June 11, 2023

Today’s Economist: Nancy Folbre: The End of Men, Revisited

Nancy Folbre, economist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Nancy Folbre is an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She recently edited and contributed to “For Love and Money: Care Provision in the United States.

The title of Hanna Rosin’s new book, “The End of Men,” now serves as shorthand for a slightly less apocalyptic event: the end of male economic advantage.

Today’s Economist

Perspectives from expert contributors.

Ms. Rosin and others, including Liza Mundy, author of “The Richer Sex,” assert that this end is nigh. Those who disagree, like me, challenge many of their quantitative claims. We can now point to a new report from the American Association of University Women that exemplifies a better statistical methodology for analysis of the gender pay gap. It shows that young women still earn significantly less than equally qualified men.

The men-in-decline issue can’t be reduced to numbers, but in a comprehensive critique in The New York Times, Stephanie Coontz highlights misleading inferences drawn from a marketing-firm study of several metropolitan areas showing that never-married childless women in their 20s out-earn men in the same category.

Much news coverage of this widely headlined study failed to note that the women and men being compared had very different characteristics. Metropolitan areas tend to attract white and well-educated women along with Hispanic and poorly educated men.

As a result, this comparison is misleading.

Driving this point home, Ms. Coontz drew on research by Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociologist, whose blog posts on the topic unfold like chapters in a murder mystery solved by forensic statistics. He shows that median earnings for men and women in what he terms “this odd, unrepresentative slice of the population” have been basically equal since at least 1990. He asserts serious interpretive mistakes in an opinion column in The New York Times and a cover story in Time. He also takes a hilariously skeptical look at the Alabama “matriarchy” featured in Ms. Rosin’s book.

The most important substantive point is that comparisons of young men and women who are unmarried and childless don’t tell us much about the dynamics of earnings inequalities related to the intersection between a traditional family division of labor and a modern market economy.

Taking care of family members is more than a lifestyle choice. It’s a commitment that imposes particularly high costs on caregivers in the United States, especially mothers, partly because we don’t offer much public assistance in the form of paid family leave or early childhood education.

Still, it is useful to compare the earnings of young women and men at an early stage of paid employment, before most have made such commitments.

In this context, the new American Association of University Women study, “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” stands out as an example of state-of-the art statistical analysis. It focuses on young men and women with college degrees, working full time, one year after graduation, taking into account differences in college majors, grade point average, hours of work, occupations and tendency to work in the nonprofit sector. The results reveal a male pay advantage of about seven percentage points that can’t be explained away. That is, the men earn $100 for every $93 the young women earn.

That advantage may well be the result of conscious or unconscious discrimination against women, more directly documented by experimental studies that submit résumés to potential employers identical in every respect except gender.

The study also shows that, on average, the female college graduates in the sample earn only about 82 percent of what the male college graduates earn, largely because they chose different college majors or decided to work for nonprofit organizations.

As the study notes, women might make different choices if they knew just how costly their preferences turn out to be. One serious consequence is that young women devote a larger share of their earnings to repayment of their college loans, even though they borrowed about the same amount.

In 2009, 47 percent of women and 39 percent of men working full time and repaying college loans one year after graduation were paying more than 8 percent of their earnings toward student loan debt — a threshold widely considered an indicator of economic stress.

In sum, while young women are more likely than young men to graduate from college, their diplomas don’t generate equally rich rewards.

The American Association of University Women has a long and venerable history of setting the record straight. A research report it published in 1885 challenged the contention that higher education would harm women’s ovaries.

There was apparently fear that it would lead to the end of men.

Article source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/29/the-end-of-men-revisited/?partner=rss&emc=rss

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