Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Archive for April 2008

The Nike Foundation on Women in Development

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I’ve been enjoying Economist’s View’s dispatches from the Milken Institute Global Conference. (An aside: Someone should start a website that aggregates blogged accounts of conferences around the world. I don’t have the time or resources to attend nearly as many meetings as I’d like to, so I appreciate reading about them.)

Here’s a bit on a session with Ricardo Hausmann, Myron Scholes, and Maria Eitel, called “Harnessing Growth to Break Poverty’s Grip on the Developing World.” Eitel is the president of the Nike foundation, and she made an argument for more aid to women.

Did you know that only 5 cents on every dollar of development aid is “devoted to improving the economic prospects for women”? The session also touched on the difficulty of investing in women who already provide essential care and insurance.

Even though there are large long-term benefits to helping women, it is in nobody’s short-term interest to take women out of their traditional role in the family and community where they provide water, firewood, and food for the family, care for sick family members, are expected to provide insurance for the family by dropping out of school if the family needs help, and so on.

Click over to the original post for a little more on solutions.

Written by Allison

30 April 2008 at 12:08 pm

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Making Sense of 77 Cents

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I skipped Blog for Fair Pay Day, partly because I was studying, and partly because it was an American legislative campaign that I don’t feel much connection to. Nonetheless, I have wage gaps on the brain, and I’m still poking through the material released for that initiative.

The central statistic – that American women make 77 cents on the dollar – is almost meaningless. I want to know the breakdown – what proportion of that gap is straightforward discrimination, women simply being paid less than men for equal work? Thomas Sowell says that gap is “trivial.”

Here are some alternative points, from the National Women’s Law Centre:

A 2003 study by U.S. Government Accountability Office (then the General Accounting Office) found that, even when all the key factors that influence earnings are controlled for — demographic factors such as marital status, race, number and age of children, and income, as well as work patterns such as years of work, hours worked, and job tenure — women still earned, on average, only 80% of what men earned in 2000. That is, there remains a 20% pay gap between women and men that cannot be explained or justified.

One extensive study that examined occupational segregation and the pay gap between women and men found that, after controlling for occupational segregation by industry, occupation, place of work, and the jobs held within that place of work (as well as for education, age, and other demographic characteristics), about one-half of the wage gap is due solely to the individual’s sex.

Read the full fact sheet with references here.

I don’t want this site to be, as someone imagined, “all income inequality all the time,” but I have lots more to say right now. Stay tuned.

Written by Allison

30 April 2008 at 1:22 am

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Feminist Economics on YouTube

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Folks over at the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) have started a YouTube channel for feminist economics. So far they’ve collected a number of videos from the release of the World Economic Forum’s 2007 Global Gender Gap Report. You can watch Saadia Zahidi’s presentation here, and a response panel here. Both of those clips are 20 minutes plus, so I’ll embed a short interview with Laura Tyson.

Call me naive – or just Canadian – but I didn’t realize until I watched these videos that the United States has no federally enforced paid maternity leave at all, and only 6 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Dear god. For a quick sense of just how backward that is, check out this Wikipedia chart summarizing parental leave policies around the world.

Written by Allison

29 April 2008 at 6:09 pm

Echidne of the Snakes

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There’s been a link on my blogroll all along, but in case you’ve missed it, anyone who’s enthused about this site should click over to Echidne of the Snakes. Echidne has been blogging about economics and feminism much longer and more intelligently than I. Lately I’ve been reading back through the archives. A good place to start is the series on essays on the gender gap, and the statistics primer.

UPDATED: Echidne (aka J. Goodrich) has also been guest blogging at The Nation.

Written by Allison

29 April 2008 at 5:28 pm

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Paying for it

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An experimental World Bank-backed program in southern Tanzania will pay people to avoid unsafe sex. Hat tip to Marginal Revolution. I’ll repeat a few things said by commenters, but since some of it was said in horrifying context (“in a country like Africa”) I think it’s worth discussing at length.

The assumption is that the problem in Africa is that too many people choose to have unsafe sex. I’m sceptical. We already know that women all over the world, perhaps especially in rural Tanzania, aren’t always empowered to make decisions about sex and protection, especially within marriage. But for a few minutes, let’s go with this premise. How can we convince people to choose safer sex?

Is raising the monetary cost of unsafe sex the answer? Surely HIV/AIDS is already expensive. As one MR commenter points out, this paper suggests that people who already face high mortality might take the comparatively distant possibility of AIDS infection less seriously. Even if this is true, will $45 fundamentally change the equation?

Even if it appears to, we’ll have a lot of conceivable explanations to fight over.
Maybe the value of a program like this is purely cultural. If your partner is going to argue with you over condom use, “I’m getting paid a lot of money to use this” might be just the excuse you need. Unless your partner is willing to pay more – now there’s a whole other issue.

Even more likely, maybe the pilot will work because it includes education. I’ve argued in the past that meaningful sex ed is a human right, and we already know that it works. I’m all for throwing money at this problem, but imagine how many more people could be involved in projects like these if they focused on one-on-one education instead of income support? There’s a control group that won’t get paid, so that will help us answer these questions. (You could argue that the money is just a way of getting people to go to class, but a 25 per cent raise is probably more than is required for that.)

Let’s get back to the Oster paper linked above. Here’s the end of the abstract:

…the magnitude of behavioral response in Africa is of a similar order of magnitude to that among gay men in the United States, once differences in income and life expectancy are taken into account.

If safer sex is a function of income, won’t paying people period – for anything, without conditions – reduce their risky behaviour? Why bother paying for the monitoring? Why don’t we just write the whole continent a cheque?

Because that’s not how you raise income, in the long run. That’s a cheap solution. It’s cheaper than maintaining a meaningful foreign aid budget. It’s cheaper than working to empower women. It’s cheaper than promoting real economic development. But we’re talking about an epidemic, tragedy on an unimaginable scale – the destruction of a continent, perhaps. Stephen Lewis has been arguing for a while now that we know how to fix this problem, but we’ve kept casting around for cheaper solutions. If anyone on earth knows that they’re talking about, it’s him. I can’t help but wonder if it’s time to stop messing around with pilot projects.

Written by Allison

29 April 2008 at 1:45 am

Unwanted daughters

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Yesterday afternoon, as I sat in a library cafeteria approximating volume by cylindrical shells (calculus exam in t-minus 8 days!) I was distracted by the couple beside me. They were arguing over whether to get married. He wanted to get hitched and move to Chicago; she said that he was too sexist to spend her life with. Apparently, he had said at some point said that given the choice, he would prefer a son to a daughter, because a son would be more likely to provide for him in his old age.

A bias towards male offspring is something that we tend to associate with other countries, but this paper, by Gordon B. Dahl and Enrico Moretti at Berkeley, shows that “the demand for sons” is alive and well in the United States. They find that first-born daughters are less likely to end up living with their fathers than first-born sons. I’m going to quote at length from the abstract because it is so interesting.

Three factors are important in explaining this gap. First, women with first-born daughters are less likely to marry.Strikingly, we also find evidence that the gender of a child in utero affects shotgun marriages. Among women who have taken an ultrasound test during pregnancy, mothers who have a girl are less likely to be married at delivery than mothers who have a boy. Second, parents who have first-born girls are significantly more likely to be divorced. Third, after a divorce, fathers are much more likely to obtain custody of sons compared to daughters. These three factors have serious negative income and educational consequences for affected children.

Hat tip to Freakonomics for the paper.

Written by Allison

17 April 2008 at 12:43 pm

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Marriage lobby divorced from reality

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Here’s a beautiful illustration of what I’m trying to do. Feministing and Freakonomics are both posting about that report on the cost of divorce. Feminists have long criticized marriage incentives and the reasoning behind them – Feministing’s take hits home as always, pointing out the “family values” sponsors of the report.

Studies like these are not just about promoting marriage, of course, they’re about promoting traditional marriages. And the idea that women don’t need a job (just a man) has [been] hurting women welfare recipients for far too long.

Great. Now let’s look at the social science. Over at Freakonomics, Justin Wolfers’ fantastic post takes us through the numbers. It turns out that on average, women are a little better off financially after a divorce – the “marriage movement” doesn’t take into account that increase in tax revenue. And there’s more.

The U.S. tax system is structured so that when poor single mothers marry men with higher incomes, in most cases, the total tax paid by husband and wife would fall. Yet this isn’t counted. Those poor single women aren’t robbing us of tax revenue, they are actually paying more than if they were married!

To be honest, Wolfers’ post is a gift – I can think of very little to add. You should check it out, and while you’re at it poke through some of his other writing on the economics of the family.

Written by Allison

17 April 2008 at 11:43 am

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Hormones on the trading floor

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A study of 17 men working on a trading floor in London, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports that “a trader’s morning testosterone level predicts his day’s profitability.” J.M. Coates and J. Herbert sampled 17 traders’ testosterone and cortisol levels during an eight day period bracketing the release of some crucial US economic numbers.

The story will play out in the mainstream media as “real men make more money” – witness this Guardian headline:“Scientists find secret ingredient for making (and losing) lots of money – testosterone.” (An aside: is this really a secret?) Science editors do love this sort of hook:

In the film Wall Street, which symbolised the excess of the 1980s, the most successful traders were odious alpha-males with aggression seeping from every pore. But stereotypes often have a kernel of truth, and researchers from Cambridge University have concluded what everyone outside the City has always suspected.

A few things:

  1. A good day is one on which the trader does better than his own monthly average. This doesn’t tell us whether a man who always has slightly high testosterone has a higher daily average than his low-testosterone counterparts, as the Guardian hook would imply.
  2. The emphasis in the actual paper is on how the endocrine system might make traders behave irrationally, not on the relationship between gender, hormones and success.
  3. I’m sceptical about the mechanism. We already know that testosterone rises with any sort of victory, so we’d expect high testosterone after a good day. The morning testosterone reading is presumably supposed to establish causality. But the morning measurement was taken at 11am. Do these traders really have no idea how they are going to do by mid-morning?

In general, the paper spins a lot of analysis out of a narrow empirical result. In the Guardian, Coates goes so far as to blame bubbles on the endocrine system.

[Coates] believes the traders, who are almost all young men, were profoundly influenced by the testosterone hit they get from the job. But, he said, primeval brain mechanisms activated by the hormone can also lead them to irrational risk-taking. “I think this molecule is partly responsible for financial instability.” [...] Among lessons Coates draws is that trading floors need more women and older men who have lower testosterone levels and cooler heads.

I expect that last conclusion won’t get much play as the story spreads. But I’m not sure I like it in any case. The world is full of vague essentialist notions about the value of “a woman’s sensibility” – as if women are a handy stabilizing ingredient, like corn starch, not important individuals with all kinds of traits.

Written by Allison

15 April 2008 at 1:13 pm

Strange Solutions to Single-Payer Problems

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Some stories will not die. Early this month, a Macleans article blamed Canada’s GP shortage on female doctors. Women, they suggested, are more likely to work part-time, and all that time they spend with their families sap the health care system of needed (wo)man hours.

The first problem with the story is that it isn’t true. Thea summed this up well over at Shameless, so I won’t go into too much depth, but according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal:

The decline in physicians’ working hours is attributed more to the decline in hours worked by male physicians than the increasing proportion of female physicians.

Now the story is back, this time in Britain:

The rising number of female doctors is “bad for medicine”, and universities should recruit more men, a GP warns. Writing in the British Medical Journal, Dr Brian McKinstry said female doctors were more likely to work part-time, leading to staffing problems.

Our single-payer systems keep costs under control by restricting medical school admission. In setting medical school admission rates, the government is assuming that each medical school graduate will work a certain number of hours over the course of their career. If graduates – male or female – are working fewer hours than expected, then train more doctors! Sure, we’ll spend a little more on training, but keeping qualified candidates out of med school is a bizarre solution, with its own welfare costs.

Written by Allison

5 April 2008 at 12:27 pm

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American women’s political economics in one picture

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I find myself clicking back to Dani Rodrik’s “American political economics in one picture” about the impact of Democratic vs. Republican presidents on the distribution of income. (To oversimplify, under Democratic presidents poor people do a little better.) It’s a compelling result, but there are some sensible criticisms in the comment thread. Shouldn’t the congressional balance of power be at least as important as the orientation of the executive branch? I would be more convinced by some sort of index which incorporates the affiliations of the party, the House, the Senate, etc.

In any case, I’m wondering what a similar analysis broken down by gender would show. The effect might be more pronounced, to the extent that the US government has done anything to keep women in the work force – and I confess some ignorance on this point, I know much more about European child care and leave policies. Of course, given that women’s widespread participation in the formal sector is only a few generations old, the sample might be too small.

Written by Allison

4 April 2008 at 1:43 pm

Papa Don’t Miss the Vote

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I spent a few minutes at WAM chatting with one of the presenters about fathers and feminism. We were talking about the importance of men in the women’s movement generally, and how fathering daughters seems to bring even unlikely men around on women’s issues.

Then I came home and found this study on voting patterns in the US Senate from the March 2008 American Economic Review:

…parenting an additional female child increases a representative’s propensity to vote liberally on women’s issues, particularly reproductive rights.

It’s nice when numbers come along to back up your intuition. But I’m curious about the mechanism. Do fathers with daughters gain more respect for women’s autonomy? Or is it more calculating than that? (Everyone wants their children to get ahead.) Is there a difference?

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution and The Monkey Cage.

Written by Allison

4 April 2008 at 12:15 pm

Women, Action and the Media

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I have been wanting to start this site for some time, but it got a needed kick start at Women, Action and the Media, a conference in Cambridge, MA last weekend. It was fantastic – I picked up some new skills, met some new people, and came home full of words.

Journalism is a scary business to be in nowadays. So it’s nice, when all the young reporters that I work with are trying to land the internship that will fast-forward them to sucess, to meet people with interesting and meandering paths, people who ended up somewhere unexpected.

Anyway, I’m telling you this to explain the otherwise cryptic “WAM” tag which will be popping up a lot as I post about things I started thinking about last weekend.

Written by Allison

3 April 2008 at 9:17 am

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Welcome to Economic Woman

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I’m an undergraduate in economics and international relations at the University of Toronto in Canada. This site is about what happens when my intellectual passion, economics, butts up against my political proclivities towards feminism, anti-oppression, and scepticism.

Over the past year, I’ve been thrilled to discover a vital community of blogging economists. Where my lectures are dry and out of date, the blogosphere is relevant, lively and teeming with questions and perspectives that I’ve never considered. In the wake of the death of the faculty lunch room, blogs have given the discipline space to throw around research as it happens, and given everyone a ring-side seat on the creation of modern economic theory.

Feminism’s third wave is also alive and kicking on the internet. As a blogger over at Shameless Magazine, I keep up with an international network of inspiring, ambitious women strategizing for change.

Sometimes the same topics pop up on both sides of my RSS reader. But as far as I can tell, there is nowhere on the internet that economic bloggers and feminist bloggers meet. I am trying to build a point of intersection because I think we have a few things to learn from each other.

I am writing for two (or three, or four) disparate audiences here, with different basic assumptions and different ways of judging an argument. If you’re confused by something, please leave a comment. If one post seems entirely outside your interests, try skipping to the next one. I am going to ask questions, propose out-of-left-field solutions, change my mind, contradict myself, and often get things entirely wrong. I hope you’ll join me.

Written by Allison

2 April 2008 at 10:31 am

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