Devaluing the Feminine + Econ 101

October 25, 2011

…talk therapy is often considered a “junk discipline” and is very badly-paid in part because it comes from the “feminine” domain of relationship management and emotional management.

I hear this sort of argument quite a lot and I think it has some truth to it, but also misses something.

Many sociologists have already digested a lot of economics, they might want to skip this post.  Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that the disproportionate number of talk therapists who are women, or the perceived femininity of the practice, causes talk therapy to be viewed as low-status.  Will this also cause it to be paid more poorly?  In a supply and demand framework, the reason for thinking a low-status occupation will earn less money is the demand side.  Fewer customers are willing to pay as much money for it as they would be willing to pay in a world where talk therapy was not perceived as feminine.  But don’t forget the supply-side.

It seems reasonable to assume that because talk therapy is considered feminine, fewer men are willing or able to go into the field.  This is a restriction on the supply, which means that talk therapists face less competition which means they can charge higher prices and still keep their customers.  So does the perceived femininity of talk therapy cause talk therapists wages to be lower?

This basic economic analysis is silent on whether the reduction in demand will affect wages more or less than the reduction in supply.  At this point, I’d put my theory aside for a while and start thinking about how to collect empirical evidence.  Theory is less ambiguous on something else though, if femininity depresses both supply and demand then we can be sure the overall size of the market, the amount of people getting talk therapy, will be smaller.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of reasons labor markets aren’t perfectly competitive so the analysis above can be made more realistic by considering that it takes time for supply and demand to equilibrate, and that norms and especially governments, can stop supply and demand from adjusting.

Though I’m questioning whether the low-status of an occupation causes it to be low-paid, there is a much more straight-forward way in which women were historically forced to accept low wages.  Social norms meant that women were only allowed certain occupations… if they weren’t low-wage already, they became low-wage because there was a large supply of women who couldn’t work in other jobs and therefore had reduced bargaining power.

The Potential of Adversarial Collaboration

October 18, 2011

Sometimes researchers break into opposing camps.  They may each find well respected journals to publish their work in, but neither’s work appears capable of changing the minds of the others.  Adversarial collaboration is an approach for getting beyond this.  The idea is that intellectual opponents co-design new studies.  As much as possible, they should agree ahead of time about how the data will be analyzed, and include other neutral collaborators.  Then they write down their predictions, their uncertainties, and how different results will change their opinion.  When the study is done, hopefully they end up agreeing about how to interpret it.  But even if they didn’t, I think examining such a study, including the collaborators’ predictions beforehand, would really help other people decide what to believe.

Philip Tetlock and Gregory Mitchell are the only people I’ve heard promote it.  They call for it here, and describe it in more detail towards the end of an article titled “Unconscious Prejudice and Accountability Systems: What Must Organizations do to Prevent Discrimination.”

Here is part of their conclusion:

Of course, what makes adversarial collaboration scientifically attractive—the prospect of breaking epistemic impasses—may also render it politically unattractive. Nothing will happen if either side decides that it is better off when there is less scientific clarity. For this reason, failures to broker adversarial collaborations are profoundly informative: they signal to the policy world that the American racism debate and the sub-debate on unconscious prejudice may be politicized beyond scientific redemption. Tetlock (2006) has offered rough sociology-of-science diagnostics for judging the odds of failures of this sort. Adversarial collaboration is most feasible when least needed: when the clashing camps have advanced testable theories, subscribe to common canons for testing those theories, and disagreements are robust but respectful. And adversarial collaboration is least feasible when most needed: when the scientific community lacks clear criteria for falsifying points of view, disagrees on key methodological issues, relies on second- or third-best substitute methods for testing causality, and is fractured into opposing camps that engage in ad hominem posturing and that have intimate ties to political actors who see any concession as weakness. Tetlock (2006) calls the former community as “epistemic Heaven.” the latter “epistemic hell,” and maintains—in the spirit of Figure 4—that if adversarial collaboration is indeed unnecessary in heaven and impossible in hell, we should expect the greatest expected returns in the “murky middle” in which theory-testing conditions are less than ideal but not yet hopeless.

If you can think of a topic in between which could benefit from adversarial collaboration please suggest it in the comments.

Update: Apparently Daniel Kahneman and collaborators originated the term and successfully implemented it!