Friday, December 5, 2014

Intersectionality at Play: the Parliamentary Representation of Women and Ethnic Minorities

While there has been much research on women’s political representation and ethnic minorities’ political representation, there is very little about the intersection of these two, argued WAPPP Fellow Liza Mügge in this week’s seminar. In her lecture, titled “Gender and Ethnicity in Parliamentary Representation,” Mügge, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, presented her findings, which are part of a stream of research on gendered representation of minorities.

Professor Mügge explained that parliamentary representation of minority groups is important, both because equal representation is a social justice concern, but also because research shows that having political representation close to actual proportions within the population of a particular society is necessary for that society to remain peaceful.

Mügge conducted an analysis of the makeup of the Dutch Parliament starting in 1986, the year that that the first ethnic minority Member of Parliament (MP) was elected. The analysis focused on both descriptive and substantive representation and named three transition phases for an individual to be elected to office: 1) ineligible to aspirant, 2) aspirant to candidate and 3) candidate to elected. Mügge then used an intersectionality lens to understand why there were many more minority women than men in office in the 1980s and 1990s and how candidates can learn from their specific challenges and successes.
Member of Parliament Sadet Karabulut

In phase one, the primary criterion to transition from ineligible to an aspirant is Dutch citizenship. With a massive increase in naturalization during the 1990s and the fact that post-colonial immigrants were already Dutch citizens, this was not a significant barrier. Education level also factors in, and Mügge argued that part of the success of ethnic minority women is due to the education gender gap: 54% of ethnic minority undergraduate students are female. Ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in labor market participation, and political participation varies greatly by nationality, with Turks and Moroccans’ turnout close to that of those with European ancestry at about 57%, while Antillean immigrants are much lower at 18%.

In the second phase, how diversity is regulated and the availability of identity networks are crucial. The Green Party and Social Democrats have highly institutionalized women sections for networking and strategy and strong, though informal, minority sections. Mügge argued that the gender progressiveness of the Social Democrats especially has spilled over to include ethnic minorities, thereby helping female minority candidates win.

In phase three, the challenge comes down to whether the candidates are given winnable seats. Only 6% of all ethnic minority candidates across the elections studied were in a winnable seat, though there was not a significant difference between male and females candidates. 

Many, but not all, of the factors that boost women’s participation also increase ethnic minority representation. Leftist ideology that has often supported more gender parity in government also supports ethnic minorities in general, but civil society networks work for ethnic minority women much better than for ethnic minority men. 

Mügge concluded by explaining the issue in terms of demand and supply. The large increase of eligible citizens since the 1990s has created MP supply, while changing ideology and the availability of networks has created demand. At the end of the day, the political parties are the most influential gatekeepers, however, and they continue to greatly affect gender and ethnicity representation in Parliament. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

What Soil Can Tell Us About Sex Deficits

Soil can help explain child sex ratios in rural areas of India, argued Eliana Carranza, Technical Advisor at the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab, in this week’s WAPPP seminar, “Soil Endowments, Female Labor Force Participation and the Demographic Deficit of Women in India.”

Sex ratios – defined in the world of demography as the ratio of females to males in a population – are typically split with the number of females and males. Variations in ratio are often visible by age group, but the biggest variation in sex ratios is actually seen via geography. For example, a few countries in the Middle East and South Asia show a distinct and persistent deficit of women, including India.

The World Bank study that Carranza presented was recently published in the American Economic Journal and argues that child sex ratios in rural India can be explained by differences in soil texture. Carranza argued that these ratios are affected by women’s employment opportunities in agriculture, which vary across different kinds of soil.

This is because the soil texture in a certain region determines the depth of land preparation required to produce a crop there. Deep tillage, which reduces the need for labor in female-dominated tasks such as transplanting, fertilizing and weeding, is only possible in loamy soil textures. Therefore, districts with larger fractions of loamy soils exhibit lower rates of female participation in agriculture. The lower demand for female labor reduces the economic value of girls to a household, leading to lower ratios of female to male children.

The study sees a significant effect of soil texture on agricultural workers' opportunities, which disproportionately affects women. There is not the same effect on the overall male population, since men have other types of employment opportunities, while there are no real alternatives available for women in these regions.

The study found that an additional 10 percentage points in the share of female agricultural laborers in the rural work force is estimated to increase the relative number of rural 0-to-6 year olds by 44 girls per 1000 boys. This would bring the sex ration from an average ratio of 925 to 969, which is above the natural outcome for children of that age. The deficit of girls could be erased by a less extreme 5.8 percentage point increase in share of female laborers in rural workforce.

Carranza's policy prescription is relatively simple: provide more economic opportunities specifically for women. Previous studies show that increasing income is not enough to close the gender gap, and neither is creating more employment opportunities overall. In regions dominated by non-equalitarian perceptions regarding the role and value of women, women’s employment opportunities have even greater influence on labor force participation, which in turn affects child sex ratios.

Photo Source: The World Bank

Friday, November 14, 2014

How We're Keeping Girls Out of STEM: Teaching and Messaging

In this week’s WAPPP seminar “Paying the Price for Sugar and Spice: How Girls and Women are Kept out of Mathematics and Science,” Stanford Professor of Mathematics Education Jo Boaler argued that the STEM disciplines are impoverished by the current lack of women’s participation.

Professor Boaler started the seminar by presenting the problem in basic terms: STEM achievement is equal by gender across K-12, but the participation in these areas is not, leading to a significant gender gap. A recent meta-analysis of 259 studies involving three million people revealed that academic achievement in STEM was almost equally split between genders, with girls ahead in 49% of studies and boys ahead in 51% of them.

There is a significant disparity in participation, however. The decline in women earning college degrees in mathematics and computer science in the last two decades has led to severe differences when it comes to PhD attainment, which in turn affect the pipeline for professors and other specialists in these fields.

While some believe that these differences are due to preferences and the gap is therefore not as big of an issue, Boaler argued that girls' choices are restricted by the environments that parents and educators create. She argued that there are two neglected areas that contribute to this gap: 1) teaching and 2) mindset and messaging.

The problem is the current use of traditional instead of inquiry teaching, Boaler argued, saying that mathematics is currently taught dryly. Studies show that when math is taught as a multi-dimensional subject involving inquiry, every student benefits, and the gender gap also disappears. Essentially, girls underachieve and opt out in traditional math classrooms, while boys perform the same in both. 

Beliefs and messages matter as well. This is what Boaler refers to as the elephant in the classroom: the idea that some kids aren’t going to be good at math, no matter what. New knowledge about brain plasticity shows that this isn’t true. If we take the time to learn an issue deeply, our brain makes new connections that can strengthen over time and carry us into adulthood. Boaler explained that this means that no one is born with a “math brain.”

This new neuroscience demonstrates that speed is not necessary or sufficient for learning math and that when we're anxious, our working memory is blocked. In short, stress makes doing math difficult. What’s more, time tests can be the early onset of math anxiety for many students, and this anxiety affects girls worse than boys. Boaler wrote about both these issues for Atlantic last year in a piece entitled “The Stereotypes That Distort How Americans Teach and Learn Math.”

Professor Boaler does not just study this issue, however. She’s also a practitioner. Last year, she created Youcubed, an online portal that provides seminars on how to better learn and teach math. 40,000 people participated in the first course, and by the end of it, 95% of participants said they would change teaching or parenting. This could have huge effects for girls in STEM classrooms.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Feminism in the Free Market

In this week’s WAPPP seminar, “Feminism Triumphed and Tamed: The Politics of Knowledge in Gender and Development,” Elisabeth M. Prügl, a Professor of International Relations and Political Science at the Graduate Institute of Geneva explored a critique of what some have come to call “free market feminism.”

While there have been many gains in the fight for gender equality in recent years, there is concern among some feminists that feminism itself has been co-opted by major institutions and by the forces of global capitalism. These scholars worry that feminism is no longer critiquing but rather supporting the existing power structures that have long disadvantaged women.

To analyze this deeper, Professor Prügl narrowed in on the largest global development institution, the World Bank. After conducting a close reading of World Bank documents from 2001 to the present, she argued that there are three dimensions of what happens to feminist ideas when they enter the neoliberal discourse: (1) integrations and instrumentalizations, (2) slippages, and (3) silences.

Firstly, feminism has been integrated into many institutions and into the idea of capitalism itself. To demonstrate this, Prügl used what she refers to as “the business case,” or the argument made by institutions that have a core mission apart from gender equality that more equality creates better economic outcomes. The narrative is not unique to the World Bank; it has become increasingly common in global institutions and on far-reaching development campaigns. 

Prügl posits that by focusing on the business case, we narrow the political imagination of what policies will actually improve women’s lives. We may ignore reproduction and childcare policies or oversimplify issues by making heteronormative assumptions and commitments.

Prügl argues that the problem definition is hugely important, as definitions are very tightly linked to solutions, and might even be defined after the solution has been found. She says that this is especially true in the case of neoliberalism, where it has already been decided that the market can solve everything.

Preferences also become an issue when discussing integration in the push for equal economic opportunity. Under conditions of equal opportunity, inequality results from preferences. Yet Prügl argues that it’s also possible that the outcomes an individual has experienced for her entire life shape her idea of what is and is not possible for her – and therefore actually change her preferences.

Prügl argued that slippages of feminist ideas occur in neoliberal institutions, with direct effects on markets, such as business registration and labor law. The idea of agency can also move away from its feminist definition in these circumstances. While those in the economic development sphere often define agency as the power and opportunity to take risks or seize opportunities, gender experts discuss it as the capacity to make decisions about one’s own life free of violence, retribution or fear – factors not always considered by economists.

Silence on feminist issues in the realm of global capitalism is also a concern for some. Prügl argued that gender expertise largely remains at the level of microeconomics, while the macroeconomics of equality are not discussed, and modernization, growth and globalization are taken as unquestioned goods. 

Prügl concluded by stating that gender mainstreaming has been both a failure and a success in recent years. She argued that the world changes due to the impetus from the knowledge and power we as individuals participate in validating, stressing the importance of a feminist critique of the current state of affairs. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Three E's to Reach Equality: Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship

At this week’s WAPPP seminar, Monika Queisser, the Head of the Social Policy Division at the OECD's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, made the economic case for gender equality. Her presentation "Progress and Policies to Achieve Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship," was based off of the OECD 2012 report of a similar name. The report focuses on what Queisser calls “the three E’s” – Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Education is a top focus of the report because it’s the pathway to employment across the world. The OECD reports that more girls are attending school than ever before. Every one-year increase in a population’s average education level accounts for a 9% increase in GDP per capita. But not all education is created equal. Women are severely underrepresented in STEM, where graduates have the most potential for future earnings and career development. Currently, 70% of engineering graduates are men. This contributes to the persistent global pay gap. Women earn an average of 16% less than men, and this gap rises to 21% among top wage earners.

Queisser argued that gender equality strengthens the labor force and boosts the economy for everyone in turn. The aging population and falling fertility rate in most OECD countries currently leads to a shrinking labor force. To remedy this, there is a need for more migration and/or for women to participate at higher rates. We must break down the economic barriers that are holding women back from full participation, Queisser argued. More women need to work, and those that want to should be able to work full-time.

The report found that when a couple has their first child, women tend to start reducing their paid work hours, while men start increasing them. Women make up for this loss in paid hours by increasing their unpaid work. Though policies could and should help change this, a cultural shift is also necessary. Even in countries with progressive maternity leave policies and strong social welfare, such as the Netherlands, there is still a cultural norm for women to work part-time.

In the report, the OECD laid out recommendations to achieve gender equality in these three areas. Gender equality in education attainment and choices should be promoted, though Queisser admitted that it's hard to alter the choices that children make because of deep-seated biases in our culture. Increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, instituting paid maternity leave, actively reduce the wage gap and implementing family friendly policies for women who are self-employed are all crucial for achieving gender equality in these areas. In addition, countries are encouraged to produce gender-specific data and monitor progress on this issue.

In closing, Queisser said her central question is always how the countries that are doing well got to where they are today. She used a popular example for how policy can dramatically change culture. Iceland, which created a positive tax credit for second earners who are women in the 1960s, consistently tops the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index. Queisser, a self-described optimist, argued that a combination of improved policy and shifts in our cultural norms could bring us closer to gender equality in this century.

Photo Source: OECD

Friday, October 17, 2014

Risky Business: How Environment Affects Women's Decision-Making

The concept of risk as a major factor in decision-making has been thoroughly examined since the 2008 financial crisis began. In this week’s WAPPP Seminar, “Risk in the background: How Men and Women Respond,” risk was examined using the lens of gender to better understand the causes and effects of the choices individuals make. Alexandra van Geen, a 2014-2015 WAPPP Fellow and Assistant Professor at Erasmus University's School of Economics in the Netherlands, discussed her research on the effect that gender has on risk-taking in different contexts.

While acknowledging that previous research states women are generally more risk averse than men, Professor van Geen pointed out that this assumption is based on experiments involving isolated risks. Decisions to take risks rarely occur in isolated situations, however, due to the fact that there is both background risk (current risk) and realized risk (past risk) to consider. Instead, van Geen sought to measure the effect that gender has on risk in more realistic decision-making situations.

In a study conducted at Harvard’s Decision Science Laboratory, 160 students split evenly by gender were placed in an experiment where a third party threw a die to determine each student's payoff. To simulate what van Geen refers to as “background risk,” each participant had a 50% chance of receiving either $2 or $30. In addition, there were two fixed sum groups, one that received the low payout of $2 and one that received the high payout of $30, automatically.

Some of van Geen’s findings confirmed what many already understand to be true about gender and risk: as a baseline, women are more risk averse and less risk-seeking than men. However, van Geen found that women take more risks after receiving the fixed sum or with the presence of background risk, i.e. the roll of the dice in the experiment.

This reduction in risk aversion can be explained by women's sensitivity to the income effect, as in, the potential to earn money without risking a loss. In fact, the effect of income and potential income from past wins (via winning in the dice roll) eliminated gender differences in risk-taking altogether. One potential explanation for this is that women are more sensitive to income because of their higher baseline risk aversion. Additionally, men may narrowly frame a decision and not consider past or present risk in the same way that women do.

The income effect does not explain all the behavior around risk, however, van Geen argued. The effects of the experience of winning in and of itself was also examined. Winning produces several outcomes: (1) emotion, (2) subject expectations (i.e. belief an individual will keep winning once they have, or "gambler's fallacy"), and (3) an elevated level of hormones, namely testosterone. This study found that men increased their risk-taking after winning, despite the fact that there was no apparent income effect on men, indicating that it was the experience of winning itself that altered future behavior.

From these experiments, van Geen concluded that women experience an income effect that reduces risk aversion, while men don't experience an income effect at all. This effect is transient, however, and women eventually return to their baseline risk preferences. The presence of background risk also decreases women’s risk aversion but not men’s, which can also be explained by the effects of income and potential income. Lastly, men increase risk-seeking behavior after winning, while there is no effect for women.

Risk can have serious impact on decision-making, which in turn affects policy, van Geen argued, closing with a few potential policy implications of her research. Policy changes could encourage women to make riskier microfinance investments that lead to better outcomes, while behavioral nudges could discourage male day traders from being overconfident and seek too much risk after a win. Understanding how context affects gender's relationship with risk may help us close these micro-gender gaps, which could then chip away at larger inequities.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hannah Riley Bowles on NBC's TODAY Show

This weekend, WAPPP research director, Hannah Riley Bowles appeared on NBC's TODAY Show to discuss Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella's comments about how women should not ask for a raise.

“It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”

Hannah shares the research: that women are hesitant to ask for a raise in large part because of this type of social backlash. Until organizations and systems are fixed, women can overcome this bias by employing relational accounts when asking for a raise.

Watch Hannah's piece here: