Hannah Fry: “Post-war baby(boy)boom was no divine intervention”

Having attended a presentation or keynote by British mathematician Hannah Fry, you cannot help but feel inspired and anxious to apply math and analytics to your professional and your personal life. During her speech at SAS Analytics Experience 2017 in Amsterdam, she shared some insights which make you wonder if there is anything at all that cannot be explained.

God is restoring the balance… Not!

Take, for instance, the puzzling observation that immediately after the second World War, the percentage of baby boys in the total amount of babies was surprisingly higher than usual. In those days, many people were tempted to see this as a divine intervention: “the war has taken more men than women, so now God is ensuring that the balance is restored”. The truth is literally more down to earth: in reality it was a mere biological phenomenon. In fact, chances of having a boy are highest when the child is conceived in the early stage of the fertility period. As people were having intercourse a lot more than usual immediately after the war, the chances of conceiving in the early stage were lots higher than in an average era.

Divorce and arms race: surprisingly similar

Mathematics and analytics can lead to valuable insights, not only in our professional life, but also in very personal matters. It is almost shocking to realize how much of what we do can be explained by previous actions and can predict future behavior as well. It has for instance been proven that 90% of all divorces can be predicted by analyzing the course of discussions between both partners: the more both partners are trying to avoid an escalation of the discussion, the more likely the marriage is setting course towards a divorce. “Ironically, the same patterns can be identified when analyzing arms races between countries”, Hannah Fry added casually.

Even gossip can be analyzed and managed

Did Hannah Fry provide some interesting business insights as well? As a matter of fact she did, when sharing the results of a Hungarian study on gossip patterns and mechanisms: “Employees of a large organization were asked to name one person to whom they would turn for advice. The first interesting finding was that no one turned to a high-ranked manager. Even more interestingly, though, the person most employees would ask for advice turned out to be the safety officer. This same person was, less surprisingly, the source of most gossips, given that he knew more about co-workers than anyone else. By promoting this person to a management level, the organization managed to get a grip on the gossip content and streams, which resulted in a better managed organization overall.”