Gender bias in the sciences

The internets have been buzzing lately with a new study that shows gender bias in the sciences. Per their results, women are less likely to be hired on as lab assistants, offered lower salaries than men, and deemed less competent. All this was in an experimental setting. There isn’t even some fancy statistical tricks that econometricians are super proud of to prove their results. The exact same resume was distributed to potential employers with a randomly selected name that was either typically male or typically female. On the same application, the mere appearance of a woman’s name led to fewer offers and much more criticism.

I haven’t read the paper yet, but it immediately brought to mind a similar experiment undertaken by economist Marianne Bertrand on race, published in 2004: Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?, where employers were offered identical resumes with the names changed. Some got a resume with a generic sounding “white” name and others received the same resume with a name more common among the black population. Not surprisingly, Emily and Greg got higher ratings than Lakisha and Jamal. Just, unfortunately, as unsurprising as Jennifer receiving lower marks for competence, offered lower salaries and being offered the job less often than John.

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Inheritance and education as substitutes

The effect of inheritance laws on gender equity is a subject that remains largely understudied; most of the information we have is anecdotal or follows from intuitive reasoning. It makes sense that in places where land ownership is a significant predictor of future outcomes and job opportunities are limited, not owning land (or not inheriting it) would likely lead to worse outcomes. Given that inheritance laws tend to favor male children (and in some cases first-born male children), it stands to reason that women and girls would have the most to lose from disinheritance.

In a twist, a working paper by two Italian economists shows that inheritance actually leads to less investment in schooling, and more investment in health for male children, but not for female children. The paper relies on a policy change in Ghana which changed inheritance from a primarily matrilineal system to a more patrilineal system, leading to more male sons inheriting land from their fathers. The authors show, using a difference-in-difference strategy, that males who were subject to the new laws, and thus more likely to inherit land, eventually obtained one less year of education than boys who weren’t subject to the law. They were also healthier using a height-for-weight z scores, indicating higher investments in nutrition and health, which would be necessary for more efficient working of land.

The argument is that inheriting land/investments in health and education were close substitutes due to the social norm that fathers provided for their sons’ livelihoods. If a father could not provide for his child by giving him land, he could send him to school or set him up with an apprenticeship. Given limited resources, the parents might choose education over investments in health. With inheritance laws favoring sons of fathers, that “over-investment” in education ceases and higher investment in health follows. This is likely only an issue for parents for whom the constraints are binding–i.e., they have a limited amount of resources to spread around. The poorer a family is, the more likely they are to run up against this constraint, and thus the effect of the patrilineal inheritance laws is likely greater for the landowning poor than wealthier landowners.

For girls, the results are somewhat ambiguous, and theoretically, the outcome is difficult to predict. Whether girls are affected by disinheritance of land as a result of the changed law (through lower nutrition and higher education?), is likely closely tied to the social norms regarding providing for girl children. If the social norm is “people in this community (should or do) set up girls to provide for themselves,” as it appears to be for boys, we would likely see such changes in investments. If the social norm doesn’t reflect an obligation to girl children, then the change in inheritance laws shouldn’t have a great effect.

Source: La Ferrara, E. and A. Milazzo (2011) ‘Social Norms, Inheritance and Human Capital. Evidence from a Reform in the Matrilineal System in Ghana’. A preliminary draft.

Job switching among Baby Boomers

I’m teaching Labor Economics this Fall for the first time, which means I’m constantly in search of interesting ways to get students to think about how we study questions of why people work, why they get hired, how firms decide how much labor to hire, and more. In one of these quests this afternoon, I found a BLS report from July outlining duration and number of jobs held by later period Baby Boomers (born 1957-1964) over their lifetimes.

It’s a short, descriptive report and the numbers come from the NLSY79, which is a fantastic longitudinal study of employment and educational outcomes, families and more. What I found so interesting about the report is that it shows that baby boomers, on average, held 11.3 jobs over their working lives. That number struck me as high. Even though about half of those jobs were held before age 24 (think summer jobs, part-time jobs while in school), there’s still a lot of switching over 30-40 working years. And it runs contrary to the narrative that I’ve both heard and repeated, which says that our parents were likely to take one job and keep it throughout until they retired, while my generation (which is unclear to me–too old to be a Millenial, but feel too young to be Gen X), is more likely to have switch jobs often and have shorter tenures at each job.

Of course, we can’t really compare the lifelong numbers until my generation is much older, but I wonder how much that narrative is perception (because we have the closest experience to more volatile period of the ages of 18-24), or because we actually enjoy less job security.

What I’m reading

I’m headed to Maine this afternoon for a quick talk at Bates College and a wedding in Kennebunkport. I’ve never been to Maine, so I’m excited for the beach and seafood, among other things. I’m also excited to read some books that have been on my list for awhile and another that just came out. This is what I’m taking with me:

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, death, and hope in a Mumbai undercity by Katherine Boo

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman

This Is How You Lose Herby Junot Diaz

It should be a good weekend!

Job listing of the month

I’m late to this as the website was down yesterday and the first two weeks of school have taken up tons of my time, but today’s telling job posting comes from Facebook.

Facebook is seeking exceptional PhD-level graduates in the quantitative social sciences for analytical roles in support of its advertising business and products. Analysts develop expertise in Big Data analysis and of Facebook’s advertising operations and products to provide recommendations fueled by detailed analysis and thoughtful modeling of future scenarios. They work cross-functionally with Product, Engineering and Business teams and help shape the future of Facebook. Ideal candidates combine intellectual curiosity and analytical abilities with strong time management and communication skills and a passion for Facebook.

See! They are trying to make money. And they think that an economist should tell them how to do it.

Menlo Park wouldn’t be so bad, right?

No manejamos este tipo de informacion or Caracas, part I

This is Part I of II, a bit of my August Caracas adventure. It’s a bit different style than perhaps other work you’ve seen here, but I hope you enjoy it. The following is cross-posted at Caracas Chronicles.

We’re not quite seated, but I’ve already launched into my well-rehearsed spiel. For perhaps the fifth time that day, I say I’m an American, an economics professor and I’m looking for data on domestic violence and gender-based violence in Venezuela. I want statistics, raw data, information about programs, confirmation that there really was no women’s shelter in the whole country, basically anything she could give me.

Milta Armas, a 40-something, curvy woman, starts telling me about how many women experience violence, but she refuses to look me in the eye. Armas keeps her hands in her lap, fingering a copy of the new domestic violence law, which I’m sure she’s going to hand to me later. The hype on legal reform, I expect, but not the details she’s ratling off, barely audible over the din of the INAMUJER lobby. I start jotting down her words and numbers, thinking this was easy. It only took me two ministries to start to get information. I just had to show up.

Then she pauses.

“These are, of course, what happens in the world, not in Venezuela. We don’t have these statistics for Venezuela.” Suddenly, I remember. “This,” I think to myself, “is why my expectations for this trip were low.”

I press her a little more. If those aren’t Venezuela statistics, what does she have? What data are even collected? What do we really know?

“Well,” she says without the slightest hint of embarrassment, “no manejamos este tipo de informacion.”

Oh brother.

It’s not just that the National Institute for Women, a program that houses a domestic abuse helpline and runs workshops for women living in slums on how to recognize and combat domestic violence in their homes and communities, doesn’t seem to have any information on the things they spend all day dealing with, it’s that the language she used was all too familiar. Her words mirrored exactly those of a representative of the Ministry for the Popular Power of Women, which is where I’d wasted the previous day. It was the same language I would hear later in the week as I talked to the National Police (CICPC) and when I tried to make an appointment with the National Defender of Women’s Rights.

No manejamos este tipo de informacion. And no one could tell me who does. My task, wasn’t just daunting, it was impossible. If there were no national statistics on domestic violence at the highest levels of government, I wasn’t sure to find much else.

In reality, of course, (and reality is always shady in Venezuela), there are statistics; it’s just a question of whether you know the right person to get a hold of them.

A source, who asked not to be named to make sure she keeps getting data, showed me a leaked booklet outlining statistics on the national 24/7 helpline 0-800-MUJERES, maintained and run by INAMUJER. They keep a tally of who is calling, why, what kind of abuse they are experiencing, whether they’ve called before, who the aggressor is, their mental state and more. It’s all very run-of-the-mill information that is collected on hotline calls in other places, certainly in the US. It also probably represents that best guess they have as to changes in levels of domestic violence over time, but it was not information they were willing to give to me, or even acknowledge that they had. I snuck a quick photo of a key data table – which you can see above.

I can understand why they might not trust me. Caracas’ violence problems are world-renowned and a source of embarrassment for the government and citizens; I see why they might not want a foreigner to publicize another ugly aspect of it.

Milta Armas told me that one time, there was some information, and they had put it on the website, only that as soon as they got it up, “there was an attack by the opposition to try to make the government look bad.”

“That is not a serious answer,” Ofelia Álvarez told me when I related the story. Ofelia runs Fundamujer, a nonprofit dedicated to studying and eradicating violence against women, out of her home and mostly on her own.

As one of the most visible and prominent advocates for women in Venezuela—nearly everyone I talked to sent me back to her—she has spent decades fighting the same fight I fought in just a few weeks. The issue is politically awkward: no one wants to fund studies, no one wants to support discussions. A pilot study she coauthored was abruptly defunded before it was rolled out to a representative survey group. No one handles that kind of information because there’s no desire to, she told me.

It’s not that we can’t; it’s that we don’t.