Tim Hanford at Slate reports on a study of coffee shops by an economist, Caitlin Knowles Myers, which found that women waited, on average, 20 seconds more between placing their order and receiving their coffee than did men, which held even after adjusting for the complicatedness of the drink:
She, with her students as research assistants, staked out eight coffee shops (PDF) in the Boston area and watched how long it took men and women to be served. Her conclusion: Men get their coffee 20 seconds earlier than do women. (There is also evidence that blacks wait longer than whites, the young wait longer than the old, and the ugly wait longer than the beautiful. But these effects are statistically not as persuasive.)
Perhaps, says the skeptic, this is because women order froufrou drinks? Up to a point. The researchers found that men are more likely to order simpler drinks. Yet comparing fancy-drink-ordering men with fancy-drink-ordering women, the longer wait for women remained.
And, rather interestingly, the wait was affected by other factors as well:
It is also hard to attribute the following finding to a female preference for wet-skinny-soy-macchiato with low-carb marshmallows: The delays facing women were larger when the coffee shop staff was all-male and almost vanished when the servers were all-female.
It is not clear whether women were held up by male staff because the men viewed them with contempt or because the male staff members were flirting furiously. The “contempt” explanation seems more likely, as the extra time that women have to wait seems to increase when the coffee shop is busy. Who would take extra time out to flirt just when the lines are longer?
Don’t think 20 seconds is a long time? Plunge your hand in ice water and wait for 20 seconds. You’ll think differently then. And this is just one aspect of one’s day — if this kind of discrimination occurs not just in coffee shops but in every kind of service environment, then women are losing time relative to men throughout the course of an average day. And 20 seconds here, 20 seconds there can add up, especially when that 20 seconds makes you miss your train.
But Zuzu, you say, isn’t this just another example of you feminists (you and your ouija uterus in particular) just cherry-picking the research you’ll be skeptical about or support? Aren’t you just being hysterical rather than logical?
Well, no. Most of the real bullshit studies we debunk here are based on evo psych. This one is observational and draws no conclusions about why slow service was important on the savannah. And it’s particularly interesting from an economic perspective, because discrimination on the basis of non-economic factors is largely* irrational, particuarly in a highly-competitive industry like coffeeshops. Indeed, Harford observes that the more competitive a market is, the less discrimination there tends to be. So why are coffeeshops anomalous?
Well, could be they’re not anomalous, or that they’re not so competitive that the discrimination is zeroed out. Could be that things are much better than they used to be, even if they’re not completely equal yet, which means that this study might motivate some companies to improve their service.
I have to say, though, that in an otherwise good article, Harford really struck a sour note with the way he wrapped up his piece:
But an alternative explanation is that the market is still working on the problem. Over time, we’ve moved from gentlemen’s clubs to male-dominated pubs to coffee shops, which are far more female-friendly. Perhaps it is just a matter of time before some entrepreneur decides to set up a big chain of coffee shops with “no men allowed” on the door.
Right. Because the answer to smallish but measurable irrational discrimination in economic markets in favor of one group of people is complete discrimination in favor of the other group. That’s what we call a false binary there, Tim.
* Sometimes, it’s not entirely irrational, such as when you have a fashion-conscious brand and you want to be sure to sell to the right customers. So a high-priced salon may take your money if you’re a schlump, but they’re not going to make you feel like you want to come back because you’re not necessarily going to be the best advertisement for their product and attract the kind of customers they want. Of course, sometimes that strategy just ends up with the company shooting itself in the foot, alienating a potentially lucrative and mostly untapped market segment even as their share of the highly-competitive slice of their preferred market stagnates or shrinks.
Mind you, some people are completely in favor of discrimination and against the “PC tyranny” of anti-discrimination laws, because, goddamnit, a man should be able to run his business as he sees fit!