Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Getting into College: Echidne's Tips

Legacy admissions to college have been in the news again:

Blood ties to alumni, sometimes known as the other affirmative action, are the deciding factor in the admission of more than 300 white Texas A&M University freshmen annually, according to data provided by the school.
Such students -- known as "legacy admits" -- equal roughly the overall total of blacks admitted to A&M each year. Only a handful of black students a year are admitted because of legacy points.
A&M's program is drawing particular fire because university President Robert Gates recently announced the university, now free from a court ruling prohibiting racial preferences, won't consider race in admissions. Coleman and other black legislators cited a seeming contradiction between Gates' rhetoric that students be admitted strictly because of merit and a program they say perpetuates class distinction and white advantage.
Gates, president for 1 1/2 years, said he doesn't have a gut-level feeling about legacies, much less a thought-out one, because he inherited the program and knows little about it. He said a task force will study its future.

If Texas A&M President Robert Gates actually said that students should be admitted strictly because of merit, he is either going to revolutionize the admissions policies of American colleges or coin completely novel definitions of the term 'merit'. College admissions have never been based on strict merit. Factors such as family wealth, alumni status, geographic location and skills in playing some sport totally unrelated to the purpose of a university education have always had an effect on the applicants' chances of a place in the freshman year class. But none of these issues has provoked anywhere near the anger about lack of merit as racial preferential treatment in college admissions. It's not just fair, many seem to think. Students should be admitted on the basis of their merit, not because of their skin color. Even George W. Bush implied this in his
comments about last year's University of Michigan affirmative action case:

At the law school, some minority students are admitted to meet percentage targets while other applicants with higher grades and better scores are passed over. This means that students are being selected or rejected based primarily on the color of their skin. The motivation for such an admissions policy may be very good, but its result is discrimination and that discrimination is wrong.

Is it then fair to admit students largely based on where their parents went to school? Or based on how much their parents have stashed away? Or based on the location of their homes? If this is fair, why is using skin color less fair? In all these cases it could be that some student of greater academic merit, some student who has worked better and burned the midnight oil longer, some student with the potential of finding the cure for cancer, may have been denied admission because some other student was given preferential treatment.

In my experience, this is how most opponents of racial affirmative action view its effects. Yet they are strangely silent about the other affirmative action programs, or if they comment on them, they merely point out the rationale for doing these kinds of things : of course colleges want to favor alumni children, after all, their parents are a major source of funds, of course colleges wish to attract students from all sorts of geographical locations in order to create a diverse student body. Or they point out that discrimination on the basis of these other factors: wealth, blood ties and location is not illegal, but discrimination on the basis of race is. Or they argue that the numbers involved in the other affirmative action programs are too small to really make a difference.

But of course the racial preferences in admissions also have a rationale: to create a more equal society, and the numbers of the beneficiaries from these other policies are by no means inconsiderable. As an example, in last year's freshman class at Duke University, 18% of the students entered through the program for underrepresented minorities, 12% through the alumni program, 8% were recruited as athletes and 3-5% as potential donors (i.e. rich kids). Though some students may have entered through more than one program and many of these students might have qualified for unassisted admissions, the fact remains that at Duke the other affirmative action programs cover a larger percentage of freshmen than race-based affirmative action itself. So why the furor over one and not the others, at least among those currently in government? Might it have something to do with the race of the beneficiaries? After all, most alumni children are still white and so are overwhelmingly the students with very wealthy parents? And though many student athletes are black many are not. This couldn't be the answer, could it?

Think about the following exchange of opinions by the lawyers representing the two sides in the University of Michigan case:

"What does legacy preference do to advance fairness and merit?" asks Theodore M. Shaw, a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., who represents 17 minority high-school students granted defendant status in the suit against the university. "Why is it more defensible than an attempt to include people from minority groups that have been excluded in the past and are still under-represented?"
The reply from the white students' lawyer, Michael Rosman: "Because some small percentage of white students are getting legacy preference, that doesn't mean we should disadvantage all whites" with racial preferences.

Michael Rosman appears to think that racial preferences disadvantage whites but that legacy preferences don't. But surely they do; they disadvantage all whites who are not lucky enough to have had parents, grandparents or siblings who went to the same college. Rosman appears to see the races as two competing armies, fighting a war for the same reward: a place at college, not as consisting of individuals which can indeed be harmed by preferencial treatment given to 'one of their own'.

The most fascinating and least talked about in the group of these other affirmative action programs are the potential donors. These are students with very wealthy parents. Duke University finds them as follows:

Duke's system works this way: Through its own network and names given by trustees, alumni and others, the development office identifies about 500 likely applicants with rich or powerful nonalumni parents. It offers them campus tours and admissions advice and relays the names to the admissions office.
The development office then trims the list to at least 160 high-priority applicants. Admissions readers evaluate them on merit, without regard to family wealth. About 30 to 40 are accepted, the others tentatively rejected or wait-listed. Mr. Guttentag and John Piva Jr., senior vice president for development, debate these 120 cases, weighing their family's likely contribution against their academic shortcomings. Most are admitted.
Once these children of privilege enroll, the development office enlists their parents as donors and fund raisers. A committee of more than 200 nonalumni parents provides a volunteer army for the four classes currently at Duke. Committee members usually give at least $1,000 to Duke, and the eight co-chairmen and the national chairman contribute more, sometimes six- or seven-figure sums.
Membership in the parents' committee is by invitation only and is overwhelmingly white.

Hmmm. My tips about how to get into the college of your choice if you're worried about your grades and test results not being quite up to the expected standards: 1. Get rich parents.
2. Make them attend the right universities. 3. Have them buy a house in some God-forsaken locality where nobody ever goes to college. Voila! You're in. This is a lot more likely to work than belonging to a racial minority. It's also totally unrelated to any merit attributable to the studen't own work.

Postscript 1/11/04: Texas A&M just announced that they are going to scrap legacy admissions.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Stupid Quote Of The Day

Or that's what I think:

Mike van Winkle, the spokesman for the California Anti-Terrorism Information Center told the Oakland Tribune, "You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that protest. You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act."

From here

Monday's Dog Blogging

Hi, everybody!

How am I supposed to blog with paws as fat as tennis rackets? Anyway, I'm a dog. I like to run, chase balls and roll in stuff that smells promising. I'm not very smart, but I'm a pedigreed Lab and a real jock. I live with all these snakes which is ok except that they don't like their tails being pulled at all.

This last year was really tough. First they raised the dog tax and then they started enforcing the leash laws. But I gave them the finger! Or the paw. So that wasn't too bad. Catch me if you can!

But then this snakewoman I live with took me to the DENTIST! Just because I played with some rocks and the long bits that stick out in my mouth fell off. Let me tell you that wasn't fun at all. No sir. I tried to bite the guy but they stuck a needle in my butt and that was curtains for me. Now I have fillings which is very embarassing in the dogpark. I had to whip couple of terriers into submission. They just wouldn't stop grinning.

And then I have to live with this bitch! She's older than me, like eleven, and she's the boss.
Whenever I steal her bone she puts me down and humps my head. So I lie there thinking:"You just wait, you. I'll get you one day. When I get my karate training complete."
But somehow she can always anticipate my moves. The snakewoman says that the bitch
is the real Einstein of the dogworld and I'm the Schwartzenegger. I don't get it: Ahnuld is
a boy and I'm a girl, aren't I? (HAHHAH! Bet you thought the bitch was the snakewoman!)

I hope next year will be better. I don't care if it's the election year, after all I'm just a Canadian! (HAHHAH! Bet you thought I was going to say just a dog!)

So that's all. Got to go out to sort out the squirrels. Seeya!


Sunday, January 04, 2004

Cats and Dogs

This is just for fun, for those of you who plan to stay in your PJs all Sunday long. Armed with your favorite beverage and breakfast dish, check out the blog of Barney, the First Dog. A very smart dog he is, Barney.

If this isn't enough canine humor for you, I recommend weiner dog races.

And for cat lovers, there's this. Make sure that you have the sound turned up.
Thanks fo ms. posters for the last two.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Money for Your Lingerie? (Or Retirement)

It is ever so Out these days to raise a peep about discrimination against women. If you are so unfashionable as to complain, you are promptly labeled a whiner. Hip young post-feminists will advise you to get over your "victim psychology," Dr. Laura will tell you to pull up your socks, and the women's magazines will advise you to try sexy lingerie for your problems.

This is how Molly Ivins begins her column on the gender wage gap, and she's got a point. It IS unfashionable to complain, and it IS fashionable to ignore the wage gap. That women make, on average, only 76 cents to every dollar men make, well, who cares? It's much more fun to learn pole-dancing and to discuss what is sexxee. Besides, lots of people will start screaming at you with red faces if you as much as peep about it.

On top of that, understanding the reasons for the gender wage gap is really hard. It's something economists spend years learning to do, so thinking about the wage gap can be daunting to even the most intellectually alert individual. (If you wish to have a very good introduction to the wage gap, read Ampersand's series at the Alas, A Blog. You won't get anything of same calibre here.)

Maybe that's the reason for the current meme that it's ok to treat the wage gap as something completely debatable, from whether it even exists to what causes its current size. I don't buy that personally, but I'll be glad to show you how it's done here.

Sadly, a little bit of economics is needed before the fun can begin: Basically, there are three possible reasons for the gender wage gap (and yes, all economists out there, I know that I am oversimplifying here):

1. Women can't / Men can (performance differences)

2. Women don't want to /Men want to (preference differences, or as some prefer, choice)

3. Women are not allowed to /Men are allowed to (discrimination)

In reality, the question how much each of these contributes to the wage gap is an empirical one: it should be answered by using proper data and careful methods. But in the medialand the game is played differently: simply pick one or two of the three based on which you like the best. Then write up something emotional to support your choice.

Even Molly Ivins falls for this. Her choice is number 3: discrimination:

Of course, more women could afford sexy lingerie if we weren't still the victims of wage discrimination. Equal Pay for Equal Work is the oldest demand in the feminist repertoire, and everyone gives it lip service; even the anti-feminists assure us that they certainly believe in equal pay for equal work.

Molly, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 applies only to men and women doing exactly the same job. Unfortunately, the vast majority of men and women don't work in the same jobs. Even if every single firm obeyed the Equal Pay Act (which not every single firm does), women would still earn less, because so many work in female-dominated low-pay occupations. If discrimination is to be the culprit, you need to look much deeper into the structures of labor markets.

The spunky ladies of the right-wing Independent Women's Forum choose number 2., choice, combined with the auxiliary argument that all nondiscriminatory factors should be taken into account before examining any residual discrimination:

According to the "wage gap" claim, women earn only 76 cents on the male dollar. But, this is a deliberately misleading claim that fails to account for a number of commonsense facts about women's workplace experiences. Women actually earn 98 cents on the dollar when factors such as age, education, and experience are taken into account. It is critical to compare apples to apples. For example, women often leave the work force to raise children and later return.

The claim about women earning 76 cents on the male dollar is not deliberately misleading, ladies. It's pretty much correct, subtract or add a few cents, depending on the year. What you are trying to say is that not all of the 24 cent difference can be attributed to discrimination without first controlling for variables such as education and work experience. This is true. (But age shouldn't be one of these variables to control for. It's sometimes used as a measure for work experience when the latter is not available in the data, and if you insist to include it even with work experience you are assuming that ageism is an ok thing to affect wages.)

What isn't true is all that stuff about women earning 98 cents on the dollar. This was the result from one study which compared highly-educated single, childless men and women in their first jobs. Lo and behold, the study found that the entry-level wages were almost the same for both sexes. This is a) not proof of equal wages more generally, b) not proof of lack of discrimination and c) not even new.

Economists have known for a long time that all sorts of people earn about the same starting salaries for a given set of education. This would be the case even if they were all hired by the most rabid bigot you can imagine, simply because it is against the law to discriminate in hiring (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) and because it is against the law to pay different wages for the same job (Equal Pay Act of 1963). The rabid bigot (in my discussion a woman-hater) would have to wait a little longer before she or he could start throwing obstacles in front of the female workers. This could happen through not promoting women, through not giving them opportunities for on-the-job training , or through various forms of sexual harassment. (Though all of these are illegal, too, they are much more difficult to prove than obvious wage differences at entry level.)

I'm not saying that any of these alternatives would necessarily happen. Many women might simply opt out of promotions because of their childcare duties, as the IWF argues. But we don't actually know how much choice and discrimination affect women's earnings development over time. To imply that it's all choice ("For example, women often leave the work force to raise children and later return.") is part of the opinion-game.

My final example of the game is a real peach. It's from an article in the Mensnewsdaily:
The fact is, the "wage gap" disappears when you take into account such factors as training, years in the workforce, travel requirements, degree of physical labor, and risk to life and limb .
And truth be told, men essentially have no choice -- they are expected to be the primary breadwinner in order to support their wives and children . So they accept the high-paying, dangerous jobs that women are unwilling to accept.
In contrast, women have a broad range of options: Be a full-time mom, take on a part-time job, or do volunteer work.
So the so-called "wage gap" is really a "choices gap." And the feminist campaign to level wages really amounts to equal pay for unequal work.

Here the gentleman in question (one Carey Roberts) tells us that there is no discrimination, at least in his opinion. The wage gap totally disappears when proper attention is paid to the requirements of the job. Unfortunately, no evidence is provided for this opinion, probably because it doesn't exist. The gentleman appears to see the reasons in the wage gap mainly in number 2., choice, though including the degree of physical labor as one of the important explanations for higher wages and referring to equal pay for unequal work also smacks of an attempt to bring in number 1, performance differences.

The concept of choice is used in a very weird manner: women have all the choices but men have none. It seems more likely that if men feel constrained in their work choices, so do women. In particular, the society in the U.S. expects women to be responsible for child-care, and most economists agree that women's duties at home are one of the main determinants of the gender gap.

Some argue that these responsibilities make women 'choose' occupations which allow for flexibility in work hours and leave taking, even when this flexibility is at the cost of lost earnings and pensions. Many traditionally female occupations (the so-called pink collar jobs) do have these characteristics, though it should be noted that many high-paying jobs also have flexibility.

Do women make these sorts of choices? Many do, probably, but they are not free choices in the way a choice between chocolate and vanilla ice-cream might be. The work women do at home is valuable for the wider society; it produces the future tax-payers and soldiers and politicians, and the quality of these future citizens is of interest to everyone. At the same time, many observers would like the costs of these choices to fall totally on the women and their families. Also, even women who would not voluntarily choose to stay at home with their children may be pressured into this through societal disapproval of working mothers and life-long absorption of messages promoting a certain mothering style.

So it's not all that clear that the choices that women (or men) make are in some sense free and purely private. But it's also very difficult to prove to what extent women's earnings are affected by discrimination in the labor market.

Though discrimination clearly exists (as evidenced by court cases won by the plaintiffs and by audit studies in general), the current level of economic studies doesn't allow us to conclusively separate choice-based, performance-based and discriminatory reasons for earnings differences. What they can tell us is that once we have taken into account all the performance and choice-related aspects that we have data on, the remaining unexplained difference in men's and women's earnings could be due to discrimination. It could also be due to something else that we have inadvertently omitted.

Not a comfortable state of knowledge. But it's at least much more honest than the opinion games being played across the political spectrum. A recent, relatively well-done congressional study* shows that this unexplained difference amounts to roughly 20 cents on the dollar. (It's important to keep in mind that this study looks at men and women who work either full-time or part-time, while the gender gap in earnings as commonly discussed applies only to full-time workers. So the figures from this study are not directly comparable with the 76 cent figure in the preceding discussion.)

The raw data in this study show women earning, on average, only 44 cents for each dollar men earn, but factors such as working hours (especially in the form of women's part-time work), education, work experience and the number of small children the worker has at home explain a large portion of this difference. Still, these can only bring the women's adjusted earnings to 80 cents per each men's dollar. What causes the remaining difference is unclear. It could be caused by discrimination or possibly by women seeking jobs which allow greater flexibility. But note that some of the earlier factors could be discriminatory, too. For example, women might be working part-time due to pressures from societal gender roles rather than through free choice.

Why talk about something this boring? Well, it affects how much lingerie you can have. It also affects your old age, because retirement incomes go hand in hand with earnings. Women over 65 have an average annual income of $14,200 compared to men's $39,000.

It also affects families, as some observers have started noting. Whatever Mensnewsdaily might say, the fact is that many women and men live together in families, and the children and male partners of women also suffer when the women suffer.
*The link to this study gives you an Adobe pdf file. If you want to download it, go here, but ignore the title of the article: it's incorrect.

Postscript: The gender wage gap I discuss here is based on comparing men and women who work full-time, though the specific study I discuss also includes part-time workers. I wish to confess that I haven't bothered checking if this year's figure is exactly 76 cents or not. But it's in the ballpark!

Friday, January 02, 2004

Leave My Snakes Alone

The news is that the longest snake ever measured has been captured in Indonesia:
Officials at the zoo in Curugsewu, central Java, told the Republika newspaper that the reticulated python is 14.85m (49ft) long and has a maximum body circumference of 85cm (almost three feet). It weighs, they say, 447kg (70 stone, 3lbs).

It was impossible to verify the claim yesterday because the only photos available were of the black and brown reptile curled up, apparently asleep.

He isn't anywhere that long. He's fat, though. His name is A''bngd, and he was always a bit of an idiot. That's how they could catch him.

They feed the poor thing brown dogs. Poor dogs, poor snake. He refuses dogs of other colors. Of course he does, he's supposed to eat deer you thickheads.

Nothing good will come of this, mark my words. And it's started already: Man bitten by snake, firefighter attacked by snake.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Sharia Law in Canada

The Toronto Star:

An informal arbitration system that has been quietly settling marital or business disputes in Ontario using Islamic law, or sharia, for several years has now become a more formal structure known as the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice — and a national Muslim women's organization is "gravely concerned" that women's rights will not be protected.

Supporters of judicial tribunals say they reduce the need to go to court, are more private, speed up resolution and keep costs low in civil disputes.

These are some of the reservations of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women:

Sharia, or more accurately Muslim law, is not divine, as argued by some. It is based on divine text, the Quran, but it was interpreted a few centuries after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, by jurists in different countries, who themselves insisted that these were only interpretations. It is a vast, complex judicial system, with many schools of thought and with adaptations to local customs.

For example, some countries where Muslim law is applied, such as Tunisia, have interpreted the law as limiting marriage to monogamy, while others, like Pakistan, allow polygamy if the first wife consents.

Also, there are some interpretations and practices which adversely affect women. For example in some schools of jurisprudence, inheritance favours males; a husband can divorce his wife without legal recourse; financial support for wives can be for a limited period of time; alimony is questionable; division of property can be against the woman; and child custody can be given to fathers , according to the age of the child. How and who will ensure that these are not the interpretations which are used by the arbiters?

They also note that although the participants in the arbitration can choose either the Canadian law or the sharia law, many religious women would feel obligated to choose the sharia interpretation, even when it is not in their best interest.
Thanks to Mystic Bovine for the links.