Friday, May 23, 2014

On Favoritism, Not Hostility, As The Basis For Discrimination

Tony Greenwald and Thomas Pettigrew argue that it's in-group favoritism rather than hostility to outgroup individuals which drives some parts of discrimination. An example:

Take this hypothetical scenario: When conducting reviews of two employees, a manager finds they both fall between two performance categories. The manager gives a higher category to the employee whose child is friends with the manager’s child, leading to a promotion and salary raise, while the other employee receives a smaller raise and no promotion.
Was the manager consciously discriminating against the second employee? Or did she simply give a boost to someone to whom she had an “ingroup” connection?
“Your ‘ingroup’ involves people that you feel comfortable with, people you identify with,” Greenwald explained. “We usually think first of demographic characteristics like age, race, sex, religion and ethnicity as establishing an ingroup, but there are also ingroups based on occupation, neighborhood and schools attended, among other things. Outgroups are those with whom you don’t identify.”

The idea is that people feel most comfortable with people most like themselves, and that's why race, sex, religion and other aspects matter.

I haven't been able to read the overview (the study) yet (keep getting error messages), but the question what drives discriminatory behavior is certainly something I've researched quite a bit.  The differences can vary greatly, at least in theory, from outright hatred and disgust towards certain types of individuals to social norms and codes which are followed unconsciously and without any actual intent to harm or help anyone.

That's a very bare-bones summary of the various theories.  But "nepotism," interpreted as favoring those who are very close to the decision-maker (promoting the no-good nephew or niece), looks like the closest theory to the one Greenwald and Pettigrew promote.

Nepotism (or whatever you wish to call this) looks like the flip-side of discrimination based on negative views or discriminatory social norms.  But it is usually interpreted as somewhat narrower, because the number of people "most like ourselves" can be defined as a fairly small group in some interpretations.  The term "nepotism" refers to favoring one's relatives over others, after all.

It looks like Greenwald and Pettigrew expand the idea of "most like ourselves" or the definition of "ingroup" to people of the same gender and/or race.  I'm not convinced that this expansion works, though I agree that preferential treatment for cousins, college buddies etc. is common.  But as stated, I haven't read the study yet.

Still, if you notice that in my previous post I discussed a case where female customers gave lower ratings to female client service representatives than male customers, it's clear that the favoritism theory based on giving preferential treatment to those we identify with cannot be the only explanation or probably even the main explanation of what's going on there.*

My guess is that the motives for the way we behave are complicated, that social norms matter, including outdated social norms, and that the role of ingroup motives in discrimination is not unimportant but is unlikely to be sufficient to account for the choices people make.  I do agree that discrimination is probably less often based on outright hostility or hatred than on more fuzzy motives and that much of it is unconscious.
*Another example of this comes from a 2012 study of faculty mentoring where the professor's race or gender didn't affect the reduction in mentoring female students and minority male students received, with the possible exception of Chinese professors who were somewhat more likely to wish to meet a student with a Chinese name.  A better explanation in this case, too, looks to me to be the social norms theory, the idea that certain types of people "belong" to the top, that certain types of people exude competence while other types do not and so on.

On Female And Male Client Service Representatives

Bryce Covert talks about an informal study on female and male client service representatives and how satisfied their clients are with their work:

At least at one company, female client service representatives get lower scores from their clients even when they perform better than men and have more experience.
Larry Kim, founder of internet marketing company WordStream, recently analyzed about 300 responses from the company’s clients to a request to rate their level of satisfaction with their client service representative at his company on a scale of one to four. He found that all of the men on staff had above average scores, while all women had below average scores. “In fact, the lowest scoring male rep rated higher than the highest scoring female rep!” he wrote in a post about his findings.

Kim also found that the pattern favoring male client service reps was stronger among female clients than male clients, though both rated men higher. 

Larry Kim's blog gives more information about the study.  What's a bit tricky about it is the total number of client service representatives:  nine, as far as I can tell.  Nine is a small number and individual personalities can affect the results.  Another tricky bit is the way Kim measures performance of an account, as a measure of the performance of the client service representatives.  As he notes himself, the performance of the accounts depends mostly on the clients themselves (though it's also true that "customer satisfaction" can depend on diffuse and hard-to-quantify items, including the gender of the representative).

Nevertheless, it's useful to note that the female client service representatives had accounts which did better than the accounts of the male service representatives, and that most of the difference in the satisfaction evaluations came from the middling accounts, those that fell in the middle of their performance.

All that is to say that I'm not sure how conclusive this study can be.  But it reminds us of a particular type of discrimination in economic theory:  Customer discrimination.  If customers prefer men over women or whites over blacks, on average,  the preferred group will do better over time, will get more raises and more promotions and more business in general.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Gendered Birthday Cards For Tots

I had to get a birthday card for a two-year-old (or perhaps for her parents, given her age), so I went to the local pharmacy-cum-trinkets store.  The cards I found were segregated by gender.  Perhaps not all of them, but the ones which gave an age for a young child were.  The cards for girls were all cuty-cuty-cuty and pink and purple.  The cards for boys had cars and Spidermen on them.

There's no way a two-year-old is demanding such differences.  Just pointing out for all those who believe that gender differences are mostly biological that we sure tend and weed and water that garden in which they grow.

Today's Action Alert: Meriam Yehya Ibrahim

Is about Meriam Yehya Ibrahim in Sudan:

Meriam, who is eight months pregnant, was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion. Her father, a Muslim, was reportedly absent during her childhood. She was arrested and charged with ‘adultery’ in August 2013 after a family member claimed that she was committing adultery because her marriage was invalid, as her South Sudanese husband is a Christian. The court added the charge of ‘apostasy’ in February 2014 when Meriam asserted that she was a Christian and not a Muslim.
Meriam was convicted of both charges on 11 May 2014 and given three days to recant her faith. When she refused, she was sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’ and 100 lashes for ‘adultery’.
You can protest her treatment here or here.

This is about religion but it is also about the gendered way religion here is determined.  It doesn't matter what Meriam says she is, it doesn't matter that her mother was/is an Orthodox Christian and that she was brought up as one.  It is what his father is or was which overrules everything.  That her marriage would be argued to be invalid is because Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, even though Muslim men, in general, are allowed to marry non-Muslim women.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Where We Can Have Nice Things

This is a great story about how a restaurant owner responded when someone wanted his waitstaff to show more skin.

This piece, about the headlines the gossip and celebrity news pick for female celebrities, is both fun and serious.  The serious part is naturally realizing that the message of the pictures is in the original headlines.  The fun part is normalizing the headlines.  More serious stuff about the same phenomenon can be found in this Guardian piece.

And this piece talks about that thing most of us already knew:  What makes us attractive (or not so much) is pretty dependent on how we are as individuals. 

There's a longer post in this all about the cartoonish focus on large breasts etc. in evolutionary psychology on one side and the fact that most people don't mate and have children with people they have picked on the basis of just their bra or jock strap size on the other side.  But I haven't read the original research so I can't write that post quite yet.  (I wonder if most people realize how much work even a flippant short post can be if the writer wants to know the field.  This is preparation for my beg week starting tomorrow.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Stop the Presses: Chirlane McCray Is A Bad Mother!!!!

Some posts I love to write, others I love to imagine as the head of a giant monster trying to eat me while I push knitting needles and cayenne pepper into its eyes.  Who wins that struggle to death is anyone's guess.

This is the second type of a post.  It also has that stink of musty old cellars, the echo of spider webs wrapped around patriarchal gender norms and the clink of cheap dollars in the till of New York Post, a not-so-venerable New York newspaper.  It has decided to write about the parenting skills of a woman, Chirlane McCray, for no other reason than the identity of her husband who happens to be the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio.

Get it?  The parenting skills of politicians' relatives matter!  Hence the descriptions of Barbara Bush as the devil mother in the past (for someone must be responsible for George Walker Bush and usually that someone is a woman).  And all those articles we read about how good a father Bill Clinton might have been or might not have been, right?

Except that male relatives of politicians are not judged on the basis of their parenting skills.  Even not paying child maintenance for one's children is no big deal.  But the wives of politicians!  They must f***ing be perfect traditional ladies and mothers, for else the sky will fall.

And of course it's perfectly AOK to discuss the mothering experiences of politicians' wives and to rank them.

The most annoying aspect of debacles like this one are that those who rise up in the defense of women like Chirlane McCray often use the same framing:  She's not a bad mother, she's a perfect mother, as all mothers are supposed to be!  And this and this and this proves her perfection.

We can't get off that merry-go-round.

Now the really funny stuff.  McCray's sin appears to be that she admitted not being absolutely and totally dedicated to 24/7 mothering from the beginning:

“I was 40 years old. I had a life. Especially with Chiara — will we feel guilt forevermore? Of course, yes,” McCray told New York magazine for its cover story this week.
“But the truth is, I could not spend every day with her. I didn’t want to do that. I looked for all kinds of reasons not to do it.”
The disclosure — bound to horrify most moms — shatters the carefully crafted image of de Blasio’s close-knit family, which helped vault him into office.

This, my sweet and erudite readers, is the Perfection Myth of Motherhood in full operation.  McCray's admission is expected to "horrify most moms." Had people only known earlier that Chirlene McCray admitted that motherhood has its shadow sides, de Blasio would never ever have gotten into the office!

Just remember, while you read this, that de Blasio is the mayor, not McCray, and that the discussion is not about his fathering skills or how he felt when tradition required him to quit all paid work and spend all his time with his newborn daughter.

It's a rubbishy piece, that New York Post one, but it manages to stuff into a small amount of space the expectation that all child-rearing is to be done by mothers, that all mothers must love every minute of the experience, that fathers are not expected to do hands-on fathering and that public criticism of anything but mothering perfection is fine.  Finally, the piece tries to relight the Mummy Wars, once again.

Really Fast Blogging, 5/20/14: On Dinesh D'Souza, Arthur Sulzberger and on Adjunct Use in US Colleges

1.  Dinesh D'Souza has entered a guilty plea:

Conservative author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza entered a guilty plea Tuesday to a charge that he used straw donors to make $20,000 in illegal contributions to Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long in 2012, officials said.
The unexpected guilty plea came on the same day the trial for the strident critic of President Barack Obama was set to open in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
Most of the story is available at the above link. 

I have read some of his writing.  The guy loves his flamboyantly conservative conclusions and then seeks for anecdotes or partial stuff to support them.  That doesn't set him apart from most propagandists, though his use of the little anecdote and personal opinion seemed to me rather extreme even within that group.

The point of this short post is that I'm not getting pleasure from D'Souza's current troubles, despite his opinion of himself as the moral and religious person fighting the forces of evil.  I'd get more pleasure about a court case in which his writings entered the guilty plea of having been based on trickery.

2.  Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, has come out with more comments about the firing of Jill Abramson, the previous executive editor of the Times.  Many of those comments aren't very helpful, because Arthur is not great at affecting wider opinions.  Here he brings in Dean Baquet's sorta role in the firing:

At that dinner, “I learned the severity of his feelings,” Sulzberger said, which I took to mean that Baquet gave Sulzberger an ultimatum of sorts. Baquet himself had earlier been offered a job at Bloomberg News. Now, Sulzberger worried that Baquet might leave. “At that point, we risked losing Dean, and we risked losing more than Dean,” Sulzberger said. “It would have been a flood, and a flood of some of our best digital people.” Sulzberger went into the office the next day and relayed to Abramson that his meeting with Baquet had not gone well. He gave himself 24 hours to make sure he was doing the right thing, he said. Then he offered the executive-editor job to Baquet. On Friday, May 9, he told Abramson it was time to make a change. The announcement was made five days later, on Wednesday, May 14. 

I could be quite mistaken, but my guess is that Sulzberger in the linked interview tried to turn the Abramson firing into a sort of upper class version of Oppression Olympics, by oddly passing the blame for what happened to both Abramson's nastiness and the threat of losing Baquet altogether if Abramson wasn't kicked out.   Sulzberger had to act so that the Times wouldn't lose Baquet (and others)*!  What can a guy do when he has to choose between a "first" great black guy editor and a "first" nasty white female editor?

What would you like him to do, hmm?

As I said, perhaps I'm imagining the hint here.  But the real blame doesn't belong to Baquet and framing it all in those terms is lamentable.  It is Sulzberger who has the power to fire and hire here, and if he made the wrong hiring decisions in the previous round it's still only his fault, not Baquet's fault.

3.  Finally, on the use of adjuncts** in American universities.  Adjuncts are like contract workers, people who were initially lured into the academia by the promise of a long-but-narrow-and-guaranteed bread over their lifetimes and the promise of a life spent thinking and writing and teaching, but who now often find themselves working hard in order to scrape together minimum wages, without an office, health insurance or retirement.  According to some estimates, adjuncts might be two-thirds of the academic teaching force, though exact figures are hard to get.

If markets actually work in labor, we would expect there to be a supply-side response.  The worse the outlook is for people with PhDs, the fewer will choose to enter those fields.  Something that looks like a great short-term idea for colleges (get cheap labor with lots of flexibility) may not be such a good idea in the longer term, even for the colleges (it's not good in the short term for the adjuncts, for research or for the students), because the faucets spewing out future workers will turn to drip-drip if being such a future worker is not a nice job in the ivory towers but scraping together a meager living with no security.


*But elevating Dean Baquet doesn't seem to stop people from leaving.
**The linked piece is just an introduction into the topic of adjunct use and may conflate somewhat different phenomena.