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 Gendered “Last-Naming-Gap”

December 16, 2009

Are men more likely to be given the privilege of being identified by last name only?  Thorkelson, writes another thoughtful post with a literary quality I dare not try to emulate.  You should really read his post because I’m not summarizing it.  I’m just replying to one little piece of it, and then explaining how one would approach this question using regression.  The rest of my post also appears as a comment at Eli’s blog and I encourage readers to make comments on both sites:

Thorkelson, having read your post, I find the basic claim about men being privileged by the practice of identifying them using solely their last name to be very plausible, e.g. “Sartre” vs. “Simone de Beauvoir.”  This is not something I had thought about much before either, and I agree that we should prefer that we had already observed and considered this issue without someone else bringing it to our attention.

That said, I don’t think you should chastise yourself for some skepticism.  When someone makes a claim, we should ALWAYS be skeptical.  Yes, we should be on the lookout for motivated skepticism.  But I’d prefer that we increase skepticism of claims that justify our high status rather than decrease skepticism of claims that we benefit from unearned privilege.

As a quantitative sociologist, I think we could learn a great deal with a statistical approach.  I can think of a lot of things I’d want to consider, but one of them would be to account for the prominence of the professor.  More prominent professors are probably more likely to be referred to by last name only.  More prominent professors are more likely to be men.  What happens to the pattern when google hits and citations are accounted for?  Perhaps naming is also related to behaviors/personality and behaviors/personality differ across gender.

At the risk of being pedantic I’ll give a very simple explanation of how we’d approach this problem using regression.  First we identify our outcome of interest, e.g. the percentage of the time someone is referred to by last name only, first name only, or full name.  Then we identify things that might predict this outcome, e.g. gender, citations, field, popularity of name, personality, etc.  We run our data through the machinery of regression (important details omitted) and this gives us an equation for predicting the outcome.  The “Last-Naming-Gap” is equal to the coefficient on the gender predictor.  This will vary depending on which other predictors we include.  If we include the right variables, the coefficient may go to zero, in which case we might say we “explained” the “last-naming-gap”?  Note this would NOT disprove discrimination.  For example, it is quite possible that the gender differences in citations that we are using to “explain” the last-naming-gap, are themselves partially the result of gender bias.  And a bias that results in citation differences would be more obviously consequential than a bias that results in a different use of language.  Anyway, thanks for the interesting post Eli.