Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

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Equal pay: The movie?

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Made in Dagenham premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival about a week ago. Were I a more professional blogger, I might have been there. But as it is, I’ll be seeing it in theatres sometime after October 1. So far, reviews are middling, but stay tuned!

Written by Allison

19 September 2010 at 5:33 pm

Speaking of the wage gap…

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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.

Written by Allison

18 September 2010 at 1:43 pm

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On the redesign

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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.

Written by Allison

18 September 2010 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Looking at the broadest economic impact of full-day kindergarten

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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.

(h/t @stephenfgordon)

Written by Allison

10 September 2010 at 10:12 am

How to be together

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I think Russell Smith’s criticism of this recent viral hit misses the point—he seems to think that the video is indicative of women’s fixation on romance, not, you know, about getting over exactly that. (I guess we’re supposed to transition from dependence to Smith’s brand of empowerment instantly, or at least in private?) But that’s okay; I’d just as soon sail through to a peripheral issue myself.

And the reason this video’s popularity irks me is that I see this backsliding everywhere around me. I see all the blogs and books about being single and finding a husband and surviving divorce, written by educated women in this world in which women can do anything and I wonder if the 1960s ever happened. There is an obsession with romantic commitment in the air again.

If it’s true that women are more concerned with finding the right mate than they used to be, and I don’t know how you would measure that, I wonder if it’s a natural consequence of our expanded opportunities. Smith’s ideal modern woman, as I understand her, has ambitions and desires at both work and home. We want, and are expected to want, more than a nice guy who makes enough money to put us up in the suburbs.

We want to do something that matters, maybe something that requires extended training or time to get established. We need to fit in kids while we’re relatively young, but we can’t or don’t want to quit our jobs at that point. So we need a partner who can share housework and childcare; someone who might consider moving for our job, not just his. We want someone who is emotionally available to us and the kids. We have come to expect a fulfilling sex life, but most of us also want a mate who won’t harass us or cheat in the years when we’re most exhausted from the second shift.

It isn’t easy to strike a balance between these sometimes contradictory desires and the similarly contradictory desires of the ideal modern dude, who (we can hope) has his own ambitions and desires at work and home and is also (we can hope) figuring out what a kinder, gentler, more fulfilling masculinity might look like. Nasty break-ups, serial cohabitation, divorce, couples’ therapy, vapid self-help relationship books—maybe this is just what happens while we figure out what love and marriage is supposed to be, in world where, as Smith says, “women are just as capable of being busy and distracted by histology or the futures market or electoral reform.”

Written by Allison

14 August 2010 at 3:09 pm

The wage gap on More or Less

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More or Less, Tim Harford’s BBC’s show about math and statistics, is my favourite podcast or radio show, bar none. But when I heard that this week’s episode would be about the wage gap, I was still nervous. Journalism about the wage gap is so often out of date, oversimplified or  just ill-informed.

I was happily surprised. Necessarily, the segment only skims the surface of the question, but does so in a reasonably even-handed and intelligent way. Take a listen.

Written by Allison

22 June 2010 at 7:00 pm

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Parental leave, social norms and the wage gap in Sweden

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It’s difficult to legislate discrimination out of existence when that discrimination makes good business sense. As long as employers can reasonably predict that women will spend more time on childcare than men, we should expect some sort of wage and seniority gap in the workplace. (I do think that we probably overestimate the degree to which parenting hurts mothers’ job performance, while underestimating how much it affects fathers, actually, but that’s a whole other issue.)

The long-term solution is for men, in the aggregate, to take as much responsibility for child-rearing as women. That doesn’t mean that every family must split childcare 50/50 – in fact, for many families that wouldn’t make sense. But we need to make paternity leave socially acceptable.

Shifting from maternity leave to parental leave is a symbolic step in that direction, but on its own, we shouldn’t expect it to change care giving patterns. That’s one point I took away from this thorough and revealing Times piece about fatherhood in Sweden.

Despite government campaigns — one featuring a champion weightlifter with a baby perched on his bare biceps — the share of fathers on leave was stalled at 6 percent when [Bengt] Westerberg entered government in 1991. [...]

“I always thought if we made it easier for women to work, families would eventually choose a more equal division of parental leave by themselves,” said Mr. Westerberg, 67. “But I gradually became convinced that there wasn’t all that much choice.”

Sweden, he said, faced a vicious circle. Women continued to take parental leave not just for tradition’s sake but because their pay was often lower, thus perpetuating pay differences. Companies, meanwhile, made clear to men that staying home with baby was not compatible with a career.

So Westerberg, as deputy prime minister, started phasing in some heavy-handed policies in 1995. Now two months of parental leave is reserved exclusively for men. This has substantially increased the number of fathers taking time off work, and that has had an impact on wages.

A study published by the Swedish Institute of Labor Market Policy Evaluation in March showed, for instance, that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 percent for every month the father takes leave.

That’s great, but I’m also interested in women who do not have children. If women who don’t intend to have kids or take maternity leave are being hurt by their potential children, by assumptions that come from other women’s behaviour (and the evidence suggests that they are) then this sort of broad social change should help.

Along those lines, the parental leave policy is apparently shifting gender norms for men:

Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” Ms. Ohlsson, who has lobbied European Union governments to pay more attention to fathers, is eight months pregnant, and her husband, a law professor, will take the leave when their child is born.

“Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” she added. “It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

I think we don’t say enough about how restrictive gender norms limit men’s choices, pushing them to, for example, focus exclusively on work when they might be happier spending time with their kids.

(Hat tip to kottke.)

Written by Allison

15 June 2010 at 7:00 pm

Anti-sweatshop campaigns… work?

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A new paper in the American Economic Review (that version is gated, but an ungated version is available here) from Ann Harrison and Jason Scorse reports that anti-sweatshop campaigns against manufacturers operating in Indonesia, notably Nike, have lead to large real wage increases for workers at targeted firms, and no significant increase in unemployment.

I have to say, this surprises me, but two of the explanations offered are compelling. First, it may be that wages were below equilibrium to begin with:

Wages in Indonesian TFA [textiles, footwear, and apparel] factories were very low prior to the onset of the anti-sweatshop campaigns; vendors for Nike were able to implement significant wage increases before even approaching the average wages across the Indonesian manufacturing sector.

Second, the companies targeted have brand power which gives them unusually high margins. For the non-economists in the audience – by some theories, being a powerful brand is a little bit like being a monopoly, because you’ve distinguished your products to the point where they’re not competing with generic alternatives.

Another key consideration is that many of the goods produced in Indonesia’s TFA sectors ultimately end up in expensive retail markets in the U.S. and the EU, where profit margins are relatively large, brand identity is paramount, and the firms clearly have the financial resources to improve labor conditions in their factories. In industries where more firms compete for market share, profit margins are smaller, and there is no brand recognition, anti-sweatshop campaigns may not be as effective.

So what was the mechanism? Apparently, activism increased compliance with minimum wage laws at the targeted companies. While increases in the minimum wage decreased employment overall – this is no surprise – the increased compliance with the minimum wage at a limited number of companies didn’t seem to reduce employment.

This part is just my own conjecture, but I’d assume that companies wouldn’t respond to these campaigns with wage increases unless they could afford the wage increases. That means there’s almost a built-in safety valve to avoid unemployment.

Not all the news was rosy, though:

While anti-sweatshop activism did not have additional adverse effects on employment within the TFA sector, it did lead to falling profits, reduced productivity growth, and plant closures for smaller exporters.

So taken together, this isn’t exactly bad news, but I’m not sure it’s widely applicable.

(Hat tip to Chris Blattman, as usual.)

Written by Allison

24 March 2010 at 12:11 pm

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Missing the point about race and feminism

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I may have spoken too soon. Jezebel has pointed out out that all of the women in the photo accompanying the Newsweek story are white. And in response, the women of Equality Myth have made two pretty unconvincing points. Emphasis is mine throughout.

All of the women in this photo work or used to work at Newsweek. And yes, all of them are white, but you should really read the piece for some context. The photo isn’t meant to illustrate the face of feminism, it’s actually just a link to the package … True, there probably aren’t enough people of color working here—or in the media in general—just as there aren’t enough women. And for the record, the few women of color who worked at Newsweek during the 1970 suit declined to sign the complaint against the company.

The subtext here is that the women of colour on staff weren’t good warriors, and therefore don’t deserve to be celebrated today. I hope that’s not what was intended, but in any case this highlights a missed opportunity in the original article.

Why didn’t the women of colour on staff sign the complaint in 1970? Were they approached by the white women organizing the action? Did they feel less secure in their jobs, or less supported by the broader feminist community? Had they made less progress? Have they made less progress since? A look, however brief, into these questions would have given us a really interesting angle on the conflict, and would have touched on one of the defining feminist issues of the last 40 years – the intersection of sexism and racism.

And then there’s this:

What bothers us most about their post, though, is that it’s important for feminists to stick together—especially when there’s not much discussion of the F word in the mainstream media at all.

For a long time, marginalized groups within marginalized groups have been told to sit down and shut up, lest they make the broader movement less palatable to the masses. So let’s be clear – when we throw women of colour under the bus, that’s the very opposite of “sticking together.”

Finally, I just don’t accept the premise that feminism is an easier sell without anti-racism. All of the major outstanding feminist issues are deeply entwined with issues of race, in ways that I think a broad, mainstream audience understands. By ignoring race, we only make ourselves more irrelevant.

Written by Allison

23 March 2010 at 2:51 pm

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Newsweek on inequality at work

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In March 1970, 46 female Newsweek staff sued their employer for discrimination. Now, forty years later, Jessica Bennett, Jesse Ellison and Sarah Ball have written a brave piece about their magazine’s history, and – even better – its present. They have also launched an arms-length blog about “young women, sexism, and the workplace” called Equality Myth.

No one would dare say today that “women don’t write here,” as the NEWSWEEK women were told 40 years ago. But men wrote all but six of NEWSWEEK’s 49 cover stories last year—and two of those used the headline “The Thinking Man.” In 1970, 25 percent of NEWSWEEK’s editorial masthead was female; today that number is 39 percent. Better? Yes. But it’s hardly equality.

Bennett, Ellison and Ball seem to have come to this conclusion gradually – as successful young women, they grew up believing that they could do anything. As Echidne, commenting on the piece, writes:

Outside the question of sexuality, the culture now does tell younger women that they can be anything they want if they work hard enough, though this suggestion is made before one enters the labor force or has any children. I suspect that the transition from college to the labor force is when some women hear that feminist alarm clock ringing.

This is exactly right. I have watched my friends’ ideas about gender shift perceptibly between high school, university, and now the working world. They are not alone. For many women, feminist perspectives on pop culture are not as compelling as what we have to say about the day to day challenges of work and family life.

Written by Allison

23 March 2010 at 11:31 am

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The wealth gap

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We talk a lot about income here, and not as much about wealth. But I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that women of colour face a wealth gap. And it’s a big one – almost unbelievably so for single women of colour, according to a new report from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. The summary is here.

Excluding vehicles, single black women have a median wealth of $100 and Hispanic women $120 respectively, while their same-race male counterparts have $7,900 and $9,730. The median wealth of single
white women is $41,500. To put it another way, single black and Hispanic women have one penny of wealth for every dollar of wealth owned by their male counterparts and a tiny fraction of a penny for every dollar of
wealth owned by white women.

There’s a really illuminating graph on page 7 of the full report, which you should check out – it doesn’t really fit on this page – which reassured me that this isn’t an isolated statistic. A large gap holds for married and cohabiting couples, and, for that matter, for men of colour, though not to the same extent.

The data is from the 2007 Survey of Consumer Finances, conducted by the Federal Reserve Board. (If, like me, you are excited by this sort of thing, you can download the raw data here.) As the authors point out, since the data was collected, the recession has probably changed things for the worse.

Written by Allison

21 March 2010 at 10:27 pm

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Food stamps and irregular verbs

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Along with Saturday’s New York Times article about the growth in food stamp use, you should read Jill Filipovic’s reaction at Feministe. This is the best part:

The article is also interesting because of its unspoken undercurrent of “this is now notable because white people do it.” Food stamps are now for “regular folks,” instead of those other people who usually rely on public assistance. And it contains some staggering statistics — like the fact that half of all Americans, and 90 percent of all African Americans, will rely on food stamps before they’re 20.

Much of the post is about how strangely judgemental one of the recipients they interview is about others in the program. And along those lines, we get this fantastic comment from Katherine:

This is one of those irregular verbs isn’t it? I am down on my luck, you are feckless, they are fraudulent money-grubbers.

Someone get this woman a blog.

Written by Allison

1 December 2009 at 3:07 pm

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Feminizing contract teaching

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This video – an interview with Michelle Masse about gender and higher education – popped up on a feminist economics mailing list, but didn’t inspire any discussion, which surprised me.

I am not, honestly, a huge defender of the humanities. I don’t think we should dismiss “rigour” as gendered and therefore not a useful goal. But quite aside from that, if it’s true that contract teaching is being feminized, I’d like to talk about the structural factors that make this happen. For example, it’s pretty hard to schedule pregnancy into an academic life. I haven’t found similar stats for all disciplines, but as an example, according to this 2003 US study, the average history professor was hired into a tenure-track position at almost 39.

If female PhDs decide not to delay childbirth until after hiring or tenure – probably a good idea, if they won’t be hired until almost 40 – they increase the chances that they will end up stuck as sessional instructors, which is a terrible waste of human capital, among other things. Research shouldn’t be incompatible with having a family.

Written by Allison

30 November 2009 at 3:12 pm

Money, happiness and gender

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Economix, which is becoming a consistent source of news about gender and economics, has a post up about income and job satisfaction by gender. Their data is from a website called PayScale, where users share their salary and related information. In other words, the workers that make up this data set had to seek out PayScale and then fill out a survey. Most survey research suffers from low response rates, but this is a decidedly non-random sample. Among other things, we are only learning about people concerned enough with their salary to discover a site like PayScale. So this isn’t an ideal research environment.

That said, the Times economics editor, Catherine Rampell, makes a couple interesting observations.

Men and women are about equally likely to say that they are satisfied with their jobs; about 65 percent of both sexes say they are satisfied. Plus, for both sexes higher job satisfaction is associated with higher job pay. But it typically takes a lot less money to get women to say they are satisfied with their work than it does to get men to say it. [...] Bumping men into a higher-satisfaction group requires a bigger increase in pay than women would need to in order to go up a ‘satisfaction’ level.

One of Rampell’s suggested explanations rings particularly true for me:

Perhaps this difference is reflective of the men’s and women’s divergent priorities in their career choices. After all, much of the overall gap between men’s and women’s earnings can be explained by the types of careers they choose (or others might argue, the types of careers available to them). Women are more disproportionately represented in industries like health care and education, for example, that are less lucrative than some male-dominated fields but that are — as public subsidies might indicate — generally viewed as contributing to the public good. Supporting this theory is another PayScale statistic: Women were more likely to tell PayScale that say they find their jobs “very meaningful” than men were, with 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men describing their jobs this way.

But the commenters are even cleverer. Cathy A. reminds us that a better study would correct for occupation categories:

At 40,000 a year, a woman may have the same job as a man making 60,000 a year (or close to that). Your simple analysis fails to account for the type of job a person is doing. For 40,000 a year, a man may be a laborer. But a woman making 40,000 a year (or even less) may be helping to manage a research project at a university.

And “Another View” points out that men and women face different substitutes:

Women are accustomed to doing a considerable amount of unpaid work at home; that is, time away from the office is not necessarily time off.

Beautiful. Read the comments, folks.

Written by Allison

28 November 2009 at 1:48 pm

On chickens and The New Yorker

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I don’t know why, but I delight in discovering a past iteration of a current fad. Take this passage, which could be about our current fascination with the backyard chicken:

At first, as a boy in a carefully zoned suburb, I had neighbors and police to reckon with; my chickens had to be as closely guarded as an underground newspaper. Later, as a man in the country, I had my old friends in town to reckon with, most of whom regarded the hen as a comic prop straight out of vaudeville… Their scorn only increased my devotion to the hen. I remained loyal, as a man would to a bride whom his family received with open ridicule. Now it is my turn to wear the smile, as I listen to the enthusiastic cackling of urbanites, who have suddenly taken up the hen socially and who fill the air with their newfound ecstasy and knowledge and the relative charms of the New Hampshire Red and the Laced Wyandotte. You would think, from their nervous cries of wonder and praise, that the hen as hatched yesterday in the suburbs of New York, instead of in the remote past in the jungles of India.

Pronouns aside, I might guess I was reading Susan Orlean, who tweets prodigiously about her own chickens and wrote 4000 words about them for The New Yorker in September. But this is actually another New Yorker staff writer, E.B. White, writing in 1944 for the preface to A Basic Chicken Guide.

(I stumbled across this while re-reading William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. If you write anything – don’t we all? – and you aren’t familiar with this book, do yourself a favour and pick it up.)

Written by Allison

27 November 2009 at 2:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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