Awesome things at SVRI Forum

After an awesome week in Bangkok, I thought I’d share some of the conversations, research, and events that happened last week because I’m feeling privileged to have been able to spend time with such a diverse, animated group of researchers and people passionate about ending sexualized violence. It was a singular experience, to be sure, and I can’t wait for the next one. Below is a partial list of the awesome things I saw and heard at the SVRI Forum in Bangkok, in no particular order.

  • Research on LRA child soldiers and the harsh methods used to control them by Jocelyn Kelly of the Harvard Humanitarian Institute.
  • Tweet-ups. Such a fantastic group tweeting the Forum and interacting online. Storified here.
  • An Egyptian woman recounting how she and her daughter went to the Tahrir protests for two weeks in a large group of women, and how her daughter became more autonomous, independent, and opinionated as a result.
  • A Bhutanese woman talking lovingly of her King, who she thinks looks like Elvis Presley, and the modest cottage he inhabits.
  • Limited positive effects of cash transfers on instance of intimate partner violence in Ecuador by Amber Peterman of the school that shall not be named.
  • An American woman recalling the 70s in Berkeley and abortion activists offering to pay her to get arrested to perform an abortion without a license
  • The same American woman recalling her interactions with rural Japanese housewives.
  • Lots of UN and NGO politics.
  • A Kenyan woman surmising that Kenyatta has the potential to be Kenya’s greatest president yet, if (and that’s a big IF) he doesn’t end up being a war criminal.
  • Thai food. So much wonderful, delicious Thai food.
  • Kate Falb of the Yale School of Public Health on multi-faceted interventions addressing gender inequality and economic empowerment in Cote d’Ivoire.

There were so many more. Check out all the presentations online.

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Traditional gender roles and marriage quality

This is the second paper I’ve come across recently that attempts to link gender dynamics and understanding of gender roles by heterosexual couples to relationship quality or longevity.

This study examined the implications of gender attitudes and spouses’ divisions of household labor, time with children, and parental knowl- edge for their trajectories of love in a sample of 146 African American couples. Multilevel modeling in the context of an accelerated longitudinal design accommodated 3 annual waves of data. The results revealed that traditionality in husbands’ gender attitudes was linked to lower levels of love. Furthermore, divisions of household labor and parental knowledge moderated changes in love such that couples with more egalitarian divisions exhibited higher and more stable patterns of love, whereas more traditional couples exhibited significant declines in love over time. Finally, greater similarity between spouses’ time with their children was linked to higher levels of marital love. The authors highlight the implications of gender dynamics for marital harmony among African American couples and discuss ways that this work may be applied and extended in practice and future research.

Link is here (gated). Stanik, McHale and Crouter. 2013. Gender Dynamics Predict Changes in Marital Love Among African American Couples. Journal of Marriage and Family 75.

On Iran’s “Erotic Revolution”

Data are always a mischievous thing and even more so when they out of a religious autocracy. In the US, it’s commonly said that women underreport their sexual partners when asked by one to two, so you can only imagine how such a question might go over in Iran.

It hasn’t, but Foreign Policy says that other data that are more readily available point to a sexual revolution in Iran that includes sex before marriage, earlier sexual debut, and increased use of contraceptives.

While not necessarily positive or negative, Iran’s sexual revolution is certainly unprecedented. Social attitudes have changed so much in the last few decades that many members of the Iranian diaspora are shellshocked when they visit the country: “These days Tehran makes London look like a conservative city,” a British-Iranian acquaintance recently told me upon returning from Tehran. When it comes to sexual mores, Iran is indeed moving in the direction of Britain and the United States — and fast.

The article is long on speculation and short on facts, mostly because they’re not available, but many data points do point to some interesting demographic changes that could signal a cultural shift in the perception of sex outside of marriage, the value of marriage and childbearing, and more.

What’s not entirely clear is why. The article gives suggests that the current generation of young people is reacting to the lack of emergence of a utopian society and that having sex outside of marriage is part of the small rebellions they are engaging against the regime.

It’s a tidy theory, but it likely obscures the story. First, demographic shifts take time to happen. Iranians didn’t wake up in 2013 and decide to stop having children. Even if they did, we wouldn’t see the changes in national averages yet. This evolved over a few decades. Secondly, there is ample evidence that young Iranian women were fairly progressive in their attitudes regarding female independence, sexuality, and empowerment before the Revolution, so it is more likely that the children of those women who underwent their own sexual revolution in the 70s are coming of age and making decisions that reflect the attitudes projected in their own homes, if not in an official or public sense.

I’d also venture to say that it might be possible that some progressive or secular Iranians are choosing not to have children because they don’t want them to grow up under the regime they have experienced. That’s more in line with the explanation offered by FP, but it’s also pure speculation.

Lean In, Dad, if you can

I’m in that period of my life where my friends are starting to have babies. The wedding invitations that filled my mailbox up until last year have been replaced with baby announcements and family photos. It’s hard to believe that I have no weddings to attend this year. Like an actual zero.

I’m not sure if it’s the labor economist in me, but I ask pretty much everyone what their parental leave policy is. How much time are you taking off? How much time is your partner taking off? How much is paid, how much is unpaid? I just learned Gettysburg offers a one-course reduction for “secondary caregivers” (I must say, I do like the gender neutral language, even if it is implied that the dad is the secondary). There are all sorts of restrictions about when you can take it and how often, because I’m sure that parents are going to time their childbearing to maximize the number of classes they can get out of (no, they’re not; that’s ridiculous). Sometimes people just offer the information:

The fact remains that there isn’t a lot of support for two-parent caregiving, at least in this country. I am impressed, though, with how many of my male friends and colleagues have taken time off, even if unpaid, and have taken the time to actually caregive, as opposed to using it for personal or professional gain. 

Catherine Rampell has an op-ed in the NYT today on increasing parity among caregivers’ leave policies. She suggests that parental leave, or rather paternal leave, is an important aspect of not only equity in the workplace and ensuring that we continue to chip away at the gender pay gap, the glass ceiling, and other forms of discrimination. In addition, she suggests that mere exposure to full-time caregiving in the early stages of a child’s life might lead to more equitable distribution of household and caregiving work as the child ages. It’s actually a big deal!

This might not sound like such a big deal, but social scientists are coming around to the notion that a man spending a few weeks at home with his newborn can help recast expectations and gender roles, at work and home, for a long time. A striking new study by a Cornell graduate student, Ankita Patnaik, based on a new paid paternity-leave quota in Quebec, found that parents’ time use changed significantly. Several years after being exposed to the reform, fathers spent more time in child care and domestic work — particularly “time-inflexible” chores, like cooking, that cut into working hours — than fathers who weren’t exposed to the reform. More important, mothers spent considerably more time at work growing their careers and contributing more to the economy, all without any public mandates or shaming.

Perhaps the most amusing part of the article is that the comments section is filled with screeds against “procreators.” Yes, I get it. The planet has a lot of people on it and you’ve made a personal decision not to procreate. But, two things. One, individuals don’t make the decision to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a child because they’re going to get two weeks off. If you think that, you need to take an economics class. And two, if you want to reduce population growth, donate to programs that work to educate children, improve access to contraception and family planning services, reduce child mortality, and give young women jobs, all of which are actually proven to reduce fertility rates.

Gender norms, roles, unequal pay, and heterogeneous effects

The Economist has a nice summary of a new paper by Marianne Bertrand, Emir Kamenica, and Jessica Pan, which is forthcoming. An excerpt of the Economist article is below.

The paper offers some hints as to why women who could outearn their husbands choose not to work at all, or to work less. For instance, norms affect the division of household chores, but economically in the wrong direction. If a husband earns less than his wife, she might rightfully expect him to take on some additional responsibilities at home. In reality, however, if she earns more, she spends more time taking care of the household and their children than otherwise similar women in comparable families, who earn less than the husband. One wonders whether such women feel compelled to soothe their husbands’ unease at earning less.

I’m in the midst of reading the paper right now, and my first thought was that this is an incredible stretch. In econometrics, a significant problem in estimation is the problem of unobserved heterogeneity. It makes sense to think that on average, married women are different than single women, that women who choose to have children are different than women who choose not to have children, and finally, it should makes sense that men who marry women who earn more than them are likely different than men who marry women who earn less than them.

I can certainly imagine that some women would be inclined to “soothe their husbands’ unease at earning less,” but it seems that the men who were particularly sensitive to such things wouldn’t marry a woman with greater income or greater earning potential. This is, in fact, what they find, that women who work are less likely to marry a man who earns less, and thus partially explains the decline in marriage rates in the US. It also drives much of their results on divorce, which they see as arising out of the unequal division of labor in the household due to this “soothing effect.”

It appears to be a very thorough paper, though I’m skeptical of the instrument–men’s and women’s industry-specific wage distributions–being uncorrelated with unobserved characteristics that lead to more gender-equitable matches.

Based on the industry composition of the state and industry-wide wage growth at the national level, we create sex-specific predicted distributions of local wages that result from aggregate labor demand that is plausably [sic] uncorrelated with characteristics of men and women in a particular marriage market.

This is the instrument used by Aizer (2010) in her paper on the effect of an increase in women’s wages on rates of domestic violence. Though a subtle distinction, I find her use of the instrument much more plausible due to the much lower prevalence of hospitalization-inducing violent events versus marriages where the woman earns more, which the Bertrand paper cites as about one quarter of the marriages in their sample. It seems that these wage distributions actually would be correlated with the characteristics of men and women in a labor/marriage market.

An education story, not an age story

Like much of changing and exciting news in demography, the New York Times’ story about births to women under 30 appears to be largely about education. Kathryn Edin, who wrote a book I’ve lauded several times in this space and use extensively in my own research, responds in an article Harvard Magazine.

“What the article essentially got wrong is that this is aneducation story, not an age story,” explains Edin, professor of public policy and management at Harvard Kennedy School and a prominent scholar of the American family. She points out that 94 percent of births to college-educated women today occur within marriage (a rate virtually unchanged from a generation ago), whereas the real change has taken place at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. In 1960 it didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor, college-educated or a high-school dropout—almost all American women waited until they were married to have kids. Now 57 percent of women with high-school degrees or less education are unmarried when they bear their first child.

The statistic put forth by the Times severely undercounts the issue when we don’t take into account education. College-educated women, it seems, are waiting for marriage to have kids, and non-college-educated women are having kids before they’re married. Importantly, it’s still a large group of women that are choosing to have kids without being married, and as I argue in my dissertation, it’s a group that merits more attention. We don’t know much about them.

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers on why we study families

I’m often asked why my research is economics and not sociology. Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson give one answer as part of a longer Q&A on their research:

Your other areas of research focus include marriage, divorce, and family. Why would these areas interest economists? Or business leaders?

Dr. Stevenson: Economics is about how people make decisions optimally, given that they’re facing constraints. That framework can be applied anywhere, not just to things that are about dollars and cents and the economy. Families and labor markets are intimately connected, and to understand one, it’s helpful to understand the other. That’s because decisions about labor force participation and about what kinds of jobs to take and what kind of hours to keep are made within the context of family lives. What happens in families affects the way people make those kinds of decisions. And what happens in labor markets affects the decisions people make about families. Economists are also interested in families because we have come to realize that there are many parallels between family and labor markets.

Dr. Wolfers: The first place that people notice the similarities between family and economics is in what some have called the marriage market, which looks a whole lot like the labor market. People search for partners the same way they search for jobs. When you find a spouse or a job that looks like a good fit, you take it. And you must make a decision about how much time to spend searching for the perfect spouse or the perfect job before accepting a job or a spouse.

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Amendment 1 passes and the PAAs

This space has been quiet for the past few days and will likely remain so for the next couple. I’ve just returned from San Francisco and have a stack of papers to grade before my principles exams come in on Friday.

The PAAs were really fantastic. I got to meet some really talented scholars, listen to some interesting paper presentations and got really good feedback on my own paper. Conferences are hard. There’s so much time sitting and listening, something academics aren’t very accustomed. Despite years of training, it seems to be a skill we lose upon graduation, our hands itching to shoot up and say our piece. But my discussant (who I discovered was a CU grad, too!) was great and I’m so grateful for everyone’s attendance and the spirited discussion at the end of the session. I hope to be able to return next year for the meetings in New Orleans and make this a part of my regular circuit. In particular, the Economic Demography workshop on the Wednesday just prior to the start of the meetings, showcased six quality papers that were so great to hear. My advisor organized it, natch.

On a sadder note, Amendment 1 passed in North Carolina today. My facebook and twitter feeds were full of disappointment from all sides and, as one of my former homes, I took it a little personally. It’s hard to see how national polls show a plurality supporting gay marriage or at least civil unions when states keep passing ridiculous laws that will be difficult for the next generation to dismantle. At the same time, how is it reasonable for a state to put forth such a controversial amendment when the side that would have likely opposed it has a candidate running essentially unopposed. Maybe that’s the point, but really, not cool, North Carolina.

I will try to post more on the PAAs, my paper, the Economic Demography conference and more in the next week. I’d love to share some details about some of the papers I saw presented as well, and hope those will come into the public eye soon.

For now, though, thank goodness for Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

An abstract

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, and appropriately, I met with the Vice-Provost to negotiate my contract for next year. He only wanted to give me a one-year contract the first time around, despite knowing that the Economics department needed me and wanted me for two years, so clearly, I was going negotiate again.

Through the course of our discussion, I began to get a little nervous about upcoming calls for papers, conference deadlines and the looming market. As I have told a few of you, I will be on the market again in the Fall, attending the American Economic Association meetings in San Diego in January, and filling out ridiculous numbers of applications as the year comes to a close. There’s lots to be done, but also lots to finish up–getting my dissertation out–and lots to start–new papers!

So, I’m trying to get some papers out and I think I’m close to getting this one done. It’s so hard sometimes, because it’s really so easy just to keep editing, keep running regressions and keep looking for other things to do. But I like this paper. I hope some editor does, too. Hopefully, next week I can share the whole things with you.

Abstract for “Match Quality and Maternal Investments in Children”, Working Paper, April 2012, Erin K Fletcher.

Marriage advocates suggest that the unstable environment caused by divorce can have adverse effects on children’s educational and behavioral outcomes. However, the causal assignment of poor outcomes to the divorce itself fails to take into account relationship quality and heterogeneity in place before or in the absence of divorce. I explore the link between heterogeneity of relationship quality and investments in children. I show that women who report less satisfaction in their relationships spend less time reading with their children. I test various theoretical mechanisms by which we would expect women to decrease their investments in a child using additional information about the match including argument frequency and whether the union dissolves in the future. The anticipation of a union’s dissolution is associated with a decrease in investments in children while the relationship is intact, but argument frequency and mother’s estimation of the father’s character do not have a significant correlation. The results suggest that subjective measures tell a more complete story about investments in children than indicated by future union status, argument frequency or parental quality.

Have a great weekend!

Is Marriage for White People?

I stopped by the Gettysburg College Library last week to pick up a book I’d asked them to purchase. I have to say, one of my favorite parts of this professor gig is that I can ask the library to buy any book I want. And then, it’s not only there for me to read, but for everyone else, too! I love libraries.

While thumbing through the new arrivals at the library, I spotted Ralph Richard Banks‘ book is Marriage for White People? and immediately thought, well, this is something I have to read. Much of the research I’ve done has underscored how marriage and domestic partnerships have changed significantly over the past few decades, and the issues of race and class are incredibly salient in that transformation.

Unfortunately, the book takes quite awhile to get going. The first several chapters paint the status of black women and men in America in incredibly broad strokes. Banks’ prose is easy and accessible, but there’s nothing particularly exciting about it. The subject matter is interesting, but he spends so much time laying down the framework for what he’s going to do that I’d recommend skipping the first few chapters if you have any familiarity with the subject matter. And by familiarity, I mean you’ve ever had a conversation with someone (white, black, Latino, etc) about a) high rates of incarceration for black males, b) increasing educational attainment of women, and c) how cultural expectations of marrying up make being single and educated difficult.

There are several gems, however, throughout the book. In places, he illuminates surprising and insightful comments from his interviewees. He speaks powerfully to the concept of a “mixed marriage” and how it might be incredibly different than it is often portrayed. Marrying “down” in education, income, or class, but in education particularly, might actually consist of a more difficult-to-navigate marital arrangement because of the difference in cultural values. More than being black or not.

The last few chapters, where Banks explores more in depth the ideas he presents in the first few chapters, are enjoyable, eye-opening, and insightful.

Still, I find Banks’ ultimate conclusions slightly disturbing. At the end of the day, he is a man telling black women that in order to save marriage, they need to marry outside the black community. While it certainly makes sense in the light of his book, I have to believe that a black woman might interpret his recommendations differently.

The weight of the world…

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