March 8th is really one of the best days of the year

I love March 8th. First of all, it’s my mom’s birthday. Who wouldn’t love a day that set the stage for me coming into the world. More importantly, though, it’s International Women’s Day. And though this week, it also happens to fall on the day of Hugo Chávez’s funeral, that really only serves to remind me of the last International Women’s Day I spent in Caracas.

The last week has been filled with lots of news on the ladybusiness front. The Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization (VAWA) passed both houses and was signed by the President after much too long a delay. Domestic violence is getting all kinds of attention due to the murder of a South African woman who happened to be in a relationship with a somewhat famous Olympic athlete. Vida’s annual count of women writers, book reviewers, interviews, and contributors in major magazines came out. In many cases, it’s worse than you thought. I mean, really, essentially no change over three years?

So, for this Women’s Day, I thought I would mention the names and sites of a few female journalists and academics who I think are kicking a** for women all around. Some write on “women’s issues.” Some are so-called “feminist bloggers.” Some I saw in San Diego at the meetings and am still kicking myself for not introducing myself. Next year, Betsey, next year.

Without further ado, in no particular order, a list of women writers you should be reading.

There are so many more. I think that’s enough for today! Tell a woman you know she’s amazing and deserves to live a life free from violence.

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CSWEP Mentoring Breakfast at ASSA/AEA

This arrived in my mailbox this morning from my advisor. This is a great opportunity for junior economists to network and ask questions of senior economists at a variety of institutions.

The Committee on the Status of Women in the Economics Profession (CSWEP) is hosting its inaugural mentoring/networking breakfast for junior economists at the ASSA meetings on Sat., January 5 from 7-10 am. Senior economists (predominately senior women) will be on hand to provide mentoring and networking opportunities in an informal setting. A light continental breakfast will be provided.

Junior economists who have completed their PhD in the past 6 years or graduate students who are on the job market are encouraged to attend this event.

The event is an informal meet and greet affair in which junior participants are encouraged to drop in with questions on topics such as publishing, teaching, grant writing, networking, job search, career paths, and the tenure process. Senior economists who have committed to attend at least one hour of the breakfast are affiliated with institutions such as Duke, Texas, UCLA, Cornell, NY Federal Reserve, NSF, Lafayette College, UC-Santa Barbara, UC-San Diego, Iowa State, Maryland, Kentucky, Kansas, Agnes Scott College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Georgia Tech, Rutgers, Tufts, UT-Dallas, Missouri-St Louis, Indiana, and Colorado.

We are now accepting registration for junior participants.  To  pre-register, send an email to terra.mckinnish@colorado.edu with the subject heading “CSWEP breakfast” containing your name, current institution and position title, year and institution of PhD.

Sincerely,

The Committee for the Status of Women in the Economics Profession

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.

Equal pay for equal work, including housework

My twitter feed is abuzz with Romney’s claim that Obama is really responsible for the war on women. While I noted a few weeks ago here that the recovery has been slightly weaker for women, it’s certainly not true that women’s employment has decreased under Obama or that any specific policies enacted have had the goal of decreasing women’s employment.

Brian Beutler has a good post about it up at TPM.

Male-dominated industries took a hard, early hit during the recession. As those industries rebound, more jobs are going to men than to women. Conversely, women lost a huge number of jobs in states and municipalities as a result of teacher layoffs — a hemorrhaging that could have been stanched by Obama-proposed legislation to spur teacher hiring, which the GOP blocked.

Meanwhile, I’m reading proposed Venezuelan legislation for the new Organic Work Law (Ley Orgánica de Trabajo or NLOT) and marveling at the language put forth by a consortium of women’s groups. Case in point, one of the goals of the proposed legislation:

Visibilizar el aporte de las trabajadoras del hogar no remunerado a la vida social, y garantizar sus derechos laborales.

My translation: “Make visible the contributions to the social fabric of unpaid, female home workers and guarantee their workers’ rights”

The text is filled with language that appears to have the goal of being inclusive particularly of women’s contributions in the home. It calls for giving those responsible for “reproduction and life care” access to social security payments, “equal pay for equal work”, and up to 14 months paid maternity leave  I don’t have enough understanding of the law to say whether it’s a “good law” per se, but it’s incredible that so many women’s groups in Venezuela agreed to this proposed language.

Note that this isn’t the law, and might not ever be. But someone’s talking about it.

The text of the proposed law, in Spanish, was sent to me by Florangel Parodi, former Venezuelan Minister for Women. I’m happy to pass it along if anyone is interested.

 

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.

Why we educate women

The World Bank’s Development Impact Blog has recently been hosting guest posts from job market candidates in economics and a few days ago, Berk Ozler, a regular contributor, decided to synthesize some of the lessons from their papers and one by Rob Jensen (forthcoming in the QJE). With a brief mention of the fact that some are working papers, and certainly subject to change, Ozler concludes that we’ve been going about increasing women’s educational attainment in the developing world in the wrong way. Backward, he calls it. Instead of making it easier for women to go to school by providing school uniforms or scholarships or meals, we should be concentrating on changing women’s opportunities to work. If women see the possibility of work or higher wages or more openings, then they will likely demand more education for themselves or for their female children.

From a purely incentive-based approach, it makes perfect sense. If female children are likely to bring in earnings, particularly if they might be comparable to or even higher than their brothers, then parents have an incentive to educate female children. Higher earnings perhaps mean better marriage matches, but most certainly mean better insurance for parents as they age. Women with their own incomes can choose to take care of their parents.

From a feminist perspective, however, it’s a bit problematic. Such analysis implicitly values waged work over non-waged work, a problem inherent in many economics questions, most apparent in how we measure GDP. We know that increasing women’s education levels is valuable in and of itself, regardless of whether those women go on to work. More education for women means later marriage, lower fertility, reduced HIV/AIDS transmission, reduced FGM, and more.

It’s reasonable to think that regardless of how we set up the incentives–either by showcasing opportunity or reducing the immediate costs of schooling–all of these things will happen. And certainly job creation and the encouragement of seeking new opportunities to work is desirable. But if we choose to focus all of our resources on showcasing opportunity (particularly when it may set up unrealistic or very difficult to achieve expectations. note I haven’t read the Jensen paper yet), then we reinforce the idea that “women’s work”, or work in the home, is worth less than waged work.

In a world where a woman becomes educated in hopes of finding work, but doesn’t, how does that affect her ability to make household decisions? To leave an abusive spouse? To educate her own children, male and female, equally? Jensen’s paper seems to imply the very promise of women’s wages is enough to change bargaining power, but I wonder if that will stick. Does failure to find work, for whatever reason when it is understood to be the sole goal of attaining more schooling, affect women’s status?

Lies, damn lies and gendered statistics

A Gallup poll released today claims that both men and women prefer male bosses. Or at least that’s what the headline says. The actual story, in my opinion, is that about half of the population doesn’t care. Or they know enough to say that they don’t care, even if they do (ah, these social norms following me everywhere). According to the poll, a little more than half of those polled had a preference, and a little less than half did not. Of that half that had a preference, yes, more preferred a male boss, but that doesn’t mean that Americans prefer male bosses, as the first line of the story claims. It means that if they’re willing to state a preference, they prefer male bosses.

So, here’s a little story rewrite for you. “About half of Americans have no preference concerning the gender of their boss. Of those that do have a preference, 40% prefer female bosses. This is a huge gain over the first such poll that was taken in 1953 when only 5% of Americans stated a preference for female bosses. In the intervening six decades, preference for female bosses has increased more than four-fold.”

Yes, I’m being both terse and a little bit snarky, etc, etc, etc.

Types of help

Two papers have surfaced recently on the effectiveness of aid. I use the term ‘aid’ loosely as one type of aid is intended to help the economy and another is intended to lift the fortunes of women running microenterprises. The stimulus paper tells us that the one-time stimulus payments of 2008 boosted spending by more than the reduction in withholding 2009. The microenterprise paper tells us that in-kind grants did more to increase profits for small businesses than cash grants. Both papers, however, tell essentially the same story, that how people are given money affects the way that they use it, and thus how useful it will be in terms of attaining certain outcomes.

A dollar is not just a dollar, particularly when there is a specific policy goal in mind.

Same-sex marriage makes me better off

I laughed out loud a bit reading this article on how same-sex marriage is actually good for straight women. With only the title to guide me, all I could come up with in terms of expectations was that there would be some long rant about how if gay men can marry, maybe that will reduce the stigma associated with being gay which means that fewer gay men will marry straight women, or that women who had foregone marriage in solidarity would now be able to get married. Let’s say I was pleasantly surprised when the article rather took on equality within marriages as opposed to making some tenuous, crazy link (what was I thinking?!).

Key (first time I laughed out loud) quote:

As same-sex couples marry, things get better for us, too. Remember the scary (and since-discredited) stories about how a woman is more likely to be killed by a terrorist than to find a husband after she turns 40? Or the one about how suitors are fleeing from Maureen Dowd because they’re afraid of her Pulitzer Prize? The poll showing evangelical women in patriarchal marriages are happier than Sarah Jessica Parker? Well, same-sex marriage shows that people can make long-term, loving, sexual bonds with each other even where neither is naturally inclined to tell the other what to do.

It’s a cheeky way of putting it, of course, and I’m railing inside against the insinuation that women harp on their partners, but I like how the author takes a historical perspective on women’s rights within marriage. She starts with how marriage stripped a woman of civic personhood and describes various efforts to maintain women in that lesser role until it evolved to where we are today.

As an economist, of course, I think she skipped one of the most salient examples of justifying inequality in marriage. The man who is credited with essentially founding family economics, Gary Becker, argued, and rather convincingly, that gains from marriage, in an economic sense, at least, came from specialization. Men earned higher salaries in the market than women did, so men should work for pay in the market and women should stay at home. It’s a lesson in comparative advantage taken from trade theory (one of my least favorite lessons in teaching principles). If you’re relatively better at something than your partner, you should each specialize in one thing and then trade to maximize gains. This makes your feasible consumption higher than if you tried to do both kinds of work yourself. Interestingly, it doesn’t really matter if you’re technically better at both things, you can still gain by agreeing to specialize and trade. Becker’s work doesn’t rule out that women might actually be better at both market work and home work, but since men did (and still do) earn higher wages than women, they’re going to be relatively better at bringing home the bacon than doing laundry and cleaning.

The scary part is that at face value, it almost seems reasonable. It’s only in reading the work carefully that it smacks of machismo. Becker’s ideas echo (although his work precedes some of it) several other scholars (of sorts) and others mentioned in the article whose work was used to justify keeping women from working and at home, cooking, cleaning and raising the kids. A lot of scholarly work has, unwittingly or not, served the interests of those desiring to maintain unequal marriages.

So, will same-sex marriage make us all more equal? It’s an interesting hypothesis, and one that might even be testable, but I’m not sure we have all the information yet. Legalizing same-sex marriage doesn’t mean same-sex marriage ‘works’ in the sense the author is proposing and we certainly don’t have the same kind of happiness data on same-sex marriage, yet. It’s also problematic that our most recent census won’t count any of these people as married, but the next one will (all these problems again of how we define family). However, there is hope. The process of state-by-state legalization of same-sex marriage means that we have something of a natural experiment. Though not randomly assigned (although you might argue that Iowa’s same-sex marriage law was more random–put in place by the judiciary–than New York’s–put in place by the legislature), the different timing of these laws means that we can measure how other things change within the states. I imagine, as the data become fuller, that lots of papers will come out about how same-sex marriage influences gay ‘brain drain’, women’s wages, etc. It’s exciting to think about.