what your spouse does, and vice versa.

Quick example: Back in the day when it used to be a novel idea that a woman would be Secretary of State, I remember having someone tell me that women would be bad at international diplomacy because your average woman was more emotional than your average man.  I had never thought about it before, but I remember retorting that I sincerely hoped that we never had an average woman in a position that high, as I was sure we had probably had never had an average man.  On average, nobody should be Secretary of State.

I thought about some of this when the AVI forwarded me this Steve Sailer post about men being funnier than women.  Humor is another tricky subject to study, and you put it together with gender and you can get bogged down for forever in questions and caveats.  Humor is in large part a cultural construct (watch the British, German, and French versions of The Office and you’ll see what I mean), and even within humor there are always questions about who is “truly” funny.  Commercially successful comedians?  Indie comics?  Their TV shows and movies or their stand-up days?  Or are we just talking about cocktail party chatter and our friends?  Also, the kind of humor you like has a lot to do with who you think is funny…puns?  Situational comedy, pranks, physical comedy, LOL cats?  My personal favorite comedy brand is the Comedy Central Roasts and South Park.  However you answer these questions though, I think it’s important to note that your average person is not terribly funny to anyone outside their own circle.

Quick example:  This is only funny for those who both appreciate farming humor and know who LMFAO is.  Since I listen to the radio and grew up on a farm, it made me laugh pretty hard:

That being said, I thought the research Kyria Abrahams did was truly enlightening.  She went through and found 10 unknown but rising comedians, and wrote down all the topics they made jokes about.  Then she postulated that the list of mens topics was more varied and more interesting to a broader audience than the women’s list.  Take a look and see if you agree:

Female Comics

Apartment is annoying
Bathroom attendants
Being a female comedian (x2)
Cosmo Magazine
Dating is awkward (x2)
Did poorly in school
Doesn’t want kids because she’s “selfish”
Gay marriage
Gynecologists/pap smears
Hates New York
Her body (x2)
Her mom (x2)
Her vagina
How guys hit on her
It’s hard being a woman, putting on makeup, and wearing heels and stuff
Just got engaged
Just went through a breakup
Roommate is annoying
Sex and condoms
She’s flat-chested
She’s fat
She’s too pretty to do standup (x2)
What she’s wearing
What/who she looks like (x2)
Male comics:
Being thanked on an elevator
Clichés people use
Free AIDS clinics
God won’t help you bowl/God doesn’t exist
Having sex with animals
His name
Holding the phone between your ear and shoulder
How to treat AIDS
If the Jews killed Jesus
Jail shows
Mayan 2012 prediction
People asking him where he’s from
Pickle juice
The “ethnic needs” section of the supermarket
The age of sliced bread
The Cyclone at Coney Island
The Roman Empire
The storylines behind rollercoasters
Vegan soul food
What/who he looks like (x2)
White chocolate is racist

So yes….the men’s topics are more unexpected, fresher, and more likely to be funny than the women’s.  Now whether that’s because women are getting pigeonholed or what, I can’t say, but I had to appreciate this addition to the conversation.  While I have seen plenty of discussion regarding men and women and who is funnier, I had never seen someone actually try to tease out what comedians were talking about when we assessed their humor.  It’s an important variable, and her data suggests a big discrepancy.  If women changed this would it close the gap?  Who knows, but it’s an interesting thought.  To act like the gender/humor question only has one moving variable (the listener’s sexism) is to reduce two extremely complex topics down to nothing.  Mentioning other variables is not sexist (as Kyria was accused of in her comments section) it’s just good research.

The moral of the story?  Keep average people off my TV, when I want comedy, I want exceptional.

Trillion Dollar Debt Day

Bias alert:  I graduated college with a LOT of debt.  It was nearly ten years ago, but I was still far above the current average widely reported in the media.  In 3 years, I had paid off all but one loan that was locked at 2.3% interest.  I paid that off two years later due to the fact that Sallie Mae is an absurdly evil company and I was sick of dealing with them.  All in all, I was debt free 20 years earlier than projected and today have zero debt from either my bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Now, all that being said, I guess I can’t feel too left out that I didn’t get invited to the student protest that was Trillion Dollar Debt Day.  Apparently yesterday was the day that total student loan debt in this country hit $1,000,000,000,000.  Want to see it in real time?  Here you go:

Anyway, student debt is a complicated issue with lots of statistics ripe for dissection.  Actually, the debt really isn’t that complicated….it’s there because college costs have gone up far more than average household income has, and more people are going for both grad and undergrad degrees.  What’s complicated is how people interpret what to do with these statistics.  For example (from the clock website above):  “Student loan debt, on the other hand, as been growing steadily because need-based grants have not been keeping pace with increases in college costs.” Not hard to see what that websites solution would be to this issue.

The 1 trillion number is impressive, but it is not often mentioned how heavily the increase in debt level correlates with how sharply the number of students have gone up.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics “enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions increased by 9 percent between 1989 and 1999. Between 1999 and 2009, enrollment increased 38 percent, from 14.8 million to 20.4 million.”  Nearly 6 million people extra people in 10 years, combined with rising costs and a recession…that will make that number shoot up in a hurry.

In the past 5 years, the average debt per graduating college student (bachelor’s level) has only gone up by about $4000, unadjusted, or $2500 in adjusted dollars.

Year Average Debt Average Debt (2010 $) Median Earnings Median Earnings (2010 $) Debt:Earnings (inflation-adjusted)
2006 $21,100 $22,822 $45,221 $48,912 0.47
2007 21,900 23,032 46,805 49,224 0.47
2008 23,200 23,497 47,094 47,696 0.49
2009 24,000 24,394 47,510 48,289 0.51
2010 25,250 25,250 47,422 47,422 0.53

Sources: Project on Student Debt, U.S. Census American Community Surveys (1-year estimates, 2006-2010), Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator.

  You multiply even that amount over 20.4 million however, and the levels start reaching crisis proportion.  Additionally, these “average” numbers, while reported very exactly, are all self reported by the schools.  Also, out of the 2,300 schools they asked, 500 were tossed for identification reasons, and about 300 just didn’t report anything.  This makes these numbers highly suspect.

Overall, I’m not saying there’s not a crisis.  I work in health care, and it’s totally ludicrous to me that while we’re all scrambling to cut costs as fast as we can, higher education is not doing the same. I’ve also had a mortgage for nearly as long as I had my student loans, and I can tell you that my mortgage company has not once pulled any of the disgusting shenanigans that Sallie Mae pulled with my student loans.  I used to have to save my receipts because they, I kid you not, used to ADD small amounts of money to my balance at random.  I would then have to spend 45 minutes on the phone with them proving that this had happened.  I was always right, they would merely “apologize for the misunderstanding”.

However, with this issue, as with so many others, watch the numbers when emotions run high.  People love to throw data at others in these moments, knowing it won’t be questioned.  Business Insider, for example, claims that “For many of you, your degrees won’t matter. One-third of you will land full-time jobs that don’t require them.”  They don’t mention that’s 33% of 500 people who just graduated.  Check back in 5 years, BI, then show me the numbers.