Archive for May 2008
Feminist economist extraordinaire Susan Feiner is finally blogging. According to her bio, the professor of women’s studies and economics at the University of Southern Maine is apparently “now writing almost exclusively for a wider pubic audience.”
The site is relatively new, but she’s already made several convincing points about the value of this little sub-discipline. Check out this witty transcript of an imaginary panel discussion between women’s studies and economics, and a continuation on feminist fiscal policy.
WS: “Basically you’re saying that economists’ professional training ensures that they are “socialized” to a world view in which markets are right and government intervention is wrong? Whatever outcomes we observe in the world are the result of individual choices?”
E: That’s right. This makes the connection to women’s studies all the more important. Economics is really out of it these days. The phrase “faith based” comes to mind.
File this under things that will become more important as the population ages. I’ve been reading through a paper from the most recent issue of Feminist Economics about informal carers in the UK (gated). Carmichael et al define an informal carer as someone who “look[s] after relatives or friends who need extra support because of age, physical or learning disability, or illness.”
They come at the problem from quantitative and qualitative directions, with some predictable but important results:
Among the 182 people employed (either full- or part-time) prior to caring over half (ninety-four) were no longer in paid employment when they completed the questionnaire. Among the 131 people working in full-time employment prior to caring only thirty-six were still in full-time employment when they completed the questionnaire. It is also notable that among those still working, the majority, 73 percent, were employed in the public sector where employment practices are conceivably more flexible and by implication more carer friendly.
They go on to control for age, gender, human capital, and co-residency, and find statistically significant effects on rates of employment and part-time work.
Why is this a feminist issue? Well, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that 60 per cent of informal carers are women. They’re also likely to care for longer hours and longer periods of time than men.
It’s worth remembering that as social services are cut (like home care under Harris) it’s often women who pick up the slack, at the expense of their own aspirations and financial independence. And as the baby boom ages, we’re going to have to make some tough choices about where and how we care for the elderly. The carers surveyed had some ideas on what would help them stay in employment:
…eighty-four questionnaire respondents said that flexible working practices, including flexible hours, home working, part-time work, and short-term leave options, would help working carers. Many of these carers thought that employers needed more information about the needs of carers and that this would encourage them to make simple changes to their working practices that could improve carers’ lives.
Kathy G. posts from Chicago about “politics, economics, feminism, labor, culture, ideas.” She’s more likely than I to cover American politics, and as a PhD student her analysis is a bit more sophisticated than mine. Worth checking out if you’re interested in any of the above.
Things have been quiet around here for the last few days, partly because I’ve been working on a little project. If you check the top of your screen, you’ll notice a new navigation tab titled Course Outlines.
Whenever I pick up a new academic interest, I poke around the internet looking for syllabi to guide my reading. I figure I’m not the only one. So if you click over, you’ll see that I’ve linked, with brief descriptions, to nearly thirty course outlines that relate to gender and economics.
I’ll update the page periodically. Whether you’re a student looking for further reading, or an instructor designing a new course, a quick look around might help get you started.
A few evolutionary psychologists have gone off the rails of late – one of my favourite bloggers has taken to calling them “evo-psychos.” So I got a giggle out of this send-up of bad evolutionary psychology and the gullible reporters who breathlessly relay it: “Belief in Evolutionary Psychology May Be Hardwired, Study Says.”
We shouldn’t let a few psychologists turn us off the rest of evolutionary thought though, especially when some of it is happening within economics. I’ve been meaning to pick up Michael Shermer‘s recent The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics.
It was reviewed in The Globe and Mail recently (gated) by Richard Parker, whose own most recent book, about John Kenneth Galbraith, I’ve been enjoying. In fact, it’s possible that the review is better than the book. (Quick tip: the review is gated now, but if you hit Google’s “cached” button, you’ll find the full version for another day or so.) First, there’s a depressing observation:
So many economics schools have fallen flat, so many economic predictions have proved wrong, so many economic policy prescriptions have produced disastrous consequences, that these days economics is a discipline under siege. So demoralized are economists themselves that nearly two-thirds, according to an American Economic Association survey, have decided that their profession is completely “over-mathematicized and unrelated to the real world.”
But then Parker reminds us why we should care about economics anyway:
The answer, as you surely must understand, is that their theories are as central to our world, for better and worse, as theology was to the Middle Ages. Their policy conclusions end up framing some of the biggest issues of our times, even when their models and arguments seem as esoteric as counting angels on the head of a pin. Globalization. Trade deficits. Budget deficits. Wages. Poverty. CEO pay. The unions. Inequality. Taxes. Energy policy. Health care. Inflation. Recession. Privatization. Deregulation. When economics is done badly, we’re all at risk of becoming its victims; when it’s done well, the promise is that we’ll share in its reward.
If you happen to be in Vancouver early this November, Antigone Magazine is hosting The 2008 Vancouver Women’s Economic Security Summit. It’s not an exclusively academic conference, and I gather they’re looking for people to help with planning and organizing sessions. I can’t find any internet presence for the summit, but here is part of the email I received:
We are currently looking for expressions of interest for participation from women’s organizations or groups that deal with issues relating to women’s economic security. Please let us know by June 5th if your group might be interested in attending or having a delegation at the meeting or if you would like a representative from your organization to be part of our planning committee. The planning committee will be having its first meeting in mid-July. Upon your expression of interest, please let us know what themes your organization would like to be considered during the summit.
And here are some suggested topics:
- women’s low-income housing
- human trafficking
- The wage gap
- Domestic violence
- Gender budgeting
- Single mothers
- Financial literacy for women
Photo by keepitsurreal.
I’m taking an economic history course focused on Karl Polanyi, especially The Great Transformation. Last class, my professor implied that it was a dense, tough text, so I had myself steeled for an evening of endurance reading. It turns out that Polanyi is a joy – this man has a sense of rhythm. This is from the first chapter:
While in the first part of the century constitutionalism was banned and the Holy Alliance suppressed freedom in the name of peace, during the other half – and again in the name of peace – constitutions were foisted upon turbulent despots by business-minded bankers. Thus under varying forms and ever-shifting ideologies – sometimes in the name of progress and liberty, sometimes by the authority of the throne and the altar, sometimes by grace of the stock exchange and the checkbook, sometimes by corruption and bribery, sometimes by moral argument and enlightened appeal, sometimes by the broadside and the bayonet – one and the same result was attained: peace was preserved.
At times, I wish we still wrote this way, with semicolons and a sense of importance.
The feminist blogosphere is positively gleeful this morning over the release of a report debunking the “boys’ crisis” in education. The Washington Post has published a decent breakdown of Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education, published by the American Association of University Women, but the executive summary and full report are also online and quite readable.
The report points out that women’s gains in education have not come at the expense of boys. Women have made significant progress in all educational indicators over the last few decades, but boys’ scores and graduation rates have also been steadily improving. But they also say that 57 per cent of undergraduate degrees awarded in the United States are going to women.
Boys are improving, but girls are improving more, to the point where they have surpassed boys. There’s certainly been a lot of ugly anti-feminist backlash on this, so I hate to go against the party line, but I think if it were girls that were making progress more slowly than boys, we would say that girls were “falling behind.”
Anyway, this is not the most important part of the report, which is an attempt to refocus on the definite inequalities in education. There is a crisis, but it’s about race and class:
As this report demonstrates, however, neither girls nor boys are unilaterally succeeding or failing. The true crisis is that American schoolchildren are deeply divided across race/ethnicity and family income level, and improvement has been too slow and unsteady.
As Feministing points out, the media coverage of the “boys’ crisis” discounted this, with its “magazine covers with sad looking white boys.” As in so many cases, the focus needs to be on race and class.
I aim to provide resources for students, journalists, and any readers interested in learning more about the “care sector” – that part of our economy devoted to the direct care of dependents through the family, the community, the market, and the state. The provision of care requires money, time, and technology, and includes both paid and unpaid work.
As you might imagine, Folbre’s subject area overlaps with mine, but she has a great deal more knowledge and experience than I do! Also, unlike many academics, she can write. Check out recent posts on the difficulties of measuring child care time in time use surveys and child care in Korea.
Marginal Revolution pointed me towards this lengthy Guardian feature on Iceland, which has topped the UNDP’s Human Development Index ranking.
Iceland’s economy defies the conventional wisdom – they maintain a generous social welfare state with relatively low tax rates and only 1 per cent unemployment. It probably doesn’t hurt that Iceland has no armed forces. (This is a good reminder of how much of the world’s resources go into defences, and how much surplus we have to gain from building a stable and peaceful international system…)
This tiny arctic country is also a bit of a riddle when it comes to women’s rights. Iceland has the highest birth rate in Europe, and the highest divorce rate, and it is apparently not uncommon for women to have their first child at 21 or 22, while still in university. None of these things would seem to lead to women’s empowerment, but Icelandic women work outside the home in higher rates than anywhere else in the world, including in positions of influence.
Part of this might stem from Iceland’s unique Viking background, Carlin suggests. While the men went abroad to pillage and conquer, women were left in charge. That’s interesting, but not something that, say, Canadian women can put into practice. I’m often discouraged by how few of these success stories seem replicable. There is one lesson here, though, about the importance of universal child care and paternity leave:
…if you are in a job the state gives you nine months on fully paid child leave, to be split among the mother and the father as they so please. ‘This means that employers know a man they hire is just as likely as a woman to take time off to look after a baby,’ explained Svafa Grönfeldt, currently rector of Reykjavik University, previously a very high-powered executive. ‘Paternity leave is the thing that made the difference for women’s equality in this country.’
Of course, paternity leave can’t have this effect unless large numbers of men take advantage of it. But creating that option is a first step.
Women own about 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S. but receive only 2.3 percent of the available equity capital needed for growth. Male-owned companies receive the other 97.7. percent.
I would guess that a small number of male-owned companies get the vast majority of that capital. I’ll probably do some more reading and make a longer post about what is behind this, but in the meantime I’d love to hear your theories in comments.
As you might have gathered already, I think bloggers restrict ourselves unnecessarily by only linking to recent material. Most good sites and articles aren’t obsolete within a couple weeks.
Success in the kind of design that Smith pursues requires humility, because your masterpiece may end up looking like a bunch of rocks or a pile of sand. [...] Women have the advantage here, unlike other branches of engineering. ”I know how to be self-deprecating,” Smith says. ”The traditional male engineer is not taught that way.”
I’m not sure this is true – I don’t think men lack humility as a rule, or at least I don’t see how a woman educated along with them would develop fundamentally different values. I’m also not sure about the implication that women are disadvantaged in other branches of engineering. They’re not present in large numbers, but that’s not necessarily because of a lack of ability. In any case, I enjoyed the article. It’s nice reading about women in unconventional fields, and about the roundabout ways that people find the jobs they love.
What is this strange graphic, you ask? It’s our familiar globe, morphed to represent the world’s population as it is distributed between countries. That’s why India is so large, while Canada barely exists. This creative projection is from Worldmapper, my new favourite website.
Freakonomics posted about Worldmapper a couple years back, but I get the sense it’s expanded significantly since then. Created by a group of academics, mostly at the University of Sheffield, it now includes 366 maps where the size of each country is morphed to reflect various data. The maps cover the familiar (military spending, poverty) and the obscure (yellow fever, molluscs at risk). You can print off a colourful info sheet for each map, and more importantly access the relevant data in several formats.
It’s worth carefully reading what each map represents, since this isn’t the sort of data we’re used to. For example, this map of prison population shows the proportion of the world’s prisoners that live in each country. That’s not the same thing as highlighting countries with a particularly large proportion of their population in prison. (For extra credit, flip between the prisoner map and this one of prisoners awaiting trial.)
A number of maps reflect the status of women around the globe. To get a sense of where the wage gap is widest, flip between men’s income and women’s income. Flip between women’s market hours and women’s home hours to see where women have been incorporated into the market economy.
I was struck by how much some of these maps contrast with the ways we usually discuss women’s empowerment around the world. Girls’ education in Afghanistan, for example, gets a lot of media play in Canada. But check out this map, where “territory size is proportional [to] the world distribution of the excess male over female enrolment in primary education.” Maybe we should be talking more about India.
The site is a phenomenal tool, and definitely worth a few hours. Maybe it’s time to extend “always graph your data” to “always map your data.” And what do you know? There’s already an ArcGIS tool to help you.
(Hat tip to Undergraduate Economist.)
Commenting on this post, “v” has made a good point about one source of the gender wage gap:
Some say it happens at the negotiation stage. Men are more likely to ask for raises or higher salaries when hired or changing jobs. This trait is attributed mostly to gender and could drive the results.
As it happens, there has been research done on women and negotiation. By now something of a feminist proverb, “women don’t ask” is actually the title of a book from a few years back by Linda Babcock and Sarah Laschever. (Babcock is an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon’s school of management and public policy. The two released a sequel of sorts in February.)
Women Don’t Ask seems to be marketed as self help, but is backed up by Babcock’s academic research. Here’s a sample, from the book’s site:
By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.
If the problem is that we don’t ask, then learning to ask for more should help close the gap, right? Not so fast. Writing in the Harvard Business Review (gated), Babcock herself covers the downside of asking for more:
…many companies’ cultures penalize women when they do ask – further discouraging them from doing so. Women who assertively pursue their own ambitions and promote their own interests may be labelled as bitchy or pushy.
There is necessarily less quantitative research backing up this point, so sprinkle salt to your taste. Still, it all goes back to yesterday’s post. Women can’t address the wage gap on our own.
This has nothing to do with economics or feminism, but you might enjoy it anyway. My internet video column is up over at The Tyee. It’s about ultra high speed photography, and I think I’ve found some exceptionally cool videos this month. Here’s one to pull you in:
And with that, I’m off to read me some statistics.