Women’s Contribution to Society

Is apparently close to nothing if they choose to be stay-at-home moms.

You had to know it was only a matter of time before someone used the faulty New York Times article about college women predicting an eventual return to the dometic to argue that more men should be admitted, as they will likely be more “productive” members of society.

A better idea, though counterintuitive, might be to raise tuition to all students but couple the raise with a program of rebates for graduates who work full time. For example, they might be rebated 1 percent of their tuition for each year they worked full time. Probably the graduates working full time at good jobs would not take the rebate but instead would convert it into a donation. The real significance of the plan would be the higher tuition, which would discourage applicants who were not planning to have full working careers (including applicants of advanced age and professional graduate students). This would open up places to applicants who will use their professional education more productively; they are the more deserving applicants.

Although women continue to complain about discrimination, sometimes quite justly, the gender-neutral policies that govern admission to the elite professional schools illustrate discrimination in favor of women. Were admission to such schools based on a prediction of the social value of the education offered, fewer women would be admitted.


There are lots of ways to pick apart this assertion, but I’ll focus on two: First, the truth to the assumption that stay-at-home moms will never have careers; and second, what the terms “productivity” and “the social value of education” mean.

Most of the women interviewed in the Times article do plan on working — they just also think that, when it comes time to have kids, it will be difficult to balance work and parenting, and they expect to have to choose between the two. As far as I could tell, these women weren’t planning on graduating college and going straight into their husband’s home. Some of them talked about grad school. Others mentioned working, then quitting or going part-time once they had kids. Lots of stay-at-home moms end up re-entering the workforce after their kids go to college. So it’s a bit simplistic to say that young women who, at 19, project a future for themselves that involves being a stay-at-home parent will not contribute anything to the workforce.

We also have to ask, “who are the deserving candidates for higher education?” Is an eventual career the only measure of how well an education is used? The fact is, career success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Part of the reason that so many men are able to be so successful is because they have a family that works to support their career choices — perhaps the couple put his graduate school amibitions first; he can afford to work over-time and come home late because he knows his wife will pick the kids up from school, make them dinner and put them to bed; he knows his family will be taken care of because his wife is there, and so he can afford to be a harder worker (indeed, it may push him to be a harder worker). She, then, is a contributor to the family as much as he is, and she enables his contribution to the economy. She also is likely to have most of the family’s purchasing power, and exercises her economic contributions that way.

Does she need an Ivy league education for that? Maybe not. But he doesn’t need an Ivy league education either. It helps, but it’s not a necessity — why is his worth more than hers? And as I stated earlier, the likelihood of her never being part of the workforce is slim. Further, viewing education simply as a means to a career is extremely limited. If that’s the line of thought, then it doesn’t make much sense to offer majors (or even classes) in philosophy or literature — the likelihood of people having a career in either is relatively small. But the argument can be made that these classes are valuable simply for learning’s sake; that the fact that they don’t offer a direct career path isn’t a detriment; that most people who study these things do end up being part of the workforce or otherwise contributing to society, and that their knowledge in these areas makes them more socially, intellectually and culturally adept human beings.

Posner offers a solution that basically amounts to a penalty for people who choose not to enter the workforce. This assumes that stay-at-home parents offer no economic contributions to the family, and ignores the fact that (as I said earlier) being a stay-at-home parent often enables the other parent to work harder and increase the family’s total income. It would also place a unique burden on mothers — they are held socially responsible for their children in a way that men aren’t, are handed a nearly impossible set of SuperMom standards to live up to, and under Posner’s plan would additionally be financially penalized for making what they feel to be the most responsible decision for themselves and their families.

As I wrote in an earlier post, it’s not a choice to stay home if social and cultural messages demonize working women as less-than-adequate mothers. But it’s not a choice to work if you will be, in effect, financially penalized by your university for choosing not to do so (or, if not penalized, given a major financial disencentive not to stay at home, on top of the existing financial concerns that go hand-in-hand with not working). I should also add here that we’re talking about an elite community — most middle and lower-income women don’t get to consider the “choice” of whether to work or not.

Posner also writes,

Those men have on average high expected incomes, probably higher than the expected incomes even of equally able women who have a full working career. Given diminishing marginal utility of income, a second, smaller income will often increase the welfare of a couple less than will the added household production if the person with the smaller income allocates all or most of her time to household production, freeing up more time for her spouse to work in the market.

So part of what we have to address here is, why do those men have average higher expected incomes? It is clearly rational, in some families, for the party with the higher income to remain in the workforce, and the one with the lower income to manage the household. So, all other things being equal (similar education, same number of children, etc), why are women the ones with the lower average income? Conservatives will argue, “it’s because they work part-time, stay home with their kids, etc etc.” But many a rational couple where both partners work and have put equal time and effort into working has to look no further than their pay stubs to determine who should stay home in the first place, according to nothing more than economic efficiency. That is problematic, and won’t be solved by Posner’s suggestion.

What I find most troubling about Posner’s post is how reductive it is. He associates value and productivity with being a member of the workforce, but doesn’t entirely recognize that membership in that workforce is enabled by others, and often not freely chosen. The same argument which says that there are social pressures on women to stay home when they have kids also dictates that there are (in my opinion, even stronger) social pressures on men to be breadwinners for their families. Posner’s arugment reflects an incredibly male-centric view that “worth” is purely economic, and directly tied to one’s endeavors as a worker. Assuming that one relinquishes their worth by not working is not only problematic, but untrue even if we do consider worth to be related to economics.

We also need to take a good look at what the real problem is here. The fact that high-power career paths do make it close to impossible to have a family life is a problem for mothers and fathers. A cultural shift toward more family-friendly policies and workplaces could have tremendously postive effects on employment retention and productivity.

Finally, it’s interesting to see how this stands up when you apply the “insert other disenfranchised group here” test. Suppose we do a survey and find that black college-educated men make less than their white counterparts, and are more likely to drop out of graduate school. Is it a fair argument to then assert that a white college applicant is the “best person” to accept, because of the higher likelihood of a black graduate contributing less to the economy? Should we proscribe what basically amounts to a penalty for making less money, or not being part of an organized profession? Or should we instead evaluate the wide scope of social and institutional factors which influence perceived worth, economic worth and individual decision-making?

I have more to say, but (obviously) am not able to organize my thoughts in the most coherent way right now. There will be more on this later.

Author: has written 5288 posts for this blog.

Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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89 Responses

  1. norbizness
    norbizness September 29, 2005 at 10:42 am |

    Quick tip, Jill. If you ever see an elective class in your 2L or 3L years entitled “Law and Economics,” run away screaming. I think Posner wrote an article entitled The Marginal Utility of Farting that clocked in at 25,000 words.

  2. mythago
    mythago September 29, 2005 at 10:43 am |

    You just know that this is one of the same morons who screams that feminists devalue and understimate the wonderfulness of women’s work as at-home mommies.

  3. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 10:54 am |

    Sometimes I really fucking hate economists.

    It’s enough to make you want to smack them upside the head with a two by four and say “how’s that for a little externality?”

  4. Someone
    Someone September 29, 2005 at 10:56 am |

    Wow, is this a conservative blog? Interesting how he seems more intent on punishing women for making the choice to stay home than feminists supposedly are. Jill thinks they should have the choice to be home, and be supported; and this doofus thinks they should have to pay up and be punished if they do decide to balance work and family??

    The irony–as Mythago said–is that he accuses feminists of the very behaviors he exhibits.

  5. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 10:57 am |

    And, it seems, that hate made me not think about starting my sentence with something that didn’t put “fucking” on your main page in “recent comments.” Sorry.

    I confess that many of us political scientists harbor deep irrational loathings for the economists. Some of them do things like sweep their hands and talk about how all that irrational democratic political participation stuff interferes with the execution of effecient economic policy. Then there are the political scientists who have deep self-loathing, and then they pretend to be economists.

  6. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus September 29, 2005 at 11:19 am |

    I confess that many of us political scientists harbor deep irrational loathings for the economists. Some of them do things like sweep their hands and talk about how all that irrational democratic political participation stuff interferes with the execution of effecient economic policy. Then there are the political scientists who have deep self-loathing, and then they pretend to be economists.

    Then there are we historians, who get to look at all the attempts to make human activity “scientific” by both economists and political scientists, chuckle, and say to ourselves, “Boy, THAT worked out, didn’t it?” :)

  7. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 11:22 am |

    Those are the ones who I meant when I said they were pretending to be economists. However, the ones of us who don’t do that get accused of being “amateur historians” except without the writing skills.

  8. dread pirate roberts
    dread pirate roberts September 29, 2005 at 11:22 am |

    It’s enough to make you want to smack them upside the head with a two by four and say “how’s that for a little externality?”

    right on binky!!!!

    i am so out of it. i thought education was valuable for all of us. better citizens yada yada yada. so posner wants to formalize gender inequality. maybe we need a mommy track in grade school too. and that voting thing wants reconsideration. are stay at home moms really part of the body politic?

    maybe we should evaluate posner’s utility.

  9. Jo
    Jo September 29, 2005 at 11:25 am |

    A big question, of course, is that of what constitutes as “productive”. My mother was a SAHM, who used that opportunity to volunteer a lot, and for some time was a counselor for women with high-risk pregnancies. She may not have contributed much to the economy, but she certainly contributed to society. I think the latter is far more important.

    Furthermore, we need to stop looking at education as merely a means to earn more…its about learning more and boecming a well-rounded person.

  10. Hissy Cat
    Hissy Cat September 29, 2005 at 11:26 am |

    Frankly, I don’t think his point is to push stay-at-home mothers with college educations into the workforce. What he seems to really want is for women to not have access to college educations in the first place.

  11. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus September 29, 2005 at 11:27 am |

    However, the ones of us who don’t do that get accused of being “amateur historians” except without the writing skills.

    From your colleagues? In our department at least, there’s enough of old Annales school thinking that we wouldn’t say that.

  12. AndiF
    AndiF September 29, 2005 at 11:28 am |

    Posner tries to write his screed as if he is coming from a purely economic, non-sexist point of view and for the most part you have to read between the lines to unpack his sexist assumptions but he really gives himself away with this comment (my emphasis):

    Whether the benefit these women derive consists of satisfying their intellectual curiosity, reducing marital search costs, obtaining an expected income from part-time work, or obtaining a hedge against divorce or other economic misfortune, it will be on average a smaller benefit than the person (usually a man) whose place she took who would have a full working career would obtain from the same education.

    Shorter Posner: shame on these bad women who get into school and through life by stealing from men.

  13. Hissy Cat
    Hissy Cat September 29, 2005 at 11:35 am |

    By the way, it’s not just women he thinks education is squandered on:

    The real significance of the plan would be the higher tuition, which would discourage applicants who were not planning to have full working careers (including applicants of advanced age and professional graduate students).

    Apparently, education is wasted on anyone not in line for a consultant/ i-banker job at McKinley et. al. after graduation.

    Probably the graduates working full time at good jobs would not take the rebate but instead would convert it into a donation.

    Right. Because trickle-down economics always works. Especially when it trickles through not industry but charity.

    I’ve been wrong about such things before, but I don’t think there is much of a chance of this man being taken seriously.

  14. Nick Kiddle
    Nick Kiddle September 29, 2005 at 11:46 am |

    Jo nailed what annoyed me so much about the quote that I decided not to raise my blood pressure by reading the whole thing. Too often, people treat education as a means to improve one’s earning power. Sometimes it is, but that shouldn’t be its only function.

    I’m probably going to be a SAHM for the next couple of years, and I believe I’ll be better at it because I had the opportunity to do a degree in a field that interested me first.

  15. kim
    kim September 29, 2005 at 11:47 am |

    So according to Posner, I would be making an important contribution to society if I were being paid to work at a daycare center, whereas I should be financially penalized for staying home to care for my daughter even though both jobs would utilize the same skills. Likewise, women who teach in schools are doing something productive while the work of moms who homeschool their kids should be valued less because those women don’t receive a paycheck for the same work. Stupid.

  16. other Ryan
    other Ryan September 29, 2005 at 11:51 am |

    Obvious sexism aside, I think it’s troubling that this schmo is suggesting increasing tuition to encourage graduates to be more “productive” in the real world. So weath = productivity? This is blatant classism – suggesting the tired belief that poor people are poor because they are lazy. What about productive career paths that are not lucrative? Nonprofits? Higher education? What about turning out educated individuals into society? Isn’t that an end unto itself? Why force education into a quantified corner?

  17. Beth
    Beth September 29, 2005 at 12:05 pm |

    A few months ago I went to a talk by Norman Borlaug. It was about agriculture in developing countries, and toward the end he talked about other ways of addressing poverty (besides food/agriculture).

    One thing that struck me was what he said about education: that while an education benefits everyone, the people they consider *most* important to educate are women who stay at home with kids. They are their kids’ first and best teacher.

  18. Ann Bartow
    Ann Bartow September 29, 2005 at 12:06 pm |

    Posner does not appear to have any sort of graduate degree in economics (http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/posner-r/), maybe some women stole his slot?

  19. MinnObserver
    MinnObserver September 29, 2005 at 12:18 pm |

    As someone probably a generation older and who attended law school back in the day when we were routinely told that we were taking a place that should go to a man, there is a queit, “fuck you, I’ll do what I want” attitude that allowed many of us to um… do what we wanted. Really now, with a kid under the age of one, full time work and law school classes at night, who had time to argue or think about some jerk who didn’t think that in some cosmic economic sense my education was a waste of time?

  20. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 12:43 pm |

    Although not rigorously empirical,

    The above phrase, used to describe the study in question, tells you all you need to know about it: it’s complete bullsh!t. And that’s leaving aside all of the assumptions about stay at home parents and social value.

  21. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 12:46 pm |

    Posner is not asserting that stay-at-home moms have less social value than women who go out and work; he is saying that a medical degree that is attached to a person who goes out and practices medicine provides a higher rate of return than a medical degree that is attached to a person who stays home and performs non-medical domestic and child-rearing labors.

    Which is obviously true.

    He goes on to provide a speculative mechanism which does not preclude anyone getting an education; instead, it rewards behavior that makes efficient use of the finite educational resources, and disincentivizes behavior that makes inefficient use.

    So what’s the problem?

  22. kate
    kate September 29, 2005 at 1:02 pm |

    Frankly, I don’t think his point is to push stay-at-home mothers with college educations into the workforce. What he seems to really want is for women to not have access to college educations in the first place.

    Hissy Cat, that is spot on. Nothing keeps us barefoot and pregnant like a nearly criminal lack of education!

  23. Lauren
    Lauren September 29, 2005 at 1:07 pm |

    I’m biased, obviously, but any education is inherently valuable. I don’t really care what people do with their education regarding the work force, as long as we are all still interested in being active learners.

  24. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 1:08 pm |

    The problem is his assumption that a woman will not use the degree.

  25. yami
    yami September 29, 2005 at 1:18 pm |

    Wait, you mean there are otherwise intelligent people out there who’ll grasp at any bullshit-smeared straw they can find in order to justify their own misogyny? I’m shocked – shocked!

  26. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 1:25 pm |

    The problem is his assumption that a woman will not use the degree.

    But he doesn’t really seem to be assuming that. He makes reference to the statistical fact – and it is a fact – that more women leave the workforce, or don’t enter it at all. So that’s not an “assumption” – that’s him accurately observing reality.

    His proposed remedy is completely gender-neutral. If you work, you get a rebate. There is no requirement that you be a particular sex.

  27. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 1:31 pm |

    I’m biased, obviously, but any education is inherently valuable. I don’t really care what people do with their education regarding the work force, as long as we are all still interested in being active learners.

    With the exception of education degrees, I agree with your first sentence.

    Your second sentence is superficially attractive – what’s not to like about a community of active learners? But it ignores the social costs of educational inefficiencies.

    There is only so much we can do to train the next generation of doctors. If everyone who takes up some of those resources to become a doctor instead decides to become a lifelong learner and stay-home mom or dad, and enrolls in philosophy class, then we have a major problem – and I think you’d find yourself caring when you couldn’t get a pediatric appointment for your kid because the doctors are all out on the quad arguing free will vs. determinism, or at home watching Dora. I sure would.

    Of course, not all the doctors are going to do that – but every one who does represents a loss of efficiency in the educational system. Can we stand some inefficiency? Sure. But every increment of inefficiency imposes social costs on everyone, whether we can break out and identify them or not.

  28. Lauren
    Lauren September 29, 2005 at 1:34 pm |

    With the exception of education degrees, I agree with your first sentence.

    Dude, you’re on the wrong blog.

  29. Bill from INDC
    Bill from INDC September 29, 2005 at 1:35 pm |

    The problem is his assumption that a woman will not use the degree.

    That’s not his assumption – that a woman will “not use” the degree – his assumption (one based on empirical evidence), is that more women will use certain degrees less. So in purely quantifiable terms, from the standpoint of economics, he’s talking about a theoretical productivity model that coldly maximizes the impact of limited resources that are specific to highly specialized careers.

    Which is why characterizations like this …

    Nothing keeps us barefoot and pregnant like a nearly criminal lack of education!

    … are kind of silly.

    It’s a complex situation – counterbalancing conservative/utilitarian desire to acknowledge and discuss the fact that it’s an efficient market driven proposal, is the fact that the practical impact will be to disincentivize women to go after certain premium educational spots because they anticipate (often correctly) that they will divert career-specific productivity for competing family goals. You know, at the very least due to the acute biological demands of having a family. Do we want a potentially brilliant woman doctor that has a strong affinity for family to be financially disincentivized from a medical career based on average productivity calculations? I’m a bit torn. A compromise would be to make the financial incentives (disincentives) strong enough to have an economic impact yet weak enough not to be severely prohibitive.

    So the argument becomes one of prioritization of economic productivity vs. social benefit. As it is, at the very least, I think that his model points out that society does afford some social credit to women, and places an economic value on motherhood and the role it plays in society.

  30. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 1:37 pm |

    He makes reference to the statistical fact – and it is a fact -

    Actually, as even Posner admits, it’s not a fact. The claim that women are more likely to leave the workforce has not been rigorously demonstrated. Nor has the correlation, if any, been demonstrated to be independently related to gender. Given that neither single nor multi-variant analysis has been performed, I’d say that the claim is closer to an assumption than a fact.

  31. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 1:40 pm |

    Robert: I hate to disillusion you even further, but by no means do all doctors become full time practitioners. The PI at my lab hasn’t seen a patient in 20 years. Does that mean that his degree was wasted? He’s also, incidently, one of the people who described the use of aspirin in heart disease, a discovery which has saved numerous lives, but that doesn’t help you get an appointment when all the internists have run away to the lab, now does it?

  32. Kyso K.
    Kyso K. September 29, 2005 at 1:41 pm |

    I don’t know about the rest y’all, but when I get my whopping 1% tuition refund (and how long do I get it? Every year for the rest of my working life? Can I get more refunded than I paid in tuition, since $20,000 when I graduate and $20,000 when I retire are going to be two very different sets of $20,000? ) anyway, when that check arrives, it will not be donated to my University, but instead will go towards paying off the interest on the extra student loans I took out when they raised tuition to pay for my refund.

    Jackass.

    My boyfriend’s Law & Econ book talks about ‘free market babies,’ basically saying that the buying and selling of children on a perfectly free market would be a very good thing. His prof agrees with this, and dismisses the obvious problems of such a policy as “other,” as in, there’s nothing wrong with the policy, it’s all that other messy people stuff that keeps the policy from working. At any rate, it’s not his problem and free market babies for everyone!

    My boyfriend was the only person in the class willing to stand up and suggest that maybe some things (babies, human organs, etc) are not suitable for the free market. He convinced no one.

  33. Kyso K.
    Kyso K. September 29, 2005 at 1:45 pm |

    Sorry, that law & econ comment was bit random. I forgot that norbiz mentioned it all the way at the top of the threat.

  34. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 1:47 pm |

    his assumption (one based on empirical evidence), is that more women will use certain degrees less.

    Argh! I’m sorry to keep harping on this, but his assumption is NOT based on well documented emperical evidence. It is based on preliminary data which has not been properly controlled or subject to good statistical analysis. It may be true, but it is not strongly supported by any current research. Certainly, the current data is not strong enough to warrent changes in social policy based on it.

  35. Hestia
    Hestia September 29, 2005 at 1:50 pm |

    He goes on to provide a speculative mechanism which does not preclude anyone getting an education; instead, it rewards behavior that makes efficient use of the finite educational resources, and disincentivizes behavior that makes inefficient use.

    But why should anybody “make efficient use of the finite educational resources”? This makes no sense to me. A college education isn’t supposed to be “efficient;” it’s supposed to be available.

    Often, people embark on a college education for knowledge’s sake. This is just as valid a reason than wanting to learn how to make more money. Why should the former cost more than the latter, especially taking into account the fact that the latter graduates might very well be the wealthier ones? Aren’t the built-in individual and societal economic advantages to a career-oriented education incentive enough?

    This argument sounds like saying you should pay more for food if you plan to throw any of it away. Or you should pay more for a movie if you think your mind might wander.

    It seems that Posner’s argument is extremely anti-conservative. For one thing, it emphasizes one’s responsibility to and within a society over personal responsibility. For another, it’s anti-free market and isn’t subject to the laws of supply and demand. Although I guess it means that people who make a lot of money end up with fewer expenses than those who don’t, which seems to be a major part of the Republican platform.

  36. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 1:54 pm |

    Dude, you’re on the wrong blog.

    Whoops! That’s right, you’re an education grad student, arencha. My bad.

    Oh well, you’re young, plenty of time left to realize the error of your ways. :P

  37. Hestia
    Hestia September 29, 2005 at 2:01 pm |

    I just don’t get it. Posner’s plan creates a financial punishment for people who can’t or don’t work, for whatever reason, after college. It limits a college education to those students whose families have a certain amount of money (I’m assuming tuition would have to increase). It ties education directly to wages earned (would a Yale graduate who works at McDonald’s get the refund?), which is a lot of trouble for very little profit. It devalues the value of knowledge and understanding in and of itself. There would be so many situations in which the plan’s intended result would fail, because the world is complicated. And colleges and banks would have to devote a lot of time and resources to tracking alumni and their income levels. (These may not all be direct consequences, but they are consequences nonetheless.)

    So how is this in any way a good idea?

  38. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 2:06 pm |

    Given that neither single nor multi-variant analysis has been performed, I’d say that the claim is closer to an assumption than a fact.

    Nobody’s done a multivariate analysis to prove that the sun makes the sidewalk hot, either, but if you sit bare-assed on a Mississippi sidewalk in July, you’re going to jump up again in about one tenth of a second.

    More women than men graduate from college; known fact. More men than women in the workforce; known fact (about 60% of women, 75% of men, work in paid employment). Way more stay at home moms than stay at home dads; known fact. Are there interesting complexities and nuances to this rich demographic tapestry? No doubt there are.

    Is there any serious competing hypothesis to the formulation “the differences between educational participation and workforce involvement are principally related to gender-based disparities in domestic arrangements”? No. A fair number of women either go or stay home to raise kids. God bless ‘em. Most important job I know of; I’m all over any suggestion that we support it through public policy and social construction. But let’s not pretend that it isn’t happening, or insist on proof that fire is hot before we can begin to talk about where to keep the matches.

  39. Lauren
    Lauren September 29, 2005 at 2:20 pm |

    Whoops! That’s right, you’re an education grad student, arencha. My bad.

    Not grad yet, but will be heading in a very different direction once I’m there. If I wrote an honest post on my ed training, you’d probably cream your khakis.

  40. Annie
    Annie September 29, 2005 at 2:25 pm |

    Why stop at denying women college educations? Why not start the mommy track in elementary school? We can spend our days learning “useful” things like sewing and home economics. Don’t bother teaching us to read, write or balance a checkbook – teach the boys! After all, we’ll depend on them eventually anyway! And besides, we wouldn’t want a bunch of uppity, know-it-all women running around. And that’s just what happens when we get educated.

    Obviously I’m disgusted. Too disgusted for words.

  41. Hissy Cat
    Hissy Cat September 29, 2005 at 2:27 pm |

    I was going to pull a few quotes from characteristcally charming comments of Robert and Bill to pick bones with, but on second examination of what they’ve written it is clear that there is only one thing worth saying to either of them: Bullshit.

    The Possner piece is such wacky ka-ka talk. I graduated from a university with a conservative Econ department, and I’ve worked for the Financial Times. There is a lot about market-driven policies that I find, at best, morally dubious, but I have never read anything as laughably absurd and unsupportable as the claims Possner makes.

    Except maybe in that one Jonathon Swift essay, where he proposes that the Irish should all eat their own babies.

  42. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 2:28 pm |

    Robert: I do hope you’re not planning on becoming an economist, doctor, or researcher. You’ve blasmphemed statistics and will be outcast from the company of those who worship the almighty data point ;-). Apart from that, anecdote, and Posner is going from no more than anecdote, is a very unreliable source. Anecdotally, it is possible for metastatic lung cancer to disappear. That does not mean that the average person with lung cancer will be cured with no treatment. It just means that lots of things can happen once. Similarly, the fact that one or a few women at some random college like Yale state that they plan to stop work when they marry or when they have children is not evidence that all or most women plan to do the same.

    Nor are gross statistics to be trusted implicitly. There is a 1:! correlation between the increase in the size of the Atlantic Ocean and the increase in your age. Is the enlargement of the Atlantic Ocean causing you to age? Or are there other factors involved, such as the passage of time and plate techtonics? I’m not sure where you got the “known fact” that more women than men are in the workforce. I’m not saying that it is untrue, just that I can’t evaluate its veracity without more evidence. Anyway, assuming that it is correct, does that mean that being female causes people to leave the workforce? There may be other factors involved: a woman may be pressured by her partner to stop work when she has children; an employer might be more willing to lay off women–or less willing to hire them; a woman may follow the “mommy track” because she feels she has no choice or has never considered other options. Many women might be very willing to continue working after having children if they weren’t fired when they became pregnant, could find reliable daycare, if their partners would get off their lazy butts and do their half of the domestic work, etc.

    A recent study of much higher quality than the random bits of data Posner is using to justify his position, showed that religion was correlated with high homicide and suicide rates, increased infant mortality, lower life expectancy, and higher rates of sexually transmitted disease. Should we call for a ban on religion based on those results? They were MUCH stronger than Posner’s*. And to follow your logic, everyone knows that religious people don’t take this world very seriously, being focused on the afterlife, so it is as obvious that religion is bad for society as it is that fire is hot**.

    *Incidently, I should add that, in fact, the study I am referencing is really very weak: the correlations aren’t particularly strong, the necessary statistical analyses have not been performed, and confounding variables are not well considered. I wouldn’t base any changes on social policy on it. I mention it to point out that Posner and Robert are going on very little evidence indeed.
    **Fire is hot compared to the temperature of the human body. A fire (that is, area of rapid oxidation) on the sun would be a very cold spot indeed.

  43. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 2:36 pm |

    Posner assumes women will drop out of the work and not use the education they have be generously granted the opportunity to obtain. Not all assumptions are of the “and the economist assumed a ladder to climb out of the bottom of the well into which he had fallen” variety. Just because he offers some statistics does not mean they are not assumptions. Most social scientists (forgive again, Linnaeus) offer multiple assumptions that underlie their work, some more closely connected to facts than others. However, the emphasis of the article is that women are assumed to waste their educations and deny them to someone (assumed to be a man) who would have a higher expected utility.

    The post also focuses on the assumed reasons that women will drop out of the work force.

    “Whether the benefit these women derive consists of satisfying their intellectual curiosity, reducing marital search costs, obtaining an expected income from part-time work, or obtaining a hedge against divorce or other economic misfortune, it will be on average a smaller benefit than the person (usually a man) whose place she took who would have a full working career would obtain from the same education.”

    This assumes certains motivations behind the behavior of women, and women only.

    “A better idea, though counterintuitive, might be to raise tuition to all students but couple the raise with a program of rebates for graduates who work full time”

    His solution does not, in fact, solve the problem of wasting a professional degree (and he does seem to be more concerned with professional degrees than unergraduate education) on someone who does not use it. How so? It does not account for the physician who wastes the med school slot by becoming a lobbyist, or the lawyer who wastes the law school slot by running a pet-sitting service. All it requires is that the person work full-time. Thus, it punishers non-workers, not degree wasters.

    So what we have is a piece that targets female “drop-outs,” based partially on the assumption that women’s inherent characteristics lead them to seek education for reasons other than Posner’s most-valued quality of productivity. And as others have said, his solution does disproportionally punish (or, not reward) women who do not work full-time (a side note, one wonders how maternity leave might figure in) rather than punish (or not reward) those who do not derive the full expected utility of the degree by doing something else outside the field of their training.

    I am surprised that no one has brought up that women in the home are working full-time. They’re just not getting paid.

  44. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 2:39 pm |

    If I wrote an honest post on my ed training, you’d probably cream your khakis.

    Um. I’m not really sure how to take that.

    My impression from working at a university and from the various members of my family who are/were teachers is that ed school is designed to make becoming a teacher intolerable to anyone intelligent enough to be any good at it. You’re a better man than I, Gunga Din; I love teaching and homeschool our kids, but damned if I’ll sit through 60 semester hours of twaddle taught by morons.

    Maybe your program is better.

    (How did you know I spilled C2 on my jeans and switched to khakis, anyway? She’s a witch!)

  45. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 2:40 pm |

    uh-oh, i forgot close italics again

  46. Kevin
    Kevin September 29, 2005 at 2:43 pm |

    Nobody’s done a multivariate analysis to prove that the sun makes the sidewalk hot, either, but if you sit bare-assed on a Mississippi sidewalk in July, you’re going to jump up again in about one tenth of a second.

    You know what I’d like to see analysis of? Female vs. male productivity in the workplace. Call me sexist, but nearly every woman I’ve worked with has been more dilligent and capable than nearly every man I’ve worked with. I know this is pure speculation based on anectodote, but my experience is that women only need about one year in the workforce to equal the productive contribution of a man who has been in the work force for three years.

    (I’m only partially kidding here — I seriously wonder about this sometimes.)

  47. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 2:45 pm |

    Often, people embark on a college education for knowledge’s sake. This is just as valid a reason than wanting to learn how to make more money. Why should the former cost more than the latter[?]

    Because education for knowledge’s sake returns less social capital to the society that is upholding the educational system, than does education with a more practical end – or so run’s Posner’s thesis.

    His thesis makes a lot of sense for some types of education. For others, where there is no major vocational return to society, it probably doesn’t make any sense at all.

    This argument sounds like saying you should pay more for food if you plan to throw any of it away.

    If you lived in Ethiopia and were poor, and there were rich people who did buy food only to throw it away (“I might be hungry later”), would you think this was a good idea?

  48. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 2:46 pm |

    women only need about one year in the workforce to equal the productive contribution of a man who has been in the work force for three years.

    Isn’t that the “she has to work three times as hard to be considered half as good” theorem?

  49. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 2:48 pm |

    Call me sexist, but nearly every woman I’ve worked with has been more dilligent and capable than nearly every man I’ve worked with.

    Well, I’m supposed to be working right now, and yet here I am goofing around on Lauren and Jill’s excellent blog.

    (But wait, so are lots of women. Darn, anecdotal data fails us once more.)

    My own unscientifically personal experience has been that among managerial people, women seem to take their jobs more seriously than men do.

    The downside of that, of course, is that a lot of managerial jobs are value-subtractors, and the last thing you want is a conscientious and hard-working person filling them.

  50. Hissy Cat
    Hissy Cat September 29, 2005 at 2:49 pm |

    Whether the benefit these women derive consists of satisfying their intellectual curiosity, reducing marital search costs, obtaining an expected income from part-time work, or obtaining a hedge against divorce

    Yeah, I totally went to college to catch me a man. The only degree I care about is my “Mrs.” and there’s no better way to reduce “marital search costs” than a $160,000 education.

  51. AB
    AB September 29, 2005 at 2:51 pm |

    No, if I lived in Ethiopia and was starving, I’d actually rather have the government pursue policies that would result in more food being grown so everyone could eat.

    That’d be kinda like creating federally-subsidized loan programs so that most kids who want to can go to college. Wait–don’t we already do that?

    Ah, so the problem isn’t that there isn’t enough college education to go around, it’s that there isn’t enough *Yale* education to go around. Which seems to me like an entirely different ball of wax than what you’re talking about, Robert.

  52. Kevin
    Kevin September 29, 2005 at 2:52 pm |

    Isn’t that the “she has to work three times as hard to be considered half as good” theorem?

    Something like that. Although I suppose I meant something simpler: “she’s just three times better than he is.”

    Again, I don’t seriously believe that, but my larger point is that we can’t make assumptions about everyone’s time in the workforce being equal. For me, that throws the whole argument about women’s degrees being less valuable because they spend on average less time in the worforce down the drain. There’s too much we don’t know about what a person’s time in the workforce actually means in terms of value in the economy, much less in terms of value to society, which I see as very distinct from the economy.

  53. Kevin
    Kevin September 29, 2005 at 2:57 pm |

    The downside of that, of course, is that a lot of managerial jobs are value-subtractors, and the last thing you want is a conscientious and hard-working person filling them.

    Ha! True. But as long as we’re using the Dilbert theory of workforce productivity, let’s provide some disincentives for pointy-haired people to get degrees. I mean, if we’re really serious about maximizing value, let’s target the biggest waste-cases.

  54. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 3:03 pm |

    No, if I lived in Ethiopia and was starving, I’d actually rather have the government pursue policies that would result in more food being grown so everyone could eat.

    But your problem isn’t that there isn’t enough food for everyone to eat; your problem is that the price structure makes buying surplus food attractive to people with more resources than you, so they buy food that they don’t need to survive, leaving nothing for you. Adding more food to the system wouldn’t change the underlying dynamic; it would just drive the price of food still lower, making it even easier for the rich wastrel to snatch your morsel.

    Ah, so the problem isn’t that there isn’t enough college education to go around, it’s that there isn’t enough *Yale* education to go around. Which seems to me like an entirely different ball of wax than what you’re talking about, Robert.

    No, it’s exactly what I’m talking about (and Posner, too.)

  55. morfydd
    morfydd September 29, 2005 at 3:04 pm |

    A better idea, though counterintuitive, might be to raise tuition to all students but couple the raise with a program of rebates for graduates who work full time. For example, they might be rebated 1 percent of their tuition for each year they worked full time.

    Ah. So when I graduated into the 1992 recession and couldn’t work (as anything but a temp) for years, I would get to watch members of the class before me not only get salary and benefits, but money from our alma mater? Brilliant!

    (Oh, and does working as a temp count as full-time? After all, there were frequently weeks I didn’t get assignments…)

    Probably the graduates working full time at good jobs would not take the rebate but instead would convert it into a donation.

    Hahahaha! And this person is an economist?

    By the way, my degrees are in biomedical engineering and materials science & engineering. I work in the computer industry. I guess since I’m “not using” my degrees I shouldn’t have been allowed to get them.

  56. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 3:14 pm |

    Hahahaha! And this person is an economist?

    When I took game theory and rational choice, the professor proudly showed us the results of pre- and post-tests of students on a altruism vs. self-interest test. Before the class, they scored on the side of altruism (not perfect, but imagine a line that runs, left to right from -1=altruism to 1=self-interest, and they would score -.5ish), and after would score more towards self-interest (.6ish).

    And I knew what you meant, Kevin, I was just trying (and not succeeding) to be funny. I could roll out the “there are three social scientists trapped in a well” joke though…

  57. AB
    AB September 29, 2005 at 3:37 pm |

    it rewards behavior that makes efficient use of the finite educational resources

    Sorry Robert, I was thrown off by what you said before. I’ll plead ignorance to the posner article–I haven’t read it yet, and was just responding to what you said. It seems ridiculous to me that the solution to finite educational resources, when most people cover the cost of their own education through loans anyway, is to discourage some people from pursuing that education. Why not let the market respond to increased demand by, ya know, producing more educational resources?

    And your response about starving in Ethiopa doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Granted, cheaper food would mean that rich people could buy more to waste. But it also means that poor people could afford food, too. So where’s the problem?

  58. Bill from INDC
    Bill from INDC September 29, 2005 at 3:42 pm |

    I was going to pull a few quotes from characteristcally charming comments of Robert and Bill to pick bones with, but on second examination of what they’ve written it is clear that there is only one thing worth saying to either of them: Bullshit.

    Well, you sure showed me.

    The Possner piece is such wacky ka-ka talk. I graduated from a university with a conservative Econ department, and I’ve worked for the Financial Times.

    Unless you establish how these details gel with relevant experience, not knowing your specific background, they mean nothing to me. Did you have an econ degree? Work as a financial reporter?

    There is a lot about market-driven policies that I find, at best, morally dubious, but I have never read anything as laughably absurd and unsupportable as the claims Possner makes.

    I’m not evaluating all of his specific claims – I’ve specifically highlighted his claims about how economic productivity is tied to the extent that people utilize the specific skills associated with their education, which is a finite resource. You, on the other hand …

    Except maybe in that one Jonathon Swift essay, where he proposes that the Irish should all eat their own babies.

    … are spouting few specifics, just “bullshit” and ” wacky ka-ka talk.” We know taht you think it’s “bad.” Why?

  59. Bill from INDC
    Bill from INDC September 29, 2005 at 3:51 pm |

    Also, keep in mind – there is a gulf between regarding his piece as an interesting theoretical exercise in economics and endorsing it as a practical policy.

    Dianne -

    his assumption (one based on empirical evidence), is that more women will use certain degrees less.

    Argh! I’m sorry to keep harping on this, but his assumption is NOT based on well documented emperical evidence. It is based on preliminary data which has not been properly controlled or subject to good statistical analysis. It may be true, but it is not strongly supported by any current research. Certainly, the current data is not strong enough to warrent changes in social policy based on it.

    If I can engage a metaphor that I’ve studied – and I work with statistics and multi-variate analysis every day, so I understand the importance of your qualifiers – I can say that there are no multi-variate macro epidemiological studies that verify that obesity causes a specific number of preventable deaths in the United States.

    But I can point to thousands of more specific smaller scale studies that tie obesity to cancer, depression, chronic inflammation, Syndrome X, diabetes.

    Does that mean it’s unfair to draw the reasonably empirical conclusion that obesity is a significant cause of preventable disease? Because I haven’t conducted multi-variate analysis across the entire population?

    Reasonably qualified, the conclusion that women spend a larger percentage of their prime working years not specifically engaged in career pursuits when compared to men is a sound conclusion. As it is, I wasn’t advocating it as strong enough data to effect a change in policy. We’re just gabbing here …

  60. AndiF
    AndiF September 29, 2005 at 4:14 pm |

    One unintended consequence which I predict would arise from Posner’s policy is an increase in abortions, the use of birth control, and tubal ligations.

  61. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 4:23 pm |

    The idea that Posner’s argument is simply about how people utilize education because of a specific claim is like calling a cake an egg because it has specific eggs in it.

    highlighted his claims about how economic productivity is tied to the extent that people utilize the specific skills associated with their education, which is a finite resource.

    The rest of his points do matter, and provide the overall shape of his argument, and a context for his ultimate proposition about how to discourage women who might become mothers from seeking professional degrees. He first suggests, then discards, the idea of a penalty for not fulfilling one’s potential (“additional tuition retroactively”).

    When he cites

    “One survey of Yale alumni found that 90 percent of the male alumni in their 40s were still working, but only 56 percent of the female.”

    it does not at all reference what kind of work. As I said above, this does not mean they are maximizing the utility of the degree. The guy who did the plumbing when I remodeled my bathroom had a law degree from a prestigious institution, but got tired of working in law. Full-time work, but not maximizing the degree.

    Now, let’s look at the assumptions here. This goes in part to why other social scientists think economic models are chronically underspecified.

    Nor does it have much to say about why women drop out at the rate they do. The answer to the latter question seems pretty straightforward, however. Since like tend to marry like (“assortative mating”), women who attend elite educational institutions tend to marry men who attend such institutions (and for the further reason that marital search costs are at their minimum when the search is conducted within the same, coeducational institution).

    That bit says that if women are rational, they will marry, and choose their mate from their college peers. I understand that he is using an economic model of rationality, and is unlikely to recognize other ranked priorities of self-interest. However, his “straightforward” explanation is that girls (ought to) want to marry boys they meet in college.

    Those men have on average high expected incomes, probably higher than the expected incomes even of equally able women who have a full working career. Given diminishing marginal utility of income, a second, smaller income will often increase the welfare of a couple less than will the added household production if the person with the smaller income allocates all or most of her time to household production, freeing up more time for her spouse to work in the market. The reason that in most cases it is indeed the wife (hence my choice of pronoun) rather than the husband who gives up full-time work in favor of household production is not only that the husband is likely to have the higher expected earnings;

    And it’s just some random factor that makes female salaries less, when the women graduate from the same sort of institution with the same sort of degree? Just for te sake of emphasis, I’ll repeat the quote “probably higher than the expected incomes even of equally able women who have a full working career.” So, equally able women with an equally full career. They had the desire to stay working, didn’t drop out to have babies, demonstrated all the requisite interest in maximizing their utility, but their salaries still will not be equal thus based on this expectation they should drop out. Again, more rational for women to get married, even though this part violates what he’s saying about why women drop out (as I quoted above).

    And an added bonus snark, he says, hence my choice of pronoun. That he believes he has to justify it is interesting. He could also have made the choice to make the whole article in a gender neutral way, reflecting that the scenario does apply to both genders (though imbalanced).

    it is also because, for reasons probably both biological and social, women on average have a greater taste and aptitude for taking care of children, and indeed for nonmarket activities generally, than men do.

    And it makes the ladies happy, because whether it’s nature or nurture, they’re just better with “non-market’ activity. Convenient that, since it reinforces the salary stratification that makes it ‘rational” for the women to opt out of the workforce.

    This took too long. The discussion has probably moved on. Bah.

  62. Bill from INDC
    Bill from INDC September 29, 2005 at 4:33 pm |

    binky –

    Without getting into more longwinded specifics, I think that your criticisms are largely reasonable.

  63. Sina
    Sina September 29, 2005 at 4:37 pm |

    So my question still is, regarding the NYT article and the Posner piece (which doesn’t so much piss me off as give me a case of the chills; must be that icy invisible hand again) is, why can’t we talk about why it is that women, either 19 yr old Yalies or college graduates or temp working or whatever, have to raise children pretty much on their own? The problem as I see it is not that some women would leave the workforce after they get an education (which we begrudge them, for some reason), but that the assumption is that the expectation is that it is exclusively *women* who will do this. And do it somehow forever (as Jill pointed out, this already makes no sense). And can we do it without the requisite biological determinist talk, please?

  64. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 4:47 pm |

    I can say that there are no multi-variate macro epidemiological studies that verify that obesity causes a specific number of preventable deaths in the United States.

    Actually, a major paper was recently published on this issue. Its conclusion was that people who were overweight and mildly obese did not die sooner than those of normal weight and that being underweight was associated with excess deaths as well. So concluding that obesity causes excess deaths based on smaller, more limited studies, would be not entirely wrong, but would be misleading and making proposals for social change (as Posner is clearly doing with his anecdotes, even if you aren’t) based on those data could cause more problems than they solved.

    And Posner isn’t going on even that much data. He is basing his conclusions on an article in the NYT. He is analogously saying that obesity is dangerous because he knew one overweight person who died young.

    the conclusion that women spend a larger percentage of their prime working years not specifically engaged in career pursuits when compared to men is a sound conclusion

    Where is the data to support this assertion? I’m not saying that your conclusion is wrong, just that the data presented by Posner is extremely unconvincing and I haven’t seen any convincing data yet.

  65. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 4:50 pm |

    I’ll chime in on that one, Sina. (Big surprise, mutters the peanut gallery.)

    I would love to stay home and raise my kids. (Well, I do stay home, in that my office is in the basement…but I’m not doing childcare.) My wife won’t let me. Not because she doesn’t think I’d do a good job – when the older two live with us, I do their homeschooling which is the bulk of the childcare that they require – but because somebody has to pay the bills, and she doesn’t want to go out and get a job.

    And I don’t mean to imply that she’s lazy or unemployable; she’s neither. She just doesn’t want to work outside the home. (She does have a part-time design business, but it is not economically significant to our household.)

    I’m well aware that my family does not represent the statistical norm of American society, but I suspect that there are a fair number of women who are in the same position as my wife – could work outside the home, has a husband willing to take on the traditionally “female jobs”, but doesn’t want to.

    Part of that is probably about power and control. Not in a power-mad “the children shall be mine” kind of way, but in the sense that the person who rears a child has a fairly profound impact on that child. My daughter is being reared largely by her mother. If she were reared largely by me, she would end up being a different person. (More farting and computer games, less with the lacy-lacy.) My wife doesn’t want her to be the person she’d be if she were raised by me, as much as she wants her to be the person she’ll be if raised by her. (Wow, that should get some kind of award for most pronoun clauses.)

    So there’s one possible reason (among many) for the assumption by many folk that it is women who will be rearing the children: because that’s what the women want, and we guys can’t argue them out of it.

  66. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 4:59 pm |

    “longwinded specifics”

    These I am known for. I almost prefaced my post with, “sorry to be tedious, but.” Professional hazard.

  67. AndiF
    AndiF September 29, 2005 at 5:02 pm |

    binky, that was a great write-up and well worth waiting for. No bah!

  68. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 5:03 pm |

    Not that you can’t have an award for it, but I thought this sounded like the iocane powder discussion from Princess Bride. :)

    My wife doesn’t want her to be the person she’d be if she were raised by me, as much as she wants her to be the person she’ll be if raised by her

  69. Bill from INDC
    Bill from INDC September 29, 2005 at 5:52 pm |

    Dianne –

    Actually, a major paper was recently published on this issue. Its conclusion was that people who were overweight and mildly obese did not die sooner than those of normal weight and that being underweight was associated with excess deaths as well. So concluding that obesity causes excess deaths based on smaller, more limited studies, would be not entirely wrong, but would be misleading and making proposals for social change

    That paper extrapolates obesity from “Body Mass Index” (as all large epidemiological studies that claim to gauge effects of “obesity” on large populations do) which is simply a measure of “weight in relation to height,” not real “obesity,” (specifically things like central adiposity and fat percentage and distribution) This muddies (and almost invalidates, really) that analysis for many, many reasons that I won’t beat you over the head with (if you’re bored, more here and here).

    If you look for a large epidemiological study that actually measures “obesity” (and not a sketchy extrapolation from BMI), you won’t find one.

    Yet I can find you oodles and oodles of studies that demonstrate how actual obesity (waist-to-hip ratio, central adiposity) causes terrible and chronic deleterious metabolic effects. I should have provided more background for my metaphor.

    Sorry to hosts for off-topic metaphor/comment.

  70. Robert
    Robert September 29, 2005 at 5:58 pm |

    I thought this sounded like the iocane powder discussion from Princess Bride.

    Never bet against a Sicilian when death is on the line!

  71. Earl
    Earl September 29, 2005 at 5:59 pm |

    Binky, you simply read your desired misogyny into what Posner wrote. Compare the first thing that I read in your post:

    Binky:

    That bit says that if women are rational, they will marry, and choose their mate from their college peers

    Posner:

    Since like tend to marry like (”assortative mating”), women who attend elite educational institutions tend to marry men who attend such institutions (and for the further reason that marital search costs are at their minimum when the search is conducted within the same, coeducational institution).

    Notice that Posner says nothing about *should* — he merely observes what does happen — people tend to marry within their social, economic and racial groups and classes; he then speculates that part of the reason may be that marital search costs are low in the educational institutions. Poor show.

    Dianne: there are statistically fewer women in the workforce. If you don’t know of data showing there is significantly lower participation by women in the workforce, it’s becuase you’ve never looked. The BLS has many such statistics. You don’t even have to run a program to look at the differences in percentages and understand that you would easily reject the null hypothesis that men and women have equal per-capita labor force participation.

    http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf-table8-2005.pdf

    and

    http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf-table3-2005.pdf

  72. Earl
    Earl September 29, 2005 at 6:01 pm |

    And in general, since someone asked and I can’t be bothered to reread:

    Society heavily subsidizes college education, particularly in large state institutions. Even if you take out loans, students in general only pay something like half the cost of their education. Ergo, society wins the right to care about what people do with the education.

  73. Leslie
    Leslie September 29, 2005 at 6:33 pm |

    It’s a pretty absolutist set of assumptions – based purely on my experience as a mid 40s woman knowing lots of other women my age I’d say you can’t assume that if someone leaves the paying workforce for a period of time while their kids are small that they’ll stay out of the paid workforce. And one can certainly argue that if more employers were more flexible about part-time work and other family friendly policies that more women would stay in the workforce throughout their childbearing years.

    Also, society in general, and schools in particular, depend heavily on volunteer effort that largely comes from mothers and is not built into economic assumptions about how things get done. Until I see models that include the cost of those things as well as housework, cleaning, childcare, etc, I don’t think many of the models are realistic enough to mean much.

  74. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 7:12 pm |

    Bill: The issue of obesity and health is IMHO an interesting and complex one. I appreciate the links. Nevertheless…begone temptation of off topic discussion! (Maybe there’ll be a thread on weight sometime where we can readdress the question on topic.)

  75. Dianne
    Dianne September 29, 2005 at 7:24 pm |

    there are statistically fewer women in the workforce. If you don’t know of data showing there is significantly lower participation by women in the workforce, it’s becuase you’ve never looked. The BLS has many such statistics. You don’t even have to run a program to look at the differences in percentages and understand that you would easily reject the null hypothesis that men and women have equal per-capita labor force participation.

    When you compare a trait in any two groups, it is likely to be more common in one than the other, simply because it is unlikely that the numbers will be the exactly the same by chance. However, without statistical evaluation of some sort (ie Student’s t-test, confidence intervals, etc) there is no way of knowing if the differences seen are due to chance or not. It seems unlikely that the magnitude of difference seen there could be due to chance alone, but you’d have to run the statistics before you could say with any degree of certainty that the null hypothesis can be rejected.

    Incidently, table 3 shows that fewer white men work than latino or Asian men. If we assume that the differences are statisically significant, does that mean that we shouldn’t waste money educating white men because they won’t use their education to the fullest the way Latinos and Asians will?

  76. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 8:10 pm |

    Earl, by identifying what is rational, he is saying “should.” His model equates the most rational behavior with the most desirable behavior, hence what one “should” do.

    Picking apart an article with logically inconsistent assumptions is misogyny… who knew?! We’d better notify the OED.

  77. binky
    binky September 29, 2005 at 8:12 pm |

    ‘scuse me, that should have read “assumes” misogyny, not is. Haste makes, uh, cut and paste errors.

  78. Earl
    Earl September 29, 2005 at 10:40 pm |

    Binky,

    You’re wrong. I took your quote which you claim shows Posner to be misogynist. To repeat, he doesn’t say should — he merely observes. If I walk down the street and remark that the grass is green, I’m not saying it should be green — I’m saying, “Look — this grass is green.” In the quote he never even says rational — you used that word! I’m sure you can make up all sorts of words that Posner didn’t speak then find issue with them. Here is the quote you selected again. The word rational appears nowhere in it.

    Nor does it have much to say about why women drop out at the rate they do. The answer to the latter question seems pretty straightforward, however. Since like tend to marry like (”assortative mating”), women who attend elite educational institutions tend to marry men who attend such institutions (and for the further reason that marital search costs are at their minimum when the search is conducted within the same, coeducational institution).

    Dianne,

    As a person who has had more than one undergrad statistics class, you’re wrong. Go back, read the pdfs I even linked for you, then go to bls.gov and find the BLS sampling techniques. Nonetheless, given the number of companies they sample, a difference of 77.5 to 89.2 is significant. Really, your claim that the BLS publishes employment surveys which fail to differentiate over 15% of their range is prima facie laughable — and you should have known that without even having to resort to statistics. Oh, and your statement “When you compare a trait in any two groups, it is likely to be more common in one than the other, simply because it is unlikely that the numbers will be the exactly the same by chance” demonstrates a lack of understanding. The question you should be asking is, “Statistically, are men and women two different groups with respect to employment?”

    Second, stop and think about labor force participation. It should be obvious with a moment’s introspection why hispanic men have a higher mean participation over the age range you selected than white men. Then look at the tighter ranges.

    earl

  79. mythago
    mythago September 30, 2005 at 2:38 am |

    because that’s what the women want, and we guys can’t argue them out of it

    Uh, they’re your kids too. Why does her desire to be home trump yours?

  80. Robert
    Robert September 30, 2005 at 5:59 am |

    Uh, they’re your kids too. Why does her desire to be home trump yours?

    Because she’s crazier than I am, and the craziest person in any particular situation is generally the one whose desires control.

  81. That Girl
    That Girl September 30, 2005 at 8:51 am |

    Why are we arguing his conclusions rather than attempting to change the underlying structure he draws his facts from? Women and men with the same degrees and skills should be making the same amount. Our society has a duty to come up with child-rearing policies that encourage the educated rearing of children without penalizing the adult who must care for them. Let’s create some public policy to even out these issues instead of accepting that these issues are not fixable.

  82. Sina
    Sina September 30, 2005 at 9:15 am |

    Robert:
    Well, I have no beef with the crazy factor. What can you do? I don’t agree, though, that because of the crazy factor, taking (almost) full responsibility for raising children is simply what women want and the menfolk can’t change it one way or another, though that may be true for your family.

    On the issue of statistical analysis, I, being a woman uselessly trained in the humanities (tight-lipped smile: “what are you going to do with that?”), have nothing to say.

    That Girl: Dude, that’s what I’m talking about. Just because it’s the status quo, doesn’t mean it’s natural or biological or immutable or just the way things should be. Damn.

  83. Dianne
    Dianne September 30, 2005 at 9:32 am |

    Earl: Did you pass any of those statistic courses you took? What would your answer be if you were presented with the following question:
    “Characteristic X is measured in populations A and B. 77.5% of population A and 89.2% of population B are found to have characteristic X. Is this difference statistically significant?”
    Would you answer:
    “A. Yes.”
    “B. No”
    “C. It is not possible to tell from the information given”
    “D. It is laughable to think that a difference of greater than 15% is not significant”

    One of the basic rules of statistics is that if you don’t know the error you don’t know crap. Consider a similar problem which frequently occurs in oncology:
    Treatment A is shown in a phase I trial to have a 60% response rate compared to historical controls. Treatment B is shown in a phase II trial to have a 50% response rate compared to a 30% response rate in those receiving standard treatment. Treatment C is shown to have a 40% response rate in a phase III trial compared to a 30% RR with standard treament (95% CI 38-42%, p-value

  84. ricia
    ricia September 30, 2005 at 11:16 am |

    I guess the thought of educated women raising children (the next generation of tax payers) doesn’t appeal to this victorian-minded (evidently neo-capitalist) writer. How dare they drain our production-line education system of precious time and resources indulging their selfish drive to be informed, develop skills, and generate a potential for self-sustenance… Women… Ya just can’t talk sense to them.

    On the other hand.. What would this writer say about the plague of single motherhood? That which is littering our society with spoilt and uncontrolable hoodlems? Perhaps that lazy female had ought to have got herself an education and a decent job before “getting herself knocked up”?

    It is truly hard to believe that such an article exists in print, and that someone paid for it, and that it isn’t a joke.

  85. Ron Sullivan
    Ron Sullivan September 30, 2005 at 11:36 pm |

    Posner says he’s talking about education, but he’s actually talking about job training. Sometimes it’s a good idea to distinguish between those.

    And, Robert:
    If she were reared largely by me, she would end up being a different person. (More farting and computer games, less with the lacy-lacy.)

    I can’t be the only person here laughing out loud at that. Do you really think that stuff is inder your control, or even influence? Maybe you should talk… no, listen to a few ol’ hippie mothers who are shaking their heads about their daughters’ Barbie tendencies.

  86. Robert
    Robert October 1, 2005 at 11:32 am |

    Well, it isn’t like she checks my agenda clipboard each morning and adjusts her personality accordingly. (“OK, adopt a libertarian-ish attitude of self-reliance, can-do, git-r-done…check. Be kind to the less fortunate, check.”)

    But there’s certainly some influence. She didn’t learn “pull my finger” from Sesame Street, or her mother.

  87. mythago
    mythago October 1, 2005 at 2:23 pm |

    Maybe you should talk… no, listen to a few ol’ hippie mothers who are shaking their heads about their daughters’ Barbie tendencies.

    Oh, I hate these conversations, because I always kill them.

    Other Parent: Isn’t it amazing how different boys and girls are? We nervously bought our daughter a truck and some blue toddler clothes, but wouldn’t you just know that she’s a girly-girl who loves pink and dolls?

    Me: Strange. My girls like to pretend to be ninjas and think fart jokes are funny. The littler one does have tea parties with her younger brother, though.

    Other Parent: Gosh, look at the time! [wanders off nervously]

  88. AndiF
    AndiF October 1, 2005 at 2:31 pm |

    Me: Strange. My girls like to pretend to be ninjas and think fart jokes are funny. The littler one does have tea parties with her younger brother, though.

    But your daughter has you got you for a mom so all is well. My mother spent my entire childhood trying to convince me “to be a lady” and it wasn’t any fun for either of us. I think I was in my forties before she finally gave up.

  89. ricia
    ricia October 1, 2005 at 6:25 pm |

    Yes, I was also heavily punished for not acting like nor desiring to appear as a “girl” when growing up.

    I now have a son and over his nine years have spend a lot of time with children. There are differences that surface due (i believe) to chemistry (biology) first. There is nothing wrong with these differences either. And then their is character (genes – and yes it something a parent can witness right away that really does belong to the child). Not all boys are the same and not all girls are the same. Some of each are indeed more notably “nurturing” “delicate” “quiet” etc. All of which are characteristics too easily attributed to girls. Thus little girls that behave this way are “girly-girls” and are supported in being so. But it will not even be acknowledged when it is a little boy that is this way – and it won’t be supported nor nurtured. In time he will learn how better to behave in order to garner praise and / or acceptance.

    But none of those natural differences account for what toys they prefer playing with. My son was just as happy to turn the nieghbors barbies into ninja’s and pirates as she (the neighbor) was to wield a toy sword while doing a dance performance for us. yes, she had something in common with other girls and he with other boys – that had to do with their relating to the world as a girl or a boy.

    Those children whom have been well steered, guided, or over-familiarized with the pink and blue camps become instantly evident however, and ta-boot they can see themselves reflected in books, films, advertisements, and saturday morn television programs.

    As children get older, a parent has to do a whole lot of work and keep really very aware and involved to offer counter-information, experiences and perspectives to their children so that they can con’t to grow as whomever they want to be instead of something they “should” be by proxy of their environments.

    But while they are young, it is not (by my observations) natural for them to choose one gender-typed toy over another. They will simply play with whatever is available in a variety of ways that which reflect their character.

    As signified by the abrupt change in conversation between the two parents (above); it is the adults whom create such preferences at tender ages. What were they surrounded by? What gifts did they recieve at every occassion? What experiences have they had access to? Etc., etc.

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