Tag Archives: work

Race/ethnicity and slacking at work

johnhenry

From John Henry: An American Legend, by Ezra Jack Keats

I gave some comments to an Economist writer for a story they just published, “New research suggests that effort at work is correlated with race.” They used a snippet of what I said, so I figured I’d dump the rest here (because the piece is not bylined, I’m not using the reporter’s name).

The article is about an NBER working paper (not yet peer reviewed) by, Daniel Hamermesh, Katie Genadek, and Michael Burda. It’s officially here, but I put a copy up in case you don’t have am NBER subscription.) The analysis uses the American Time Use Survey to see whether time at work spent not working varies by race/ethnicity, and they find that it does. The abstract:

Evidence from the American Time Use Survey 2003-12 suggests the existence of small but statistically significant racial/ethnic differences in time spent not working at the workplace. Minorities, especially men, spend a greater fraction of their workdays not working than do white non-Hispanics. These differences are robust to the inclusion of large numbers of demographic, industry, occupation, time and geographic controls. They do not vary by union status, public-private sector attachment, pay method or age; nor do they arise from the effects of equal-employment enforcement or geographic differences in racial/ethnic representation. The findings imply that measures of the adjusted wage disadvantages of minority employees are overstated by about 10 percent.

When the Economist contacted me, I consulted several colleagues for their response. Reeve Vanneman pointed out that minority workers might slack off at work because they are discriminated against, and Liana Sayer pointed out that the activity measures in the ATUS may not be not precise enough to say what if any “non-work” activity is actually contributing to the bottom line – the paper doesn’t detail what these “non-work” activities are. My own critique was that, before we start attributing work behavior to “culture,” we might consider whether work reporting behavior varies by “culture” as well (the ATUS uses self-reported time diaries). The authors did a little monkeying around with the General Social Survey to address that, but I found it unpersuasive.

Anyway, you can read the Economist article yourself. I would have preferred they killed the article, because I don’t think the paper sustains its conclusions, but they did a reasonable job of reporting it. And here are the full comments I sent them:

The analysis in the paper does not support the conclusion that wage disparities between blacks and whites are overstated. There just isn’t enough there to make that claim. As the authors note, the problem of differential reporting is an obvious concern. Their analysis of the “importance of work” questions in the GSS seems immaterial – it’s just not the same question.

This is exacerbated by the problem that they don’t describe the difference between work-related non-work activities and non-work-related non-work activities. We just don’t know enough about what they’re doing to draw the conclusion that the work-related activities are really productivity enhancing while the non-related activities are really not. (Consider trying to parse the effect of eating alone at your desk versus eating with a team-member in the cafeteria. Which is productivity enhancing?) It is always the case that jobs differ between blacks and whites in ways surveys do not capture – that’s the whole question of the wage gap. Controlling for things like industry and occupation helps but it’s the tip of the iceberg. For example, the difference between small and large employers, and between those with formal management procedures and those without, is not captured here.

Finally, consider the possibility of reverse-causality. What if blacks are discriminated against and paid less than whites for the same level of productivity – or treated poorly in other ways – a very reasonable hypothesis? Might that not lead those black workers to be less devoted to their employers, and spend more time on other things when no one is looking? I wouldn’t blame them.

In short, the paper uses a lot of ambiguous information, which is interesting and suggestive, to draw a conclusion that is not warranted. It’s part of a tradition in economics of assuming there must be some rational basis for pay disparities, and looking really hard to find it, rather than treating employer motivations more skeptically and trusting the voluminous evidence of racist bias in the labor market.

In the email exchange, they asked for followup on the evidence of racial bias, so I added this:

The best evidence of discrimination is from audit studies. This is one of the best. That author, Michael  Gaddis at Penn State, can talk much more about it, but the point is that even when you can’t identify an individual act of racism, in the aggregate employer behavior shows a preference for whites — as we can tell by imposing experimental conditions in which the only thing different between resumes is the names. Other approaches include studying disparities in performance evaluation (e.g., this [by Marta Elvira and Robert Town]), or analyzing discrimination case files directly (e.g., this [by Ryan Light, Vincent Roscigno, and Alexandra Kalev]).

That all got reduced to this, in the article: “Worse treatment by managers of minority workers may itself encourage slacking, says Philip Cohen.” (Though they went on to cite evidence that workers work less when their managers are biased against them.)

On the other hand

As I think about it more, there is another important angle on this, which goes back to Reeve’s comment, and also something in the conclusion to the Economist article:

Within hours of publication, Mr Hamermesh received vitriolic messages and was labelled a racist in an online forum popular among economists. Mr Hamermesh, an avowed progressive, who refers to Donald Trump only by amusing nicknames and resigned from a post at the University of Texas over a state law permitting the open carrying of firearms, finds this unfair. He notes that Americans work too much. His preferred solution would not be for some groups to work more, but for others to work less.

There is an understandable anti-racist tendency to want to avoid a story of minority workers as lazy and shiftless – which is a character flaw. But there is a resistance story to tell as well, and the liberal anti-racist approach papers it over. For this, we need historian Robin D. G. Kelley, who wrote a brilliant paper called, “‘We Are Not What We Seem’: Rethinking Black Working-Class Opposition in the Jim Crow South” (free copy here). Here’s a relevant excerpt, in which he cites W. E. B. Du Bois:

Part of the reason [labor historians have not written more about workplace theft and sabotage by Southern Blacks], I think, lies in southern labor historians’ noble quest to redeem the black working class from racist stereotypes. In addition, company personnel records, police reports, mainstream white newspaper accounts, and correspondence have left us with a somewhat serene portrait of black folks who only occasionally deviate from what I like to call the “cult of true Sambohood.” The safety and ideological security of the South required that pilfering, slowdowns, absenteeism, tool breaking, and other acts of black working-class resistance be turned into ineptitude, laziness, shiftlessness, and immorality. But rather than reinterpret these descriptions of black working-class behavior, sympathetic labor historians are often too quick to invert the images, remaking the black proletariat into the hardest working, thriftiest, most efficient labor force around. Historians too readily naturalize the Protestant work ethic and project onto black working people as a whole the ideologies of middle-class and prominent working-class blacks. But if we regard most work as alienating, especially work done amid racist and sexist oppression, then a crucial aspect of black working-class struggle is to minimize labor with as little economic loss as possible. Let us recall one of Du Bois’s many beautiful passages from Black Reconstruction: “All observers spoke of the fact that the slaves were slow and churlish; that they wasted material and malingered at their work. Of course they did. This was not racial but economic. It was the answer of any group of laborers forced down to the last ditch. They might be made to work continuously but no power could make them work well.”

Working hard for the man’s benefit is not the only way to build character.

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OK, how about the gender gap, within occupations, for people working 50+ hours?

I haven’t had time to write something substantial on this, but I took the time to make this figure so I may as well post it.

Hanna Rosin wrote a blog post in Slate called “The Gender Gap Lie,” boldly proclaiming, “I feel the need to set the record straight,” before summarizing a June 2012 PolitiFact piece on the Obama 2012 ad which said: “President Obama knows that Women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn’t just unfair, it hurts families.”

It turns out, not surprisingly, there are many pieces debunking the misleading use of the gender wage gap statistic, like this one by Kay Hymowitz and this one by Ruth David Konigsberg, with the absurdly offensive sub-head: “Women don’t make 77 cents to a man’s dollar. They make more like 93 cents, as long as they don’t major in art history.” Newsflash: most employed women didn’t major in anything because they didn’t go to college (67% don’t have college degrees!), which also speaks to Rosin’s favorite “apples-to-apples comparison,” the study about University of Chicago MBAs.

Just to be clear: the 77 cents on the dollar statistic (and its variations) is based on all people working full time. It is not a measure of pay discrimination “for the same work.” It is a measure of gender inequality. The correct, non-lie way to describe this fact is modeled by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research: “in 2011, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.” Calling that lie is a lie. Not all inequality is discrimination, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem.

Occupations are one thing, that is, why “women” insist on majoring in art history before choosing careers as hotel maids instead of CEOs. Another is hours at work, always an issue in wage-gap debunkery. Men work more hours, on average, so they should get paid more, says the anti-lie crowd.

Fair enough, by the rules of our game. To help inform on that issue, I made this figure. It shows the occupations with the most people usually working 50 hours per week or more among those who worked 50 weeks or more in the previous year.

50-plus-hours-occs-earnsSource: My calculations from the 2011 American Community Survey, extracted from IPUMS.

The pink and blue bars show the median annual earnings of workers who put in an average of 50+ hours per week last year, and worked 50 weeks or more. The dots show women’s median as percentage of men’s. You can see that in two occupations — non-retail sales supervisors and human resource workers — women actually earn more than men on average. In some the gender gap is quite large. For example, among doctors working 50+ hours per week, women only earn 54% of men’s median earnings (so the gap doesn’t just result from surgeons working longer hours than pediatricians, I guess). Also, note that the 50-hour crowd are not all in high-status professional jobs where high earnings drive career choices — those women home health aides are making $11 per hour.

Overall, in these 25 occupations, the earnings gap for people working 50+ hours 50+ weeks is 83%. So, the Twitter version: Within occupations, among those working extra-long hours, women earn 83% of what men earn.

Even though these aren’t side-by-side wage gaps (e.g., two janitors working the same shift at the same workplace, with the same performance evaluations and work experience), you could justifiably call this “the same work” if you acknowledge there are different career tracks and working conditions contributing to this gap. That is, surgeons and pediatricians have the same degrees even if they have different specialty training and skills; they are doing varieties of the same work. You could also dispute that, or clarify it (likewise, among truck drivers, people operating different equipment have different skills).

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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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A Simple, Legal Way to Help Stop Employment Discrimination

Originally posted at TheAtlantic.com.

Women and racial minorities are no longer making progress toward equal representation in the workplace. Here’s a way to maybe fix that.

cohen_discrimination_post.jpg
Jacquelyn Martin

Progress toward gender and racial equality in the workplace has basically stalled. One reason for that is the government’s lack of antidiscrimination enforcement. As Donald Tomaskovic-Devey and Kevin Stainback show in their book Documenting Desegregation, ever since the reign of Clarence Thomas as head of the EEOC in the 1980s, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has been underfunded, understaffed, and largely ineffective at doing its job. To help get things moving again, under the existing law (more or less), we could use the power of social media and the principle of government transparency to allow workers and consumers themselves to apply pressure on discriminating employers. Would it work? It couldn’t hurt. First a little background.

Anti-discrimination today
Here is the occupational segregation trend from 1966 to 2005, fromDocumenting Desegregation, just comparing white and black men and women. The index of dissimilarity shows what percentage of a group would have to change jobs to have the same representation as white men.

cohen_eeoc.png

The figure shows white women made a lot of progress in the 1970s and 1980s, but less since. Black women have a similar pattern but much slower progress. And black men haven’t budged since 1980. The same pattern holds for representation in managerial jobs.

The burden to fight discrimination today is mostly on workers who have been discriminated against to first discover this fact and second file a complaint and/or lawsuit themselves. The courts have tightened their definition of discrimination to include only deliberate acts proven to have been motivated by discriminatory intent – a very steep burden. And they have reduced workers’ capacity to bring class actions, most notably in the Wal-Mart decision, which makes it hard to get good legal teams. As a result, few cases make it to court, and virtually no one wins. A study of 1,672 employment discrimination cases from 1988 to 2003 found that about half resulted in settlements (with a median value of $30,000), 6 percent went to trial, and one-third of those were victorious (with a median award of $110,000). Although more than 100,000 people file discrimination complaints with the EEOC, most workers lack basic information not only about the law and their options, but about their own employers’ practices (as was painfully revealed when Lilly Ledbetter discovered she had been discriminated against by Goodyear for many years). And people who aren’t hired in the first place have an even smaller chance with the law.

In the 1964, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which included in Title VII a mandate to collect information about employment in the private sector. Since 1966, all large employers are required to submit a simple accounting: the number of workers, by race and sex, in each of nine occupational categories. This has produced a treasure-trove of data, which Tomaskovic-Devey and Stainback used to document the trends. But this information could be used more proactively by the government itself, if stopping discrimination were a higher priority.

Anti-discrimination tomorrow
Defining and proving discrimination is difficult. Many employers have no outward motivation to discriminate—they just don’t do enough to stop discrimination by individual supervisors, recruiting practices that produce narrow applicant pools, and malicious co-workers. So not every workplace with an underrepresentation of women or minorities is a case of willful discrimination. But when a workplace has significant underrepresentation in either its management or its overall employee pool, it’s at least worth taking a look to see what’s going on.

Here’s my suggestion, inspired to by Documenting Desegregation. Underrepresentation is very widespread, and easy to detect. Why not label it?

Using the same EEOC data, my colleague Matt Huffman and I identified workplaces in which there were fewer African-American managers than would be expected by chance, using a test common in employment litigation. With a wide statistical margin—95 percent confidence—we found, for example, that 7 percent of black private-sector workers in the D.C. metropolitan area worked for employers with easily identified underrepresentation of black managers. That is, they had fewer black managers, compared with other firms in their same industry in their same town, than would have occurred by chance. Maybe they aren’t discriminating on purpose, but they’re probably doing something wrong. As a customer, client, business partner or job applicant at that firm, wouldn’t you like to know that? (Of course, as researchers we are prohibited from revealing information about individual employers.)

So why doesn’t the EEOC generate a simple certificate, like the one I have mocked up here, to notify the employer, the employees, and the public, about such cases? (This would only apply to those with 50 workers or more.)

This hypothetical firm has an overrepresentation of white men in management compared with the local industry (for example, a department store with 60 percent white male managers when the local industry average is 30 percent). They have underrepresentation of black women across the board, and Latina women compared with the rest of the industry locally. Representation of the other groups isn’t outside the range of the 95 percent test, or there aren’t enough cases to judge. The test accounts for sample size—if you only have two managers at your business, and one is a white man, you’re not going to fail.

cohen_checklist.png

It could be like the health department certificate posted on a restaurant wall (and online). Then, maybe someone who worked there would get up the courage to file a complaint. Maybe customers wouldn’t shop there. Maybe politicians running for office would promise to improve the local statistics. Maybe concerned managers would honestly consider their hiring practices to look for ways to do better.

This doesn’t reveal any trade secrets. It doesn’t increase the reporting burden on employers, since they’re already required to submit the forms. It wouldn’t cost much. But it gives the public a little more leverage and increases the accountability for employers. It wouldn’t solve everything either. But if equal opportunity employment were a major priority, a small step like this would seem pretty reasonable.

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Do people working work in working families?

It’s not that “working families” don’t exist, it’s just the way most people use this term it doesn’t mean anything.

Search Google images for “working families,” and you’ll find images like this:

4f4a9a28-ff28-4bc7-88e5-f0df4522b2dbAnd that’s pretty much the way the term is used: every family is a working family.

To hear the White House talk, you have to wonder whether there are people who aren’t in families. I’ve complained about this before, Obama’s tendency to say things like, “This reform is good for families; it’s good for businesses; it’s good for the entire economy.” As if “families” covers all people.

Specifically, if you Google search the White House website‘s press office directory, which is where the speeches live, like this, you get 457 results, such as this transcript of remarks by Michelle Obama at a “Corporate Voices for Working Families” event. The equivalent search for “working people” yields a paltry 108 hits (many of them Obama speeches at campaign events, which include false-positives, like him making the ridiculous claim that Americans are the “hardest working people on Earth.”) If you search the entire Googleverse for “working families” you get about 318 million hits, versus just just 7 million for “working people” (less than the 10 million that turns up for “Kardashians,” whatever that means.)

You would never know that 33 million Americans live alone – comprising 27% of all households. And 50 million people, or one out of every 6 people, lives in what the Census Bureau defines as a “non-family household,” or a household in which the householder has no relatives (some of those people may be cohabitors, however). The rise of this phenomenon was ably described by Eric Klinenberg in Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone.

This is partly a complaint about cheap rhetoric, but it’s also about the assumption that families are primary social units when it comes to things like policy and economics, and about the false universality of “middle class” (which is made up of “working families”) in reference to anyone (in a family with anyone) with a job.

Here’s one visualization, from a Google ngrams search of millions of books. The blue line is use of the phrase “working people” as a fraction of references to “people,” while the red line is use of the phrase “working families” as a fraction of references to “families.” It shows, I think, that “working” is coming to define families, not people.

CaptureThis isn’t all bad. Families matter, and part of the attention to “working families” (or Families That Work) is driven by important problems of work-family conflict, unequal care work burdens, and so on. But ultimately these are problems because they affect people (some of whom are in families). When we treat families as the primary unit of analysis, we mask the divisions within families – the conflicts of interest and exploitation, the violence and abuse, and the ephemeral nature of many family relationships and commitments – and we contribute to the marginalization of people who aren’t in, or don’t have, families.  And those members of the No Family community need our attention, too.

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Work-family links for male bosses

From Reeve Vanneman comes a tip about an interesting piece of research: researchers asked if men in positions of authority were more likely to make sexist judgments if they were themselves in “traditional” marriages involving stay-at-home wives.

In this article, we examine a heretofore neglected pocket of resistance to the gender revolution in the workplace: married male employees who have stay-at-home wives. We develop and empirically test the theoretical argument suggesting that such organizational members, compared to male employees in modern marriages, are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace.

First, in an analysis of the General Social Survey, they found that men with stay-at-home wives had more negative opinions toward working women and women’s employment. Second, using the GSS linked to the National Organizations Survey, they found that men were less likely to see their female dominated workplaces as “running smoothly” if they had stay-at-home wives.

Then they conducted an experiment using several hundred married, male college students with managerial jobs. The men were asked to rate the “organizational attractiveness” of a fictional organization where they might work; and some of the men were additionally told that women were well represented on the organization’s board of directors. As expected, men in “traditional” marriages were less likely to find the egalitarian organization attractive as a potential workplace.

Finally, researchers recruited another few hundred male managers from an accounting association. These men were asked to make a recommendation about employing a person whose resume they reviewed; half received a resume with a man’s name and half reviewed an identical resume from a woman. The results also matched their expectations, with managers in “traditional” marriages being less likely to recommend the female applicant.

Is it all really Carmela’s fault?

The write-up of the study in Forbes took the nonsensical, but not surprising, approach of finding a way to blame women:

But new research … adds another layer to the debate over gender discrimination at work, and another (possibly just as important) person to blame: your boss’s stay-at-home wife.

Really?

Anyway, the authors speculate that they have uncovered “a pocket of resistance to the gender revolution,” and that seems reasonable. It is no surprise that the gendered nature of relationships at home and at work would be related in this way.

I don’t see much evidence here that the relationship is causal, however, such that a stay-at-home wife causes a manager to make more sexist decisions. The researchers use controls for common demographic characteristics, but not much that can account for the personalities and experiences that would produce sexist men. That is, “men may be self-selecting simultaneously into traditional marriage structures and non-egalitarian attitudes and behaviors towards women in the workplace.”

But the paper does suggest that those of us who study the gendered decisions of people in positions of authority would do well to keep looking for ways to get at additional qualities beyond their gender.

I found a complete draft of the paper here.

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A lot of juggling metaphors in the air

But what are people juggling?

[Updated with a look at phrase origins at the end.]

Judging by the prevalence of terms in the Google Ngrams database of books, since 1970 people have begun juggling their families, their work-and-family, their responsibilities, and even their children themselves.

Maybe all the metaphorical juggling has contributed to the rise of real-life juggling, although based on the distribution of juggling conventions this is a bigger deal in Europe than the U.S. In American English, “juggling balls” is thriving, but since the mid-1980s its growth can’t keep up with “juggling work.”

And, judging by who’s juggling in a Google image search for “juggling work,” the clip-artists of today, at least, think it’s women who are driving the trend about 2-to-1:

Origins update:

The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t have a clear dating of this kind of use for juggling before 1985, “They have to know how to do many things—from juggling the futures market to overhauling a tractor or curing viral scours.”

The first instance of “juggling work” I get in the Lexis database is from the New York Times, Sep. 23, 1980:

She conceded that juggling her work and family is not always easy. ”You feel split all the time,” said Mrs. Massie, taking a cigarette. ”Sometimes the family responsibility collides with the need to be alone, and with the selfishness that is necessary for any creative effort.”

The American Sociological Review has a reference to “juggling work assignments” in a 1956 book review on industrial practices, which isn’t quite the sense of juggling tasks within a single life. By 1983 Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies has this:

The impossible pressures of juggling work and family responsibilities have led some Soviet women to reject the ideology of emancipation altogether.

And by then we’re off and juggling.

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