Monday, January 06, 2014

Today's Bowl of Gender Research Granola

This is one of those studies which we will not see spread over the front pages of newspapers anywhere in the world:

Carothers and Harry Reis, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, analyzed data from 13 sex-difference studies over the past few decades. The studies included data from more than 13,000 research volunteers, most of them college students. They also examined studies of adolescents and mature adults.
The pair analyzed 122 different qualities such as preferences over how to spend their free time: golfing or scrap booking? Bath or boxing? They also looked at the so-called Big Five psychological traits: extraversion (sociability and enthusiasm); agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and intellect. Other analyses examined how men and women chose sexual partners and mates.
Instead of scores falling along neat lines between males and females, like height or physical strength differences -- psychological indicators fell on a spectrum for both genders.

There are average differences, but they are not large enough to classify men and women as consistently separate gender categories. Reis said that their statistical analysis shows that it's hard to tell men and women apart, even when it comes to sexuality.
"Many people act as if men and women are different species," Reis said. "The message to me is that these qualities don't belong to one sex, these are human differences and any given individual can have more or less than any of them."

I haven't looked at the original study for the purposes of criticism.  I will do it when it's discussed as widely as these kinds of studies.

That's the granola in your bowl.  Let's add some raisins (though I detest raisins, you are to regard these as yummy ones):  An analysis of the earnings of male and female economists, fresh out of the PhD oven, suggests that those who are partnered fare differently based on their gender:

Marriage, the research finds, benefits men and hurts women – if one judges by salary. Men who are married at the time they earn their doctorates see a 15 percent salary boost during the first five years of employment, compared to single men. And men who get married during that period see a 25 percent boost.
The picture is different for women. For them, getting married is associated with a 23 percent penalty in salary growth, compared to single women. The paper speculates that this reflects “compromises incurred in a two-career search.”

(Note that the comparison here is not between men and women, but between partnered and not-partnered (heterosexual?) individuals within each gender, and the percentages are not about salaries themselves but about differences in how they grow.) 

It's possible that the two-career job search explains this if men's careers are prioritized, but for that we would have to know what that other partner is doing.  For example, are the married male economists here mostly married to someone who isn't having a career (as opposed to a job)  or isn't having a paid job?  Without analyzing the data I can't tell if the other possible explanation is taken into account here.  That would be having children and how that affects men and women differently.

Finally, some honey or sugar on all that (and milk or cream, but I only have three stories): One study suggests that greater flexibility in working hours could reduce the gender wage gap in earnings:

Goldin was seeking to explain why 25 to 69 year old women working fulltime made 77 percent of what men earned. The median pay gap expands with age and differs by occupation, yet it's smaller than it once was as women have become more educated and worked more, she said on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia.
The pay gap in industries with more flexible work schedules, such as technology, science and health, is smaller than in those with more rigid workdays, including financial and legal professions, the study found.

Once again, I should warn you that I have not looked at the original study, so I can't tell if the study controls for all the other relevant variables.  But if it does, it would be interesting to know to what extent the rigid workdays in some industries are truly necessary and to what extent they are a simple inheritance from times when the stereotypical worker was assumed to be a man with a functioning support system at home.

From another point of view the greater need for flexible working hours for women can also be seen as a direct consequence of the gendered division of labor at home:  It's the women who are expected to need that flexibility for childcare and for the care of the elderly.  Which is to remind us that the total paid working hours are not the same thing as the total working hours.