Archive for September 2010
When I started university, one of my majors was urban studies. After a couple years I formally transferred to economics (which had made up part of my interdisciplinary curriculum) mostly out of frustration with the discipline. The study of cities, outside of geography departments, is pretty new. In many ways, that’s great for young people, because there are so many opportunities for original work.
But I felt like the tone of the discipline was set. While I learned a lot about rigorous qualitative research (it exists!) the mediocre qualitative work, and lack of quantitative rigour, drove me crazy. It seemed telling that my major didn’t require a single methods course. I couldn’t help but notice how much of the discipline was lifted more or less entirely from Jane Jacobs‘ work. We seemed to have only one intellectual giant, and academia couldn’t claim any credit for her work.
Thank god for Jacobs, though, for having the good sense to take on slum clearance, Le Corbusier, and half a dozen other destructive urban fads. And thank god for her latest successor, Doug Saunders.* Saunders’ new Arrival City builds on Jacobs’ work (it even includes an interview with her) by placing neighbourhoods like the ones she observed in a global context:
What will be remembered about our century, more than anything except perhaps changes to the climate, is the final shift of human populations from agricultural life to cities, the effects of which are being felt around the world. Arrival City gives us an on-the-ground view of this phenomenon—from Maryland to Shenzhen, from the favelas of Rio to the shanty towns of Mumbai, from Los Angeles to Nairobi. Doug Saunders [...] makes clear that the cities and nations that provide citizenship and opportunity to migrants stand to benefit as the migrant class evolves into a middle class, and he explains why those that ignore these people will see increased social unrest, poverty, and religious fundamentalism.
More than that, I think Arrival City is this decade’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities. (I’ve been saying this to everyone, and now the Guardian agrees with me.) Like Jacobs, Saunders has depended primarily on thoughtful observation. In retrospect, his insights seem so simple, so self-evidently correct, that it’s hard to imagine that no one has made exactly this case before.
Since reading the book, I see support for its thesis everywhere. I find myself thinking and referring back to it often, which, let’s face it, doesn’t happen with most trade nonfiction. If you’re interested in cities, migration, equity, or social policy, you should be reading this book. If there’s any justice in publishing, it will sell more copies than The Tipping Point. Saunders’ Canadian book tour starts today; events are listed here.
* Regular readers will know that I’ve done a little bit of work for Saunders, but it was in no way related to the book.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research has released a fact sheet on gender earnings ratios in the United States. Their takeaway is that the wage gap has stagnated—women haven’t made any relative progress during the recession.
As I’ve said before, I don’t much like straight earnings ratios, and I wish they weren’t thrown around quite so often and with so little context. (By this I don’t mean to criticize the IWPR, which always does a pretty good job explaining its work.) I think most readers immediately interpret that 77 cents on the dollar gap as the gap between similarly qualified workers in the same jobs. But of course that isn’t what it is, and by lumping occupational segregation and family structure in with more straightforward kinds of discrimination, we lose a lot of valuable information.
There is some potentially interesting stuff here about the “mancession“, though. Recessions tend to temporarily reduce gender inequality because, the theory goes, men are employed in more volatile industries, like construction. This has been widely reported over the last year or so, as gender employment gaps and ratios in Canada and the US have soared. (Unfortunately, a lot of media reports have made it sound like this is a new thing, rather than something that has surfaced during every recession in recent memory.)
There’s more to it than that, though. Someone (I can’t for the life of me remember who) predicted that this recession would hit women harder than usual, because the industries affected first—banking and real estate—employ a lot of women. Looking beyond the unemployment rate, the IWPR finds something that might fit in with this original view:
The earnings gap tends to become smaller during recessions. That pattern does not hold in this recession because the men who were able to hold onto full-time year-round jobs had, on average, higher-wage jobs than similarly situated women.
Over the next few months I’m going to be experimenting with this site’s content. I’m making changes for a few reasons. The first is that, quite frankly, I’m bored. As important as the wage gap is, I can only write about it so often. But I’m not ready to give up blogging entirely, partly because I’m back in school this fall. My time is limited, but I’m also thinking more about this stuff than I was last year, as a busy freelancer.
I won’t stop posting at the intersection of economics and feminism, because they’re still interests of mine, because I know it’s mostly why you’re here, and because strong search engine traffic tells me that I’m filling a niche. But I’d like to spend some time on other interests—econometrics, especially program evaluation; education policy; the economics equity in a broader sense, especially as it relates to race and class. I’d love to hear your feedback in comments.
Over at the consistently engaging if awkwardly named Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Kevin Milligan has written a post about full-day kindergarten, which partially rolled out in BC, Ontario and PEI this fall. He points out that newspapers keep citing studies about high-need students to justify full-day kindergarten for all students.
You have evidence on a bundle of program elements on a severely at risk population. Generalizing from that to Joe middle class in the Ontario program being offered in the 2010s involves a large leap of inference that, myself, I find dubious. The new full day Kindergartens may be the bees’ knees, or they may not. That’s a big question on which I’d like to hold judgment. But I can say more decisively that the evidence used to justify the programs has been exaggerated.
This is a reasonable argument. But when Milligan refers to kindergarten’s “economic benefits” I think he’s missing an angle. Frances Woolley, commenting on the post, is thinking what I’m thinking:
Kevin, the Globe and Mail article that quoted you saying intelligent and sensible things also interviewed a number of parents. Most of them said that all day kindergarten was going to make their child care arrangements much simpler. And we know that low cost, high quality and readily available child care increases female labour force participation (the evidence on that is not exaggerated). Isn’t that what all day kindergarten is all about?
It’s difficult to overstate how large childcare looms in women’s labour force decisions. Most of my friends aren’t parents yet, and won’t be for years yet, but you better believe that work schedules and daycare waiting lists play into our career plans. Full-day kindergarten will simplify those calculations, if only slightly.