Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Posts Tagged ‘women in the workplace

Twenty percent?!

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When I saw this tweet, I’m ashamed to say that I did not believe it. I clicked through and read the fine print, expecting to find something misinterpreted or at least out of date. But instead I found this fact sheet, which in turn referenced the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. The figure is part of a 2007 report on the state of higher education. (There does, at least, seem to be an upward trend.)

It’s funny that I doubted the number, really. There isn’t exactly a surplus of women profs around my department, and thinking back, I wasn’t taught by many during undergrad. While my MA cohort is about 50-50, a classmate recently observed that many of the men and few or none of the women are planning on doing a PhD. She suggested that it is because a PhD would make us unmarriageable. Our classmates, for what it’s worth, disagreed.

Written by Allison

18 April 2011 at 8:04 pm

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

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

More on negotiation, the wage gap, and self-help nonsense

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During my long hiatus, I received an email about negotiation and the wage gap (emphasis mine):

I attended a session last week in which the basic premise was, “A woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and here’s how to fix that”.  The presenter then went on to discuss negotiating a young woman’s first salary out of college since that forms the basis for all subsequent salaries.  OK, that makes sense in context. However, when I asked what other factors contributed to the disparity, the presenter basically said that there weren’t any except women not valuing themselves enough to negotiate good salaries.

That didn’t make sense to me, so I did a bit of Googling and kept seeing the same statement without a lot of critical analysis.  Your blog was one of the few that seemed to take it on and one post I noticed said you would have more to say.  However, I didn’t spot anything after that.  Do you know of any articles, blog posts, whatever that addresses the issue of what other causes there may be for the 77/100 problem?

The facilitator of this workshop probably meant well, but he or she was teaching something false and quite possibly harmful. As regular readers know well, the wage gap is not entirely due to  negotiation – it’s also the result of straightforward discrimination, occupational differences between genders, the housework and childcare that working women are expected to take on, the cumulative effect of time off for maternity leave and childrearing, and much more. It is true that women are less likely to negotiate a higher starting salary, but women are also more likely to be penalized for negotiating.

A lot of people like to argue that women can overcome sexism through personal action, like developing better negotiation skills. This can be an empowering message, but it’s not really true – becoming more assertive in isolation from the rest of the culture will only get you so far. Addressing the wage gap, if that’s something we want to do, requires big policy changes and new cultural norms.

Too often, messages of personal empowerment become about blame. (Barbara Ehrenreich really skewers the self help movement on this point in Bait and Switch.) If all you need is a positive attitude, then you don’t have child care/a promotion/help around the house because you don’t want it badly enough. Want harder! Stop talking about social change!

Written by Allison

27 May 2009 at 11:14 am

The Bergmann Effect

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The Bergmann Effect is a phrase used frequently by feminist economists, but as far as I can tell  it isn’t defined online, so I’ve been asked about it a few times. Here, at long last, is the sketch of a definition.

The Bergmann Effect is named after Barbara R. Bergmann, Professor Emeritus at the American University and the University of Maryland, and a pioneer of feminist economics. She didn’t coin the term herself, of course, but when I emailed her she was kind enough to sift back through mailing list discussions and come up with a definition: 

The harm done to gender equality in the work-place, and gender equality more broadly, by workplace policies that allow parents time off or allow them flexibility, when such opportunities are utilized by women more than men.

If you’re not used to thinking about incentives, this sounds crazy. How could so-called “family-friendly” workplace practices, which allow women to balance work with childcare, possibly hurt? Bergmann explains in a paper published by Politics & Society in 2008, called Long Leaves, Child Well-Being, and Gender Equality:

Female jobholders would increase their time
at home to a much greater extent than would male jobholders, increasing the
share women do of child care, cleaning, cooking, and laundry. In the workplace,
employers would become more reluctant to place women in nonroutine jobs,
where substitution of one worker for another is difficult.

Of the measures for resolving work–family conflict proposed by Janet Gornick and Marcia Meyers, government programs that provide or pay for nonparental child care would advance gender equality. However, paid parental leaves of six months for both parents, and the encouragement of part-time work, would retard it, and possibly reverse some of the advances toward gender equality that have been made in the home and the workplace. Female jobholders would increase their time at home to a much greater extent than would male jobholders, increasing the share women do of child care, cleaning, cooking, and laundry. In the workplace, employers would become more reluctant to place women in nonroutine jobs, where substitution of one worker for another is difficult.

So long as women are much more likely to take advantage of family-friendly workplace policies, and so long as those cost firms money, then those policies make it rational for firms to discriminate against women in hiring and promotion. 

I’m not entirely on board with what Bergmann sees as the solution to this dilemma – government-funded childcare, paired with the end of paid parental leave. To be clear, I’d love universal childcare – I  hope it exists by the time I need it. But I’m not sure I want to live in a world as stark as Bergmann and many of her colleagues imagine, where we stop looking for ways to support women with the perfectly reasonable desire to stay home for a few years with their kids. 

That said, naming the Bergmann Effect trains us to look for a particular unintended consequence that might come with a lot of the policies that the women’s movement advocates for. It lets us think about whether these policies are worth their downside, and we can also look at ways to mitigate unintended consequences. 

This brings me to last week. Kate, a guest poster over at Feministe, is furious, surprised and terrified (?) to see an ABC News segment asking whether the Pregnancy Discrimination Act could hurt women. Here’s the contrarian argument presented by Carrie Lukas, interviewed in the piece: 

“I understand the desire for people to have the government step in and try to protect women, but there’s real costs to government intervention.” According to Carrie, those costs are that because there’s now a law, employers might worry about being sued if they break it, and therefore be hesitant to hire women.

Lukas isn’t my ideal spokesperson, as VP of the Independent Women’s Forum, a fundamentalist free-market think tank prone to bizarre press releases like Obama Transnationalist Agenda Undermines US Sovereignty.

But seriously, Kate, you don’t have to be a “self-loathing pregnant lady”, “anti-woman”, or “anti-feminist” to ask this question. It wouldn’t be easy to prove or prevent this sort of systematic discrimination. I’d like to think we’ll always ask the question, and in many cases decide that it’s worth the trade off. Let’s all take a deep breath.

Written by Allison

16 May 2009 at 2:06 pm

The Predator State and its prey

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Susan Feiner discusses James Galbraith’s The Predator State over at Talking Point Memo Cafe’s Book Club. She likes it. The piece quickly segues to a discussion of women’s role in the workplace and at home.

Today’s vision of full-employment rightly includes women. But wait. If women are fully employed what’s going to happen to children too young for school? How many kids catch the school bus at 8:15 and have parents that leave for work at 7:30? The standard workday ends at 5:00 but the school day ends at 3:00. Then there’s the care of the elderly and the infirm. And please, don’t forget to wash the dishes. If the economy is really going to serve the public interest we have to deal with these realities.

And hints at the Bergmann effect:

Today’s liberals are likely to suggest flextime and long paid leaves to improve women’s economic condition. Nonsense. The breadwinner/dependent ideal relies on the same tired logic that seeks energy efficiency through deregulation and economic development through free trade.

This is only vaguely related, but it strikes me that those who advocate for a return to full employment policy spend too much time arguing about morality and compassion when they should be arguing that fiscal policy actually works. Don’t most Keynesian sceptics object to fiscal policy on practical grounds? An ethical argument is of no relevance if you haven’t convinced your opponents that your policy will work. In any case, as in so many areas, I declare myself firmly on the fence. Or lying underneath it. Or something.

Written by Allison

14 August 2008 at 12:20 pm

Wall Street is a bumpy ride for women

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Jessica Wakeman writes about women on Wall Street as two high-profile female executives are fired. Despite the negative headline, it’s kind of a good news/bad news story. The bad:

They may make up 46% of the workforce, but women held only 15.4% of Fortune 500 corporate officer positions in 2007… According to Gail Evans, former executive vice president of CNN (TWC) and author of the book Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman. “There’s so few women [that] when one of them gets fired [from an executive position], the percentage drops 10 percent.”

What’s the good news? The consensus is that these two executives deserved to be let go for straightforward professional reasons. And as far as I can tell, Wakeman is relieved that the coverage of the demotions wasn’t sexist:

The headlines were all about the Lehman firings, not about the “lady executive” getting the axe.

(Hat tip to Feministing.)

Written by Allison

24 June 2008 at 10:29 am

Paid family leave

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In case you’ve missed it, Kathy of The G Spot has a post up on The American Prospect’s Tapped about the economics of paid family leave. I haven’t had a chance to go over it in detail, but it looks exhaustive and interesting. 

Written by Allison

23 June 2008 at 6:00 pm

The humble inventor

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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.

Jason Kottke pointed me towards this NYT Magazine article from 2003, about Amy Smith, an inventor who teaches at MIT and develops cheap, low-tech solutions for the developing world.

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.

Written by Allison

19 May 2008 at 12:12 pm

The negotiation gap

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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.

Written by Allison

16 May 2008 at 4:09 pm

A friendly reminder

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While preparing my post on advice for undergraduates, I came across Daniel S. Hamermesh’s 2004 essay of advice for young female PhDs. This isn’t really my area of expertise, but it was an interesting read. Here are two ways in which young women have to work harder than men to make it to tenure:

University administrators love committees that are balanced by gender; but the relative supply of women, especially from economics departments, is small. [...] The time spent on them eats up research time and usually generates minimal credit in your tenure decision. Requests like this are another form of sexual exploitation.

Readers and tenure referees tend to assume that a young economist who coauthors with a more senior economist, especially a thesis advisor, is doing the dirty work rather than providing the central innovation of the study. This is regrettably especially true when the junior person is a woman and the senior economist is male.

Women get a lot of advice on avoiding sexism – it ranges from well-meaning and insightful observations like these, to patronizing double standards (“don’t walk home alone”) and meaningless restrictions on our freedom (“don’t wear that tank top”). Most if it is pretty ineffective, but also relatively harmless.

Still, let’s not lose sight of a larger point: the people best equipped to combat sexism are usually men in positions of power. I imagine that it’s tough, early in your career, to turn down an administrative position or tell your supervisor that you don’t want to co-author a paper with him. Older, male professors, on the other hand, might have time to spend mentoring a younger professor, or social capital to burn as the voice of reason on a tenure committee. Making sure that the field is safe and welcoming for women is also their job.

Written by Allison

15 May 2008 at 1:42 pm

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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

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


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