Tag Archives: education

Flip that effect: gender gap, returns to education, marriage premium

How we describe the directionality of an effect affects how we think about it. Andrew Gelman complains that the recent paper by Dalton Conley and Emily Rauscher does this. It’s called, “The Effect of Daughters on Partisanship and Social Attitudes Toward Women.” And the news headlines were things like, “Does Having Daughters Make You More Republican?” Ross Douthat called it “The Daughter Theory.”

But of course the finding could just as well be described as the effect of sons on making people more liberal.

In this case it’s a great example of boys being the norm and girls being difference. But there are plenty of examples of when we describe an effect as if its opposite doesn’t exist. Here are three:

The marriage premium. This usually refers to married men earning more than single men. But it is just as much a penalty for being single as it is a reward for being married. In my own work on this I described three possible mechanisms: positive selection into marriage (higher earners marry), productivity-enhancing effects of marriage (wives make men better workers), and discrimination (bosses prefer married men). But all of these could have been expressed in the reverse direction. Lots of “marriage is good” arguments should be turned around to ask, “How could we punish single people less”?


The gender gap. President Obama has frequently implied that reducing the gender gap in pay will be good for “middle class families.” Under “Protecting the Middle Class News,” the White House writes that the gender gap “means less for families’ everyday needs, less for investments in our children’s futures, and, when added up over a lifetime of work, substantially less for retirement.” Of course, it also means more for families with employed men. I hate to be a buzzkill on this, but there is no reason to think that reducing gender discrimination just means paying women more. How do we know women are underpaid, instead of men being overpaid?

Returns to education. This one is tricky, because there is a return on investment from education, so it’s reasonable to talk about the effect in that direction: you spend money on education, you get a benefit. But the society that rewards education also penalizes lack of education relatively speaking (unless everyone is equally educated). Nothing against educated people, but to reduce inequality it would be good to reduce the returns to education. For example, raising the minimum wage, or providing government jobs to low-skilled workers, would reduce returns to education (if that is operationalized as the difference between college and non-college wages.


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Race, class, and gender in one chart (just kidding)

You can’t do it (or much of anything) in one chart.

A colleague reports that a college student wrote to her:

The wage gap itself shows white women earn more than more than black men; that is to say my race is a greater determinant of wage than is my gender.

Her link was to this pretty confused post by Derek Thompson, which I’m not going to get into except to show this figure he made:

thompson-earnsThis shows earnings, not taking into account education. Later he shows earnings by education, not taking into account gender. Not wrong, but you can see the confusion it caused for the student quoted above. If she finishes college, she will be in a group whose earnings hierarchy is more by gender than by race, as I show in this figure I made from 2011 American Community Survey data from IPUMS:


This shows that Black men and White women — full-time, year-round, 25-54 — have the same median earnings if you don’t take into account education. Within each education group, however, Black men earn more. Who gets to be in the full-time, year-round population (instead of dead, incarcerated, unemployed or underemployed), of course, is a big issue. I can’t show that in one chart.




Filed under In the news

Op-Ed plus: Gender composition of college majors

I have an Op-Ed in Sunday’s New York Times, part of the Great Divide series. It’s online now, titled “How Can We Jump-Start the Struggle for Gender Equality?” (My title was, “One Step Back: What Happened to the Gender Revolution?”)


The Times made one very nice graphic from the trends I provided:


But the one below was left on the cutting-room floor. The text to set it up is:

So why did progress stall in the 1990s? First, despite the removal of many legal and social injustices, the movement away from traditional forms of gender segregation has remained decidedly unidirectional. As the sociologist Paula England has shown, this is most apparent in education. If you look at female representation in the top fields of study since 1970, the pattern is clear. The most female-dominated majors remained that way; the male-dominated majors had continued increases in female representation through the early 2000s; and some heavily male-dominated ones saw dramatic spikes in women’s share of degrees (which have now slowed or stalled). Strikingly absent is the substantial movement of men into even one female-dominated major.

I grouped the majors — blue, green, red — according to their composition in 1971 and tracked them to 2011. Two points: First, the red ones all stayed female dominated. Second, the integration of the blue and green ones mostly slowed or stalled sometime in the 1980s or 1990s (click to enlarge):



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Early childhood education is good for mothers, too

Economist James Heckman had a good New York Times column the other day about the economic benefits of universal early childhood education. Despite the documented benefits of this intervention for poor kids, however, the U.S. is pitifully slow to act. Why?

Heckman says:

Why aren’t we moving forward and changing our ways by making investments in life-changing early childhood development for disadvantaged children? Two things: unfounded doubt and fear of doing things differently.

I would add another reason: gender.

Too many people are stuck on the idea that young children need to be with their mothers all day. Not only is early childhood education good for children, and equalizing economically, it’s also good for women and would help reduce gender inequality by promoting women’s employment – especially for single mothers – and reducing work-family conflict.

Universal, public, early childhood education: Good for children, reduces economic inequality, equalizes opportunities, maximizes public investment in human capacities, reduces gender inequality, and maybe even helps break the grip of hyper-parenting. Or, we could just fight some more wars.

The image above is borrowed from this Heritage Foundation blog post, which, let’s just say, is not going to win anyone a Nobel prize in economics.


Filed under In the news

Are White women high school dropouts getting sicker?

My Twitter feed lit up yesterday with this story about how life expectancy is falling for White women who have not finished high school. The story was called, “What’s Killing Poor White Women?“, by Monica Potts.

I have complete sympathy for poor people with health problems and high mortality rates. Things are killing them, and that’s bad. They should have better education, better jobs, better health care and more money.

White women without high school degrees have lost five years of life expectancy. Something must be getting worse. But I don’t quite think so. I could be wrong. But I think that as the category White women without high school degrees shrinks, it is the healthier people who are leaving (or never entering) the group. As a result, the group’s average health is declining.

The first thing to realize is that, according to the Census Bureau [spreadsheet link], 95% of non-Hispanic White women ages 25-29 have completed four years of high school or more. So we’re talking about a very (negatively) select population. And it’s getting more select – it was 92% 20 years ago. (Potts’s story revolves around a woman who died at 38.*)

The article doesn’t give any numbers to show that more people are dying, just that the life expectancy of the group has fallen. If this were a group, like race or gender, whose membership doesn’t change much over time, that would be enough to indicate their health status was getting worse. But an education group isn’t like that. It’s membership changes over time. Neither of the two academic articles Potts cites seem to consider this possibility (here and here).

One take

Here’s a try at it. Since 1996, the Current Population Survey has asked an excellent health status question, asking people to rate their own health as excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor. Let’s treat those whose health is “poor” as the group driving the mortality trend (which seems to fit the narrative in the story).

Here is the scary trend: A sharp rise in the proportion of non-Hispanic White women high school dropouts, ages 20-29, who rate their health as “poor.” (All the figures use three-year averages.)

poorhealthThat looks terrible, and it is, of course. But look at the size of the total group (all health statuses) over the same period:

dropoutsSo, the group has shrunk by about 18%, from about 850,000 to less than 700,000. And here is how the group’s population has changed according to health status, using the two endpoints of the trend, 1996-98 and 2010-12:

drophealthSo, there has been, in effect, no change in the number of non-Hispanic White women high school dropouts ages 20-29 in poor health, for the last decade and a half (the numbers shown are population estimates based on a sample size of only a few hundred women in this category per year, so I discount small shifts). In contrast, there has been a decline of those in good health. Result: the average health of the group has declined, but there are not more sick women.

That’s good news, because in Potts’s telling their problems are very serious, and something should be done about it.

*I (or you) could redo this to include more ages. I used young people because, if they have high mortality rates, they’re going to disappear from the sample at relatively young ages and make the group look healthier.





Filed under In the news

Teachers might help students finish high school

In Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond presents a story of world history in which the rise to power of some societies over others was driven by geographic and environmental dynamics.

Some of the stories involve simple chains of evidence like this: societies with more fertile territories settled down earlier and had greater population density, which led to more complex politics, including elites who controlled surpluses and then diverted resources to non-food producers such as artists, craftspeople and bureaucrats, resulting in the development of more advanced language and technology.

We rarely have such large-scale analyses of current social dynamics. One reason contemporary analyses is so much more complicated is because the variations involved are much more subtle and the time frames are much shorter. For example, trying to explain women’s market labor force participation rates that mostly vary between 70% and 85% across rich countries. Or looking at small, marginal effects that tell us something interesting without explaining what really drives the larger outcomes. For example, I found that 34% of mothers with girls named pink or purple as their favorite color, compared with 45% among those with boys — a subtle effect on a minor personality trait. Similarly, we learned recently that boys with sisters are more gender-traditional. But the effect is within a narrow range, and certainly smaller than other more fundamental determinants of gender attitudes.

As I listened to the audio version of Diamond’s book, I tried to imagine how he might describe some recent changes in the U.S., treating differences between states over recent decades as the outcome of such fundamental processes. Here’s one thing I think he might have said:

Those states that assigned greater numbers of people to the task of teaching children more rapidly produced populations with higher levels of education. In half a century, states tripled the number of teachers per student from about 5 per 100 to about 15 per hundred. As a result the percentage of young adults dropping out of high school fell by about half, from near 60% to about 30%.

Here is my figure, plotting teachers per student (age 6-14) against dropout rates (age 16-24) 10 years later:

teachers per kid and dropouts

Source: My analysis of Census data from IPUMS.org.

Is that a fair characterization of the history? Or does it overwrite fundamental variation or complexity and lead to the wrong story?

I want more simple stories, and I would also like them to be true.


Filed under In the news

Education-gender earnings crossover

It has been remarked that, in the olden days, men with only a high school education earned more than women with a college education. That’s true, as I reported to Stephanie Coontz for today’s New York Times column. And the olden days ended about 20 years ago.

Until the early 1990s, men who were high school graduates – but not college graduates – earned more than women who were college graduates. And men who were high school dropouts earned more than women who were high school graduates.

cps-educ-gender-earnings-62-2012Source: My analysis of March Current Population Survey data from IPUMS.

I don’t know what’s going on with the big 1992 drops. It could have to do with CPS survey design changes (I used last year’s earnings for people who worked 35+ hours last week and 50+ weeks last year).

You could describe these crossovers as a modernization of the labor force, with education rising in importance relative to gender. Or not.


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