Hunger seasons

This week’s events have reminded me why I don’t want to go back to school. As I struggle through writing an application essay and wonder whether I’m really too old for this, my thoughts turn to grandiose schemes of changing the world.

Last week, a colleague and I were discussing the seasonality of hunger in some farming communities, particularly in East Africa, or Sub-Saharan Africa. I was so pleased with myself, thinking about a “Hunger Season,” and my journalist brain got a little revved about how I could write a book about it, only to find this one: The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change.

My take so far, it’s a little grandiose and self-pat-on-the-back-y, but it’s well written and very well researched. It paints a fascinating and illuminating portrait of subsistence farmers in Kenya, going hungry, seasonally, for just the reasons my colleague and I had been discussing earlier. It’s definitely worth a read.

I hope to finish it this week, if my own grandiose essay writing doesn’t get in the way.

CDC intimate violence report by gender and sexual orientation

For what appears to the be the first time, the CDC has released a report on intimate partner violence separated out by sexual orientation. As most national level surveys that address domestic violence include very limited samples of out LGBT populations, this is pretty huge. After a quick read, the report seems to confirm what we already knew, that lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to have been stalked and experienced rape or physical violence by an intimate partner. While 35% of heterosexual women report one or more of these, 43.8% of lesbian women and 61.1% of bisexual women report the violations. Heterosexual and bisexual women reported mostly male perpetrators (98.7% and 89.5%), while lesbian women reported mostly (67.4%) female perpetrators.

Bisexual men also reported higher levels than heterosexual men of lifetime prevalence of rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner, but gay men had the lowest rate. The numbers might surprise you. 29% of heterosexual men report such violations, while 35.0% of heterosexual women did, with the vast majority of both reporting that the offender was of the opposite sex.

It’s important to note that the takeaway message from these findings is not that men and women batter at the same rate. These statistics are well in line with survey results from national level longitudinal studies such as the National Survey on Families and Households in spirit, if not in absolute percentages (underreporting on such surveys is expected). Extensive work on surveys like this repeatedly emphasize that incidence and report of violence are not the same as power and control. While relatively similar numbers of men (~25%) and women (>30%) report light to moderate physical violence, far more women (23.6% of hetersoexual women to 29.4% of lesbian women) than men (13.9%-16.4%)report severe physical violence, including half of bisexual women.


These statistics underscore the disproportionately large role that men play in perpetrating violence, even while it obscures the larger reasons behind it. They also show those in the LGBT community are at much greater risk for violence and stalking by intimate partner, be it a man or a woman, and hopefully calls attention to the need for the House of Representatives to pass VAWA in the form passed with a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate.

Compulsory education and girls in China

A new paper (gated) by a gaggle of economists (is this a new trend? I’ve never seen so many papers with five or six names on them than as of late), shows that compulsory schooling in China helped raise average educational attainment, and did a particularly good job of getting girls to stay in school. Girls stayed in school an average of 1.17 years longer, and boys an extra 0.4 years. I’ve yet to really get into this paper, but they use what looks like a neat instrument to identify the effect causally. The compulsory education policy was implemented at different times, so different regions were subject to the policy at different times.

The abstract:

As China transforms from a socialist planned economy to a market-oriented economy, its returns to education are expected to rise to meet those found in middle-income established market economies. This study employs a plausible instrument for education: the China Compulsory Education Law of 1986. We use differences among provinces in the dates of effective implementation of the compulsory education law to show that the law raised overall educational attainment in China by about 0.8 years of schooling. We then use this instrumental variable to control for the endogeneity of education and estimate the returns to an additional year of schooling in 1997-2006. Results imply that the overall returns to education are approximately 20 percent per year on average in contemporary China, fairly consistent with returns found in most industrialized economies. Returns differ among subpopulations; they increase after controlling for endogeneity of education.

“The Returns to Education in China: Evidence from the 1986 Compulsory Education Law.”
Hai Fang, Karen N. Eggleston, John A. Rizzo, Scott Rozelle, and Richard J. Zeckhauser
NBER Working Paper No. 18189, June 2012

The Gender Wage Gap

Heidi Hartmann talks about the different ways we measure the gender wage gap today on the Institute for Women’s Policy Research Blog. It’s a bit dense, but really informative. Near the end, she makes a strong case for examining the determinants of the wage gap, rather than questioning whether it exists. In particular, she points out a subtle, but important point regarding what I like to dichotomize as outright versus institutionalized discrimination.

Several comprehensive literature reviews that have been published in peer reviewed scholarly journals conclude that about 25 to 40 percent of the wage gap remains unexplained. But most of these studies do not assess whether some of the differences observed between women and men that might help explain the gender wage gap, like college major, are themselves the result of discrimination or of limited choice sets faced by women and men. In a world where most social workers are women and most engineers are men, few women and men may consider training for occupations that are nontraditional for their gender.

Girls and young women go into fields that pay less. It’s also hard to go into a field dominated by men. It’s not that women can’t perform in these fields, but it’s not particularly easy. I’m in one, and without the help of many amazing mentors (male and female), and female role models, I wouldn’t be here. We owe it to girls to figure out why. Case in point. And here is some good, related reading. And here’s Feministing today on the pay gap in medicine.

h/t Mark Price

A weak (or at least relatively weaker) recovery for women

As the job numbers for 2012 keep coming out, economists and pundits are heralding a recovery. Employment is increasing, the unemployment rate is falling, and monthly revisions to those numbers give even greater cause for optimism.

Economist Betsey Stevenson was quick to note about last month’s numbers that job leavers were overtaking layoffs. Even regular people (who don’t watch these numbers like a hawk and compete to be the first to tweet them) are becoming more optimistic. It takes guts to leave a job you don’t like; it’s a lot easier to do if you think there is another one down the line.

But just like the recession hit groups unevenly, so too is the recovery having differential effects. Notably, women aren’t going back to work as quickly as men. The Pew Research Center came out with a report today on minority groups. The whole thing is worth a read, but notably:

Men experienced greater setbacks in the recession, losing twice as many jobs as women from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. In the recovery, however, men have gained four times as many jobs as women. The weakness of the recovery for women is underscored by the fact that they represent the only group among those examined in this report for whom employment growth lagged behind population growth from 2009 to 2011.

So, naturally, the question becomes why? Are women slower to return to work because there are fewer jobs available to them? Are they choosing to stay unemployed to remain at home with their families? Are they more picky about what jobs they should take having achieved some modicum of success before the recession?

I think it would be interesting to compare numbers for women in general and numbers for men with only a high school education–the group which is generally cited as having fared worst in the recession.

Update: Casey Mulligan of UChicago goes into the marriage aspect of the recession part of this phenomenon a bit more deeply over on the NYT Economix blog.

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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Women in publishing

These charts on female writers, book reviewers, and editorial staff have been floating around the internet for a few days now. The quick take-away is that women are far underrepresented in the major publications that promote and review literary works, non-fiction, and poetry. Mother Jones was quick to point out that the gender make-up of their staff and contributors is much more equal.

The comments are also worth reading. As of my last reading, there was really only one comment that seems to be trolling and the rest are genuinely reflective and thoughtful. One theme that is continually repeated is that in order to judge these numbers, we must look at the number of submissions. If women are not submitting at the same levels of men, then clearly their books will be reviewed less frequently. And while this doesn’t touch why there are more men on editorial staffs, it does start to get at some of these differences.

The author of the blog post goes into this in more detail on another page, and so some of what I’ll say here may seem to be merely echoing, but going back to submissions is not sufficient to determine the source of the imbalance. Once we have submission numbers, the question becomes, why do submission numbers look like this? My guess is that yes, female submission numbers are lower. But merely knowing that this kind of imbalance in submission exists does not preclude discrimination. If women writers know about the imbalance in the final product, it might scare some of them away from submitting in the first place. In this case, we might see that the quality of women’s submissions would be much greater than that of men, on average. Quality, I’d argue, should be more important than quantity in determining the outcome of publication or not.

Reading it also reminded me of @katinalynn‘s rant on long fiction the other day. In reference to recent long books by Bolano, Franzen, and Murakami, she notes “All three of these books received great acclaim before they ever hit bookshelves, in no small part due to each author’s past success.” Success in publishing (and in most fields, actually) is incredibly dependent on what you can show that you’ve already done. This New Yorker story on the plagiarism of Q.R. Markham quotes literary types as being more accepting of his work, or in awe of it, because he had published a poem in an Best American Anthology Poetry. One good publication and you’re much more likely to get the next.

This is partly a signalling issue. If someone gives us a signal that they are good, and someone else has no signal, we assign lower levels of risk to the one with the signal. Someone else has essentially done the work of evaluating this person for us, so we do less to actually evaluate them on merit. Whether we intend to or not. Thus, success becomes entrenched and one good turn leads to another.

Treating students differently

Education research seems to be teeming lately with the idea of the “threat of stereotype”, whereby women in particular don’t do as well on tests not because they are incapable but because they are faced with prejudice. If people think I’m going to do poorly, why work hard, or so goes the logic.

This article from the Daily Beast, which outlines much of the research on such ideas of late, struck me for its mention of how students are treated differently by their teachers.

In a study published last year, psychologist Howard Glasser at Bryn Mawr College examined teacher-student interaction in sex-segregated science classes. As it turned out, teachers behaved differently toward boys and girls in a way that gave boys an advantage in scientific thinking. While boys were encouraged to engage in back-and-forth questioning with the teacher and fellow students, girls had many fewer such experiences. They didn’t learn to argue in the same way as boys, and argument is key to scientific thinking. Glasser suggests that sex-segregated classrooms can construct differences between the sexes by giving them unequal experiences. Ominously, such differences can impact kids’ choices about future courses and careers.

I don’t teach single-sex classes, but in my principles classes, I’ve noticed that the men seem to ask questions–and answer questions–in a way that encourages debate. While women are perfectly willing to raise their hands when they have the right answer, they’re less likely to disagree with me or ask a question that seems to critically engage the subject matter.

Thankfully, this seems to diminish a little in upper division classes, where I see both men and women engaging the ideas and critiquing what is set before them. So at least anecdotally, I’d argue that all is not lost by middle school. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work harder to get women to engage critically at every level.

Gendered Realty

Via someone on twitter this morning, I came to this infographic on how men and women are doing compared to each other in terms of home sales and prices. If that’s a confusing statement, or rather a vague statement, I intended it that way. That’s the way the infographic sets itself up. What it really means to present is how male and female real estate agents are faring, compared to each other, using home price sales and quantity of listings as their metric for success.

I like infographics, but I found this one to be unnecessarily confusing. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, it gives you, in barely readable text, a good, solid way to read the infographic and accompanying list. But without that, I think it’s really unclear whether we’re talking about buyers (no) or sellers (no) or real estate agents (yes) and it doesn’t really give me much reason to care. Statistics are misleading enough without such beating around the bush.

A lawyer, an economist and a social psychologist walk into a bar…

Over the last few months, I’ve been hard at work on an amazing project with two even more amazing coauthors. Through my undergrad, I’ve come into contact with so many fantastically smart people and as we all grow professionally, we’re starting to collaborate and work together on various academic projects. It just so happens that this most recent collaboration was proposed to me by a lawyer, to write a handbook chapter on gender-based violence, or GBV, from a social psychology perspective, with the other coauthor being a social psychologist. It starts to sound like a joke, but I promise it’s not.

I delved into this world of social psychology with some trepidation. My advisors expressed their qualms about the project, and not just because it would take time away from finishing my dissertation (it has, but it’s all going to get done). Academics in general, and economists in particular, are wary of crossing disciplinary lines, and there are good reasons for that hesitation. We’ve all been “raised” in very different academic environments, with not only different advisors, but different canonical texts, different standards for what constitutes research, for what constitutes a conclusion, different styles of writing, of citation, etc. In this light, our differences can seem overwhelming, to the point of excluding all possibility of collaboration. When it comes down to it, though, we’re all interested in asking interesting questions and finding answers to them. It’s that curiosity, that drive to solve problems, that I think unites us as academics. Certainly, we all took these (at least theoretical) pay cuts for a reason other than “summers off”.

In the research I did for this paper, and am still doing as organizations get back to me, and more sources and programs come to light, has opened up a whole new world in terms of how we present information. While I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we ask questions, and particularly survey questions, I’ve spent less time in thinking about how we present information to change behavior. It’s easy to agree that gender-based violence is an undesirable outcome, but with the wealth of experience that tells us how easily we can alienate those we try to teach, how teaching can backfire in the face of culture and how unique individual situations are, it’s harder to say that we know how to combat it.

Programs that follow the dicta of social norms marketing fall squarely in this idea of how do we present information to change behavior. It’s a term that at first confused me, the economist, but quickly took hold. We talk about social norms all the time from what constitutes appropriate dinner talk to the acceptability of practices like FGM or honor killings in certain communities. As regards gender-based violence social norms, is gender-based violence acceptable? Or, rather, are there certain situations under which beating your wife is acceptable? We find that the answers to these questions are rather different, and how we pose them to survey respondents greatly affects the data to come out of such surveys.

The marketing part is the presentation of information. Through pamphlets or television shows or radio programs, advertisements, participatory workshops or events, social norms marketers try to present information about social norms, or rather present information about desirable social norms, using methods that are familiar, or not. Some of the most successful social norms marketing programs for gender-based violence rely on what are essentially soap operas and likable characters to portray desirable behavior.

Perhaps it’s my relatively naivete in the subject, but it really warms my heart to see new campaigns like this coming out. While in all reality, they really haven’t been sufficiently evaluated, the glimmers of promise in their success at creating desirable social norms around violence (it’s not okay to hit your wife, ever; rape is not something real men do, etc) bode well.

My coauthor recently sent me these videos from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, featuring a famous Congolese rapper in various roles portraying strong, loving, respectful real men. Real men who make their wives dinner when they’re late coming home from work instead of beating them and real men who treat women as equals instead of demanding sexual favors in return for employment. The videos don’t have subtitles and I don’t speak much French, but they’re cool nonetheless. I don’t see them winning an Oscar by any means, but hopefully they’ll change someone’s mind.