French building failures, growing generational divides, and fixing Britain’s future

Top of the Charts

Morning all,

It’s always nice to get emails from TOTC readers – or feedback in person at events. Sometimes there’s suggestions of reads to include, or topics we’ve never had a chart of the week on. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but there’s even the occasional suggestion that a joke has not actually been very funny.

More positively, lots of people have asked when I was going to pull my finger out and write a book. My answer has been “when British politics and economics calms down enough to free up the time”. But that day has never come, and doesn’t look like materialising any time soon. Plus, I’m always telling other people to confront the world as they find it, rather than as they’d like it to be. So, it’s announcement time.

After six years (and four Prime Minsters…) of TOTC, I’ve decided it is time to write something just a little bit longer. Great Britain? How We Get Our Future Back is the result – an explanation of what’s gone wrong with our economy, the risks that poses to our society, and a manifesto for building this country a tomorrow that is better than today. Topically for this week, it reminds everyone that public debt is rising AND that neither main party is going to deliver on their net zero commitments without more public investment. Hope that’s all cleared up.

It’s out on 27th June, but the front-cover got sorted this week so I thought it was a good moment to share the news with you. Please do check it out and share with any friends interested in sorting Britain out. I’ve had TOTC readers in mind while writing, so hopefully you at least will like it. I promise there are lots of charts. And not too many jokes.

To keep you going till then, TOTC service continues as normal. This week we’ve got reads on the dangers of locking research away, and of starting a PhD. Have a great weekend.

Chief Executive
Resolution Foundation

Pricey paywalls. TOTC is in the knowledge sharing business. The sharing bit is why we only include research with non-paywalled versions, because academic papers can have eye-watering prices. But beyond missing out on TOTC, what impact can those prices have? A chunky one argues new (freely available) research, which concludes the more powerful the publisher, and the more pricey their articles, the lower the reach of research (measured in fewer citations, which fall 0.83 per cent for each 1 per cent increase in price). The citation falls are bigger among less prestigious universities and developing countries i.e. places where the price barrier might plausibly bite harder. The authors’ populist message? Set the regression results free.

Huguenot housing. We bring bad housing news to make the French weep into their double espressos. New French data shows that they started building fewer than 300,000 new homes last year for first time this century (we’re talking the yellow logements commences line on the chart). Obviously, we’d never let such a thing happen here… carefully avoiding such embarrassment by making sure we never get near building that volume of houses in the first place. Yes we’ve theoretically got a target of building 300,000 homes each year, but we work hard to miss it every year (we started building 186,900 new homes in the twelve months to September 2023). The thing about being a total failure on this front? We don’t have very far to fall. That’ll show the French.

Prioritising pensions. We regularly praise the success of auto-enrolment into pension savings. But should it kick in sooner? DWP has been reviewing the £10,000 earnings trigger, the minimum amount you have to earn before your employer is required to enrol you into a pension and make contributions to it. It’s stating the obvious that this trigger excludes the lowest earners (plus gives firms an incentive to employ workers on short hours contracts – as does national insurance). But new research from DWP (skip straight to Annex A) tells us who is affected. 70 per cent of those who would benefit from reducing the threshold are women, near a quarter are from an ethnic minority (vs 14 per cent of those already covered by auto-enrolment), and 28 per cent are disabled (vs 18 per cent currently covered). You often hear people say “but do lower earners want to be saving into a pension?”, so it’s good to see a summary of qualitative research with lower earners published at the same time. The headlines: they are positive about pension savings, don’t like complexity (which is why we do auto-enrolment), and are confused about the interaction with benefits. Oh, and some are currently saving via crypto cons. So that’s good. For more on making us a higher savings nation come along to our event on Monday.

Winning women. The parenthood penalty is a big reason why women earn less than men, despite being generally more educated. But is there anything else going on, especially in STEM related areas where women are under-represented? A new paper asks a very direct question: do women do worse when men are around? And answers it: yes. It examines exam results for those applying to enter a competitive coding programme, which were generally done in a mixed-gender environment, except for 2019 when only women took the test and…. did materially better than normal, in particular in the areas that men traditionally outperform (maths/logic). They tried to answer more questions and got more right. The argument is that women exerted more effort without men (and gender stereotypes) around.

Suffering students. Some good mediocre news for doctoral students. Your PhD does make you miserable. Sigh. But not quite as miserable as we previously thought. Happy days. A new paper looks at the mental health of students in Sweden (an excellent country I might add, but not always the perkiest). It examines lots of data, including prescriptions, specialist care visits, and hospitalisations to conclude that PhD students have a higher prevalence of depression than counterparts not putting themselves through the nightmare (7 per cent suffer from depression in a year). But those prevalence rates for depression are less than one-third of what other papers have found. So that’s nice.

Chart of the week

Age is the new class in British politics. In 2019, the over 70s were over twice as likely to vote Conservative as those aged 30. This age divide should shrink at the coming election, partly because Brexit – an issue that divided generations – won’t be centre-stage. It’s also because, although the young overall have swing towards Labour like all other age groups, those that are relatively more disadvantaged (non-homeowners and non-graduates) report being no more likely to back the red team than they were in 2019. Instead, they look less likely to vote at all. This reinforces two other divides, both related to turnout. Since 1997, we’ve seen older voters being far more likely to vote than the youth, with a 24 percentage points gap between 25-34-year-olds and those aged 65 and above in 2019. And in 2019, millennial homeowners were 28 percentage points more likely to vote than their non-homeowning peers (the millennial graduate gap was 25 percentage points). COTW (from new RF research) highlights these already huge gap looks set to widen – less well-off groups of millennials are reporting being less likely to vote than they were in 2019, in contrast to young grads and homeowners. The danger? When groups move away from voting, including in other countries, we don’t always like what brings them back. The far right.