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Does it pay to be smart?
By Dwight Daniels (Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2004-04-05 08:31

You'd think it would pay to be smart. In some ways it does.

In California, where I come from, those who stay in school (that's assuming it has anything to do with intellect) to become college graduates earn about US$20,000 more than their counterparts in the same communities who hold high school diplomas. That's on average.

They become better educated. And get better jobs. That can mean a massive difference in the living standard of a family.

If both parents in the family work - which is the situation in most cases - and the average income is US$47,000 per person for the college graduate couple, with the high school couple earning just US$28,000, it can mean the difference between whether they can afford to purchase a home. Or send their kids to a private school or even to college.

Or, given the horrendous cost of living in the US, and California in particular, whether they can afford to save any money for retirement. Many high school graduates will work until the day they die, while the college graduates buy a condo in Hawaii.

So back to being smart.

Kids, stay in college. You'll become an intellectual, and have lots of opinions. You'll never be lacking for anything to say at dinner parties.

You can talk your way out of a jam sometimes. Like when you find yourself out at a restaurant with a date and have the most expensive thing on the menu and the best bottle of wine to impress her, and then discover you've forgotten your wallet. That's when you message your best friend and have him call the restaurant and ask for Dr. Daniels. The liver has arrived from Taiwan, he tells the manager. The transplant needs to be done in one hour or the organ will die. You've got to get Dr. Daniels out of there and to the hospital immediately.

The restaurant manager hustles you and your date out the door, wanting to do a good deed for mankind. No time for all that bill-paying nonsense. He knows that you, as a famous surgeon, will be back later to pay the bill and thank him for his kindness. Heh heh.

I'm also good at telling off taxi drivers who can't find the quickest way to the opera. I use vocabulary words they've never heard of (or, of which they've never heard, if you want to impress them).

Of course, I'm speaking English, and they don't understand a word of it. But it makes me feel better.

But now there's disturbing news that being smart does have some disadvantages, especially if you're an intellectual in China's capital. According to a survey conducted by the Academy of Social Sciences of Shanghai, middle-aged professionals in Beijing, are losing up to two decades off their life with all the pressure they face.

The smart, it appears, are so darn knowledgeable they can't figure out a way to slow down from their "excessive workloads, exhaustion from overwork and heavy burden(s) to support their families", the survey said.

This has resulted in a terrible fate, the report entitled the "State of Health of Intellectuals" indicates. The average life span has shrunk from 59 years of age just a decade ago to just 54 years. Fifty-four! Five decades and four measly years.

That's compared to the average life span for a common Beijing resident of 76. In other words, if you're too smart, you've got 22 years fewer years less to live.

Professor Zhang Yanjin of Beijing Normal University and a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference complained to the People's Daily last week that the increased workload is endangering the health of intellectuals.

I've got another theory, professor. It may be all the studying that is required to become an intellectual like yourself, or even a professor (I confess here I was a part-time prof for a while).

Here's how it works: I started school at the age of five and graduated from college at 21. That was 16 years worth of education, 17 if you count a year of kindergarten.

I did another two years later for a master's degree. That's 19 years. Had I hung around for a Ph.D. - required for most professorships - it would've taken at a minimum of another three years. I'd have had 22 years of study.

So, a year less of life for every year in school.

How smart is that?

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