Number of babies born in the US by year from 1978-2020

I was playing around with birth number statistics.  (Note there’s a small change in 2006 about where the data came from– the numbers are really similar for the overlap between 1990 and 2006 but in general, the numbers from 2006+ are usually just a little bit lower than their counterparts from the other dataset, generally in the 1,000s place.  The numbers for 2005 in both datasets are very similar.)

Here’s what you get if you plot out raw numbers.  This doesn’t include immigration or mortality or anything like that.  Also no information about education or income or race or socioeconomic status.  Just raw numbers.

Many kids applying to elite colleges this year were born in or around 2004/5.

There will be some red-shirted and otherwise delayed kids who were born a year or two before then.  And, of course, the pandemic gap year kids (kids who deferred a year and then made the next accepted college class smaller at many elite schools, which caused kids who didn’t get in where they wanted to delay a year etc.) are still moving through.  And there’s kids who would never have applied to elite colleges before who are now encouraged to do so through QuestBridge (this is really great– work by Carolyn Hoxby and Susan Dynarski has been pushing for connecting these kids to elite schools and it’s fantastic that’s actually happening now).  And international students no longer have to prove that they are rich to attend US colleges like they did at the turn of the century.  So those are a few additional causes of competition for elite schools.

But still, the raw numbers are important.  (There’s something called the Easterlin Hypothesis that talks about the effects of cohort size on economic outcomes– this is part of that theoretical thread.)

And while the number of colleges has no doubt changed, what is defined as elite and how many schools are considered elite maybe hasn’t as much.

So… if your kids are applying to elite schools, is their college application experience going to be different than yours?  YES.  How much different?  Well.. what cohort did you apply to college with?  What cohort are your kids applying to college in?

A nice thing about this chart is the knowledge that if we hadn’t let DC1 skip a couple grades, there would be even more competition for slots.  Of course, zie would (probably) be more accomplished as well and wouldn’t be only 16, so that would help too.  DC2 has a bit more leeway as zie was born in the middle of kind of a flat fertility period, though zie may be facing more competition from red-shirted and gap year kids.

(Note that a lot of people making predictions about how hard it is to get into college are focusing on the *birth rate*, which will be dropping if what they say is correct.  The Birth Rate is calculated by dividing the number of live births in a year by the mid-year resident population.  The reason the birth number is going up but the birth rate is going down is because of the denominator, not the numerator.  Personally I think the numerator is more important to college admissions 17-18 years later.  Lots of other stuff goes into who is applying to college, as mentioned before the graph, but the mid-year resident population the year a kid was born probably isn’t a first order thing.)


  • As predicted, SLAC day (this year, Friday, March 17th, with a few stragglers Saturday morning) was a blood bath.
  • Still, to spoil a bit, DC1 ended the weekend with a couple more amazing possibilities.
  • In order.
  • Williams:  Reject
  • Bowdoin:  Waitlist
  • Haverford:  Waitlist
  • Swarthmore:  Reject
  • DC1 was feeling pretty down at this point.  Zie had fallen in love with Haverford during the supplemental essays.
  • Carleton:  Accept!!!!  Only 2K/year scholarship though.
  • Oberlin:  Accept!!!!  30K/year scholarship!!!!
  • Case Western:  Waitlist
  • So this complicates DC1’s decisions quite a bit.  Macalester, Oberlin, and Union would all be about 50K/year (plus or minus a few thousand and probably going up a couple thousand each year).  Carleton is almost full price– over 80K.  We told DC1 to ignore prices, but man, 120K is so much money.  (Still, we are going to ignore prices, and if DC1 chooses Carleton, then Carleton is where zie will go.)
  • DC1 had completely fallen in love with Macalester– the bagpipes, the blue plaid, the city, the food, etc. etc. etc.
  • But Carleton is consistently a top 10 SLAC (this year #6).
  • Carleton is also ranked as one of the best SLAC schools for computer science (but… so is Claremont McKenna and … they don’t really have much CS and HMC and Pomona are both cracking down on CMC students in their classes– I assume CMC will devote more resources to in-house CS and pair up with either HMC or Pomona for a joint major, but..)  (Really, either Pomona or HMC should restructure and CS should become a 5C major like math, but I digress.  And I understand why HMC might not want to do that.).
  • As Leah pointed out, Carleton is also Bon Appetit and has excellent food.
  • And Carleton is across the way from St. Olaf which is a wonderful place for music. (You can cross register, but the Carleton trimester only matches up with the St. Olaf semester one trimester per year and it delays you going home and defrosting during winter.)
  • But… also really hard to beat Oberlin for Music.
  • It’s crazy how much Oberlin has dropped in the rankings since I was in high school.  The right-wing media also seems to have chosen them as a whipping boy for manufactured anti-left outrage.  (They should pick on Reed who would probably get great joy out of the manufactured controversy and fight back!  Which is likely why they don’t.)
  • Oberlin has a cafeteria service I’ve never heard of:  Avi.  I haven’t figured out how they’re rated because of the aforementioned manufactured right-wing controversies about a Vietnamese International student complaining that the Bahn Mi was not actually Bahn Mi and shouldn’t be called such.  But unlikely to be at Bon Appetit level, hopefully sodexho level, but who knows.
  • Carleton offers a 20/week meal plan which is all the meals they offer plus some additional Carleton cash (which has some fancy name) that can be used at the cafes on campus.  Also they share their meal plan with St. Olaf.
  • There’s no Poke in Northfield, MN.
  • But it is 50 min away from a poke place in St. Paul.  I wonder if there are uber drivers in Northfield.  (Surely there are enterprising college students with cars?)
  • Carleton is on trimesters, which I find confusing.  They say it’s an intense 10 weeks and if you get sick, it’s especially difficult.  Only 3 classes per trimester (and unlike Union, they don’t recommend more, unless you’re taking a lab which adds about 1/3 of a class in terms of credit hours.)
  • DC1 is planning on exploring the CS options, the music options, how easy it will be to double major or minor (including how many credits are allowed from AP/college classes), etc. etc. etc.  Also what students say on places like Niche.
  • Apparently Union accepted DC1 early– their official date for releases was also SLAC week.  No wonder there were only 78 kids on their accepted students forums!
  • We are so relieved and elated though.  These acceptances are all WONDERFUL schools and we would be happy if DC1 chose any of them.  Even with the extra $120K in tuition (I tell myself it’s going to fund a low income kid like college-me was).  Such an abundance of options.
  • I did tear up at the Oberlin scholarship– I really was not expecting any money from them.  We don’t need it (it’s the difference of just using up the 529 or also cash flowing 30K/year, which we can do so long as we’re both working full time, and we have money in savings and stocks that we could still use in the event of a jobloss).
  • To forestall the question:  No, we will not be visiting any of these.  I have never found college visits to be helpful beyond what’s in the Fiske guide and just talking to people, and sometimes they are actively misleading.  (Caltech, I’m looking at you!)  More importantly, DC1 is taking Calc 3 at the university MWF and can’t miss any classes (and we didn’t have these acceptances in hand until after Spring Break).
  • Still waiting for Wesleyan (they decide on a different weekend than all the other prominent east coast SLACs) and Vanderbilt.  If zie gets into Vandy, I have no idea where to even go with that.  Still, it’s not my decision.

What would you choose if it were you (and your parents were wealthy) and why?  Union College (NY), Macalester College (MN), Carleton College (MN), or Oberlin College (OH).  Also what would you look into and what questions would you ask?


  • All the new projects I said yes to in September and October are suddenly actually starting.
  • DC1 told me the reason Coldplay is so compelling is because they never resolve their chords?  They just sort of fade out?
  • DH’s company is one of the ones that helped with the run on that bank that failed.  Thankfully they did get all the money (except the FDIC insured 250K, which really needs to be increased, given inflation) out in time.  But fixing that took all of Thursday + Friday for their lead management/HR/admin people, so they didn’t make a couple job offers they’d meant to.  So DH emailed someone a congratulatory email and got back a… but I haven’t gotten an offer yet?
  • Update:  looks like all deposits will be covered by the FDIC, not just those up to 250K, which is nice (and there wouldn’t have been a run and the bank wouldn’t have failed had depositors known that, but I digress).  They really do need to increase those limits though– it’s been 250K for as long as I can remember and there’s been a lot of inflation since then.
  • Apparently there is additional insurance banks can buy to protect assets larger than 250K.  Maybe that should be mandatory…
  • Waitlisted Grinnell.
  • Accepted to Union college (the one in NY) with a 30k/year scholarship.  That means zie can actually major in computer science instead of economics (hir only other acceptance was the state flagship but not for the school of engineering).  Union also has biomedical engineering and I think DC1 has enough credits and higher-level classes that zie could double major relatively easily.
  • Accepted to Macalester with a 23K/year scholarship!  I’m excited about this because Macalester is just a fantastic environment.  They’re even named the top college (or one of the top colleges) for LGBTQ+ students in the US on various lists.  (Among other things, they’re really good about all gender housing and bathrooms.)  DC1 considers hirself to currently be asexual (but may be demisexual or something else) and cisgender, so it’s not a direct issue for hir, but a place that is tops for marginalized people is generally a good place for everyone.
  • Macalester has lower tuition than Union so even though the scholarship is lower, it’s not actually that different in price.  Plus Macalester is upfront about likely going up 2K/year.
  • After the Union acceptance, which was the first one where DC1 could actually major in something zie wants to major in, it was like a huge ball of anxiety and stress that had been hanging over our heads just melted away.  After the Macalester acceptance, there was some actual elation.  I can definitely see DC1 being happy and cozy there.  Union I’m a little more worried about because it has a heavy frat presence and a heavy prep-school NY/NJ presence.  But a lot of people on the internet assure other worried people that there’s also a non-Greek nerd contingent that throws board-game and D&D parties instead of keggers.
  • Oddly, I’ve somehow gathered a lot of information on dining hall services quality over the years.  Sodexo is fine, but not great.  That’s what Union has.  There are a lot of complaints about the food from people who prefer healthier fare, but like, it’s still fine.  More of a focus on cheap comfort food (= deep fried), but not terrible.  Marriott and Bon Appetit are both actually pretty good, especially for things like salad bars and always having healthy items that taste fine.  Macalester has Bon Appetit and people generally like the food.
  • It’s weird, but my biggest worry is that skinny DC1 will just not eat if zie doesn’t like the food.  So I’m hoping for food to be good and available.  (Also will probably do shipments if DC1 doesn’t have an allergic roommate.)
  • My second biggest worry was having to find off-campus housing hirself as a teenager.  Since zie won’t be going to the flagship state school anymore, that’s not going to be a concern (they don’t even guarantee dorm housing for freshmen!).  I love elite private SLACs so much.  (UCSC apparently also does not have enough housing for freshmen, even though it’s an elite SLAC, but a public one.)
  • DC1 might still prefer Union over Macalester if zie wants to double major in engineering.  There really aren’t a whole lot of small liberal arts colleges that offer engineering and are more than say, 30% female (like with LGBTQ+ students, being good for female students generally also means they’re good for everybody).
  • Next weekend will be a bloodbath– all the remaining SLACs that DC1 applied to.  Then another week to hear from Vanderbilt.  (One of these schools is not like the others…)
  • Going through the college results reddit, a lot of people who got waitlisted or even rejected at Grinnell got into objectively better schools (one person even got into Harvard(!)).  They really must be looking for something different than a lot of these other schools are looking for, or they’re good at yield protection.
  • Macalester is sending DC1’s choice of warm socks or a puff-ball hat.  They are both adorable.  DC1 chose the socks after I promised that if zie decides to go to Macalester we would purchase hir a branded hat.  (We would have purchased the socks if zie had chosen the hat, but the reasoning is zie will wear the socks wherever zie ends up, but the hat only at cold colleges… which is all of them that are left except Vanderbilt.)
  • Word on the internet is that Grinnell’s dining hall had some massive problems last year,  I don’t know what company they use.  They did just fully unionize the dining hall workers including student workers though.

DC1 does taxes for the first time

If DC1 had been paid W2 income as a regular employer, there wouldn’t be any taxes because the government would have taken out Medicare and Social Security and apparently the limit for having to file taxes as a dependent is like $13K, give or take.  But zie was paid as a 1099 contractor, so zie did have to pay to make up for that.

Total tax amount turned out to be around 14% of income, so zie owed $326.

We decided it would be easier just to pay it ourselves than to figure out how to get hir to pay it given zie doesn’t have a checkbook.

Ask the grumpies: Worry and the intangible nature of wealth

First Gen American asks:

Do you ever worry about the intangible nature of your richness? If the world really goes sideways, is having physical stuff of value (art, etc) another way to hedge your bets? I keep thinking back to the Jews who used their prized violins and things to get passage out of the country during the holocaust. That was in my moms lifetime so not that long ago.

Good lord yes, I worry very much.  In terms of alternate stores of wealth, no, not so much.

I think I’m worried that artwork etc. are too cumbersome to take with me, and jewelry is so bad at keeping its value.  Maybe there’s something to be said for having actual gold bullion, but that is heavy and so attractive to thieves.

I’m hoping that we’d be able to have liquid assets outside of just the US and we’d be able to get out if we needed to.  But it’s hard to say.  Right now it hasn’t been a priority (#Biden), other than keeping probably more money than we need in savings accounts and having assets scattered across several different financial institutions.


  • We got 2x the refund we got last year.  I do not know why.  I’m on half pay this year, but DH was on unemployment a good portion of last year.  We did get a dependent credit this year that we didn’t get last year.  Our stocks did not spit out as many dividends as the previous year.  And I didn’t get as much consulting income, I guess (though I did get some in 2023 already).
  • DH is in an annoying situation with the 401k from his previous employer that he had to roll over.  He rolled it into a self-employment retirement plan.  A problem with those is that you have to add more income to them from time to time and DH just doesn’t have any self-employed income.  I get self-employed income from doing normal stuff (occasional honoraria, rare fees for reviewing etc.), but DH not so much.  We’re wondering if it’s worth driving an uber ….
  • The problem is that it’s all traditional accounts stuff, not Roth stuff, and we would have to pay $70K in taxes to roll it over to a Roth IRA (more when we’re both working full time), and if we didn’t convert it would be very difficult to do backdoor Roths.  I think he could still roll it to his current employer’s plan, but they have ridiculously high fees.
  • Probably what should be done is DH and his friend should do what they did at the last company and lobby to get their retirement switched over to Fidelity.
  • My department has suddenly decided to stop reimbursing dropbox, which is seriously irritating since I have multiple RAs whose subscriptions I’ve been paying because most economists use dropbox.  (I use drive with the ones who use drive, but dropbox is kind of the default.)  This is seriously irritating, especially since they won’t pay for Stata for me either.  I probably should have declared Stata on my taxes as an unreimbursed business expense.  So far over $500 spent out of pocket so I can do my own work.  One would think I wasn’t an economics professor at an R1. (Not that K-12 teachers or humanities professors or anyone should be having to pay out of pocket for business expenses either!)
  • With the big tax refund, we’ll have more than we need in the emergency fund.  I’ll have to decide what to do with it.  I keep thinking DC2’s 529, but I am reminded that DC1 still hasn’t gotten any college decisions other than the state school where zie would have to be an economics major.  It’s hard to know what to do until we know if we’re going to be paying 85K/year or 20K/year or something in between (if there’s merit aid).
  • I have literally no idea where DC1 is going to get into college.  We should get a couple of decisions this weekend and then most of the rest of them the 17th or 18th.  Then Vanderbilt at the end of the month.  I had been thinking that places like Macalester and Grinnell were safeties, but now I think Macalester is a target and Grinnell might be a reach(!)  I greatly prefer Minnesota to Iowa though, and Macalester keeps looking better and better (good food, full meal plan, lots of outside eating opportunities nearby, lots of nerds in their “day in the life” series, blue state, no recent large chemical spills…), so I hope DC1 gets in.
  • I am looking forward to sushi from a fancy new sushi place in town the end of this week– we’re letting DC1 choose a place to eat out for each rejection/acceptance.  There are a lot coming up though!

Work, risks, success?

This is a post in drafts from 2012 that was apparently a response to a 2010 Get Rich Slowly post that no longer exists entitled, “Break out of your comfort zone to achieve success.”   I think it’s still true and I might as well post it as is!  Plus I guess a lot less seems scary at middle age that might have felt more uncomfortable as a young adult?

I’ve been out of my comfort zone before and I’ve examined what other people do in my field to succeed (hint: perseverance and moxy are more important than talent).

Right now though I’m more interested in doing what I want than in getting ahead, but the advice in the post might have matched an earlier point in my career and will probably match a later point.

Getting out of your comfort zone can be time consuming and tiring… there’s something to be said for slow and steady comfortable progress too. Moderation in all things (including moderation).

Are you currently working on getting out of your comfort zone or are you more into staying comfortable right now?

Asked for a teaching reduction so I could handle everything next year

My colleague and I are the respective heads of the two main tracks in our program.  Since we were appointed heads, the workload for this job has grown enormously, and it will be growing more next year because of additional restructuring and growth at the university level.  Last year was awful and I was so burned out.  This year was awful (though I was on leave so missed much of it) and my colleague, who is not on leave, also burned out.  (He’s going on leave next year.)

So we met together with the department head about long-term planning.  We talked about the increased load and what we’re already doing and the things that we do that can’t be measured or are difficult to measure.  We talked about how our research has suffered and we’re worried about the future.  We talked about how we could take leadership positions in the uncertain future– there will be ad-hoc committees and either we can lead them because we have the time to do so or we could try our best to avoid them because we need breathing room because we were over-burdened.

So my colleague who is already doing an additional job is losing his summer salary for that job but gaining a teaching reduction (which is now worth more to him), and I am taking on a new additional job (one that incorporates some of the junior faculty mentoring that I’m doing anyway).  In a couple of years we will also be getting an associate department head to take on some of the current responsibilities that are being shared by the department head and the faculty in addition to new responsibilities.

I don’t know if this will be a one-off or if it will be for as long as we take these responsibilities, but I can definitely use the time and I’m no longer dreading going back to the grind as much as I had been.

Still, a reminder that my leave is more than half over now and I really need to get a lot more done, even if papers keep getting rejected.  And if I ever want to leave, I need to get some grant money!

DC1 is taking Calc 3… and I just realized we can probably use the 529 to pay it

After a huge amount of fighting with the admissions office and us getting a meningitis vaccine waiver even though DC1 got the vaccine more than 2 weeks before the semester started (long story that increases my blood pressure– but the vaccine waiver turned out to be way easier than getting admissions to accept the doctor’s note), DC1 finally got admitted to take Calc 3 at my uni.  Fortunately there’s an 8am class that fits with hir schedule, although I’m the one who is going to have to do the chauffeuring most days.  It took a lot of back and forth with scheduling to get all the various holds removed (most not applicable because DC1 is a high school student, not an enrolled student), but fortunately they had held the last available spot for hir (8am was also the last section to close).

The day classes started, we got a bill for tuition which is about 2K.  I had completely forgotten about it!   (I knew we were going to have to pay, but it had just slipped my mind, and really shouldn’t they have sent the bill earlier?)

Anyhow, I realized that we can probably use DC1’s 529 to pay for this.  Stock markets are down, so it’s tempting to wait them out… and we also don’t know if DC1 is going to use up hir 529 funds, but it seems pretty likely given that zie doesn’t want to be an economics major at the state flagship and all the other options are private schools.  And we can always move the beneficiary around to DC2 or go through a more complicated path for a nibling.

There’s also the new 529 conversion to Roth IRA that makes having a 529 plan more valuable.

I didn’t even think to use the 529 when DC1 took C++ over the summer online during the pandemic.  It probably would have made sense to take money out and put new money in to replace it.

In ~two months we will know where DC1 will be going along with how much we should expect to pay for the 4 years.  If I am reading correctly, we have until the end of December 2023 to decide whether or not we want to take money out of the 529 to play for DC1’s Calc 3 class.

My friend whose son is going to Brown is cashflowing this semester (out of income and cash savings) because she’s hoping the stock market rebounds before they take money from their 529.  They don’t have as much in their 529 and they have a younger child as well, so this makes some sense.  I think we’ll probably just take money out for college until it’s gone for next year no matter what the stock market is doing, but that logic suggests we should take money out now to reimburse for the class as well.  But also $2K seems like drops in the bucket compared to what we’ll be paying for a private school next year, assuming DC1 gets at least one acceptance.  It’s so easy to be lazy.

Have you taken money out of a 529 to pay for tuition?  How easy was it?  Any regrets?

Masks for larger faces: What DH prefers

None of the links are affiliate and these companies don’t know we exist.  No amazon links because they have no quality control and sell fakes.
I recently went to a couple of conferences where there were several gentlemen with larger faces who complained about not having masks that they felt comfortable in.  All of them were wearing ill-fitting KN-95 with ear loops.
With my well-fitting KF-94s, I often forget I’m wearing a mask because they’re breathable and comfortable, and with some adjustment I can keep my glasses from getting fogged up.  Comfortable and breathable masks make it so much easier to keep a mask on.
As a reminder:
N-95 are the US gold standard of masks with the loops that go around the head.  If you don’t want something on your ears, that’s what you should go with.  These tend to be made for larger faces because they were originally intended for construction workers who are mostly male.
KN-95 are usually in clamshell form and have loops that go around your ears.  They’re generally made in China and there are a lot of fake masks out there.
KF-94 is the South Korean standard.  These tend to have higher quality control because the Korean government gives large fines to companies that don’t meet their standard.  They are usually over the ears and in boat shape, which I find to be more breathable than the clamshell mask.
DH’s go-to mask is the Airwasher LG black KF94 .  He used to use the BOTN large (green packaging), but they changed how they do the nose wire so we don’t like them as much.  This is just a good breathable large mask with ear loops.
When we’re flying or he’s going to the doctor’s office or otherwise needs an N95, his preferred N95 is the 3M VFlex N95.   This is the most goofy looking of the 3M N95 lineup, but it is also extremely breathable and pretty comfortable.  He‘s also fine with the standard 3M N95 and the Honeywell N95, but the VFlex is so incredibly breathable that we bought a box of 50 and never use the others anymore.  (We’ve also had some problems with the head straps on the Honeywell breaking off.)
If you want to learn more about mask quality, this guy who goes by @masknerd on social media is really great: has his excel files from testing.