Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Challenge: Prove that Gender Discrimination in Labor Markets Exists

SleeZee Lyers in the comments to my earlier post on the gender gap in wages asks this question:

Regarding hidden discrimination, I would think that in the 50 years since the Equal Pay Act of 1963, that if such hidden sex associated wage discrimination as you hypothesize existed, that you would be able to find testimony to that effect from retired managers, retired executives, retired HR employees.
Surely someone must know and be ready to talk!
Occam's Razor isn't the be all and end all, but given a choice of personal choice / no discrimination or discrimination hidden by thousands for 50 years, I'd say the burden is on you to demonstrate that discimation.

This post is my answer to that Occam's Razor argument, though I wish to preface it with the fact that I believe the earnings differences reflect many reasons:  Choice based on societal expectations about what is appropriate for women and men,  gendered differences in family responsibilities, gendered preferences (whether innate or societally molded or both) and discrimination of various types.  Thus, there is no reason to go for just one explanation, such as choice.

To return to the main point:  That the burden is on me to demonstrate that gender discrimination exists in the labor markets:

First, there are fields of studies which do exactly thatThe audit studies are one group.  These consist of using trained actors, in this case men and women, to go out and apply for jobs in some industry.  The actors are coached to say all the same things and they are provided with equally good resumes.  The studies usually randomize the order in which they visit the firms and do other stuff to guarantee that the results make sense.  The studies then measure call-back rates and other measures to see whether the female and male job applicants, otherwise the same, are treated the same. 

The classic study in this field is a 1990s study about server job applications in Philadelphia restaurants. It demonstrates some discrimination against female applicants to server jobs at that time and in that place.

The other important example of studies which have demonstrated the impact of gender discrimination is the classical orchestra study.  Musicians audit to get employed by orchestras.  A simple change in auditing rule:  introducing a screen so that the evaluators cannot observe the appearance of a musician but only his or her musical talent increased the probability that a female musician would be hired by an orchestra.

A further group of studies which can be used to study possible discrimination in hiring are the correspondence studies where various evaluators are asked to judge an application.  Some evaluators get the application with a female name, others get the exactly same application with a male name.  Given that the actual application is the same for both names,  in the absence of any discrimination we would expect the average evaluations of the candidates to be the same.

This is sometimes the case in such studies, but not always.  A recent study in this field shows that science faculty evaluated fictional female applicants to a laboratory manager position more severely than the fictional male applicant.  In other words, being called "John" rather than "Jane" caused the same application to be treated less harshly and also resulted in higher estimated salary offer.

Both male and female evaluators treated "Jane" worse than "John," by the way.  Thus, what these studies find is probably a societal and unconscious gender bias, not some kind of explicit discrimination by either men or women.  Other studies in this field have also found that female evaluators are usually no less discriminatory than male evaluators.

Correspondence studies about gender do not always show discrimination just against women in gender studies.  What seems to matter here is whether a job is regarded as somehow "belonging" to men or somehow "belonging to women."  Women are judged more harshly in traditionally male-dominated occupations (such as science and in writing plays), men are judged more harshly (in at least some studies) in traditionally female-dominated occupations (such as secretarial work). 

Most of this appears to be something the evaluators are unaware of.  In other words, they are not explicitly singling out applicants with female or male names. 

But note that whatever the causes for this might be, the likely effect this tendency has is to keep occupations more gender-segregated:  Men are more likely to be hired in traditionally male occupations and more likely to be offered a higher starting salary, whereas the reverse applies to women in traditionally female occupations.  That the latter occupations pay much less is, however, important to remember in this context, because the benefits the applicants accrue from being treated as "typical" for their occupations are smaller for women than for men, on average.

Second, the existence of discrimination can also be measured from court cases which decide for the plaintiff in gender discrimination cases.  Such cases have appeared in the years since the 1960s and are too numerous to list here.  A few examples:  The AT&T case, the Price-Waterhouse v. Hopkins case and the Lily Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire&Rubber Co case.

It is more difficult to study the existence of any possible gender discrimination in long-term labor contracts, because we cannot force actors to keep on acting roles over time and because it is much harder to control for individual differences in skills etc. under that setting.  The multiple regression techniques which studies us are a way around that.  If we could establish and measure all the variables which are non-discriminatory but which affect earnings, we could create studies where whatever gender difference we have been unable to account for after controlling for all those other variables would clearly be due to men and women being treated differently just on the basis of their gender.  But in reality there are always variables we don't have data about.  This means that the unexplained residual even in good studies could be an overestimate of discrimination.

At the same time, some of the variables which are included in the "neutral" category could themselves have a partially discriminatory background.  For instance, in my earlier post I noted that if women don't get promoted into certain jobs then the fact that they are not in that job category terribly often might not be a "neutral" part of the explanation.  That would require that occupations are simply chosen in the same way by both men and women.

This post is most likely a partial one.  It probably should include a discussion of the different concepts of discrimination (including institutional discrimination etc.), but I think I have written enough for the time being.

Fun With Economics: The Politics of The Gender Gap in Wages

Some of you may be familiar with my three-part series on the gender gap in wages.  If not, click on the site given at the top of this page and read it.  The study I use in it is a bit old by now but all the theory should be fresh as dew.

Politics doesn't handle the earnings gender gap at all well.  Some lefties rush into regarding the gross (unadjusted) gap as all discrimination, most (in my experience) righties and every single anti-feminist view it as women's private choices.

Neither is correct.  But in many ways the wingnut view is less correct, for one very simple reason:  Studies can sometimes prove that sex discrimination exists in the labor markets, but studies cannot really prove that the absence of concrete evidence means that the differences are just choice.  You pick chocolate ice-cream, because you like it!  I pick a dead-end job because I happen to be regarded as responsible for children!

The same thing, in the wingnut minds.  But more importantly, we cannot conclude free choice as the explanation for wage discrepancies from the sort of studies used that way by the conservatives, and that is the purpose of this post:  To explain why that is the case in some detail.

The most recent study which "proves" that the little ladies choose their lower earnings is this one:

Salary tracking website PayScale released a report Thursday pushing back on the idea of a gender pay gap.
The report found that although women earn an average 81 cents on the dollar to when compared to men, it's because women choose lower paying jobs.
"Unequal pay for equal work? Not really," wrote Katie Bardaro, lead economist at PayScale.
The site found that the salary difference between men and women with the same types of jobs was negligible. The reason for the wage gap is that females tend to gravitate toward jobs that are societally beneficial, where as [sic] men choose more lucrative careers, according to the report.
Salary differences for the same types of jobs were negligible after controlling for occupation, experience, education and so on? 

I am unable to find a writeup of the study at the PayScale site, though I have now asked them for one.  The lack of that makes interpreting their results difficult.  But let's try.

If you go to the site, you can see the raw gender comparisons in a graph and then choose to see the adjusted comparisons.  It's not that there are no differences in the second graph.  There are, but they are much smaller.  I want to see the actual numbers, because essentially all studies of the gender gap find that not all of the gap is unexplained by education, experience and so on, and it is only the unexplained part of the gap which could be discriminatory.

Let's inject a political point here:  To focus so much on a study which isn't a proper academic study (or at least isn't presented that way) is usually driven by politics.

Now onwards and upwards:  I did find a methodology section at the PayScale site.  From that we learn which variables the research took into account when it moved from the gross earnings gap to the adjusted earnings gap:

Using our unique database and compensation algorithm, we estimate the controlled median pay by adjusting for outside compensable factors across genders. These factors include years of experience, education, company size, management responsibilities, skills and more.  In order to provide an apples-to-apples comparison, we determine the characteristics of the typical man within a job and then adjust the characteristics of the typical woman in the same job to match those of the average man. The result is the median pay calculated for the average woman if they had the exact same breakdown of compensable factors as the average man.
The last two sentences sound like they used the Oaxaca decomposition method but only in one direction.  It would be good to see what the average man would have earned if he had had the exact same breakdown of compensable factors as the average woman.  These two figures may not result in the same net residual if the labor market rewards men and women differently for education, experience and so on.

But  that's not important.  What is important has to do with that list of  characteristics I have bolded in the quote.  They are controlled for because they are regarded as factors which naturally explain why someone would earn more, in the absence of any discrimination.  That there is something called "more" is pretty important, because I think the list over-controls and thus may be wrong about the lack of discrimination against women.

Note the term "managerial responsibilities."  That one is controlled for as just one of the innocent outside reasons for higher earnings. 

But you get managerial responsibilities at least in part by being promoted.  If I hate green-eyed people* and want to pay them less at my snake company, the easiest way to do so and not to get caught is not to promote them at all!  Alternatives, such as paying them less for the same job, can get me into trouble if people find out.  But I can probably invent good reasons why the people I promote don't have green eyes.

The lesson:  It's dangerous to control for variables which can hide discrimination in studies like this one.  That the list of controlled variables is not complete is also worrisome.

Alternative explanations for the "managerial responsibilities" variables exist.  Perhaps women don't want them and choose not to apply for jobs which have them.  But you can't assume that this is the case because the data does NOT tell us the relevant reasons.

Then to the wider question about women holding lower-paying jobs than men and the reasons for that:  It is possible that women and men have "freely" chosen the types of jobs they tend to congregate in.  It is possible that women choose lower-paying jobs because they are more concerned about flexibility of a job than its pay, given the societal expectation that they are going to be responsible for child-care.  It is possible that men choose higher-paying jobs and women lower-paying jobs because both expect the man to support a full family one day.

But none of this is proven by finding that men and women tend to be found in different kinds of jobs and that the jobs women are found in pay less, on average.  That's an important point, because the above quote dives straight into assuming that what we have here is free choice.  Have another chocolate Sundae!

To return to my hatred of green eyes (I have those, by the way), suppose that I want to keep green-eyed people earning less (for whatever reasons) and that I do this by approving their applications to jobs which pay less but not approving their applications to jobs which pay more.

If I'm careful I can get away with that and nobody needs to be the wiser.  Or I can rename jobs which are roughly the same by moving some stuff between them and giving one of the jobs a new name.  I can then make sure that the green-eyed person is in the job that is going to pay less.  Or I can have annual increases vary in size between green-eyed people and the rest. 

In short, finding men and women in different job categories does NOT disprove the existence of discrimination and it does NOT prove that the job choice was freely done by the workers.

At the same time, it is clear that there are more young women than young men who choose to study for lower-paying occupations.  This could be because of societal views about the kinds of jobs which are appropriate for women and men or it could be because of the gendered division of labor about child-rearing, assuming that lower-paying jobs are more flexible (not necessarily the case).

Here's the final puzzle for you:  Are women choosing lower-paying jobs or do jobs become lower-paid when many women choose them?  There's some evidence for the latter, too.

I hope I haven't bored you.  The purpose of this post was to introduce some of the complexity that goes into studying discrimination and alternatives as explanations for the gender gap in earnings, and to point out how simplistic the uses of studies are when they are employed as political weapons.

If I had a dollar for every time some MRA* or anti-feminist has told me on the net that "everybody knows the gender gap has been shown not to exist" I'd be a goddess with a yacht.  I get that those people go from their desired conclusions to the search of supporting data, not from a general study of the data to whatever conclusions that leads to.  But at least here is an alternative story.

*This example is not meant to be taken seriously.  Hatred is probably not a common reason for discrimination.  It stands for the real reasons here, such as the belief that women will have children and drop out so they are not worth promoting, or the belief that men are more suited for leadership roles or the belief that women don't care as much about money and promotions etc.

Why Lou Dobbs Is Sad About Employed Moms

He elaborated on that today, with a blackboard and all!  So that we can be educated, I guess.

There you have it.  Dobbs is of course overjoyed, elated, even, about the success of those mothers who make more than their husbands.  Weak applause.  But what he is concerned abolut are the single mothers who have very low earnings.  If only those single mothers would get married, they would no longer be poor and all would be well in Lou Dobbs' world!

The lecture he gives us links all this to the boys' school crisis.  It's not quite clear why that link is being made.  It could be because a study earlier this spring speculated that perhaps it is the boys who grew up in female single-parent families who end up with low ambition and no desire to go to college.

Or Dobbs might be saying that the poorer single-mothers are single because men aren't going to college enough and are therefore poor prospects to marry?

Hmm.  It could also be the case that Lou Dobbs has nightmares about a topsy-turvy world where women do the sort of stuff he has been doing for years and where he might have to do the sort of stuff many women have done for years.

I report, you decide.

I'm not making fun of the problems of poverty or of boys dropping out of high school or of not going to college.  But I do want to make fun of the assumption that Dobbs' use of a blackboard and a few income figures is the same as a deep study into the causes behind single-parent families or that the solution of more marriage would work just by every single mother saying "okay" aloud to the world in general.  Reality is much, much more complicated than that.

To give a few examples of those complications,  many female single parents would be poor even if they weren't parents, because they come from poverty and because they have lower average levels of education.

Then there's the fact that it's not only the lack of a second adult worker in the family which causes low incomes among single mothers.  It's also their gender,  in the following sense:

Single fathers have much higher median earnings than single mothers.  In 2010, for example, the estimated median household income for single-mother families was $32,031.  The estimated median household income for single-father families the same year was $49,718.

Thus,  it is not the single-parent status alone that might make a family more likely to be poor.  It is the female single-parent status.  And that could be because the jobs women do are less well paid than the jobs men do.  That, in turn, could be influenced.*

But Dobbs wants these people to get married.  Perhaps we could have a giant auction where all single parents are forced to pick a partner in a lottery?  Because there are many more single mothers than fathers, we could just force lots of unmarried men to also participate in this lottery.  Take one for the team, so to speak.

That's ridiculous.  But the mechanical approach Dobbs has to the whole question boils down to something similar.

I'm also 100% convinced that if Pew came up with a study which shows 100% of husbands earning vastly more than their wives and the percentage of single-parent households at 0% our Lou would be very happy.   He's a traditional kind of guy, right?
*The numbers I quote here are from the census, but they are household incomes.  Some of those households may have earnings by an older child, say, which could explain why the numbers are higher than those based on 2009 worker data or those given in the Pew survey.

It's also possible that the single-father households have higher incomes for reasons other than the gender difference in earnings.  For example,  perhaps single fathers are more common in other income classes than the poorest, whereas the reverse holds for single mothers.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Good News Friday: The NYT Editorial on Facebook And Misogyny

The WAM Facebook campaign has worked, as I mentioned before.  This is fantastic news.  Now the New York Times has written an editorial on it,  noting that Facebook has acted promptly to remove other types of hate pages their own rules ban but not those about women being demeaned or even abused:

Some of the misogynist pages had headlines that read “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” and “Kicking Your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich.” Other pages included images of women being abused. Some pages had been on the site for a couple of years, even after users complained about them, according to Jaclyn Friedman, an organizer of the campaign. Many pages were in clear violation of Facebook’s policies, which does “not permit individuals or groups to attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.”
The deeper point is naturally that a certain kind of misogyny is the societal background to our lives, the humming of the air conditioner on this hot day.  It's not visible the way other hate-speech is.  It's just for laughs or it's OK because women are not a numerical minority but really because it is part of the culture.  Not an explicit part, but that continuous background humming.

I am elated about the success of the campaign, though it remains to be seen whether Facebook will make any real changes.  It is important to treat misogyny the same way as other generalized hatreds are treated.

More on the Demonization of Employed Mothers at Fox

This gets quite interesting, because at least one woman at Fox is not happy with the very muddled thinking and arguments of the Famous Four:

Megan Kelly took Erickson on, asking what makes him dominant and her submissive, and Erickson happily bared his confused and muddled and ignorant thoughts about science.  I do love that kind of obliviousness!

But I realized yesterday (fencing with lots of MRMs) that what I truly hate is muddled thinking and lazy sourcing and the reversal of the usual cause-and-effect chain by starting with the conclusions and then by picking and choosing any crappy evidence that might support it. 

I'm not proud of that, because the ranking of my moral values makes me look bad.  Still, if someone is going to demand that his muddled thinking is enough to prove my eternally submissive and contemptible place in life for which I should be grateful, well, hating that muddled thinking might be the right reaction.

This links to the Fox Four because they regard the question of women's proper place (in the kitchen) so obvious that they have the luxury of not checking any of their supposed arguments for it.  The contempt that reveals might also be why I get angry.

Today's Musical Interlude

The incomparable Hazel Scott and Peace of Mind.  Yes, I want peace of mind.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Four Men On Fox Explain Why More Breadwinning Moms Will Destroy The Society

Here is the video:

What Erick Erickson says there is worth discussing further:

Erick Erickson, one of Fox's newest contributors, was troubled by female breadwinners and claimed that people who defend them are "anti-science." Erickson told viewers:
When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it's not antithesis, or it's not competing, it's a complimentary role. We as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complimentary relationships in nuclear families, and it's tearing us apart.

" When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it's not antithesis, or it's not competing, it's a complimentary role."  Hah.

Remember that the topic is women who earn money for their families.  So Erickson seems to be arguing that no female animal goes out to get food ever, that it's the male lions which feed the pride and so on, and that the female wolves never go out to hunt.

That is all total rubbish.  In fact, I can't think of any mammal where the female stays in the nest or lair with the young and the male goes out and brings all the food home.   If that happens, at least among mammals, it is extremely rare.  My suspicion is that single mothers are much more common among mammals than that alternative fable.  Indeed, chimpanzees seem to have the single mother system.

What these four men are upset about is the fear that the traditional gender roles are breaking down.  They like those gender roles because they like to be dominant.

But in most ways the traditional gender roles aren't even that traditional, because very few people in the olden days could live like the Victorian images of a bourgeois nuclear family.  Farm-wives worked, wives of artisans worked and so on.

This debate is also muddled because it confuses single-parent households with the couple households where the woman earns more.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, the latter group is only 24% of all married couples.  Yet, my friends, the sky is falling.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Meanwhile, in El Salvador, A Woman's LIfe/Health Is Worth Less Than Protecting A Nonviable Fetus

From Salon:

After more than a month of delays, El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday to deny a critically ill woman a lifesaving abortion. The 22-year-old woman, identified only as Beatriz, is 26 weeks pregnant with a nonviable, anencephalic fetus; her doctors have warned that, due to severe health complications related to Beatriz’s lupus, cardiovascular disease and kidney functioning, she may not survive the pregnancy.
Abortion is illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador, and the court’s ruling is final, according to her lawyers. “The only way now is to go to the international courts,” Victor Hugo Mata, one of Beatriz’s lawyers, told CBS News.

You don't remove dying fishes from an aquarium just because the aquarium might break.   Duh.

That was the kindest way I could express my anger.  More about the court's ruling:

The judges voted 3-to-2 Wednesday to reject the appeal by the woman’s lawyers, who argued that continuing with the pregnancy puts her life at risk.
The court says physical and psychological exams done on the woman by the government-run Institute of Legal Medicine found that her diseases are under control and she can continue the pregnancy.

Yup.  The aquarium might not crack, after all, so no problem here.

More on the case here.  El Salvador does not allow abortion for ANY reason.

Today's Science Granola. With Strawberries.

Two interesting things for science geeks.  Andrew Gelman writes about the problems with psychological studies and what the data might mean on his blog.  The particular study is about men's upper-body strength and how that supposedly affects men's political views in three countries.

It sounds like an evolutionary psychology take, doesn't it?  I've often thought that the problem with some ep studies is a lack of training in how to look for alternative explanations.  If your framework is upper-body strength, then you jump from that to various fuzzy measurements of biceps and so on you may sorta forget that there is a large group of researchers out there who spend their lives studying the variables which are most commonly correlated with political views, and you might also not realize that things such as biceps circumference might correlate with some of those variables (such as age, say, as Gelman notes). 

And you might also fail to think about how any exaggerations in self-reports of biceps size could correlate with political views, given that certain parties are based on the Strong Daddy or Brusque Masculinity ideals for men.  Finally, biceps size is something one can change by working out.  In general women are not urged to enlarge their biceps but men are, and it may well be the case that the message works more on those men who hold certain political views.

Gelman's general points are also about the problems that I fairly often see in these types of studies:  The unavailability of simple descriptive data on the sample, and the feeling I get that there's been some data fishing going on.  The latter doesn't mean intentional falsification or anything of the sort, but if a researcher begins with a particular framework it can be difficult not to view certain findings as important and others as OK to omit.

The second interesting study concerns self-control and behavior in children.  I have not looked at the actual study, but it might be worth a closer look.  This is because the researchers found larger gender differences in the US than in three Asian countries:

A new study shows there is a gender gap when it comes to behavior and self-control in American young children -- one that does not appear to exist in children in Asia.

In the United States, girls had higher levels of self-regulation than boys. Self-regulation is defined as children's ability to control their behavior and impulses, follow directions, and persist on a task. It has been linked to academic performance and college completion, in past studies by Oregon State University researchers.
In three Asian countries, the gender gap in the United States was not found when researchers directly assessed the self-regulation of 3-6 year olds. The results appear in the new issue of the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly.
"These findings suggest that although we often expect girls to be more self-regulated than boys, this may not be the case for Asian children," said Shannon Wanless, lead author of the study.
Something cultural appears to be going on here.  The overall results are more complicated (read the link), but they do remind us that behavior can be affected by societal norms and upbringing.

If the findings hold, they might offer a different way of looking into ways to improve boys' school performance.   The next step in following that embryo theory would be to look at the gender statistics on school completion etc. in those three Asian countries, China, Taiwan and South Korea.

And here are the promised strawberries:

Good News: Facebook Will Consider Changes To Its Policy Of Not Policing Misogyny

All thanks go to the campaign led by Women, Action and the Media; Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project; and Soraya Chemaly.  The campaign pointed out that Facebook bans pictures of breast feeding but allows misogynistic sites:

The letter highlighted Facebook pages with names like “Violently Raping Your Friend Just for Laughs” and “Kicking your Girlfriend in the Fanny because she won’t make you a Sandwich,” and other pages that included graphic images of women being abused.
The groups asked Facebook to improve how it trains moderators to recognize and remove such content. They also asked Facebook users to use the Twitter hashtag #FBrape to call on companies to stop advertising on Facebook if their ads have been placed alongside such content. A petition on the site had almost 224,000 supporters by Tuesday evening.
The campaign focused on advertisers:
“We thought that advertisers would be the most effective way of getting Facebook’s attention,” said Jaclyn Friedman, the executive director of Women, Action and the Media. “We had no idea that it would blow up this big. I think people have been frustrated with this issue for so long and feeling like that had no way for Facebook to pay attention to them. As consumers we do have a lot of power.”
David Reuter, a spokesman for Nissan, said in an interview on Tuesday that the automaker has stopped all advertising on Facebook until it could assure Nissan that its ads would not appear on pages with offensive content.

What a wonderful example of Leaning In!!!  I"m sure that Sheryl Sandberg would approve.

Breadwinner Moms!

The Houston Chronicle's  headline for a discussion of a new Pew survey about mothers and paid work:

Mothers now top earners in 4 in 10 US households

Perhaps they are not to be blamed as Pew itself uses a similar headline.  But if you read through the Pew report about this survey (using mostly 2011 data), you find that it matters greatly what we mean by a household, and you also find that the story could have been given a very different headline.

About the latter, just read this actual quote from the Pew survey summary:

Despite the fact that mothers are generally more educated* than their husbands** today, a majority of fathers still earn more than their wives. The share of couples in which the husband’s income exceeds the wife’s was about 75% in 2011.  This in part reflects different employment rates between married parents: about 65% of married mothers were employed in 2011, compared with about 90% of fathers. But it also reflects different earning patterns among men and women. Even in dual income families in which both fathers and mothers are working, 70% of these families consist of fathers who earn more than mothers.

Bolds are mine.

The actual percentage of married couple families where the wife is either the sole or the major breadwinner was 24% in 2011,  not 40%.

Can you spot the problem in the initial analysis of that four in ten households figure?  It mixes together single-parent families with married families.  If a family has a single female earner, that female earner obviously is the top earner of the family.

This Pew Survey also asks for opinions about the desirability of more mothers working for money and about families led by a single mother***, and notes that those show the public conflicted.  Thus, while the vast majority (78%) of respondents in a 2012 survey disagreed with the assertion that "women should return to their traditional roles," the opinions were different when the questions were about mothers of young children:

In 2012, roughly two-thirds (65%) of women with children younger than age 6 were either employed or looking for work. This share is up dramatically from 39% in 1975. While working outside the home is now more the norm than the exception for mothers of young children, the public remains conflicted about this trend. In the new Pew Research poll, 51% of the adults surveyed said children are better off if their mother is home and doesn’t hold a job, while only 34% said children are just as well off if their mother works. An additional 13% of respondents volunteered that it “depends” on the circumstances.12
A decade ago, the public felt even more strongly that the best thing for children was to have a mother who stayed home. In a 2003 CBS News/New York Times survey, 61% said children are better off if their mother doesn’t hold a job, while 29% said children were just as well off if their mother worked.

There is a gender gap on this question: 45% of women say children are better off if their mother is at home, and 38% say children are just as well off if their mother works. Among men, 57% say children are better off if their mother is at home, while 29% say they are just as well off if their mother works.
There is an age gap on this question as well. Again, young adults express a different set of views than their older counterparts. Nearly half (46%) of those under age 30 say children are just as well off if their mother works, while 37% say they are better off with a mother who stays home. Among those ages 30 and older, the balance of opinion is just the opposite: 55% say children are better off if their mother is home, and 31% say they are just as well off with a working mother.

Two important points about that long quote:  First, the opinions on this (as in other questions discussed in the Pew summary) have become less conservative over time.  Second, men are somewhat more conservative than women and older people are more conservative than younger people.

The same question was asked about the role of fathers.  That's nice to see.  However, fathers are not viewed as acceptable substitutes for mothers by most of the respondents:

The public is not conflicted at all about whether fathers should work or stay home with their children. Fully 76% say children are just as well off if their father works, while only 8% say children are better off if their father is home and doesn’t hold a job. An additional 11% say it depends on the situation.
Views on whether fathers should work or stay at home do not differ by gender or age. Equal shares of men and women (76%) say children are just as well off if their father works. Similarly, 74% of young adults and 77% of those ages 30 and older agree that having a father who works outside the home is not harmful to children.13 
Bolds are mine.  I was unable to find an earlier survey on that same topic, for the purpose of comparing responses over time.

But in general the results are not unexpected, because the public debate about parenting has always been about mothering and the usual choices offered are for the mother to do it all at home or for the family to use caregivers for part of the time, and in neither case is the society expected to support those choices. 

Neither is it surprising that most people don't think young children suffer from a father who works outside the home.  After all, that IS the traditional template, and the only way we could judge if it has been less than optimal for children would be by trying other arrangements in large enough numbers.  In short, the father-as-the-breadwinner is the basic template for all comparisons.

The objective of this post is to highlight the way surveys such as this one are sold.  For sold they are.  The more attention the survey gets, the more good things happen to its authors and the Pew Institute itself, and results advertised as controversial are more likely to sell than results which seem to show a fairly slow but regular trend towards the values beginning to match facts better.  But that, too, is  a possible reading of the results.
*One needs to be careful about that statement, because most wives and husbands have the same education levels:

Rising education levels among women can also contribute to the increased share of married mothers who out-earn their husbands. Even though most people are married to someone with a similar educational background, the number of couples in which the wife is better educated than her husband has increased. Among all married couples with children in 1960, about 16% had a husband who was better educated than his wife and the opposite was true for 7% of couples. About five decades later, the pattern has flipped: In about 23% of couples, it is the wife who has attained a higher education level than her husband, and among 17% of families the husband is better educated than the wife.19

**As far as I can tell, the survey doesn't include same-sex couples.

***The views on single mothers are fairly negative.  Still, as the survey puts it, those views have softened over time and vary by age group in the current survey:

When it comes to the rising share of single mothers, the public takes a mostly negative view. About six-in-ten adults (64%) say the growing number of children born to unmarried mothers is a big problem. An additional 19% say this is a small problem, and 13% say this is not a problem at all.
Opinions on this issue have softened somewhat in recent years. In a 2007 Pew Research survey, 71% of adults said the rising share of single mothers was a big problem, and only 8% said it wasn’t a problem at all.10
In the current survey, whites are more likely than non-whites to see this trend as a problem. Some 67% of whites compared with 56% of non-whites say the growing number of children born to unmarried mothers is a big problem.11
Young adults have much different views on this issue than do middle-aged and older adults. Only 42% of those ages 18-29 view the rising share of unmarried mothers as a big problem. By contrast, 65% of those ages 30-49 say this is a big problem, as do 74% of those ages 50 and older. Among young adults, most say this trend is either a small problem (35%) or not a problem at all (19%).


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Are Religions Inherently Sexist?

I listened to this interesting interview where Katha Pollitt addresses the question whether religions are inherently sexist.  She concludes that they don't have to be, if we only could somehow dispense with the assumption that the ancient holy texts have nothing to do with the patriarchal tribal societies of that era.  If sexism is seen as a command from a god, well, then a religion arguing that IS inherently sexist.

To turn one of the old Abrahamic religions into a nonsexist one is very hard work,  however, and Judaism, Christianity (and different groups among Christianity) and Islam are at different stages of that process.

An essential requirement is to read religious texts with the understanding that they were written by human beings (who interpreted their beliefs of what a divine power wanted) and addressed to other human beings of the era who lived in utterly patriarchal societies.  The more concrete and literal the mainstream religious interpretation of a holy text now is, the more unpleasant that religion will be for its female believers.

What is needed is a deep reading of a particular concrete text, a reading which looks at what that text meant at a particular time and in a particular place.   Literalists and those who believe, for instance, that the Bible or the Koran is the inerrant and eternal world of a god will not agree with that.

But to do otherwise truly confuses the issue.  Take, for an example, the rule the Taliban enforced during its reign in Afghanistan:  That women's shoes should not make a noise, because a man must not hear a woman's footsteps.  Here's one step deeper into the question:

Jewelry must not be displayed, and it is especially important that it does not make noise as a woman walks (an ankle-bracelet with bells, for example). Women in pre-Islamic Arabia used to wear such bracelets and stamp their feet in the markets in order to entice and attract men.
The Bible refers to those ankle bracelets, too. 

Did all women wear bells around their ankles in the days of Muhammad?  I doubt it, though perhaps they did.  Still, my Google searches suggest that ankle bells were used by dancers and still are so used.

There is also a connection with ankle bells and prostitution, whether forced or voluntary.

My tentative theory is that the focus on women making a noise (by having heels in their shoes, say) has to do with these associations with dancing girls and possible prostitution.  In short, the deeper meaning has nothing to do with whether men can hear women's footsteps but with the meaning of ankle bells at the time of Mohammed and at the time of the men who wrote the Bible. 

Literal and concrete readings of the various holy texts tend to give us odd and mistaken rules, and it would be helpful if such rules were addressed inside the various religions by those who reject the most concrete readings.  In any case, what a concrete reading might have been a thousand years ago is impossible to ascertain.

I agree with Katha that religions don't have to be sexist.  But  I don't think the traditional patriarchal religions give up the battle very easily, and the battle lines are drawn most unfairly. 

Those who attempt to influence the sexist messages of religions can be accused of fighting a god, whereas those who defend an ancient interpretation of what that god might wish us to do can simply state, categorically, that the interpretation IS divinely decreed and never will change.  The basic question all this hinges on cannot be determined by purely intellectual arguments or by empirical evidence, though sometimes showing how other parts of the text have been abandoned can help. 

But the game is rigged, from the beginning.

Tamara Karsavina - 'La Danse du flambeau' (1909)

This very old ballet video, courtesy of Moonbootica, is fascinating for all sorts of reasons, but mostly for the fact that those shoes she dances in are not reinforced at the tip.  She may have had cotton wool stuffed into the toes of her shoes, but imagine the pain!  Also imagine the strength that required.

Monday, May 27, 2013

On Memorial Day

Hecate says important things about this day.  You might like "He Loved Horses" which is my take on the idea that war hurts not just those who die from it quickly.

In the late 1990s my dog died on Memorial Day.  I deposited her ashes under a tree with surface roots which made the shape of a heart.  The site is on a hill, near the dog park where she used to play.

Despite the trees being coniferous shade-givers, there are always wild flowers in that little heart-shaped garden in spring, summer and fall.  We continue.  Perhaps in some other form.