Monday 13 July 2015

Friday the 13th (Epilogue)

Just over a year ago, I wrote a paper (coauthored with J.D. Tena) on whether the number 13 and Friday the 13th really bring bad luck (see a short write up about it here: Friday the 13th). Specifically, we consider whether people born on the 13th (any day of the week) or on Friday the 13th were more or less lucky than other people. To measure luck, we look at mundane but important outcomes: employment, wages and marriage. Reassuringly, we find that those born on an unlucky day are little different from everyone else.

The paper was first circulated on Friday the 13th of June, 2014. It was issued as WP 13 of the Economics and Finance Working Paper Series at Brunel University. It counted exactly 13 pages.

When we submitted it for publication, it was rejected. Five times in five different journals.

Then, before submitting it for the sixth time, I changed the spacing from single to 1.5. This new version of our paper counted 16 rather than 13 pages.

That version was accepted for publication in Kyklos with only minor changes.

The lesson that budding researchers should take from this is clear. Don't submit single-spaced papers. Ever. It brings bad luck.

Friday 8 May 2015

Post-election Musings: UK 2015

I looked at the BBC website this morning and thought: What the hell has just happened?

All polls were predicting a hung-parliament, with no party claiming a majority of the seats and no 'natural' coalition on the cards. Instead, the Tory Party is back and set to rule alone.

It doesn't end there. Scotland has turned into a one-party country, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) taking 56 seats out of 59 (Tories, Labour and Lib-Dems getting one seat each). Kim Jong-Un will be sending his emissaries to Edinburgh soon: they will want to find out how Nicola Sturgeon achieved democratically what he, (and his father and grandfather) only accomplished with the aid of extraordinary harsh repression. Putin's delegation will not be far behind.

The first-past-the-post system delivered some interesting outcomes. The SNP got 4.8% of the overall vote and 56 seats, the Lib-Dems got 7.8% of votes and 8 seats, UKIP got 12.6% of votes and 1 seat. Although extreme views are fairly common in the UK, they have almost no chance of getting represented in the Parliament. In Scotland, however, nationalism is now mainstream.

I used to think that the big question of this election was the EU: the Tories promised a referendum on leaving the Union. Now, it seems that if they do and England votes to leave, Scotland will vote to stay. With the support that the SNP enjoys right now, this would be a convenient excuse for another independence referendum. The most likely outcome will be that the Tories will continue to grumble but nothing much will happen.

The most interesting issue of this election is one of democratic accountability on the background of mass migration. I am not talking about the fact that the EU immigration was a big issue in this election (which it was). Rather, what I am referring to is the fact that there are some 2 million EU citizens living in the UK who are politically disenfranchised because they do not hold UK passports. Many of them have moved here to stay for the long term (like me). The EU migrants are here perfectly legally, are subject to UK rules and policies, pay taxes, yet have no influence on who gets to form the next government. They face few practical restrictions in the UK (the right to reside and work is automatic and not discretionary for EU citizens) and therefore have little incentive to change their nationality.

Some of them may be allowed to vote in their home countries, where they have not lived for years. That seems equally odd.

We have free movement of people without the ability to transfer one's voting rights to the destination country. Somehow, the wise men in Brussels forgot about this one.

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Friday the 13th

For some, Friday the 13th of February will be just another working day. For others, it will be a reason to take a day off and stay at home, safely out of the way of potential misfortunes that might befall them on this unlucky day: in most of Europe, the number 13 is considered unlucky and Friday the 13th is thought to be a particularly unlucky day.

Given how irrational such beliefs in lucky and unlucky numbers are, they are surprisingly wide-spread. Many airlines don’t have the 13th row of seats; hotels don’t have rooms with 13 in the number or the 13th floor, some streets don’t have a house No. 13 (and if there is such a house, it tends to sell for less than other similar houses in the same street). Airfares also tend to be cheaper on Friday the 13th. Other similarly irrational beliefs include avoiding black cats in your path, not breaking mirrors, following the advice of fortune-tellers and astrologers or accepting that the specific constellation of stars and planets on the day (and even hour) of your birth is going to have a lasting effect on your wellbeing, love-life and career.

So is there anything to it?

The problem is, testing bad luck is tricky. For instance, there are supposedly fewer car accidents when it is Friday the 13th, but that seems because people tend to drive more carefully (or not at all) on that day. In other words, superstitious people are likely to change their behavior on unlucky days, which may be enough to bias the results.

In a joint paper with J.D. Tena (published in Kyklos,, we try to get around this problem by looking at an outcome that cannot be changed easily by behavioral adjustments: date of birth. Determined parents can make sure that their child is not born on Friday the 13th – but how many would plan conception after consulting the calendar to make sure there is no Friday the 13th some 8-9 months ahead (most years have one or two, some, like 2015, have three). But once you were born on an unlucky day, there is not much you can do about it.

We consider three rather fundamental outcomes that have substantial impact on one’s quality of life: wage, employment, and marriage. Even relatively small differences in wages or in the employment (marriage) probability would have important welfare implications when considered over one’s entire lifetime. We base our analysis on the UK Labor Force Survey (1999 to 2011), with information on nearly 4 million individuals. We consider both those born on the 13th (any day) and on Friday the 13th. We use standard regression analysis as well as a matching approach.

Reassuringly, regardless of the outcome considered, methodology used or whether we look at birth on the 13th or on Friday the 13th, we find no impact of being born on an unlucky day. In other words, superstition really only is in the minds of those who believe in it. Once you look at the data and consider outcomes that cannot be changed easily by short-term behavioral adjustments, Friday the 13th is neither particularly lucky nor unlucky.

But in case you are still not convinced, the days to watch out for this year (2015) are 13th February, 13th March and 13th November.