Friday, April 13, 2012

An EP Study On The Scarcity Of Men And Women's Career Choices. Part III: The Reason Why Female Education Is A "Tragedy"

I have written two earlier posts on this study. The first one discusses the medieval example the authors quoted and asks why they call an evolutionary psychology study an evolutionary biology study. The second one gives a fairly off-the-cuff set of criticisms about the four sub-studies in the paper. This post is about a section added to the end of the paper, a section which is not based on what those studies analyzed.

Remember, the studies were all attempts to see how a skewed sex ratio (with more women than men) would affect the career choices of women in general. It was not a study about the mating markets for educated women with higher earnings potential. But that's exactly what the authors speculate about in a section titled "The Sexual Paradox and the Effects of Women’s Economic Success."

What is that sexual paradox? The authors begin by asserting that
The effects of sex ratio on women’s career choices highlight some of the difficult life decisions confronted by many modern women, which can lead to a sexual paradox (Pinker, 2008). A fundamental challenge faced by all of our ancestors—and continued to be faced by humans today—is raising offspring (Kenrick, Griskevicius, Neuberg, & Schaller, 2010). Because human off-spring require an immense amount of time, attention, and care over many years of development, humans have historically solved this challenge through pair-bonding processes such as marriage (Geary, 2000). Such pair bonds allow a couple to pool their time, energy, and resources to raise children successfully (Marlowe, 2001). However, because females are the only sex that can gestate offspring and provide early nutrition via lactation and nursing, there has been considerable division of labor by sex within human cultures historically. Whereas men have typically contributed more economic resources to families (e.g., money, hunted game), women have contributed more direct offspring care (Hurtado, Hill, Kaplan, & Hurtado, 1992; Kaplan et al., 2000; Marlowe, 2003).

This division of labor, with men contributing more economic resources and women contributing more direct childcare, conferred a survival advantage to most offspring (Geary, 2000; Hurtado & Hill, 1992).
There ya go. At least the authors don't call this trend something purely determined by evolutionary "biology!"

In reality the historical way of bringing up children has not been based on isolated nuclear families but on larger extended kin settings where other family members (older siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles) participated in the childcare.

In reality, prehistoric women contributed economic resources to families by gathering activities and by the hunting of small game as well as probably fishing. Some studies have argued that the more recent hunter-gatherer societies got most of the nutrition from the gathering activities, not the hunting activities. But let's not pay attention to any of that. Let's just notice that we had this good system going, one which conveyed survival advantage, and now uppity women are messing it up, for their own detriment.

Here is why:
Women are much more likely than men to go to university, with the vast majority of colleges having more women than men. A consideration of evolutionary biology, mating psychology, and sex ratio suggests that these changes may lead to mating challenges among women.
First, despite changes in their economic independence, modern women continue to place great importance on economic resources and status when choosing long-term mates (Buss, 1989; Li, Bailey, Kenrick, & Linsenmeier, 2002). In fact, as women become more educated and economically independent, their mating standards tend to increase. Educated women who earn a good salary usually desire to marry educated men who earn even more than they do (Townsend, 1989). Yet as single women gain more education and climb the economic ladder, the pool of men who are acceptable as marriage partners shrinks considerably. Thus, as single women continue to climb the economic ladder, their chances of finding a mate who meets their standards quickly diminish.
Second, while women who climb the corporate ladder continue to place a premium on the financial status and earning power of their prospective mates, men who are wealthy and well educated do not place a premium on the earning power, wealth, education, or status of women when selecting a long-term mate (Buss, 1989; Buss & Barnes, 1986; Li et al., 2002). Thus, men often prefer to marry women who have less financial resources and education than themselves—with many men marrying women who have little to no financial resources. Because wealthy men are not seeking women of similar wealth, this further shrinks the pool of long-term mates for single women who continue to climb the economic and corporate ladder.

Third, women today are getting married later in life and having children at significantly later ages than they were 50 years ago. The median age at first marriage for women in the United States has increased more than 25% since 1970, moving from 20.8 years of age in 1970 to 26.5 years of age in 2009 (Elliott & Simmons, 2011). The average age at which women have their first child has also increased dramatically, rising to 25 in United States, 27.8 in France, 28 in Canada, and 29.2 in Japan. Moreover, a sizable proportion of women are delaying reproduction until much later, and an increasing number are not even having children (Mathews & Hamilton, 2009).
This means that educated women will die alone and childless, a natural end to the current experiment in the equality games.

The crucial question here is naturally whether these mating preferences are innate and unchangeable or whether they may change when (perhaps for the first time in history) women actually command economic resources in greater amounts themselves. The authors are not addressing that question but lean towards the innate explanation, in my opinion.

What their description of this "sexual paradox" fails to provide is data on the sad outcomes they predict. Indeed, some evidence suggests that educated women do pretty well marrying, at least:
Among mothers of all ages, a majority — 59 percent in 2009 — are married when they have children. But the surge of births outside marriage among younger women — nearly two-thirds of children in the United States are born to mothers under 30 — is both a symbol of the transforming family and a hint of coming generational change.
One group still largely resists the trend: college graduates, who overwhelmingly marry before having children. That is turning family structure into a new class divide, with the economic and social rewards of marriage increasingly reserved for people with the most education.
“Marriage has become a luxury good,” said Frank Furstenberg, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania.


Money helps explain why well-educated Americans still marry at high rates: they can offer each other more financial support, and hire others to do chores that prompt conflict. But some researchers argue that educated men have also been quicker than their blue-collar peers to give women equal authority. “They are more willing to play the partner role,” said Sara McLanahan, a Princeton sociologist.
Never mind data, perhaps. The theory looks better without it.

The question whether the gendered division of child-rearing is innate or not in humans is a valid question. But the four studies in the paper were not about that, and neither were they about a mating market for educated heterosexual women which would have been defined as consisting of only heterosexual men with equal or greater education.

So why include this section at all? I leave the pondering of the reasons to you, but I can't help sharing with you something I read today, by serendipity, on a similar discussion of women and education in 1946:

World War II is still raging, but Americans are reasonably sure the Allies are months rather than years from victory. Willard Waller took to the pages of The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine -- published in a city to which many of the men fighting in the Pacific would return -- to predict "The Coming War on Women."

If we are to have an adequate birth rate, we must hear less talk about women's rights and more about their duty to the race. The plain fact is, women do not produce children under the conditions of freedom and equality that have existed in the United States since the last war. The birth rate among educated, emancipated women is very low indeed, since few women manage to compete with men and, at the same time, produce their due number of children. Usually the career of a brilliant woman is bought at the cost of an empty nursery. The price is too high, even if the contribution is great... Now surely some old-fashioned feminist will say that a woman is the mistress of her own body; the nation has no right to force her to bear children. Well the man is the master of his body too, but hardly anyone questions the right of the nation to force him to expose his body to the risks of war. A woman's ownership of her body should be subordinate to her obligation as the trustee of the race. 
How utterly hilarious that piece is! After the slaughters of WWII women were told that the survival of the civilization depends on them. But the Atlantic Monthly writer who quoted from the piece, Conor Friedersdorf, then concludes with this:
The "War on Women" circa 1945 doesn't much resemble the one  today.
Ya think? Granted, only the "white-race-is-dying" conservatives write the very same stories today, but the stories about why the evident hard work of young women in getting educated is not something to be lauded but a very sorry thing for the women themselves? Those are plentiful.
Unless otherwise linked, direct quotes in this post come from Kristina M. Durante, Vladas Griskevicius, Jeffry A. Simpson, Stephanie M. Cantú, and Joshua M. Tybur: "Sex Ratio and Women's Career Choice: Does a Scarcity of Men Lead Women to Choose Briefcase Over Baby?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Online First Publication, April 2, 2012. doi: 10.1037/a0027949