TIME weather

1934 Dust Bowl Drought Was North America’s Worst in a Millennium

More than 70% of western North America was affected

The 1934 drought that helped kick off the Dust Bowl era was the worst to hit North America for the past 1,000 years, according to a new study.

Scientists from NASA and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory reconstructed the history of droughts in the U.S. using modern practices and tree-ring records from the years 1000 to 2005.

They found that the 1934 drought covered more than 70% of western North America and was 30% severer than the next worst, which struck in 1580.

“It was the worst by a large margin, falling pretty far outside the normal range of variability that we see in the record,” said Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and the study’s lead author.

Cook says a high-pressure system during the west coast’s winter that kept rains at bay, combined with poor land management practices, led to dust storms in the spring.

The study is due to be published in the Oct. 17 edition of Geophysical Research Letters.

TIME Research

How Your Sense of Smell Is Linked to Your Lifespan

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Older adults who suffer an impaired olfactory sense are more likely to die within five years, say researchers

The loss or erosion of an individual’s sense of smell may signal impending death, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Chicago found 39% of subjects who failed olfactory sense tests died within a five-year period, compared with 19% of subjects with moderate smell loss and just 10% who retained a healthy sense of smell.

This mean the loss or degradation of the olfactory sense may serve effectively as an “early warning” signal that something has gone very wrong inside the body, says the study published in the journal PLOS One on Wednesday.

“We think loss of the sense of smell is like the canary in the coal mine,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Jayant Pinto. “Our findings could provide a useful clinical test, a quick and inexpensive way to identify patients most at risk.”

The research was conducted in two waves over the course of more than five years and surveyed approximately 3,000 adults.

TIME singles

Why 25% of Millennials Will Never Get Married

A new report from Pew Research predicts that more folks under 35 will be single forever. Here's why

The number of Americans who have always been single and will never marry is at a historic high, says a new Pew Research report, partly because they don’t have jobs and partly because marriage is becoming less highly-regarded. Most people think it’s important for couples who intend to stay together to be married, but the number of single Americans who want to get married has dropped significantly even in the last four years.

The report, based on census data and Pew’s surveys, is the latest in a series of indicators that marriage’s stock is on a sharp downward trajectory. Fewer young people are getting married and many are getting married later. About 20% of Americans older than 25 had always been single in 2012, up from 9% in 1960. In the black community, the numbers are even starker: 36% of black Americans older than 25 have never been married, a fourfold increase from 50 years ago.

The one number that hasn’t really budged is the percentage of 64 year olds who have never been married. In 1960, it was 8% and in 2012, it was 7%. But the report’s authors Wendy Wang and Kim Parker say this might be changing. Each decade, the percentage of people of marriageable age who are single has grown. “When today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (roughly 25%) is likely to have never been married,” they write. “This is not to say that adults in their mid-40s to mid-50s who still haven’t married will never marry, but our analysis suggests that the chance of getting married for the first time after age 54 is relatively small,” adds Parker.

Why aren’t people getting married anymore? The three main reasons people give for their singleness are that they haven’t found the right person (30%), aren’t financially stable enough (27%) and are not ready to settle down (22%). Many more young people are eschewing tying the knot, at least for a while, for shacking up. The researchers don’t see that as the new normal yet. “Cohabitation is much less common than marriage and cohabiting relationships are much less stable than marriages,” says Parker.”It’s hard to imagine marriage being replaced any time soon.”

But the Pew researchers teased out a bunch of other reasons by asking what people wanted in a partner.

The quality most women want in a husband, somewhat unromantically, is a secure job, followed very closely by similar ideas on raising kids, which was the quality most men wanted in a spouse. The problem is, the report points out, that young men are increasingly less likely to be employed. “In 1960, 93% of men ages 25 to 34 were in the labor force; by 2012 that share had fallen to 82%.” Those young men who are employed are not bringing home as much bacon as they once did. In fact, if you adjust for inflation, the median hourly wages of men aged 25 to 34 are a fifth less than they were in 1980.

Compounding that issue is that women have entered the labor force in much higher numbers. So while there are more men than women who are single and available, there are far fewer employed men who are single than employed women. Fifty years ago there were 139 single young men with jobs for every 100 single young women; that ratio has now dropped to 91:100. “If all never-married young women in 2012 wanted to find a young employed man who had also never been married, 9% of them would fail,” says the report, “simply because there are not enough men in the target group.”

But lest that bum all the single ladies out too much, the report points out that single young women don’t have to marry single young men: they can marry guys who are divorced, widowed or much older. Should they bother? Now that comedian Sarah Silverman has declared marriage barbaric, is it done? The Pew researchers don’t think so.

“Marriage hasn’t fallen out of favor,” says Parker, “but financial constraints and imbalances in the marriage market may be holding people back from taking the plunge.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

PTSD Is Linked to Food Addiction in Women, New Study Finds

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"Weight status is not just a symptom of willpower and education," a researcher says. "There may be psychological factors in play too"

A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry has found that women who suffer from the worst symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are twice as likely to be addicted to food than those who do not, Reuters reports.

Researchers link symptoms of PTSD in women to a psychological dependence on food, or food addiction. But the study doesn’t mean that there is a direct connection between PTSD and overeating.

“We don’t know if it’s causal. It’s an interesting relationship and probably worth following up,” Susan Mason, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Reuters.

To find out whether women were more likely to have a food addiction, in 2008 researchers asked 49,408 female nurses about PTSD symptoms. A year later they then asked the same group about food addiction.

They found the more symptoms of PTSD a woman had, the more likely it was for her to be addicted to food.

The findings could help doctors treat women with eating disorders, reports Reuters.

“Clinicians may be able to look for that information to deliver better care,” Mason said.

Researchers still don’t know what occurs first — food addiction or PTSD — but they hope the study will help them connect the dots.

“I just want this to add to a lot of research that people’s weight status is not just a symptom of willpower and education,” Mason said. “There may be psychological factors in play too.”

[Reuters]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Schizophrenia Is a Hybrid of 8 Disorders

Finding may lead to enhanced and targeted treatment

Schizophrenia is actually eight different genetic disorders rolled into one, according to a new study released Monday.

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, found that there are different gene clusters that contribute to eight different classes of the usually hereditary disease. The researchers at Washington University in St. Louis analyzed the genes of more than 4,000 people with schizophrenia, and tallied the symptoms of patients against the DNA of people with and without schizophrenia in order to identify the gene clusters.

In patients experiencing hallucinations and delusions, the researchers found that the interaction between genetic variations created a 95% chance of schizophrenia, while disorganized speech and behavior in another set of patients revealed a set of variations associated with a 100% risk. The hereditary risk of schizophrenia is known to be about 80%.

“What we’ve done here, after a decade of frustration in the field of psychiatric genetics, is identify the way genes interact with each other, how the ‘orchestra’ is either harmonious and leads to health, or disorganized in ways that lead to distinct classes of schizophrenia,” said Dr. C. Robert Cloninger, one of the senior researchers in the study.

Another researcher, Igor Zwir, said that identifying groups of genetic variations and matching them to symptoms may lead to enhanced treatment by targeting specific genetic pathways.

TIME animals

The Lassie Effect: Study Finds Dog Movies Make Breeds More Popular

Lassie Dog Breeds
Dog whisperer Cesar Millan and Lassie at the taping of the 100th episode of National Geographic Channel's "Dog Whisperer" at Pickwick Gardens in Burbank, Calif. on March 30, 2008. Neilson Barnard—Getty Images

Hollywood stardom can give specific breeds a boost lasting up to 10 years, new research finds

Well-received dog movies can influence the popularity of the specifically featured breed for up to a decade — even if the dogs are cartoons, according to a new study.

Collies saw a 40% bump in registrations through the American Kennel Club after the 1943 release of Lassie, according to research published in Plos One Wednesday, though researchers conceded that may have been assisted by its many sequels. But the study also found that registrations of Old English Sheepdogs went up 100-fold after Disney’s 1959 release of The Shaggy Dog, and 101 Dalmations even had a significant impact on the breed after its 1985 premiere.

Researchers from the University of Bristol, Western Carolina University, and the City University of New York analyzed 87 dog movies in total, comparing them with data from the American Kennel Club, which has registered more than 65 million dogs. They found that early movies had a greater impact than more current ones, which now — alongside internet corgi/frenchie/pug listicles proliferate the market.

And this wasn’t necessarily because the dogs had other laudable traits apart from their fame. “On the whole, breeds with more desirable behaviours, greater longevity, and fewer inherited genetic disorders did not become more popular than other breeds,” said co-author Hal Herzog. “In short, cultural shifts in types of pets largely reflect ephemeral changes in fashion rather than selection for functional traits.”

But hey, at least that’s better movies turning teens into smokers.

TIME Family

Why Not Having Kids Makes Some People Crazy

Ray Kachatorian—Photographers Choice

It's less about the children and more about thwarted dreams

The great, worldwide, international jury is still deadlocked over whether having children makes people happier or not. On the one side, there are chubby fingers and first steps and unbridled joy and on the other side, there’s sleep, money and time. But an intriguing new study from the Netherlands suggests that not having children only makes infertile women unhappy if they are unable to let go of the idea of having kids.

It sounds obvious, but here’s the twist: women who already had children but desperately wanted more had worse mental health than women who didn’t have kids and wanted them, but had managed to get over that particular life goal. So it’s not just whether they had kids that made people depressed or content, it’s how badly they wanted them.

The study looked at more than 7,000 Dutch women who had had fertility treatments between 1995 and 2000. They were sent questionnaires about how they were doing and what caused the infertility and whether they had kids. Most of them were doing fine, except for about 6% who still wanted children even a decade or more after their last infertility treatment.

“We found that women who still wished to have children were up to 2.8 times more likely to develop clinically significant mental health problems than women who did not sustain a child-wish,” said Dr Sofia Gameiro, a lecturer at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University in Wales. True, the women who had kids but had undergone fertility treatments for more were less likely to have mental health issues than those who didn’t have kids, but they were still there. The kids hadn’t cured them. “For women with children, those who sustained a child-wish were 1.5 times more likely to have worse mental health than those without a child-wish,” wrote Gameiro. “This link between a sustained wish for children and worse mental health was irrespective of the women’s fertility diagnosis and treatment history.”

The women most likely to be laid low by wanting a child were those with less education and thus probably fewer options for fulfillment. Similarly, if the fertility issues were on the husband’s side or if they were age related, women were more likely to be able to get over it, possibly because they felt there was nothing they could have done. Those most set back by their inability to conceive were those who had started young and found that the problem was with their reproductive system, not their spouse’s, women who in the ancient days might have been called “barren.”

“Our study improves our understanding of why childless people have poorer adjustment. It shows that it is more strongly associated with their inability to let go of their desire to have children. It is quite striking to see that women who do have children but still wish for more children report poorer mental health than those who have no children but have come to accept it,” said Gameiro.

The paper, which was published online on Sept. 10 in Human Reproduction, recommends sustained psychological counseling for people who did not conceive after fertility treatments and a lot of frank talk about the possibility of failure during the treatments. The author also throws some shade on those “I-can-do-anything-if I-try” types (cough, Americans, cough). “There is a moment when letting go of unachievable goals (be it parenthood or other important life goals) is a necessary and adaptive process for well-being,” said Gameiro. “We need to consider if societies nowadays actually allow people to let go of their goals and provide them with the necessary mechanisms to realistically assess when is the right moment.”

TIME Family

We Need to Stop Guilting Parents into Cooking Dinner

Happy family dinner images like this may be doing more harm than good for working families Klaus Vedfelt—Getty Images

A new study suggests that the emphasis on family dinners may be more stressful than beneficial.

On the highway of hallowed institutions, there are few so venerated as the family dinner. Maybe reading aloud to your kid, breastfeeding and playing catch come close, but those have a limited lifespan. The family dinner is the church at which all parents, especially moms, are expected to become regular and lifelong worshipers.

Studies have repeatedly shown that kids who eat en famille are less likely to be overweight, more likely to eat healthy foods, have reduced incidence of delinquency and have better grades, mental health and family interactions. The evidence appears to be pretty overwhelming: cook for your kids and eat with them or they’re doomed. You’re consigning them to a life as chubby little lowlifes with a D-average and no self esteem. It’s not much to ask, right?

Problem is, the plurality of kids today are being raised by people who work outside the home. That means somebody, having put in a solid eight or so hours, has to drag his or her weary derriere home and then get his or her Martha Stewart on. Takeout, as all right-thinking parents know, is not at all the same thing as a home-cooked meal. Which is also not the same thing as an organic, locavore, humanely raised, fairtrade, low in fat, salt and everything else except labor meal. A meal which will no doubt be greeted with an aghast face and a whiny demand for plain pasta.

So a new report that suggests the benefits of the home cooked family meal may be outweighed by the pressure of providing said meal should be welcome. Researchers from North Carolina State University interviewed 150 families and found that the whole whip-up-something-for-dinner directive is more like a whip-a-very-overburdened-horse for many families and utterly impossible for others. “Cooking is at times joyful, but it is also filled with time pressures, tradeoffs designed to save money, and the burden of pleasing others,” says the study, which was published in the summer 2104 issue of Contexts.

“The emphasis on home cooking ignores the time pressures, financial constraints, and feeding challenges that shape the family meal. Yet this is the widely promoted standard to which all mothers are held,” the researchers write, adding that it is moralistic, rather elitist and unrealistic. “Intentionally or not, it places the burden of a healthy home-cooked meal on women.” The researchers found that particularly among low income women whose inflexible and inconsistent work schedules prevented them from being able to be home for meals, let along cook them, the scoldy tone of the family dinner table fetishization crowd added unnecessary stress.

My go-to meal strategy is getting my husband to cook, since it involves fire and is therefore a very manly activity. Nevertheless I find myself having to prepare a couple of meals a week. (My second go to strategy, “international toast,” which involved toasting all the leftover crusts of different sorts of bread hanging around the freezer and serving them with eggs, no longer fools my kids, alas.) So you’d think I’d welcome the news that it’s probably better sometimes to skip it. But I don’t. Being both a breadwinner and an international toastmaker can be a drag, but it’s an even bigger to drag to be told that it’s not worth it.

I’ve put a lot of time and effort into making dinner—and making everyone eat the results. It’s stressful to discover that that’s probably too stressful to bother with. So I’m going home to cook dinner. But in act of protest against the forces which hold women to an impossible standard yet again, I’m probably not going make anything very good.

TIME Music

America’s Most Buzzed-About Music Festival Is…

Kanye West at South by Southwest 2014
Kanye West performs onstage at South by Southwest on March 12 in Austin, Texas. Rick Kern—Getty Images for Samsung

A new study says that one festival is more discussed than Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo or Governor's Ball

A study sponsored by Eventbrite and Mashwork has determined that South by Southwest — held each March in Austin, TX — is America’s most buzzed-about music festival, beating out perennial favorites like Coachella in Indio, Calif., Lollapalooza in Chicago and Governors Ball in New York City. Ranking just behind SXSW in the top five were Las Vegas’ iHeartRadio, Chattahoochee Hills, GA’s TomorrowWorld, Lollapalooza and Coachella.

Despite South by Southwest’s strong showing, Texas didn’t rank amongst the top three states in terms of most chatter — that distinction went to New York, Nevada and California. The study also confirmed what may have already been obvious: music festivals are heavily youth-dominated, with 75% of the conversation generated by those between the ages of 17 and 34.

Eventbrite

A few other interesting tidbits from the report:

  • 54% of the conversation takes place before the event itself, easily besting the 17% that occurs during the festival and the 29% after it.
  • For Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn. and Hangout in Gulf Shores, Ala., it was all about the music — at both festivals, excitement about the full lineup or particular artist accounted for 65% and 63%, respectively, compared with a 47% average for the top 25 festivals overall.
  • People at Coachella spent way more time talking about style than at the average event — fashion discussion made up for 27% of the conversation there, compared with just 10% nationwide.
  • Though the ages of music festival fans closely mirrored the average age of Twitter users, a much wider spread is apparent from music fans’ taste in brands, where Starbucks, McDonalds and, of all places, Walmart proved favorites. Whole Foods, Best Buy and IHOP also scored highly.

Check out the full report here.

TIME psychology

Over-Confident People Are Seen as Smarter, Even When They’re Not

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Fooling yourself can help you fool others into thinking you're not a fool

Turns out “fake it till you make it” is actually real. A new study found that over-confident students were more likely to be perceived as smart by their peers, regardless of their actual grades.

Researchers at Newcastle University and University of Exeter found that students who over-estimated their own grades tended to be perceived as more talented, and students who under-estimated their grades were seen as less talented, regardless of their actual capabilities. “Our results support the idea that self-deception facilitates the deception of others,” concluded Shakti Lamba and Vivek Nityananda in their study published Wednesday in Plos One. “Overconfident individuals were overrated and underconfident individuals were underrated.”

Because the study was focused on students studying psychology and anthropology, subjects that generally attract more female students, the sample size was female-biased. But while Lamba and Nityananda acknowledged that previous studies have found that men tend to be over-confident and women tend to be under-confident, their research found that gender had no effect on how people perceive self-assured men and women.

The researchers also warned that over-confidence can have more of an effect on individual decisions like picking a mate or hiring for jobs, resulting in self-deceptive and risk-prone people being promoted to powerful roles. “Promoting such individuals we may be creating institutions such as banks, trading floors and armies, that are also more vulnerable to risk,” they wrote.

In other words, even if you’ve made it, you’ll probably keep on faking it.

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