So the single people in the audience might be wondering, "How can I get in on one of these awesome relationships I keep hearing about?" And I was able to put together some numbers on that too. You may have heard that the best place to meet people is in school. I can confirm this with an exclamation point. School is the most common way that people report meeting their partner. It's more than twice as likely to account for a relationship as work, and it's more effective than online dating, speed-dating, blind-dating, bars, clubs, coffee shops, and family connections combined. By the way, this presentation is sponsored by Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, and the newly launched Harvard School of Just Hanging Out, which is of course a spinoff of the Business School. I'm told that if you sign up this weekend there's a 20% discount for singles.
Now as we all know, one of the main reasons people come to college reunions is to humblebrag about themselves. So I thought I would do some predictive analysis to anticipate what people at Reunion are most likely to brag about. In order to accomplish this, I looked at questions where people compare themselves to the rest of the Harvard class, and the results were pretty interesting. It turns out that people are probably not planning to brag about the level of money or fame they've achieved. Only 3% of alumni think they're in the most famous 10%, and only 2% think they're in the most powerful 10%. About 7% think they're in the highest-earning 10%, but on some questions not shown here, we have about twice people who think they're below average as think they're above average. So for all of those out there who are feeling insecure about your money, fame and power, you should know that you've seriously overestimated your loser classmates, and you probably should have thought harder about all the time they spent doing things like trying to shotgun wine bottles before assuming they now rule the world.
But on the other hand, there are a couple of dimensions where alumni have much higher opinions of themselves, and these are the things I think people have come to humblebrag about. One of them is positive contribution to society: 15% of us think we're in the top 10%, and 4% of us think we're in the top 1%. The much bigger one is happiness: only 4% of us think we're below average, over 30% of us think we're in the happiest 10%, and a whopping 10% of us think we're in the happiest one percent. So I think this is going to be a really interesting and really weird reunion, because it looks like our generation has become some sort of bragging hipster generation. Instead of bragging about money and fame like traditional people do, we're way too cool for that and instead we're all high on ourselves for being good people with the right priorities in life. I think we're going to be hearing a lot of conversations along the lines of "Yeah I'm kinda poor, but I'm doing what I believe in and I'm really happy and I think that's just what matters, but I don't know, maybe that's just me." "No man I totally feel you, and actually I think I'm even poorer and happier, I mean I literally love my spouse so much I'd kill myself if we split up."
You can also see this dynamic in play in our descriptions of how our values have changed over time. When comparing themselves to 10 years ago, Harvard alumni say they now place less value on fame and status, and much more on their relationships with their family and especially their partner. There are other symptoms of getting older: we find money slightly more important and partying and going out much less important. But in my view, the most profound change is the massive increase in the percentage of us who consider it a very important life value to eat good food. That's gone from 20% to 50%, enough that if we were back in school today the first thing that would happen would be a riot in the dining hall. In the years since we graduated, food has overtaken partying, money, art, and religion as something that we value. And I can't say I blame you guys; the Lord works in mysterious ways, but a good sandwich works in really obvious ways and is much more delicious.
Now so far the analysis I've been doing is pretty simple, mostly just comparing averages and showing charts and stuff. There are some basic limitations to this analysis, which is mostly that it doesn't really make me feel enough like I'm Nate Silver. So now what I’m going to do is present some analysis that uses much more advanced techniques. These techniques are so complicated that none of you guys will ever be able to understand what I did, and therefore you'll never be able to check it, and therefore I'm able to make them come out however I want.
So the first thing I did was use a Jiggetts-Noonan-Larry-Summers-Karnofsky analysis to generate a complete narrative profile and simulated photo of the theoretically perfect member of the Class of 2003. So let's take a look at this person; this isn't actually a real person but is instead sort of a Platonic ideal of a Harvard grad. These calculations generated a person named Mart Zuckerbomney. Mart initially came out of college working as the director for the South Asia arm of McKinsey Social Media Enterprises, a job that took him to 14 countries in 3 years making tweets to promote credit default swaps. But everything turned to chaos when he met the love of his life and his missing piece, Mirt Romberg, also Harvard '03, and adopted a beautiful 1/3 of a child who inspires him every day. Mart looks forward to many more years full of wealth, love, happiness, food, and minimal sex.
I've also taken the liberty of performing an Eliot-Mather-Leverett analysis to predict the most common conversations that will take place at this 10th reunion. Here they are:
"That's awesome, your children sound really amazing, hey I'm gonna go get another drink it was great catching up."
"Oh sorry, I didn't recognize you without the constant bloviating about Habermas. How've you been?"
"So how interested are you in giving oral sex on a scale of 1-10? I don't mean to pry, I'm just trying to figure out the probability that you're a millionaire."
"Hey baby, can I buy you a drink at the open bar? Did you know I went to Harvard?"
Now as any good Magic of Numbers alumnus knows, no good quantitative analysis is complete without qualitative analysis, especially if you're bad at math which I happen to be. So I'd like to close with a poem I created that is comprised entirely of quotes from this year's Red Book. It is called "I Am So Great," by the Harvard Class of 2003:
We have been traveling whenever possible and recently crossed Argentina, Australia, Belize, Colombia, France, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, and Puerto Rico off the list
We have traveled the world together to Italy, France, Japan, Morocco, Israel, Thailand, Cambodia, and around the US
We have steel plants in Canada, US, Mexico, the Caribbean, Brazil, and Argentina
We are well-connected: our chairman was number two at the World Bank
I have twenty-one part-time staff in twelve countries
I’ve served on the small team of lawyers who secured the Civil Rights Division’s largest-ever monetary settlement
I met Zach Galifianakis in a bar and he hit on me
I am a boring lawyer, who reads contracts all-day long for a construction company.
One country away from having traveled to more countries than my age
project that keeps me going is a partnership with a hula school to share my dissertation results with the community through a two-hour hula performance.
Buenos Aires, London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Zurich, Geneva, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Oslo, Frankfurt, Vienna, Belgrade
Of course the most important moments in my life have been at home.
I married my best friend and the man of my dreams.
I asked the most amazing woman I have ever known to be my wife.
We’d love to see any classmates who show up in Maine!
I met my wife … the love of my life and my missing piece.
Being married to my husband is incredible.
If anyone is headed to Jackson Hole, please do stop by
Tommy is only ten weeks old as I write this, and I can already see all the beautiful ways in which he will change our lives for the better.
We're now amazed and humbled daily to be with Otto, the new human being who entered our lives
We have three chickens (Serena, Blair, and Chuck).
Who knew that tiling, plumbing, and gardening could be so fun?
I am completely, thoroughly, utterly happy,
As … (my beautiful, awesome wife) and I often say to each other (at the end of yet another adrenaline-infused, joyful day together): “If our next five years are anything like the last five, look out world. . . .
We have a cozy guest room here in Omaha
I’m always up for a drink with an old classmate passing through
I’d love to show you around if you come to visit
Feel free to shoot me an email
Please be in touch
Please look us up!
Anyone interested in babysitting, we pay generously...
Holden Karnofsky's 2013 Speech
It seems like only yesterday that we were doing things like pissing on the John Harvard statue and running naked through Harvard Yard. But it was a full decade ago, and also in BJ Averell's case, this morning. As we gather here to look back on lifetimes filled with failing to start Facebook, I wanted to take stock of what we've accomplished and how much sex we've had, using the great knowledge tool of the 21st century: questionable statistical analysis using unreliable data.
In all seriousness, we had over 400 responses to the class survey, and I only had to remove 3 doofuses who were claiming to have sex thousands of times a month and things like that. On many questions the results were very similar to the survey five years ago, though we also saw the sorts of changes you'd expect from people getting older, like more income and less of most kinds of coolness. So while this may not be the most scientific report you've ever seen, it's probably about twice as legitimate as any analysis any of us ever handed in in college. So I'll now present the highlights from this survey, and hopefully this will eliminate any need to ask your old friends how they've been.
So the first thing I learned from the survey data is that Harvard alumni are really following our dreams and our hearts. And by that I mean, Harvard alumni are making gobs and gobs of money. The median income for our class is $100,000 which is over twice what the average American household makes. Even more impressive is when you look at net worth, I am proud to announce that over 20% of the class of 2003 is officially worth a million dollars or more. That means that if you fart during this speech, there's approximately a 90% chance that your fart will be personally smelled by a millionaire. It's not every day you get an opportunity like this and you certainly have my permission to "carpe diem," as they say.
So the natural next question is, who are these millionaires who walk among us and how do they differ from the rest of us? I've done some crosstabs to give us some answers. First off, where the survey asked about where your wealth comes from, millionaires are about 3x as likely to list inheritance as a major factor and only about 1/2 as likely to list salary. They're also about twice as likely to list "other" as a major factor in their wealth, which really makes me wish we'd remembered to include more choices for how you got rich, such as blackmailing the city of Gotham.
One place that doesn't look responsible for all this wealth is the Harvard classroom. Millionaires were much less likely to say they found their classes very valuable, and not a single one found classes extremely valuable. On the other hand millionaires were much more likely to get value from being able to say they went to Harvard, with about 83% of them finding it very valuable or extremely valuable. They're less likely to have been A students, but they're about 3x as likely to think they'd be A students if they had to take their exams today. It reminds me of the old saying, "The best education you'll get isn't from the classroom; it's from waving your Harvard diploma around while hedge funds and your parents throw fistfuls of cash at you."
Millionaires are also less likely to want to trade their sex drive for $20 million, though frankly both these numbers are pretty high. When I saw that not only would over half our class trade their sex drive for money, but that over 40% of people who already have a million dollars would trade their sex drive for money, I realized there's only one possible conclusion: many of us are no longer college students.
Millionaires do give a much higher percentage of their income to charity than the rest of us, by which I mean they give almost nothing to charity just like the rest of us. In all 50 U.S. states, people give a much higher percentage of their income to charity than we do, despite having much less money. Of course, I think the reasons for this are obvious. You see, Harvard students are really sharp and so a lot of us have noticed that when you give to charity you don't get anything back. You end up with less money and not more coffee. So we aren't going in for that scam the way the all of the red state rubes are.I'm going to wrap up the topic of millionaires by noting that in a lot of ways we really aren't all that different. My data doesn't tell me whether millionaires put their pants on one leg at a time, but the ones I've seen naked mostly do. Millionaires rate themselves about the same as the rest of us on intelligence, informed opinions, sense of humor and physical attractiveness, though much higher on luck. Millionaires are happier than the rest of us, but it's a pretty small difference.
In fact, I have to say, I sliced this survey data a lot of different ways and I had a lot of trouble finding big differences in happiness. Just about any way you look at it, alumni are averaging in the range of about 7.4 to 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. I looked at millionaires, I looked at people who think they're hot, I looked at religious people and non-religious people, I looked at people who have lots of sex. The one major category I found that makes a big difference in happiness is family. Single people are all the way down at 6.7, people in relationships average 8, and people with kids average 8.2. I thought this last result was particularly interesting because when I hang out with people with kids my happiness averages -5. So I decided to drill down a little bit and figure out, just what is it that makes parents so happy?
Here's what I found. When comparing to other people in relationships, people with kids have much weaker romantic feelings for their partner, much less frequent sex, lower quality sex, and less kinky sex. Their overall relationship satisfaction is lower. They spend huge amounts of time on child care, something like 3x what the average American spends. They're less likely to exercise, do yoga, go drinking, and do just about everything except watch TV and pray. So I think this creates a pretty big mystery, what do people with children have that we don't? And the only answer I've come up with is that watching TV is awesome. Now I do have some advice for these happy parents. I tried dividing parents into those who say their parenting style is strict and those who say their parenting style is lax. We had about equal numbers of the two. Parents who are strict reported more sex, better sex, and higher relationship satisfaction. They are about half as likely to have an angry exchange with each other more than once a month. They had lower happiness 5 years ago but they have higher happiness now compared to lax parents. I've included these figures in the presentation as a public service announcement so that if your kid is screaming at dinner tonight you will consider taking action. And if you just let your kid keep screaming I'm going to stand up and point at you and say "I bet that couple doesn't have very good sex!" And no one's going to stop me because my parents are so lax they aren't even here.
Now I should mention that one of the common themes in survey responses was to push back on all the sex questions. Comments included "Enough with the sex question!", "why all the questions about sex?", and "I bet Noonan wrote all the sex questions…what a perv." So for those of you who are wondering why there were so many sex questions, let me try to explain. Sex is really interesting. It's actually even more interesting than hearing about your job, or the marathon you ran, it's even more interesting than hearing about your child. So I will now tell you all about each others' sex lives, and for anyone who finds this topic uncomfortable I believe there is an alternative talk in Science Center A about applying the work of Hegel to investment management.
So first, Harvard alumni don't seem particularly kinky. We rate our kinkiness as an average of 4.6 out of 10. For reference, we rate our own physical attractiveness around 7 and our moral fiber around 8, so 4.6 out of 10 is sort of the equivalent of getting an F minus minus minus in kinkiness class. However, that said, watch out for the future, because Harvard alumni expect the kinkiness of their sex to go up in the next several years. They rate it 4.6 today but they expect 4.8 in a year and 5 in five years, which according to my projections means we'll be ready to start tying each other up in about 947 years. What's also interesting is that in addition to believing their sex will be kinkier in the future, Harvard alumni also believe their sex was kinkier in the past. This is a really interesting phenomenon that I call the "sex smile curve" and it also applies to frequency and quality of sex. Basically I think there are a couple possible interpretations here. One is that people really did fill out this survey at a low point in their sex lives, and that looking forward to your 10th reunion is kind of the equivalent of taking 2 cold showers a day. The other is that Harvard students have studied their Foucault well and they understand that since we wield power in this society, we can reinterpret the past to be whatever we want it to be. This kind of skill at reimagining the past is exactly what has given many of us such good college applications and resumes.
So one thing that I think is interesting and somewhat puzzling about our class is that we all want a lot more sex than we're having, and this applies pretty much any way you slice it. Now this would make sense for single people and it would make sense for parents. But if you just look at people in serious relationships with no kids, they report having sex a median of 6 times a month and wishing it were 12, and also more than half of them report masturbating at least once a week. This isn't a gender thing either - women do have slightly older partners and they have slightly less sex, but they report having sex 5 times a month and wanting 9, whereas the men report having sex 8 times a month and wanting 13. So guys, what exactly is the holdup? You have a partner, you don't have to deal with your blockmates anymore, you don't have kids, you have pretty much no distractions, you have Google Calendar to coordinate your schedules? I have to tell you it's not going to get any easier than this.
I think in some cases people might be genuinely confused. One of the questions on the survey asks what the biggest difference is between you and your partner. Some of the answers we got included "I have a penis and she has a vagina," "He has a penis," "My partner has a penis," "She has a vagina," "penis," and "I don't think I understand this question." At first I thought these answers might be coming from people who have been spending too much time around their kids. But when putting this alongside the fact that childless couples can't manage to have sex 2 or 3 times a week, I started to realize that for all our finance acumen and SAT scores, a lot of the Class of 2003 might be genuinely still figuring out exactly how this sex thing works. After all we Harvard alumni tend to learn by instruction and there was no class on how to have sex, in fact even worse there was a class that was called Sex that ended up being about monkeys, which is pretty confusing. So let me just make a public service announcement to be perfectly clear: if you are doing a version of sex that is really difficult, requires any kind of intellectual problem-solving, requires rental equipment, or especially requires renting a monkey, you are doing it wrong and you should talk to your friends who went to state school for some assistance.
Now in addition to data on sex we also got quite a bit of data on love. And I am proud to report that not only is the Class of 2003 richer than ordinary people, we're far more emotionally needy as well. 78% of us are either married or in a serious relationship, and that's about normal for Americans in our age range, but for those of us who are single, about 85% are looking for a serious relationship, compared to 29% of single people in our age range. And the married among us are completely and abjectly terrified of being alone - when asked how happy they'd be if single, they give an average of 4.1, which is similar to the average happiness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The percentage of us who say "I love you" at least daily is higher than the percentage who are sure about the theory of evolution. About 60% of people in couples say "I love you" more than once a day, so I wish we'd asked how many people say it more than once per hour. I always knew Harvard students needed constant validation but I guess I didn't realize how bad it would get once we no longer had our grade-inflating professors around.
The neediness statistic I most enjoyed is that a full 22% of us rate our level of romantic intensity as 10/10 which was specifically marked on the survey as "Romeo and Juliet." For those of you who got B's in your Literature and Arts classes, Romeo and Juliet is about two teenagers from rival families who would rather kill themselves than live without each other, and not - as is sometimes thought - about two corporate lawyers who wish they could trade their sex drive for money.