Saturday, April 14, 2012

Today's Deep Thought

What would aliens from outer space think of humans if all the data they had were those usual hateful comments on newspaper stories and YouTube pieces? They'd probably decide to come and check our ethical development in another thousand years or so, assuming that they were checking us out not as a food source but for some inter-planetary cooperation reasons.

Weekend Reading And Viewing

The War On Mothers. You may have followed the recent debacles. Here's a good take on some of the arguments.

The War On Women. This is the weirdest Republican take on it ever. Ever. It argues that we should not address gender discrimination in the labor markets and that it would help women to remove all worker protections. It barely mentions the unavailability of affordable daycare, it does NOT mention the pitiful unpaid maternity leaves and it goes on about aspects of the system (differential treatment of women who have been in the labor market vs. not in retirement benefits, say) which the Republican platform supports. I should write a post on it but it's Saturday. Maybe later.

This is a fun thought experiment on the financial markets, well worth reading.

Finally, and just for fun, here is a philosophical cat.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday's Fun Post

David Brooks has written an ode to the hard-boiled Sam Spade characters as the proper role models for young idealists who try to save the world:
The noir heroes like Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon” served as models for a generation of Americans, and they put the focus squarely on venality, corruption and disorder and how you should behave in the face of it.
A noir hero is a moral realist. He assumes that everybody is dappled with virtue and vice, especially himself. He makes no social-class distinction and only provisional moral distinctions between the private eyes like himself and the criminals he pursues. The assumption in a Hammett book is that the good guy has a spotty past, does spotty things and that the private eye and the criminal are two sides to the same personality.
He (or she — the women in these stories follow the same code) adopts a layered personality. He hardens himself on the outside in order to protect whatever is left of the finer self within.

He is reticent, allergic to self-righteousness and appears unfeeling, but he is motivated by a disillusioned sense of honor. The world often rewards the wrong things, but each job comes with obligations and even if everything is decaying you should still take pride in your work. Under the cynical mask, there is still a basic sense of good order, that crime should be punished and bad behavior shouldn’t go uncorrected. He knows he’s not going to be uplifted by his work; that to tackle the hard jobs he’ll have to risk coarsening himself, but he doggedly plows ahead.
This worldview had a huge influence as a generation confronted crime, corruption, fascism and communism. I’m not sure I can see today’s social entrepreneurs wearing fedoras and trench coats. But noir’s moral realism would be a nice supplement to today’s prevailing ethos. It would fold some hardheadedness in with today’s service mentality. It would focus attention on the core issues: order and rule of law. And it would be necessary. Contemporary Washington, not to mention parts of the developing world, may be less seedy than the cities in the noir stories, but they are equally laced with self-deception and self-dealing.

I have bolded the actual message in that piece, the conservative message.

But the reason I write about this at all is that a long time ago I wrote a few sentences from the angle of a noir heroine:
Today was a day like all other days that are also called Sundays. The same slowness, the same newly starched faces in all the same church pews, the same drunks at the street corners worshipping in their own way. I wake up with a hangover next to the face of a stranger. The whiskey bottles on the floor are empty, and I have a headache down to my kidneys. Remind me not to go out with gorillas in the future, especially when the keyboard sits there idle, filling me with guilt. I slug down the eau de toilet from the bathroom cabinet and light up a stogie end I find under the sleeping gorilla. Time for some heavy lifting. The audience is out there, somewhere, and one day they will hear about me and even pay me. Until then I'll be ok with the booze and my karate skills. The roads are hard for a gal all alone but you knew that already.
Then the doorbell rings and it's a client for my one-woman blogging agency: David Brooks, banging on the door, falling into my arms, sobbing, when I open it (after I hide the stogie under the pillow). Someone is threatening to publish his murky past as a Maoist activist in Nepal* and he wants me to whitewash it all for him. Hmm. That could work as a story.
*This past is my invention. I think.

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

An EP Study On The Scarcity Of Men And Women's Career Choices. Part II: The Four Sub-Studies

This post follows my first post below on the topic and looks at the study ("Sex Ratio and Women's Career Choice: Does a Scarcity of Men Lead Women to Choose Briefcase Over Baby?") in more detail. The quotes in this post come from the paper.

It discusses four separate studies. The first one is a statistical analysis of fifty US states. The last three are experiments carried out on small samples of female university undergraduates. The object in each of them is to ascertain whether women are more career-oriented when there is a scarcity of marriageable men. The last study also tries to establish whether hotter women (based on self-assessment) are less affected about such perceived scarcity than less hot women (based on self-assessment).

The experimental studies all conclude that a seeming surplus of marriageable men had no effect on women's expressed preferences between careers and family but that a seeming dearth of marriageable men did affect those choices, in the direction of more emphasis on career. The hot/not-so-hot study argued that the effect was driven by the not-so-hot women becoming more career-oriented when exposed to fictitious information about the coming end of men.

You might be astonished to find that I read through all the four studies and wasn't that bothered about them, given that I clearly am very bothered over the overall paper. That's because I'm pretty sure that both heterosexual men and women would behave differently if there was a very large imbalance of sexes, and that those behavior differences would apply mostly to the case where the numbers of the "opposite" sex are much smaller than the numbers of one's own sex. This is because such an imbalance makes it much less likely that the person herself or himself would find a life partner, and knowing that at a young age would affect one's economic and social decision-making.

What really got me going was the bit at the end of the four studies, a bit which essentially does not follow from the studies itself but appears almost pure propaganda or at least a cobbled-together argument for a study the authors did NOT carry out. It is that bit the popularization I read focused on.

Then to the four studies: The first one is a statistical analysis which uses data from fifty US states on the ratio of unmarried men to unmarried women between the ages of 15 and 44, an "operational measure" of the sex ratio in the "mating markets" and a bunch of variables the researchers chose to express career vs. family focus on women. These are the percentage of women in the ten highest-paying occupations for women per state, the average maternal age at first birth and the number of children a woman has. The study consisted of crunching out correlations between those variables and the operational sex ratio measure (apparently only in pairs). The conclusions:
These results provide qualified support for our prediction regarding how operational sex ratio is linked to women’s career choices and family planning. As the number of marriageable men in an area decreased, (a) the percentage of women in the highest paying careers increased, (b) the average maternal age increased, and (c) the number of babies born decreased. These findings suggest that the availability of mates may have important implications for women’s decisions to choose to pursue a high-investment career path and hold off starting a family.
Perhaps. But there are alternative explanations. The one which seems to be the most obvious one to me is that the authors assume a causal chain from fewer-marriageable-men to all the other variables, whereas the variable they use is a ratio of unmarried men to unmarried women. It may be the denominator that is the crucial variable here.

Young people in the United States move a lot. They go to college in other states than their own, they choose to find work in other states than the one they were born in. Come to think of it, young heterosexual women (men) could move from an area with a scarcity of unmarried men (women) to one where this is not the case. Thus, the implicit assumption in the study that people stay put in a particular place does not hold.

But more importantly, the results could follow from certain states being more amenable to high-level careers for women than other states, with more of the necessary industries, a more affluent client base and more universities and colleges which women need to attend first to get into those career paths. In short, the operational sex ratio may not push the results because of a scarcity of men. It may be correlated with the results because an "abundance" of young educated women have settled in certain states: those with the best career climates for women. And educated women marry later and have fewer children.

The authors call the support these results gave "qualified," perhaps because only six out of the ten top paying jobs had a statistically significant zero-order correlation with the operational sex ratio measure. My view is that the authors should have included more variables and analyses to test for the alternative explanation I outline above. I would also like to hear why women or men cannot move to find a partner inside the United States.

But the authors do acknowledge that the analysis in the first study cannot be viewed as proving causality running from the operational sex ratio to women's career choices. Hence the three experimental studies which manipulate the perceived sex ratio in various ways and then ask the study subjects (young female undergraduates) to answer questions concerning their views on career vs. family of this type:
To assess how sex ratio influenced desire for career versus family, participants responded to three items. Each item began with the following instructions: “Please indicate which is more important to you in terms of your future.” The three items were on 9-point scales anchored with the following labels: (a) having a family—having a career, (b) spending quality time with my future children—having a satisfying job, and (c) having a happy and well-adjusted family—reaching my full career potential. The order of the items was randomized. Responses were combined into a family versus career tradeoff index
The purpose of each study was disguised by giving the study subjects false information about the various parts of the study as being separate studies. The bit were the study subjects were fed fictitious information about the sex ratio was presented as a study about memory, for example.

I have the usual reservations about collecting psychological information presumably applicable to the whole world from small samples (some of these are very small) of American undergraduate students. Neither am I certain that the way the researchers manipulated the perceived sex ratio properly reflects how the study subjects would make actual career vs. family decisions. After all, if a heterosexual woman gets told oh-my-god-men-are-dying-out her first reaction might well be to become more career-focused. Or to run out and snap up a man. But of course men are not dying out.

Yet in the first experimental study which showed the study subjects three sets of eighteen pictures from the local dating scenes the ones who got the "scarcity of men" alternative saw either 12, 13 or 14 female faces in each group of eighteen. That's between 67 and 78 percent female. I would dearly like to know whether it was the women who were shown the 78% female pictures whose responses drove the results.

The other two studies did not use pictures but fictitious newspaper articles about the number of men vs. women at nearby college campuses. The articles came in pairs, one describing more men than women at the campuses, one describing more women than men. That according to the authors.

But the Appendix to the paper appears to contradicts that description. The articles are not just about a fictitious scarcity of men or women in nearby colleges. They are about a life-long lack of marriageable men/women in general. Here's the article those women read who were given the "few men" material:

Fewer Men for Every Woman for Today’s Students

By MORGAN K. JAMESTON, Senior Writer

There was once a time when the average college student could look around campus and expect to see an even number of males and females in a class. Those times are changing rapidly, however, according to new sociological research. Whether it’s in class, at work, or at the bar, college-aged women today should expect to see more women for every one guy.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released statistics of current enrollment patterns at national universities. The trends show that significantly more than half the incoming students across the country are women. “It’s astounding,” says Susan Rice, chief admissions officer for the University of Texas system. “College campuses are overflowing with young women.”

Across the universities of the Big 12, for example, many co-ed dorms have more women than men. “We’ve had to turn some of our boy’s bathrooms into girl’s bathrooms,” notes Taylor Bryan, a residential coordinator at Baylor University. “Whenever I walk around the dorms now, I always see some guy surrounded by a group of single girls.”
Interestingly, most students do not appear to notice the skew unless it is made explicit to them. At the University of Texas, for example, several students were asked to observe people around them for five minutes. Christina Jenkins, a first-year student, quickly noticed the trend. “Everywhere I looked, there were groups of women,” said Jenkins. “I was intrigued that there were so many single girls and so few men. I guess I need to get used to this.”

Demographers note that this trend will continue into the near future. “Looking at high schools right now,” observes Ryan Connick, a professor at Texas A&M, “it’s pretty clear that more women will be applying to college in the next few years.” Connick notes that this trend is a result of the number of males and females born in a given year. “We had a series of years a while back when more women were born. There is nothing wrong with this, but it will have an impact on people’s lives.”

The high numbers of women are likely to influence both the academic and the recreational lives of women and men. But it’s important to realize that the sex ratio is a lasting generational phenomenon. As the current generation of college students gets older, there will continue to be more women than men of similar ages. “When women graduate from college a few years from now, they will see the sex ratio follow them into their jobs,” points out Connick. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a woman ends up working in an office filled with single women and only a few men.”

Researchers across the country note that the sex ratio has looked different in the past and will likely look different again in the future. People who are college age right now, however, should expect to be surrounded by an abundance of women.

What do you think of that, huh? It's not just an experimental adjustment of the gender ratio in the local mating markets, my dears. It's a full-fledged the-sky-is-falling scenario. It states that there will be lots more women EVERYWHERE, all through the lives of the poor study subjects who read this:
Connick notes that this trend is a result of the number of males and females born in a given year. “We had a series of years a while back when more women were born. There is nothing wrong with this, but it will have an impact on people’s lives.”

Besides, there is no way in hell that the study subjects who read the reverse article on many men on college campuses would believe that or the rest of that story. It's too much in conflict with their daily experiences.

OK, I'm not that happy with the four studies, after all. But wait until we get to the third post on the bit added to the end of the paper, the one which does not follow from any of these studies, and you will see why most of this didn't look that bad to me.
All 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

An EP Study On The Scarcity Of Men And Women's Career Choices. Part I

EP stands for a particular type of evolutionary psychology, the kind which offers an almost cartoonish interpretation of human psychology, one based on a few simple models and whatever can be extrapolated from them, one which has essentially no reliance on historical or archeological evidence and one which doesn't have much use for any competing theories at all.

If that sounds harsh it is meant to be, because studies under that sub-title of evolutionary psychology anger me greatly. Here is a recent example which I wish to take apart for your entertainment and education:
Many factors can influence a woman’s choice of career. Cultural, or family, traditions. Her specific skill set. Her interests and passions.
And whether she senses an abundant supply of available men.
That’s the conclusion of newly published research, which finds the mating market, not just the job market, impacts the way women pick their professions. The finding, which is rooted in evolutionary biology, has fascinating implications given the rapid rise of women both on college campuses and in the workplace.
“Does the ratio of men to women in the local population influence women’s career aspirations? Real-world archival data and a series of laboratory experiments suggest that the answer is yes,” writes a research team led by Kristina Durante of the University of Texas at San Antonio. “A scarcity of men leads women to seek out more lucrative careers.”
The paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, begins with a little-known historical fact: “A substantial portion of women in Northern Europe achieved economic parity with men during the late 12th century.” This “relatively short-lived” phenomenon (it had largely faded away 100 years later) occurred during a period when there was “a scarcity of marriageable men,” the researchers write.
You may already guess that this is about those sad and deluded educated women who will never able to marry or have children. And that, indeed, is the final message of the paper. But before we go there, and to the paper itself, let's look at the above description a little more closely. There are two points I wish to make about it:

First, the paper begins with that same anecdote about an era of equality, based on the shortage of eligible men for marriage, which once existed but was relatively short-lived (quote from the paper):
Recall a time in history when women began to assert their economic independence. After years of holding the near-exclusive role of homemaker, many women ambitiously entered the male-dominated workforce, successfully climbing up the economic ladder. If this description sounds like an account of the latter half of the 20th century in Western culture, it’s not. Instead, this account describes a period in Medieval Europe. A substantial portion of women in Northern Europe achieved economic parity with men during the late 12th century (Guttentag & Secord, 1983). Although the Middle Ages are rarely associated with women’s independence, many women in this time and place “became independent entrepreneurs and formed labor unions that were almost exclusively female” (Guttentag & Secord, 1983, p. 66).

Historians do not attribute this medieval shift in women’s economic aspirations to changes in government policy, education, or any kind of social movement that directly favored women. In fact, the change was relatively short lived; a century later, the number of female entrepreneurs and guild leaders diminished. Demogra- phers note that rather than reflecting a change from above or a grassroots movement from below, this time period was characterized by a specific shift in the European population: a decrease in the ratio of men to women, which produced a scarcity of marriageable men (Guttentag & Secord, 1983).
Is this anecdote intended to make us draw similar conclusions about the current era of increased gender-equality as based on an imbalance of men and women in the population? That it will also be short-lived, leading us back to a status quo of something varying between today's Afghanistan and the 1950s US? The researchers, including Kristina M. Durante and Stephanie M. CantĂș, are silent on that question but the answer does seem to be in the affirmative. Perhaps Kristina and Stephanie see themselves as dinosaurs in the making?

I like the way the five authors (Kristina M. Durante, Vladas Griskevicius, Jeffry A. Simpson, Stephanie M. CantĂș, and Joshua M. Tybur) note that the late 12th century experiment in gender equality was "short-lived" without telling us anything about how it ended. It's as if all the women just packed up their bags, relinquished their high-paying jobs and went back to their kitchens all voluntarily.

But an alternative interpretation of the end of women's guild memberships and professional success exists. There's plentiful evidence that women often left those jobs (at least during some parts of the Middle Ages) not voluntarily but because they were forced out.

From A History of Women. Silences in the Middle Ages:
Women dominated certain crafts, particularly those related to cloth and clothing production; they carded and spun wool, prepared flax, and worked as tailors, furriers, bag- and belt-makers, and gold spinners and embroiderers. Women in the last-named trade occasionally formed their own all-female guilds, as in Paris and Cologne. (p.300)

One of the oldest guilds to grant men and women equal rights is that of the furriers of Basel, from the year of 1226. Once accepted as members, women were permitted to work, buy and sell under the same conditions as men. (p.300)

In many other crafts women could be admitted to guilds and open their own workshops; many were wives or widows of male craftsmen; but single women appear as well. Normally they were required to serve the usual apprenticeship of several years. As guild members they then worked under the same conditions as their male colleagues, with the same rights but also the same restrictions and communal obligations, such as night-watch and military duty. In the last case a woman with her own workshop was required to supply a journeyman or pay a fee in lieu of service. (p.301)


In addition many women worked outside the guild system in unregulated professions, such as the gold-spinners of Nürnberg, who do not appear in official records until 1526 and had previously worked without any system of regulation. In Strasbourg the large number of female wool-weavers operating outside the organized weavers' guild were the subject of repeated protests to the city council by the (male) guild members. The male weavers demanded that women either stop competing or buy into the guild and pay dues. something many of them could not afford to do. A later regulation kept women's workshops small and uncompetitive by forbidding them to hire apprentices. These strategies were successful in driving women out of the city or into other trades. (p.302)

"No female may lawfully practice a trade, even if she should understand it as well as a man." This sentence from Adrian Beier's 1688 book on craft laws appears to show that medieval developments ultimately led to the complete exclusion of women from crafts and trades.

Much does indeed point to a growing hostility toward women and the suppression of independent female-led workshops near the end of the Middle Ages, particularly in guild ordinances. The trend can be observed in conflicts that began at different levels as early as the start of the fifteenth century: between journeymen and female apprentices, between trained artisans and untrained women day laborers and maids, and between master craftsmen in guilds and women competitors outside them. By the end of the sixteenth century men dominated the previously all-female guild of silk-workers in Cologne.


This observation has led many historians to conclude that the late Middle Ages saw the beginning of a process of "women's exclusion from professional life" that led more or less directly to female dependency and the confinement to the domestic sphere typical of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This interpretation overlooks a number of factors, however, such as the fact that for women merchants engaged in both local and long-distance trade the decisive phase of exclusion occurred not in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries but -- if it took place at all -- in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. For example, the ordinance for fish merchants in Nürnberg, passed in 1300, permitted a woman to run a stand only temporarily, in her husband's absence. (pp. 303-304).

I quote from this source so extensively for three reasons:

First, it adds tentative flesh to the skeleton of the Durante et al. medieval anecdote which has been stripped of that for their purposes.

Second, it serves as a reminder of the existence of alternative disciplines which could have been applied to a particular question instead of the sole use of evolutionary psychology.

Third, when we get to the paper itself (in my second post) it reminds us of the fact that the way women worked in the past cannot be simply deduced from some evolutionary psychology model which concludes that they did mostly childcare and housekeeping. In reality most women have worked not only in caring for children and the elderly or in cooking, cleaning and laundry services for their own families but also in the kinds of jobs which we now regard as belonging to the labor market: The manufacture of clothing, the growing of food, the brewing of beer for sale and so on. And when they did not it may have been because they were sometimes not allowed to.

My second point in this introductory post has to do with one teeny-weeny word in the above quote:
The finding, which is rooted in evolutionary biology, has fascinating implications given the rapid rise of women both on college campuses and in the workplace.
Can you guess the word? It's "biology." Evolutionary psychology is not evolutionary biology. I checked the qualifications of all five authors in the study. Four of them have doctorates in psychology and one expects to have that psychology doctorate by 2014. None of them seems to be an evolutionary biologist.

This doesn't mean that the study might not be based on evolutionary biology in the sense of the animal studies the authors refer to in their paper. But their own analysis is pure EP. Despite that, the paper itself always refers to evolutionary biology. I'm not sure what to make of that though I have a few theories.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Teen Pregnancy Rates Drop in the US

All across the country:
The number of teen births in the U.S. dropped again in 2010, according to a government report, with nearly every state seeing a decrease. Nationally, the rate fell 9 percent to about 34 per 1,000 girls ages 15 through 19, and the drop was seen among all racial and ethnic groups. Mississippi continues to have the highest teen birth rate, with 55 births per 1,000 girls. New Hampshire has the lowest rate at just under 16 births per 1,000 girls.
This is the lowest national rate for teen births since the Centers for Disease Control began tracking it in 1940, and CDC officials attributed the decline to pregnancy prevention efforts. Other reports show that teenagers are having less sex and using contraception more often. Studies have backed this up. Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that teenagers who received some type of comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant. And in 2007, a federal report showed that abstinence-only programs had “no impacts on rates of sexual abstinence.”

It's difficult to tease out the main reason for the drop. In addition to less sex and more contraception, recession may have played a role in the decline or may have been the reason why more teens would abstain from sex or be more careful with prevention of pregnancies.

That's about the recent decline in teen pregnancy rates. But those rates still show large differences by US states, as described above, and also large differences between ethnic and/or racial groups:
The teen birth rate dropped across all racial and ethnic groups but still varies widely by race; Hispanics have the highest teenage birth rates at 55.7 births per 1,000 teens in the age group, followed by black teens at 51.5 per 1,000. Asian teens have the lowest teenage birth rate with 10.9 per 1,000
The US overall rate, of 34 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 is quite a bit higher than the corresponding rates in Germany (9.8), France (10.2), Sweden (5.9) or the Netherlands (5.3), and is higher than the rate in the Russian Federation (30.2)

The international statistics (Table 10 here) suggest a rough inverse correlation between the income of a country and the rate of teenage pregnancies in general, and that seems to be supported by the US data, too. Mississippi is the second poorest state in terms of per capita GDP, for example.

Earlier Puberty?

Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have had pieces on the hypothesis that puberty now begins earlier than it used to. The NYT article, from March, is on girls, the more recent WaPo article on boys. Neither is able to give much data. I get the impression that research in this field is at its infancy, and that one aspect which limits it is lack of good data on puberty and its timing in the past.

The article on girls' earlier puberty states that the age of menarche (the onset of menstruation) does not seem to have changed much, if at all, but that secondary sexual characteristics (breast development and body hair) may now appear earlier.

What this means seems to be debated. One researcher argues that these developments might not have anything to do with puberty:
Adding to the anxiety is the fact that we know so little about how early puberty works. A few researchers, including Robert Lustig, of Benioff Children’s Hospital, are beginning to wonder if many of those girls with early breast growth are in puberty at all. Lustig is a man prone to big, inflammatory ideas. (He believes that sugar is a poison, as he has argued in this magazine.) To make the case that some girls with early breast growth may not be in puberty, he starts with basic science. True puberty starts in the brain, he explains, with the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH. “There is no puberty without GnRH,” Lustig told me. GnRH is like the ball that rolls down the ramp that knocks over the book that flips the stereo switch. Specifically, GnRH trips the pituitary, which signals the ovaries. The ovaries then produce estrogen, and the estrogen causes the breasts to grow. But as Lustig points out, the estrogen that is causing that growth in young girls may have a different origin. It may come from the girls’ fat tissue (postmenopausal women produce estrogen in their fat tissue) or from an environmental source. “And if that estrogen didn’t start with GnRH, it’s not puberty, end of story,” Lustig says. “Breast development doesn’t automatically mean early puberty. It might, but it doesn’t have to.” Don’t even get him started on the relationship between pubic-hair growth and puberty. “Any paper linking pubic hair with early puberty is garbage. Gar-bage. Pubic hair just means androgens, or male hormones. The first sign of puberty in girls is estrogen. Androgen is not even on the menu.”
Several theories exist on the possible causes of earlier puberty in girls, assuming that it indeed is earlier, and more research is clearly needed.

The NYT article is titled "Puberty Before Age 10: A New ‘Normal’?." That misleads in two ways: the article is only on girls, not on boys, and given that the average age of menarche has (perhaps*) fallen only from 12.8 to 12.5 years since the 1970s the more correct title would have replaced the word "puberty" with "the beginning of female puberty." Yeah, that's clunky and yeah, I know that the authors of articles mostly don't have a say with the titles the newspapers pick.

The WaPo piece, on boys, is even more anecdotal in its approach (though I'm not blaming the authors of either piece for the current state of knowledge in the field). An example:
For 800 years, the St. Thomas Boys Choir has been filling churches with pure, young voices. Now it’s confronting a confounding phenomenon: Every year, those voices are cracking with teenage angst just a little earlier than before.
Other boys choirs have been noticing it, too, as an unrelenting march of puberty sweeps voices into rebellion. Over recent decades, the already-short careers of their sopranos have started to end between six months and a year earlier, challenging them at times such as Easter, for which choral music such as J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion was written with difficult lines for boys free of hormonal woes.
At the venerable St. Thomas Boys Choir, where Bach once drilled pupils in their scales, leaders have redoubled recruitment efforts and taken in boys at a younger age to make sure the choir has a full stock of voices ranging from the deepest bass to the most clarion-pure soprano. Children whose voices are deepening wait out the change by working the ticket booth.
The cause of the shift remains unclear.
The topic of earlier puberty clearly calls for a large study, given both the possible health and social consequences. The latter are described in the article on girls though mostly as they apply to girls who develop earlier than average. The consequences might be different if the whole age range of puberty shifts downwards for all children.
*I added this qualifier for two reasons: First, I'm not sure how good historical data is on the onset of puberty, given that routine physician or school nurse records of that would probably be pretty incomplete and not representative in the past. We have more data today.

Second, if different ethnic or racial groups experience menarche at somewhat different average ages, then the change could be caused by a different mix of individuals in the population rather than by a drop in the overall average age at menarche.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On Autistic Children and Obese Mothers

A study in the Pediatrics journal has found a statistically significant correlation between mother's obesity and autism-related disorders in the child:
Krakowiak and her colleagues looked at 1004 children who were between two and five years old, born in California and already participating in a study underway at UC Davis.
Of those kids, 517 had an autism spectrum disorder and 172 had developmental delays. For Krakowiak's study, the children's diagnoses were confirmed by a reevaluation at the UC Davis MIND Institute.
Autism is attributed to atypical brain development and characterized by a group of symptoms that include problems with socialization, communication and behavior.
Milder versions of autism, such as Asperger's syndrome and related conditions, form a "spectrum" of autism-related disorders. In addition, impairments in any one of the autism-related cognitive skill areas are considered developmental delays.
Among the kids in the study with an autism spectrum disorder, 48 were born to mothers with Type 2 or gestational diabetes, 111 to mothers who were obese and 148 to moms with any sort of metabolic condition, like high blood pressure.
For children with a developmental delay, 20 were born to mothers with Type 2 or gestational diabetes, 41 to mothers who were obese and 60 to moms with any sort of metabolic condition.
Overall, the connection between diabetes in a mother and her child being diagnosed with autism was not significant, but the researchers did find links between a mother being obese or having any other metabolic condition and her child having autism.
Developmental delays were associated with both obesity and diabetes, along with having any other metabolic condition.
"There is definitely an association present and it adds to the reasons for finding ways to lower obesity rates or diabetes rates and make greater efforts to change lifestyle factors," said Krakowiak.

And what are the policy implications? Krakowiak and her colleagues:
Meanwhile, Krakowiak and her colleagues note that nearly 60 percent of U.S. women of childbearing age (20-39 years) are overweight, one-third are obese and 16 percent have so-called metabolic syndrome -- a constellation of symptoms, including high blood pressure and insulin resistance, that raise heart disease risk.
Although no one can say the nation's rising obesity rate is to blame for the prevalence of autism, Krakowiak said the parallel increases did catch her attention.
The study itself is available for reading. The initial study design matches the mother-child pairs with control mother-child pairs where the children have typical development, without any autism or developmental delays. Here are the frequencies of the mothers' Body Mass Index in the autistic-children group and the typical-development-children group:
Percent underweight (BMI less than 18.5)
Autistic group 3.7%
Control group 3.2%

Percent normal weight (BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, inclusive)
Autistic group 52.0%
Control group 54.6%

Percent overweight (BMI between 25.0 and 29.9, inclusive)
Autistic group 22.8%
Control group 27.9%

Percent obese (BMI 30.00 or more)
Autistic group 21.5%
Control group 14.3%

Those frequencies are worth a closer look. The percent of obese mothers is clearly higher in the autistic group. But the percent of overweight-but-not-obese mothers is actually higher in the control group.

I'm nitpicking here, sure. But given how studies like these are interpreted, it's worth being careful with the numbers and also worth noting that the majority of mothers in the autistic group (55.7%) were not overweight or obese. In short, autism would not be cured if every single woman belonged to those weight categories.

As the researchers point out, it's difficult to know what this correlation means, and further research is necessary.

Speaking of further necessary research, I'm always astonished by the way fathers are eradicated in these kinds of studies. This study, for instance, uses good controls on all sorts of demographic and sociological variables which might intervene with the identification of autism in a child, say, including data on the mother's education level. But there is no control data on the fathers. None whatsoever.

That rules out some theories about altruism at the starting line (anything having to do with the sperm). If we rarely look at data on fathers we won't find much, either. I sometimes imagine future people reading the studies of this era and finding them a bit shocking in the hidden assumption that only mothers matter when it comes to children's health and development.

My Sincere Apologies

To any readers and especially people of color who were hurt by Suzie's post on Trayvon Martin. Suzie didn't intend the post to read the way it did to me and several others, and after we discussed what to do about it she decided to withdraw the post as the clearest statement.

Once again, my sincere apologies.

Monday, April 09, 2012

On Spanish Brothels

The New York Times writes about prostitution in Spain. The story is upsetting, on many levels, though it's always important to remember how hard it is to get good data on the extent of trafficking.

This is the part to which I reacted most strongly:
While the rest of Spain’s economy may be struggling, experts say that prostitution — almost all of it involving the ruthless trafficking of foreign women — is booming, exploding into public view in small towns and big cities. The police recently rescued a 19-year-old Romanian woman from traffickers who had tattooed on her wrist a bar code and the amount she still owed them: more than $2,500.
In the past, most customers were middle-aged men. But the boom here, experts say, is powered in large part by the desires of young men — many of them traveling in packs for the weekend — taking advantage of Europe’s cheap and nearly seamless travel.
“The young used to go to discos,” said Francina Vila i Valls, Barcelona’s councilor for women and civil rights. “But now they go to brothels. It’s just another form of entertainment to them.”

And this:
On a recent evening, one young man from Paris stood in the parking lot of Club Paradise, bragging about his sexual exploits while his friends looked on. The women, he said, did not talk about whether they were being forced to have sex.
“Maybe,” he said. “But I think they are having a good time.”
If any of them actually are, they would seem to be the exceptions. Thirty years ago, virtually all the prostitutes in Spain were Spanish. Now, almost none are. Advocates and police officials say that most of the women are controlled by illegal networks — they are modern-day slaves.
The reason for my reaction is that these are the parts where the article talks about the demand side of the market. In prostitution the clientele is overwhelmingly male and the workers overwhelmingly female. Indeed, the market could not exist if men, everywhere, simply decided not to frequent prostitutes.

It's very difficult to think of other markets where almost all the sellers are one gender and almost all the buyers the other gender. This gendered nature of the market cannot be ignored in feminist analyses, even though it sometimes is.

To put it as plainly as possible, women don't have the power to stop sexual trafficking because women are not the customers in the prostitution markets. Any attempt to rectify the problems in prostitution can be destroyed if enough customers don't really care whether the women who service them are forced to do so or not.

This is why those quoted parts worried me so much. Take the latter quote first:

The young man boasts about his sexual exploits! Given that they have been with women paid (and perhaps forced) to participate, I'm not quite sure where the bragging rights enter. Any person with enough money (and no scruples) could have done what he did.

Then the first quote: Brothels are just entertainment for these young men.

Would it matter at all if they were told that some of the women entertaining them were forced to do so? Or is that an irrelevancy, something that would only occur to a person who saw prostitutes first as human beings?

Or in a somewhat different form: Are women still divided into the ones who get at least a temporary passport as human beings (mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, work or school friends) and then the rest who are more in the nature of a juicy steak or a mug of beer?

I guess one might make the counterargument that when I visit, say, a dentist, I'm not overly bothered about her or his humanity, that we all treat others as objects or as performers of certain roles in some parts of our lives. But this doesn't really wash, because dentistry is regulated, subject to laws and well remunerated. If anything, the dentist has more power than the patient.

This is not the case in prostitution, partly due to its illegal nature in many countries. But even where prostitution is legal sex workers are not respected and their rights are poorly guarded. Add to this the whole mythology about whores, the way that term is used as a general insult, and I end up in the same pretzels whenever I write about the topic, and those are created by the dual nature of the debates:

On the one hand the market for sex is argued to be just another market, a place where people buy and sell a service for which there is demand. From that point of view all we need is to make the markets legal and to regulate and oversee them properly. That will safeguard the rights of sex workers and make something like trafficking so unprofitable that it will cease.

On the other hand, the market for sex is not the same as the market for, say, bread. It doesn't have the same mythology or the same legal and moral history. It's a market where women sell (or rather, rent) something biologically female to men who wish to buy (or rent) only that part and not the rest of any possible relationship between men and women. And in some ways it's a caricature of a mutually satisfying sexual relationship where the necessity of pleasing the woman has been replaced with a monetary payment. But despite that replacement, the relationship is viewed as demeaning to the woman, not to the man in the sexual mythology of all countries. The term for men who frequent prostitutes is not a swearword in any culture I know of. But most of the terms for prostitutes are.

Those underpinnings cannot be ignored when we discuss the market for sex. Would they exist if women also frequented prostitutes in the same numbers as men do? I doubt that, and that's why the markets for sex are something feminists cannot really analyze only as a female dominated labor market. We must also question the underlying values, myths and moral judgements.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Women Deserve Less Pay

The Nazgul governor, Republican Scott Walker:
...signed a bill repealing the state’s 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act, which allowed victims of workplace discrimination to seek damages in state courts.
So it goes. The repealed law applied to all sorts of people who might have been discriminated against but the reason for it really was those caterpillars women. The law was enacted because the gender gap was pretty large in the state of Wisconsin. The law seemed to have had an impact:
The Equal Pay law wasn’t just about women—it also offered protection from discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors. But it was enacted largely in response to a large gap between men and women’s compensation, one that was worse than average in Wisconsin—in 2009 the state ranked 36th in the country in terms of workplace gender parity.
Wisconsin’s law was similar to many others—indeed, almost every state in the country has anti-discrimination laws that augment federal legislation. “It’s often easier, faster, and cheaper to pursue a claim of discrimination in state court than in federal court,” says Linda Meric, national director of 9to5, an organization devoted to working-women’s issues. “The law is different in each state, but Wisconsin was certainly in the mainstream in having a law that provided remedies for employees who experienced discrimination on the job.”
To bring a suit under the law, a plaintiff first had to go through a state-level administrative process to prove discrimination. It was rigorous enough that in the two years the law was in effect, not a single equal-pay lawsuit was filed. Still, the law’s supporters believe it has been effective in spurring businesses to pay women more fairly. Thus by 2010, the state had climbed to 24th in the national gender-parity rankings, with women making 78 percent as much as men, compared to 77 percent nationally. “Since the law was put into place, employers actually took notice and were very conscious of the fact that they had to follow this law or they were at risk of a lawsuit,” Sinicki argues.

Do read the whole article for the counterarguments by those who like this repeal. They are so delicious, amounting to deciding on any potential discrimination case beforehand by simply stating that women don't care that much for money and that women choose to earn less when they have children and become responsible for them.

That the court procedure is intended to weed out cases where discrimination cannot be proved doesn't seem to matter at all!

What's also delicious is that this is one of the few fields of research where non-experts simply *know* the facts! Ann Coulter has looked into this! Ann Coulter, hmmm. That many, many qualified economists have published actual studies on the topic and that all the best studies do show an unexplained gender gap in earnings doesn't appear to matter. Because women simply never face labor market discrimination, never.

I'm not arguing here that the gender gap in wages wouldn't have many causes or that one of them would not be women's current child-care responsibilities. The overall effects of gender work through many different channels. But to imply that women's own choices are the only reason why women earn less, on average, well, that is biased. And anyone who quotes Ann Coulter as an economics expert and then discounts a study by the American Association of University Women as biased! At least the latter used actual economists in the analysis stages and presented the evidence for anyone to critique.

What is the overall impact of this repeal? It makes discrimination cheaper than it was in that Nazgul state of Wisconsin by removing one potential cost from those who wish to discriminate against some group of workers. And every discriminator can just echo the idea that women don't care that much for money and that women make different choices, all the time kicking some woman's butt out of the door.

It's hard not to see all this as a part of a war against women, or at least against independent women with some rights over their lives. Republican politicians are weird people.