Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The bored supremacy

Several years ago I took a look at the relationship between boredom and intelligence. Turns out the two things are inversely related. When Razib Khan says he is unable to recount a time he has been bored in his adult life, believe him.

Personally, I can't remember ever feeling bored (with leisure time, that is--there are moments in professional life or while waiting in a checkout line that are inevitably going to feel wasted, but that's not really what we're interested in here) since at least as far back as high school, and that perpetual feeling of what I'll phrase as existential engagement has only intensified as I've gotten older. Just getting to work on my backlog of books to read and podcasts to listen to guarantees I won't be twiddling my thumbs for months, and even if I did nothing else with my free time but these two things, I've reached a sort of singularity in which my to-do stack grows at a faster rate than my ability to shrink it down does. I doubt that strikes anyone reading this as particularly unique, either.

Data from the GSS suggests that I'm just entering the sweet spot and shouldn't have to worry about creeping boredom for at least another three decades or so, when senility and empty nesting presumably combine for a nasty one-two punch. The following graph shows the average existential engagement score by age of respondent. The higher the value, the more engaged (and less often bored) respondents report being. N = 2,060:


There is some year-to-year randomness, but an arch-shaped (or maybe Roman aqueduct-shaped, since it plateaus in the middle!) general life trajectory is identifiable. Boredom is relatively common in the late teens (and presumably even more so in the early and mid-teens, though the GSS doesn't interview minors) and doesn't level off until the mid-twenties. For the next 35 years or so, it's fairly steady before beginning to slowly but steadily creep back into the picture from the early sixties onward. Incidentally, 46 is the age that garners the least bored ratings of all. Dennis Mangan's recent speculations about a lack of work (ie retirement) and a corresponding reduction in the will to live might be relative here.

Parenthetically, existential engagement by race and then by sex follow. Again, the higher the score, the less bored members of the relevant group report being:

Asians -- 2.49
Whites -- 2.41
Blacks -- 2.24
Hispanics -- 2.14

Women -- 2.34
Men -- 2.27

Idle hands (and minds) are the Devil's workshop.

GSS variables used: BORED, AGE, RACECEN1(1)(2)(4-10)(15-16), SEX

6 comments:

Razib said...

thanks for this post. still not bored. though with two kids, who would be?

JayMan said...

Interesting, but two problems:

1. I'm guessing if you put the 95% CIs on here, any trends would end up looking they're just noise.

2. Weakness with all such research is that you may not be seeing an actual life trajectory, but cohort effects. Recent longitudinal studies suggests that trends inferred from cross-sectional studies aren't actually real.

For what it's worth, I get bored quite easily. Though it usually doesn't last because I find something to do.

Anonymous said...

It looks like this runs inverse to the quantity of kids at home on average. Starts out mostly empty in teenage years and early twenties then kids start coming and by fifties or sixties the place is empty again.

Audacious Epigone said...

Razib,

Keeping up with the Khans is hard to do, but we're giving it our all. Guaranteed stimulation for the next 20 years!

Jayman,

The question was only asked in two years, so the cohort effect is in play. There is the question of whether or not this trend shows meaningful changes over time (which it might--I think I would've been 'bored' on days where I have my son for seven or eight hours if I didn't have podcasts, audio books, etc).

With lack of better data, the statistical strength of the relationship doesn't dictate to me whether or not it's worth pointing out. The p-value when restricted to those aged 30+ is less than .001, though, so it is statistically significant in a simply linear sense (as people get older from age 30, they tend to feel bored more often).

Anon,

Seems plausible. A bit of suggestive evidence, too. The % of respondents who say they get bored "quite often":

0 kids -- 17.5%
1 kid -- 13.0%
2+ kids -- 12.0%

Anonymous said...

My IQ is >160 but I'm constantly bored. Maybe related to a suspected dissocial disorder.

Dan said...

Empty nesting is a degenerate modern thing. The solution is to be engaged with one's clan so that raising kids blends smoothly into helping with grandkids.

For this you need enough descendants to begin with. My nearby parents have from one to all four of my kids over at their house on many days. There is massive mutual benefit.