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How Europeans wear wedding rings, and what it says about them
For a purely binary choice, wearing a ring either on the left or right hand can say a lot about the wearer.
- Europeans are getting married less, but wearing a wedding ring is more standardised than ever.
- Standardised doesn't mean homogenised: some countries prefer rings on the left, others on the right.
- However, this map does not capture the range of subtleties that wearing a ring on either side can convey.
Wedding ring throwing a heart-shaped shadow on the pages of a dictionary.
Credit: Roger McLassus, CC BY-SA 3.0
Europeans are falling out of love with marriage. Back in 1965, the crude marriage rate in the 27 countries now constituting the EU was 7.8 (per 1,000 persons per year). By 2017, that figure had almost halved, to 4.4. Over the same period, the crude divorce rate more than doubled, from 0.8 to 2.
Still, that means that in 2017, 3.8 million Europeans got married. Tied the knot. Put a ring on it. Which brings us to the question answered by this map: on which finger? The ring finger, of course. But on which hand? In the U.S., the consensus is: on the left. However, as this map shows, there is a remarkable variation in ring-wearing traditions across Europe.
According to this map, Europe is fairly evenly divided between countries where the wedding ring is worn on the left (in green), and those where the matrimonial band is worn on the right (in red).
Major left-wearing countries are the U.K., France, and Italy.
- Left-hand wedding rings are also de rigueur across the Nordics (Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Estonia),
- in Central Europe (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova),
- in the north-western Balkans (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia)
- and in a few other countries (Ireland, Portugal, Turkey, Switzerland, Kazakhstan).
Russia, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine are the largest right-wearing countries.
- There's also a smattering of similarly minded countries in the west (Belgium, Denmark, Norway),
- a corridor or right-wearers stretching from Germany to Cyprus (via Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Greece),
- and a few former Soviet states continuing their alignment with Mother Russia (Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and Georgia).
Finally, Spain and the Netherlands have no uniform tradition, with left-wearers and right-wearers according to region or religion.
The vein of love
A map of wedding ring-wearing traditions in Europe.
Before we examine the difference, let's pause a while to contemplate a phenomenon so uniform–the wedding ring goes on the finger next to the pinkie–that we've even named the digit after it.
Wearing a ring as a visible sign of the wearer's married status is a tradition that goes back to the ancient Egyptians. They believed a 'vein of love' connected the pinkie's neighbor straight to the heart. That belief was taken over by the Greeks and the Romans (who called it the vena amoris). Hence the tradition for wearing the wedding ring on the 'ring finger'. (1)
That tradition was not uniform, though: some early Celtic peoples wore their wedding ring on the middle finger, while in 17th-century England it was not uncommon to wear it on the thumb.
Also non-traditional: men wearing wedding rings. In many cultures, only women wore wedding rings. In Germany, for example, the custom for both parties each to wear a ring only became general in the second half of the 19th century. Male wedding rings took off in the UK and other English-speaking countries only during (and because of) the First and Second World Wars. The men away on military duty started wearing rings to remind them of their wife at home.
So, even as weddings themselves are on a slow decline, the wearing of wedding rings has become a standardised aspect of the married state. Except for that difference between the left and right hand.
That difference is more difficult to explain, apparently quite resistant to standardisation and, as evidenced by the reaction generated by this map, also more subtle than the various shadings it proposes.
Closer to the heart
Mr and Mrs Guillemet, a 19th-century Parisian couple, wearing their wedding rings on the left hand, as is still the custom in France.
Credit: Edouard Manet: 'Dans la serre' (1878-9) – Public Domain
Why wear the wedding ring left or right? The difference seems to be merely based on precedent – although some arguments can be found for either option.
- Wearing the ring on the left means it's closer to the heart. Also, this has slight advantages in terms of safety and convenience, if the wearer belongs to the right-handed majority.
- Wearing the ring on the right is relevant because it's the side you shake hands with, so people will be able to tell whether you're married. Also, the right hand is the more important hand, because it's the one you swear with.
In some European traditions, including many Orthodox ones, the wedding ring is worn on the left hand before marriage, then transferred to the right hand during the ceremony. In Turkey, it's generally the other way around.
In others, a relatively plain engagement ring is worn on one hand before marriage, replaced by a more ornate wedding ring on the other hand after marriage. However, in the U.K. (and possibly elsewhere), some people 'stack' the rings, wearing the engagement ring over the wedding ring, both on the left ring finger.
As for the mixed countries: in Spain, the difference is regional, while in the Netherlands it is religious.
- In Spain, wedding rings are generally worn on the right, except in Catalonia and adjacent regions, such as Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
- In the Netherlands, Protestants wear their wedding ring on the right, while Catholics wear it on their left. However, engaged Protestants would have a ring on the left hand, moving it to the right when marrying. Prompting one commenter on Reddit to exasperate: "Then how do you tell an engaged Protestant from a married Catholic? Holy hell. The taste?"
A few other countries should have been shaded as well, other commenters pointed out, at least Austria, Belgium, and Bosnia.
- While many Belgian married couples wear their ring on the left, in some regions (including Antwerp and Brabant provinces) it's worn on the right. In yet parts of the country, the custom varies from town to town.
- Contrary to the rest of Austria, in the state of Tyrol, engagement rings are worn on the right, wedding rings on the left.
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Curiously, the ring finger is known as the 'unnamed' one in languages as diverse as Sanskrit (anamika), Chinese (wúmíng zhǐ), Finnish (nimetön sormi) and Russian (bezimyanniy palets), which may refer to ancient beliefs that it is a magical finger. However, the name 'ring finger' goes back at least until the Romans (digitus annularis). In German, because of its association with golden wedding bands, it is also called Goldfinger.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.
- The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
- It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
- Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
David Schmidt, a geology professor at Westminster College, had just arrived in the South Dakota Badlands in summer 2019 with a group of students for a fossil dig when he received a call from the National Forest Service. A nearby rancher had discovered a strange object poking out of the ground. They wanted Schmidt to take a look.
"One of the very first bones that we saw in the rock was this long cylindrical bone," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "The first thing that came out of our mouths was, 'That kind of looks like the horn of a triceratops.'"
After authorities gave the go-ahead, Schmidt and a small group of students returned this summer and spent nearly every day of June and July excavating the skull.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
"We had to be really careful," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "We couldn't disturb anything at all, because at that point, it was under law enforcement investigation. They were telling us, 'Don't even make footprints,' and I was thinking, 'How are we supposed to do that?'"
Another difficulty was the mammoth size of the skull: about 7 feet long and more than 3,000 pounds. (For context, the largest triceratops skull ever unearthed was about 8.2 feet long.) The skull of Schmidt's dinosaur was likely a Triceratops prorsus, one of two species of triceratops that roamed what's now North America about 66 million years ago.
Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
The triceratops was an herbivore, but it was also a favorite meal of the Tyrannosaurus rex. That probably explains why the Dakotas contain many scattered triceratops bone fragments, and, less commonly, complete bones and skulls. In summer 2019, for example, a separate team on a dig in North Dakota made headlines after unearthing a complete triceratops skull that measured five feet in length.
Michael Kjelland, a biology professor who participated in that excavation, said digging up the dinosaur was like completing a "multi-piece, 3-D jigsaw puzzle" that required "engineering that rivaled SpaceX," he jokingly told the New York Times.
Morrison Formation in Colorado
James St. John via Flickr
The Badlands aren't the only spot in North America where paleontologists have found dinosaurs. In the 1870s, Colorado and Wyoming became the first sites of dinosaur discoveries in the U.S., ushering in an era of public fascination with the prehistoric creatures — and a competitive rush to unearth them.
Since, dinosaur bones have been found in 35 states. One of the most fruitful locations for paleontologists has been the Morrison formation, a sequence of Upper Jurassic sedimentary rock that stretches under the Western part of the country. Discovered here were species like Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus, to name a few.
|Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons|
As for "Shady" (the nickname of the South Dakota triceratops), Schmidt and his team have safely transported it to the Westminster campus. They hope to raise funds for restoration, and to return to South Dakota in search of more bones that once belonged to the triceratops.
Studying dinosaurs helps scientists gain a more complete understanding of our evolution, illuminating a through-line that extends from "deep time" to present day. For scientists like Schmidt, there's also the simple joy of coming to face-to-face with a lost world.
"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," Schmidt told St. Louis Public Radio. "You don't ever think that these things will ever happen."
A team of scientists managed to install onto a smartphone a spectrometer that's capable of identifying specific molecules — with cheap parts you can buy online.
- Spectroscopy provides a non-invasive way to study the chemical composition of matter.
- These techniques analyze the unique ways light interacts with certain materials.
- If spectrometers become a common feature of smartphones, it could someday potentially allow anyone to identify pathogens, detect impurities in food, and verify the authenticity of valuable minerals.
The quality of smartphone cameras has increased exponentially over the past decade. Today's smartphone cameras can not only capture photos that rival those of stand-alone camera systems but also offer practical applications, like heart-rate measurement, foreign-text translation, and augmented reality.
What's the next major functionality of smartphone cameras? It could be the ability to identify chemicals, drugs, and biological molecules, according to a new study published in the Review of Scientific Instruments.
The study describes how a team of scientists at Texas A&M turned a common smartphone into a "pocket-sized" Raman and emission spectral detector by modifying it with just $50 worth of extra equipment. With the added hardware, the smartphone was able to identify chemicals in the field within minutes.
The technology could have a wide range of applications, including diagnosing certain diseases, detecting the presence of pathogens and dangerous chemicals, identifying impurities in food, and verifying the authenticity of valuable artwork and minerals.
Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy
Raman and fluorescence spectroscopies are techniques for discerning the chemical composition of materials. Both strategies exploit the fact that light interacts with certain types of matter in unique ways. But there are some differences between the two techniques.
As the name suggests, fluorescence spectroscopy measures the fluorescence — that is, the light emitted by a substance when it absorbs light or other electromagnetic radiation — of a given material. It works by shining light on a material, which excites the electrons within the molecules of the material. The electrons then emit fluorescent light toward a filter that measures fluorescence.
The particular spectra of fluorescent light that's emitted can help scientists detect small concentrations of particular types of biological molecules within a material. But some biomolecules, such as RNA and DNA, don't emit fluorescent light, or they only do so at extremely low levels. That's where Raman spectroscopy comes into play.
Raman spectroscopy involves shooting a laser at a sample and observing how the light scatters. When light hits molecules, the atoms within the molecules vibrate and photons get scattered. Most of the scattered light is of the same wavelength and color as the original light, so it provides no information. But a tiny fraction of the light gets scattered differently; that is, the wavelength and color are different. Known as Raman scattering, this is extremely useful because it provides highly precise information about the chemical composition of the molecule. In other words, all molecules have a unique Raman "fingerprint."
Creating an affordable, pocket-sized spectrometer
To build the spectrometer, the researchers connected a smartphone to a laser and a series of plastic lenses. The smartphone camera was placed facing a transmission diffraction grating, which splits incoming light into its constituent wavelengths and colors. After a laser is fired into a sample, the scattered light is diffracted through this grating, and the smartphone camera analyzes the light on the other side.
Schematic diagram of the designed system.Credit: Dhankhar et al.
To test the spectrometer, the researchers analyzed a range of sample materials, including carrots and bacteria. The laser used in the spectrometer emits a wavelength that's readily absorbed by the pigments in carrots and bacteria, which is why these materials were chosen.
The results showed that the smartphone spectrometer was able to correctly identify the materials, but it wasn't quite as effective as the best commercially available Raman spectrometers. The researchers noted that their system might be improved by using specific High Dynamic Range (HDR) smartphone camera applications.
Ultimately, the study highlights how improving the fundamentals of a technology, like smartphone cameras, can lead to a surprisingly wide range of useful applications.
"This inexpensive yet accurate recording pocket Raman system has the potential of being an integral part of ubiquitous cell phones that will make it possible to identify chemical impurities and pathogens, in situ within minutes," the researchers concluded.
- Lawrence Kohlberg's experiments gave children a series of moral dilemmas to test how they differed in their responses across various ages.
- He identified three separate stages of moral development from the egoist to the principled person.
- Some people do not progress through all the stages of moral development, which means they will remain "morally undeveloped."
Has your sense of right and wrong changed over the years? Are there things that you see as acceptable today that you'd never dream of doing when you were younger? If you spend time around children, do you notice how starkly different their sense of morality is? How black and white, or egocentric, or oddly rational it can be?
These were questions that Lawrence Kohlberg asked, and his "stages of moral development" dominates a lot of moral psychology today.
The Heinz Dilemma
Kohlberg was curious to see how and why children differed in their ethical judgements, and so he gave roughly 60 children, across a variety of ages, a series of moral dilemmas. They were all given open-ended questions to explain their answers in order to minimize the risk of leading them to a certain response.
For instance, one of the better-known dilemmas involved an old man called Heinz who needed an expensive drug for his dying wife. Heinz only managed to raise half the required money, which the pharmacists wouldn't accept. Unable to afford it, he has only three options. What should he do?
(a) Not steal it because it's breaking the law.
(b) Steal it, and go to jail for breaking the law.
(c) Steal it, but be let off a prison sentence.
What option would you choose?
Stages of Moral Development
From the answers he got, Kohlberg identified three definite levels or stages of our moral development.
Pre-conventional stage. This is characterized by an ego-centric attitude that seeks pleasure and to prevent pain. The primary motivation is to avoid punishment or claim a reward. In this stage of moral development, "good" is defined as whatever is beneficial to oneself. "Bad" is the opposite. For instance, a young child might share their food with a younger sibling not from kindness or some altruistic impulse but because they know that they'll be praised by their parents (or, perhaps, have their food taken away from them).
In the pre-conventional stage, there is no inherent sense of right and wrong, per se, but rather "good" is associated with reward and "bad" is associated with punishment. At this stage, children are sort of like puppies.
If you spend time around children, do you notice how starkly different their sense of morality is? How black and white, or egocentric, or oddly rational it can be?
Conventional stage. This stage reflects a growing sense of social belonging and hence a higher regard for others. Approval and praise are seen as rewards, and behavior is calibrated to please others, obey the law, and promote the good of the family/tribe/nation. In the conventional stage, a person comes to see themselves as part of a community and that their actions have consequences.
Consequently, this stage is much more rule-focused and comes along with a desire to be seen as good. Image, reputation, and prestige matter the most in motivating good behavior — we want to fit into our community.
Post-conventional stage. In this final stage, there is much more self-reflection and moral reasoning, which gives people the capacity to challenge authority. Committing to principles is considered more important than blindly obeying fixed laws. Importantly, a person comes to understand the difference between what is "legal" and what is "right." Ideas such as justice and fairness start to mature. Laws or rules are no longer equated to morality but might be seen as imperfect manifestations of larger principles.
A lot of moral philosophy is only possible in the post-conventional stage. Theories like utilitarianism or Immanuel Kant's duty-focused ethics ask us to consider what's right or wrong in itself, not just because we get a reward or look good to others. Aristotle perhaps sums it up best when he wrote, "I have gained this from philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law."
How morally developed are you?
Kohlberg identified these stages as a developmental progression from early infancy all the way to adulthood, and they map almost perfectly onto Jean Piaget's psychology of child development. For instance, the pre-conventional stage usually lasts from birth to roughly nine years old, the conventional occurs mainly during adolescence, and the post-conventional goes into adulthood.
What's important to note, though, is that this is not a fatalistic timetable to which all humans adhere. Kohlberg thought, for instance, that some people never progress or mature. It's quite possible, maybe, for someone to have no actual moral compass at all (which is sometimes associated with psychopathy).
More commonly, though, we all know people who are resolutely bound to the conventional stage, where they care only for their image or others' judgment. Those who do not develop beyond this stage are usually stubbornly, even aggressively, strict in following the rules or the law. Prepubescent children can be positively authoritarian when it comes to obeying the rules of a board game, for instance.
So, what's your answer to the Heinz dilemma? Where do you fall on Kohlberg's moral development scale? Is he right to view it is a progressive, hierarchical maturing, where we have "better" and "worse" stages? Or could it be that as we grow older, we grow more immoral?
Dunbar's number is a popular estimate for the maximum size of social groups. But new research suggests that it's a fictitious number based on flimsy data and bad theory.