Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

Archive for November 2009

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

Setting the bar low for corporate boards

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You know that an institution is lagging behind when this is considered good news:

A report last year by search firm Spencer Stuart found women accounted for 21 per cent of new directors added to boards of Canada’s 100 largest companies between 2006 and 2008. That was up from 14 per cent between 2002 and 2005.

That’s from this week’s Globe feature on the gender balance in corporate boardrooms. There’s nothing revolutionary here, just a reminder that at least in the private sector, it doesn’t take much to distinguish yourself as a leader in women’s leadership. And why should we care about getting women on boards? We’re told they can be a competitive advantage:

Aiding the battle is more research suggesting the presence of women on boards can actually boost a company’s bottom line. Research firm Catalyst Inc., for example, completed a U.S. study in 2007 on Fortune 500 boards, which found that return on equity was 53 per cent higher at companies with the most women on their boards compared with those with the fewest women. The argument is that people with different perspectives can improve the quality of decisions made by a board, says Deborah Gillis, Catalyst’s vice-president of North America.

I am not altogether convinced by this study, as it is summarized. I’d rather see something longitudinal, showing that companies that add women to their boards do better after diversifying. Otherwise, you have to wonder whether causality runs the other way, and better-performing firms are just the ones in a position to challenge the male status quo.

If this stuff interests you, you might want to drop by a live chat at The Globe, happening right now. If you miss the chat, a transcript will be available online later.

EDIT: In the live chat, Catalyst’s Deborah Gillis expands on their 2007 study. I still don’t find this especially compelling. Here’s the relevant section of the chat:

[Comment From Allison] Deborah, are there any longitudinal studies showing that women’s membership on boards makes firms more competitive? I’m not all that convinced by a simple cross section regression, which is what the article seems to summarize from your 2007 US study.

Deborah Gillis: Hi Allison, thanks for the question.   You are right that Catalyst released a study in 2007 that looked at the correlation between more women on board and financial performance of Fortune 500 companies in the US.   We did look at several years of data and what we found was that on average, those companies with the highest representation of women directors, as compared to those with the lowest, had stronger financial performance.   Return on Equity was 53% higher; Return on Sales was 42% higher; and Return on Invested Capital was 66% higher.   The numbers were even higher when there were three or more women – the critical mass that we hear so much about.    We found a similar correlation in an earlier study that looked at women in executive roles.

Claire Neary: Do you draw any direct conclusions from these correlations, Deborah? Do you think the companies with more women on their boards have other things in common as well?

Deborah Gillis: I think that what we’re seeing here is that when you have more diversity reflected around a decision-making table – and I am talking about diversity in the broadest sense – the way you look at problems changes.   Different questions get asked.   Different points of view and experience are brought to the table.   And when that  happens,  innovation and creativity  increase, as does the commitment and career satisfaction  of  employees.    Another point is that  Catalyst research would suggest that when there are more women directors, there will be more women corporate officers in the future.   Again, as the board is more diverse, there are more role models and the board has more interest and credibility in raising questions about diversity in the organization as a whole.

Gillis is explaining how causality might plausibly work, but she hasn’t provided real empirical support. This isn’t to say that I think it’s a bad idea to appoint women as board members. It would just take a better study to convince me that the benefits of hiring women are this simple and immediate. Gillis certainly isn’t alone in telling the corporate world that women will help their bottom line in the short run, but I’m not sure that’s the right strategy, especially without stronger evidence.

Written by Allison

27 November 2009 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized