Economist 3/5/15

  1. The Nordics are still out in front, according to our latest glass-ceiling index, which shows where women have the best chances of equal treatment at work. It combines data on higher education, labour-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs. This year it is Finland that comes out best, overtaking Sweden and knocking Norway off the top spot. It scores highest of the 28 countries in our index for the share of women in higher education (where their lead over males has grown), female labour-force participation and women taking the GMAT (business-school entrance exam), now over 50%. Finland has also increased its paid maternity leave by more than two weeks. Norway still has more women on company boards than other countries, thanks to a 40% mandatory quota that came into effect in 2008. A newcomer to the index is Turkey, which is among the worst places in the OECD to be a working woman.South Korea scores top for net child-care costs, thanks to generous subsidies.
  2. Research published this week suggests that humans, like other animals, use smell when they greet each other.Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Israel, took note of an observation made by epidemiologists in 2008 about just how often people touch their faces.Dr Sobel had a hunch that it might have something to do with the gathering of scents—and could thus bear on the question of whether human beings secrete odiferous signalling molecules, sometimes known as pheromones.Dr Sobel and his colleagues measured how often volunteers placed their hands near their faces before and after the greeting, and whether this differed between those who had shaken hands and those who had not. They found that people who had been greeted with a handshake touched their faces more often than those who had not been, and also that such face-touching tended to be closer to their noses.
  3. As women have become less happy to be confined to the home in Saudi Arabia, women-only facilities beyond schools and universities are proliferating. In Kingdom Mall, a shopping centre, men are forbidden to tread on one floor, where nail salons and hairdressers flank clothes shops. On Thursdays Riyadh’s zoo admits women only. Curves, an American gym chain, has found favour by offering its facilities to female fitness fanatics unencumbered by their men. Women are banned from driving, so they still need a man to take them to their ladies-only exercise classes. A male relative must give a woman permission to attend one of the country’s all-female universities. As more women go to work, offices that once had separate lifts and rooms are becoming more integrated.
  4. Much of the United States has experienced four unusually freezing winters in succession. Surely that contradicts the notion that the Earth’s climate is warming up?Not necessarily, for two reasons. First, the climate and the weather are not the same: they are related, but weather patterns develop and change over hours, days and weeks; the climate changes over years and decades. And second, the American landmass is just one small part of the surface of the globe. While temperatures have been well below average across much of the United States, other parts of the world have been abnormally warm.And indeed, there may be a connection between climate change and colder winters in parts of the northern hemisphere. The link is the Arctic region. Because the poles are colder than the equator, air streams north and south in order to equalise temperatures.But the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the Earth. Since the mid 1990s, temperatures at the northern pole have risen almost three times as much as they have at temperate latitudes. So the difference between the poles and the equator is narrowing. This seems to be affecting the jet stream, and could change its moderating effect on northern weather. 
  5. The American Hotel & Lodging Association, a trade body, publishes aGratuity Guide, with suggested rates that can make one wince. Examples include up to $2 per person for the driver of the shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel; as much as $5 per bag for porters; door staff, meanwhile, should expect up to $2 for the onerous task of flexing their fingers at one of the taxis queued up right outside; and housekeeping should be left up to $5 a night. Top of the heap is the concierge. His suggested rate is $5 for booking a guest a table in a restaurant and $10 if he has something more difficult to do, like find a tricky theatre ticket.Studies have suggested that customers don’t tend to vary their gratuities much so, as one restaurateur on puts it, “tipped servers, in turn, learn that service quality isn’t particularly important to their revenue. Instead they are rewarded for maximising the number of guests they serve, even though that degrades service quality.”

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