Thursday, May 4, 2017

Self-Affirmation as Strategy for Reducing Gender Effects on Negotiation with Chiara Trombini

Women face serious obstacles on the road to success. Despite reporting the same career aspirations and ambitions, women are underrepresented at the top and tend to be less satisfied with their careers than men. Women make up 44% of S&P 500 companies, but only 25% of corporate boards and only 6% of CEOs. Gender discrimination accounts for a large part of this discrepancy: certain attributes that are considered essential for career advancement are stereotypically male, and professional women face backlash when they display these traits.

How do men react to the prospect of working with agentic women in male-dominated environments, and how can we make men more willing to work with agentic women? The final WAPPP seminar of the year figured Chiara Trombini, AY’17 WAPPP Fellow, as she presented three studies on this line of research.

Why focus on men evaluating agentic women in male-dominated environments? Gender differences are more likely to emerge in male-dominated environments, and women are evaluated more harshly when they occupy male-dominated roles, exhibit stereotypically male attributes, or are evaluated by men. In particular, women face a competence-likability double bind: either they are well-liked but considered incompetent, or are competent but socially unattractive and therefore less worthy of hiring or promotion.

Is there a way to overcome the “threat” posed by agentic women? Chiara argues that self-affirmation is one way to reduce backlash and promote gender equality. Self-affirmation is when individuals reflect on values that are personally relevant to them. Self-affirming individuals are less likely to experience distress, less likely to react defensively, and are more likely to be objective in their decisions and less likely to rely on stereotypes. From a cognitive perspective, self-affirmation is effective at reducing the effects of prejudice and stereotypes, makes individuals more likely to accept threatening information and modify their behavior in response to threat, and increases concession-making and openness to compromise in negotiations.

How can self-affirmation reduce backlash? The mechanism lies in men’s emotional response to agentic women. Men dominate the current gender system and are sensitive and responsive to threats to their masculinity. When gender status is uncertain or challenged, men experience anxiety and react aggressively. There is some evidence that self-affirmation reduces cortisol levels and may be able to reduce stress and anxiety responses in these situations.

Chiara hypothesized that self-affirmation would make individuals less likely to rely on stereotypes and prejudices, so men who practiced self-affirmation would be more willing to work with agentic women and would feel less anxious at the prospect of doing so. She presented three studies testing these hypotheses on self-affirmation and gendered backlash.

Study 1

In the first study, evaluators were asked to rank 11 values (sense of humor, politics, religion, creativity, etc.) in order of personal importance. In the self-affirmation condition, evaluators were asked to write why their most important value was important to them. In the control condition, evaluators were asked to write why their least important value could be important to someone else. Then, evaluators watched a job interview and evaluated an internal candidate for job placement. The measured variable was willingness to work with the candidate. As hypothesized, self-affirmation increased male evaluators’ willingness to work with agentic women.

Study 2

Study 2 followed the same design as Study 1, but included measures for negative trait perception (whether the evaluator found the candidate to be arrogant, greedy, etc.), level of anxiety, and neutral feelings. The findings from Study 2 replicated Study 1: evaluators were less willing to work with women than men overall, but self-affirmation increased general willingness to work with candidates and particularly increased men’s willingness to work with women. In addition, men in the self-affirmation condition had lower rates of negative trait perception and lower anxiety.

Study 3

Study 3 set out to evaluate whether anxiety decreases willingness to work with a job candidate. Participants were asked to evaluate a job candidate based on their behavior in a job interview after being exposed to a music clip designed to induce feelings of anxiety or feelings of calm – in this case, either the theme from Psycho or “Weightless” by Maroni Union. Evaluators then rated their current mood in terms of anxiety or calmness. In general, male evaluators were more willing to work with male candidates, and female evaluators were more willing to work with female candidates. Participants in the high anxiety condition were less willing to work with candidate across the board. In addition, male evaluators in the high anxiety condition were less willing to work with agentic women.

These studies lend a cognitive and affective perspective to examining the roots of gender discrimination in hiring. It appears that perception of negative traits and feelings of anxiety are wrapped up in hiring discrimination. Self-affirmation is a low-cost, powerful affirmation that can increase men’s willingness to work with women in male-dominated environments, which could ultimately reduce gender gaps in professional settings. Organizations could institute self-affirmation practices before hiring, promotion, and performance review decisions in order to alleviate gender discrimination and ensure that they are benefitting from the entirety of the hiring pool.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fathers and Work Family Balance: Mix Methods for Understanding Fatherhood Involvement and Enrichment Experiences with Marc Grau-Grau

Fatherhood is in transition: the traditional “distant breadwinner” model of fatherhood has eroded to a more nurturing role for fathers. Fathers are doing more care work, and work-family balance is increasingly a priority for men. At the same time, work-life conflict is increasing, leading to high levels of stress, absenteeism, and burnout, along with a lower fertility rate. In Europe, 21% of workers report that they “always” or “almost always” feel too tired when they get home from work to spend time with their families. However, few studies focus on understanding men and work-family balance.

Much of the research on work-family conflict has focused on mothers. We know that involved fathers are good for kids and for gender equality, but less about how these dual roles affect fathers and their work and family lives. This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Marc Grau-Grau, WAPPP Fellow 2016-2017. Marc presented three studies from his thesis on Catalonian fathers to better understand how patterns of paternal involvement may give some clues on how to promote gender equality in parenting.

Study 1: Understanding the predictors of fatherhood involvement 

Fatherhood involvement is positive for children and gender equality, but also for fathers and their jobs. The aim of the first study was to explore the care work contributions of Catalan working fathers with children under 10 to understand how patterns of fatherhood involvement differ based on metrics like education level, income, age, number of paid working hours, occupation, and partner’s occupation. The motivating research question is: Why are some working fathers more involved than others?

Marc hypothesized that well-educated fathers are more likely to devote more time to their children, especially in “developmental care." As the number of paid working hours increase, fatherhood involvement is expected to decrease. Finally, men in managerial occupations are more likely to devote less time to their children.

A sample of 471 fathers and their partners were asked to complete time-use diaries recording what primary and secondary activities they were engaged in throughout the day in ten-minute intervals. Childcare was operationalized into basic care (feeding, dressing, bathing), developmental care (teaching, helping, playing, reading), and secondary childcare. On average, fathers did 59 minutes of basic care, compared to 126 for mothers. Fathers also completed 33 minutes of developmental care, compared to 37 minutes for mothers.

As predicted, fathers with higher levels of education spend more time with their children. There is no clear trend between fathers’ income and childcare. Fathers in elementary occupations and in high-management occupations spend the highest proportion of quality time with their children. Younger fathers spend most time with children, but this effect could be because their children are younger or because these fathers might be unemployed. As expected, more hours spent at paid work means less time spent on care work. Finally, having an adult dependent is associated with a significant decrease in fatherhood involvement – by 29 minutes – all else being equal.

Study 2: Understanding the positive side (work-family enrichment)

Most research on work and family is based on a conflict perspective, under the assumption that time, energy, and attention are finite and that work-family conflict is a zero-sum game. However, an expansion approach may be more appropriate: high performance skills in one role may spill over into one’s other roles. This expansion of skills into other roles is known as work-family enrichment. Do the rewards and benefits perceived by working fathers in one role spill into the other role

In this study, Marc interviewed father and their partners. Seven of 20 fathers chose to do their interviews in the workplace, including 5 of 6 managers. The fathers described skills that they perceived that they learn at work that help them at home, including organization and time management, technical skills, people management, new perspectives, and cultural capital. In the opposite direction, fathers described skills that they perceived that they learn at home that help them at work, including sensitivity, patience, responsibility, people management, support, values, and long-term project management.

Fathers in high-level occupations described their work-family enrichment in terms of people management and cultural capital; fathers in lower-level occupations reported enrichment in organization and technical skills. This study reveals that enrichment is not the opposite of conflict and that soft skills are mainly developed at home.

Study 3: Understanding potential barriers to fatherhood involvement

What happens with these involved fathers? Having a child has an impact on fathers’ professional careers, but not the same effect as for women: previous research has established a motherhood penalty as compared to a fatherhood premium for having children. That said, fathers can receive backlash in terms of being a “poor worker” (that is, not committed 24/7 to their jobs) or a femininity stigma.

This study employed qualitative interviews on a different sample of fathers to examine barriers to fatherhood involvement. Marc identified five key barriers in particular:

  • Barrier 1: Poor organizational support. Though organizational policies for fathers exist, there is little institutional support for them, and fathers are rarely explicitly informed of potential options like flextime.
  • Barrier 2: Anticipation of negative career consequences due to transgressing the “ideal worker” norm.
  • Barrier 3: Personal obstacles to fatherhood involvement based on gender norms and self-image; many fathers reported barriers to fatherhood involvement linked to their masculine identity.
  • Barrier 4: Many fathers perceive that being a working father is not a legitimate reason to ask for more flexibility; they may ask for accommodations when completing an MBA or starting a new business, but not for spending time with their children.
  • Barrier 5: Money – Fathers perceive that using flex options is associated with wage reductions in a sort of “fatherhood penalty.”
Future potential work

There are a great number of possible research projects within fatherhood involvement. There is certainly more to do on the “sociology of thriving” and how fatherhood involvement can benefit organizations. On the flipside, more evidence on stigmas, barriers, and costs of fatherhood involvement could illuminate obstacles to gender equality in parenting. We look forward to hearing more!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Intersectionality and Women’s Health: Sexual Orientation, Race/Ethnicity, and Cervical Cancer Screening with Madina Agénor

Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase in public health literature that employs an intersectional approach. Intersectionality is an analytical tool that allows us to more accurately describe how human experience is shaped by multiple forms of social inequality that act in diverse and mutually reinforcing ways. This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Madina Agénor, Assistant Professor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Professor Agénor presented her research on how sexual orientation and race/ethnicity simultaneously affect disparities in cervical cancer screening among U.S. women.

Professor Agénor presented the results of three studies to demonstrate how intersectionality matters for population health and health equity. The first study examines how sexual orientation affects cervical cancer screenings without using an intersectional approach, and the second does the same for race/ethnicity. The third study employs an intersectional approach to illuminate how sexual orientation and race/ethnicity interact to produce discrepancies in cervical cancer screening.

Sexual orientation and cervical cancer screenings 
Lesbian and bisexual women (collectively referred to here as “sexual minority women”) are less likely to receive cervical cancer screenings and routine gynecological care than heterosexual women. Women with female sexual partners may also be more susceptible to cervical cancer because of higher rates of smoking and HPV. In addition, sexual minority women face a number of barriers to healthcare, including lower average income, lack of access to regular care and health insurance, and discrimination in society and in the healthcare system.

However, sexual minority women’s health is an understudied area, and there are significant gaps in research, including overreliance on convenience samples of mostly white, college-educated women; problems with measurement of sexual orientation (some studies conflate sexual orientation identity with sexual behavior); lack of appropriate comparison groups; and limited attention to potential drivers of sexual orientation disparities in pap testing.

Professor Agénor’s research uses a national probability sample of U.S. women, operationalizes sexual attraction, sexual orientation identity, and sexual behavior as different components of sexual orientation, uses appropriate comparison groups for each component of sexual orientation, and assesses whether healthcare factors (including access to insurance, receiving contraception, and STI services use) contribute to sexual orientation disparities in pap testing.

Lesbian-identified women exhibited significantly lower pap test use compared to heterosexual women (43% versus 69%), as did women with only female sexual partners compared to women with only male sexual partners (46% versus 71%). These disparities persisted even after controlling for age, household income, and other similar factors. Interestingly, differences in healthcare factors – access to health insurance, contraception, and STI services use – completely attenuated this disparity. According to the results of this study, focusing on only sexual orientation without an intersectional lens, healthcare factors may explain the discrepancy in cervical cancer screening among sexual minority women.

Race/Ethnicity and cervical cancer
In 2012, incidence of cervical cancer was highest among black and Latinx women, and cervical cancer mortality was three times higher among black women than white women. However, there has only been one subnational population-based study on sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, and pap test use, and this study also lacked appropriate comparison groups and didn’t seek out the drivers of disparities. Again using a national probability sample, Professor Agénor examined sexuality, race/ethnicity, and healthcare factors across racial and ethnic groups within sexual minority groups.

Professor Agénor found a lower prevalence of pap test use among women with only female sexual partners for black and white women, with the greatest disparity in pap test use between white women with only female partners and white women with only male partners. There was no difference in pap test use among Latinx women, regardless of whether they had male or female sexual partners. Importantly, the results of this study indicate that healthcare factors completely attenuated the disparity between women with female sexual partners and women with male sexual partners for white women only.

The magnitude and mechanisms of sexual orientation disparities in pap testing vary by race, which we wouldn’t have known without employing an intersectional approach. The crucial implications of this study are that addressing healthcare access barriers may mitigate disparities for some but not all women, and that we should be wary of “one-size-fits-all” interventions.

Qualitative Intersectional Study 
In order to better understand the mechanism of these effects on black sexual minority women, Professor Agénor held focus group discussions that centered around four key themes: healthcare provider communication style, heteronormative healthcare provider assumptions, heterosexism, racism, and classism, and healthcare provider background.

  • Participants preferred healthcare providers who took time to build relationships, were knowledgeable about sexual minority women’s health, and provided them with relevant sexual health information. 
  • Many participants reported that their healthcare providers assumed heterosexuality, and therefore provided patients with limited relevant sexual health information. Similarly, many participants reported both a fear of disclosing their sexual orientation to healthcare providers and negative experiences when they did so. 
  • Many participants reported that their healthcare providers made social class assumptions based on their race/ethnicity. Some healthcare providers made further assumptions based on perceived social class about their patients’ ability to understand health information, which affected both how they communicated with them and how they involved them in decision making. 
  • Participants reported negative experiences with OB/GYNs and expressed a preference for nurses and physician assistants, who provided more individualized attention. Finally, respondents reported a preference for healthcare providers with similar lived experiences, particularly for black sexual minority women healthcare providers. 

The results of this study indicate that patient-provider communication may be an important contributor to sexual orientation disparities in pap test use among black women. Sexual orientation and race influence black sexual minority women’s pap testing experiences and outcomes by shaping their exposure to multiple forms of discrimination and their access to and rapport with healthcare providers. Interventions designed for black sexual minority women should address multiple forms of discrimination and will have to look different than interventions designed for white sexual minority women.

Whether or not we employ an intersectional approach can be critical for designing appropriate interventions to promote health. Intersectionality matters for population health and health equity.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Quotas Matter: The Effect of Gender Quota Laws on Work-Family Policies with Ana Catalano Weeks

Gender quota systems, though controversial in the US, have proliferated in over 50 countries. In parliamentary elections, quota laws require a certain number of women to be on the party lists for all political parties. Quotas can have a significant effect on female political representation – in one election cycle in Portugal, female representation increased from 21% to 27%. But are these increases indicative of real change, or just “window dressing”? What effect do quota laws have on policy, and under what conditions? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Ana Catalano Weeks, WAPPP Fellow and College Fellow in the Department of Government at Harvard University, as she discussed her research on the effects of gender quota laws on work-family policies.

In order to assess these questions, Ana examined data from Italy, Belgium, France, Spain, and Portugal. She limited her research to advanced democracies, as her theory is dependent on men and women having different policy preferences – i.e., women prefer spending more on social policy programs compared to men – which is less true in developing countries. She found that quotas are especially likely to lead to policy changes in areas in which there is a gender gap in preferences, and particularly in areas that don’t align with the main left-right dimension in politics (that is, issues that aren’t well-described by economic or class-based cleavages in politics).

Previous literature indicates that quotas are effective at increasing the share of women in office. While there is a great deal of work on the preliminary stage of quotas, getting women elected, there is less data on how gender matters for legislative behavior. Evidence that greater female representation translates into specific policy outcomes is rare. One notable exception is a study of political reservations in India, which found that female leaders were more likely to invest in resources that women favor, such as water and roads. However, it is not clear that the same outcomes will translate to advanced democracies, particularly because of the party system, and the mechanism between female political representation and policy outcomes remains unclear.

The key argument in this case is that after implementation of a quota law, policies are likely to shift in the direction of women’s preferences, especially for issues that are orthogonal to left-right dimensions in politics. Women face high barriers to entry into politics, be it because of discrimination or an “ambition gap.” Quota laws that increase the number of women in office should also increase the representation of their political priorities. Ana argues that absent women’s presence, political parties have little incentive to address orthogonal issues: such issues are cross-cutting, which may split the party’s traditional constituencies and cause conflict, detract from the party’s signature issues, and are not recognized by primarily male party elites to offer electrical opportunity. Quotas solve this problem by requiring parties to include women, who are more likely to care about these issues and be able to point out the electoral opportunities they present.

Ana posits two possible mechanisms for this effect. It may be that as quotas increase the number of women in parliament, these women act like any faction within the party. More people within the faction means more leverage, which leads to policy change. However, it may also be that the quota law and the debate around it raises the salience of these issues in public discourse, and this increased attention alone can lead to policy change.

The data confirm what we already know about gender gaps in preferences (women tend to prefer more social spending and government intervention than men). The biggest gender gap in social policy has to do with working mothers. When asked whether “preschool children are likely to suffer when the mother works,” across countries and over time 30% of men disagreed, compared to 39% of women. This gender gap is increasing over time: greater proportions of both men and women are disagreeing, but women are disagreeing “faster.” These gender gaps increase with education and persist across political parties. An exploratory factor analysis confirmed that work-family policies are actually orthogonal to the main left-right political dimension. While the latent underlying ideas around redistribution and work-family policies were correlated, they were not a result of the same underlying factor.

This preliminary work generated three key hypotheses. First, that quota laws will lead to an increase in spending on child care and parental leave. Second, quota laws will lead to a decrease in spending on family allowances, sometimes called child benefits, that are typically motivated by concern for fertility rates and that are designed to make it easier for women to stay at home. Finally, we should expect to see a larger change in spending in areas that exhibit a large gender gap in policy preferences.

Ana examined OECD social expenditures data, which allowed her to operationalize spending on child care, parental leave, and family allowances. She included controls for the number of women already in parliament, women in the labor force, GDP, party quotas, union density, fertility rate, EU membership, and overall social spending. Her methodology included two-way fixed effects models comparing changes within quota countries, along with a series of placebo regressions that set the date of the quota law’s implementation back to see if another factor in the law’s effective date was responsible for the result.

The results of the study confirm the first two hypotheses: gender quota laws were associated with increased spending on child care and decreased spending on family allowances. Given that overall spending remains about the same, there is a major shift in funding from family allowances to child care. These changes in spending are sizable: data from France showed a $500 increase in spending per child on child care, compared with $300 less per child on family allowances. In a smaller state like Portugal, there was a small increase per child in child care, around $40, and also small decrease in allowances per child, approximately $125. These effects are conditioned by the gender gap in each country. A larger gender gap in preferences leads to a bigger change in the amount of money spent on child care versus family allowances.

Robustness checks demonstrated that the results are actually an effect of the quota law rather than an artifact of the model or due to some other contemporaneous factor. Quotas did not affect issues not characterized by a gender gap, nor was there an effect between quotas and spending on issues well situated on the main left-right dimension.

Qualitatively, Ana compared the case of Portugal, which had a quota law at the time, with Italy, which had a quota law up for debate and chose not to pass it. Though both countries were in a period of major economic depression and austerity, they handled family policy budgeting very differently. Italy increased family allowances and new birth grants while decreasing funding for child care. By contrast, Portugal started a program to build 400 daycare centers, passed a law creating a right to preschool for children over the age of four, and eliminated family allowances for the top two income groups.

What was the mechanism at work in these changes? Interviews with policymakers in each country indicated that while there was little evidence that women acted differently in parliament, quotas did give women more leverage to push party leaders on their different priorities. However, there was also support for the second hypothesized mechanism. Party leaders began to champion gender-related issues, partially as a way of credit-claiming and partially because many leaders feared looking outdated or backwards. Interestingly, these changes persisted even when right-wing parties took over the government. While there is evidence for both mechanisms, it appears that they are not as distinct as initially theorized – when there are more women in office who have greater leverage, the salience of their policy priorities is also greater.

In conclusion, the results of quotas are not just window dressing: quotas increase the substantive representation of women’s interest. Quotas shift legislative priorities toward policies that help parents combine work and family. Importantly, this indicates that identity matters even in parliamentary democracies. However, there are many more questions left to answer, including how budgetary changes affect real people’s lives. We look forward to hearing more from this exciting line of research!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Inclusive Talent Management: How Business Can Thrive in an Age of Diversity with Stephen Frost

Many organizations believe that they are truly meritocratic. This belief can make C-suite executives react defensively when faced with evidence of bias. How can diversity and inclusion advocates best communicate to such an audience in ways that leverage existing research and, most importantly, in ways that will be accepted and incorporated by those in leadership roles? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Stephen Frost, Founder and Principal at Frost Included and WAPPP AY14 Fellow, whose latest book, Inclusive Talent Management: How Business Can Thrive in the Age of Diversity, demonstrates how to align talent management and diversity and inclusion agendas.

Steve began with a video that encapsulates the notion that “it’s easy to miss something you’re not looking for.”

When viewers are concentrating on counting the number of passes one team makes, it’s easy to miss the moonwalking bear! A similar logic applies to talent management concerns – when managers protest that they “can’t find qualified women” for a leadership role, it behooves us to ask how we can restructure talent management processes with an eye toward diversity and inclusion to make sure that such qualified candidates – who certainly exist! – are properly identified and given due consideration.

One reason it’s so easy to “not look for” diverse candidates is because we anchor on our in-groups. Think of your five closest friends, your five closest colleagues, your partner(s), and where you live.  How diverse is this group? Often, our in-groups are very similar to ourselves. Our in-groups also serve as our anchors for perceiving traits like intelligence and trustworthiness in others. Without a diverse in-group that would counteract this implicit bias, we create schema of what a “leader” looks like, for example, based on the people we know who are similar to us. This bias can also manifest in corporate decisions, so that we tend to hire, retain, and promote people like ourselves.

The challenge, Steve says, is that in an age of diversity, we are still addicted to likeness. The resolution is how to change the system and our own behaviors. The key to creating change is to employ both unconscious nudges – changing the way we structure our environment to incentivize less-biased decisions – as well as conscious leadership efforts.

Steve and his colleagues interviewed 66 organizations, asking whether they believed themselves to be meritocracies and asking about their talent management in terms of recruitment, retention, and promotion. The current state is homogenous talent management, infused with large amounts of bias at each stage. However, Steve also found three models of diversity and inclusion programs. Diversity 101 is “diversity for diversity’s sake,” characterized by a compliance-based approach – “we do it because we have to.” Diversity 2.0 is “diversity for social responsibility,” which makes a marketing approach to diversity designed to draw out the benefits of difference. Diversity 3.0, by contrast, treats diversity as a boardroom-level issue and employs a bottom-up, integrated approach to systems designed to embed the benefits of difference.

One such example, as Steve described, was a decision to interview candidates in groups of ten in order to save time and money. In these larger settings, interviewers tended to see skill sets as more salient, rather than identity, and were primed to think about team dynamics rather than the individual. In these group interview settings, recruiters hired more diverse candidates. This change was to save resources, not because of the research on nudges toward diversity and inclusion, but had the effect of creating a more diverse work environment.

Steve also discussed an intervention in talent management specifically related to gender at KPMG. The organization’s talent management approach involved all of the (predominantly straight white male) partners gathering in one room, talking about who they want to promote to the partnership, putting candidates on table, and agreeing on 10-20. Unsurprisingly, given what we know about in-groups and unconscious bias, the candidates up for promotion tended to look like the existing partners. The question is how to make this group less biased and more meritocratic without making them defensive.

The simple intervention that Steve proposed was to whiteboard the pipeline of potential incoming partners, separating the pool that were considered ready for partnership from those who were one to two years out, but to write the names of male candidates in red and female candidates in green. As soon as the names were written out, the discrepancy was clear – women were considered one to two years out for consideration for partnership, while men were disproportionately considered ready for promotion. On top of this, Steve attached a quantitative measure of performance for each name. Then, it became clear that several names in the “ready for partnership” group, predominantly men, were less well-performing than women in the “one to two years out” group. This intervention employs simple strategies to engender a rational, rigorous, calm, and systematic approach to checking in-group bias in talent management.

One practical challenge with diversity and inclusion interventions is that everyone is stressed and has little time and attention, to say nothing of resources, to put toward this critical work. Fortunately, even simple interventions can decrease unconscious bias, and when paired with conscious leadership efforts, these interventions can be very powerful. The simplest approach is simply to ask people to remember to ask “WADI”: What About Diversity and Inclusion.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Gender Wage Gap: Extent, Trends, and Explanations with Francine Blau

The gender wage gap declined substantially from 1980 to 2010. What factors contributed to this decline, and how do we account for the gap that remains? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Francine Blau, Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Professor of Economics at Cornell University. Professor Blau presented new empirical evidence on the extent, trends, and sources of the gender wage gap and used this new evidence as a springboard to review the existing literature on the gender wage gap.

In 1980, women on average earned 62.1% of what men earned, a wage gap of roughly 38%. By 1989, the ratio of women’s to men’s earning had increased to 74%, to 77.2% in 1998, and to 79.3% in 2010. This stark change is impressive, but it’s also important to not how much of the increase occurred in the 1980s. Since then, progress in decreasing the gender wage gap has been slower and less consistent.

Professor Blau incorporated two major specifications into her regression analyses. The first, a human capital specification, controls for education and experience. The other controls for variables like occupation, industry, and unionism. The first category includes differences most often affected by choices individuals make about their own lives, whereas the second category can be heavily influenced by the employer.

Using these two specifications, we can examine the gender wage gap to see how much these factors explain the variation in earnings between men and women. For example, in 1980 the unadjusted ratio of women’s earning to men’s was 62.1%, but controlling for the human capital specification, the ratio was 71.1%. This tells us that experience and education accounted for a great deal of the gap. Adding in the second specification, the ratio climbs to 79.4%. While this analysis demonstrates that all of these control variables play an important role in the gender wage gap, there is still a large portion that remains unexplained. In the data from 1980, women with the same characteristics as men nevertheless earned 20% less.

In 2010, the unadjusted gender wage ratio of 79.4% rises to 82.1% controlling for human capital variables and to 91.6% with the full specification. Experience still accounts for a large portion of the gender wage gap in the 2010 data, but interestingly education now detracts from the explanation. Women are now better educated than men, on average, but education appears to be doing less “work” for them in terms of reducing the gender wage gap. Women’s more frequent workforce interruptions and subsequent fewer years of work experience are now contributing more to the continuation of the wage gap.

Interestingly, it appears that the gender wage gap is closing more slowly at the top of the wage distribution. Professor Blau compared women to men in the 10th percentile, 50th percentile, and the 90th percentile of the wage distribution. In 1980, the ratio of women’s wages to men’s was roughly the same across each of these percentile groups – approximately 60%. In 2010, the wage ratio of women to men in the 10th percentile was 82%, 81% in the 50th percentile, and yet only 73.8% for the 90th percentile. Can this discrepancy be explained by differences in characteristics between women and men in the 90th percentile? Examining the descriptive statistics, there aren’t any significant differences that would account for a gap of this size. Understanding why women at the top are faring particularly poorly, and why this development is occurring now, is an important area for future research.

What accounts for the overall decrease in the gender wage gap? One particularly important answer is that women worked hard for what they got! Women improved their skills, both in terms of their educational attainment – women now receive 57% of Bachelor’s degrees – and their labor force attachment and years of experience. The gender gap in full-time experience fell from 6.8 years to 1.4 years between 1980 and 2010. The change in this gap mostly reflects female gains, but has also been impacted by worse outcomes for men, particularly an increase in unemployment during the recession. Women also moved out of traditionally female clerical and service jobs into higher-paying and traditionally male managerial and professional occupations.

Traditional explanations for the gender wage gap tend to focus on discrimination and differences in human capital. While human capital factors account for less than they did in the past, they remain very important. According to Professor Blau, the economics literature is now incorporating newer explanations for the gender wage gap, such as non-cognitive skills and psychological attributes. For example, women tend to be less comfortable negotiating and tend to shy away from competitively-based compensation schemes, which can negatively affect their wages. In addition, gender norms may play a significant role in the remaining gender wage gap. One paper investigated the norm that a wife should not earn more than her husband and found that if a wife is predicted to earn more than her husband, she is less likely to participate in the labor market or, if she does, her income is lower than would be predicted based on her other attributes. These newer insights about gender differences in non-cognitive skills and the relevance of social norms pertaining to gender may help to illuminate still-unexplained aspects of the gender wage gap, but are not a silver bullet.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Can Financial Incentives Reduce the Baby Gap? Evidence from a Reform in Maternity Leave Benefits with Anna Raute

As women’s educational attainment and labor market participation have increased, so too have concerns about decreasing birth rates and below-replacement fertility levels. All OECD countries other than the US provide paid parental leave in order to reduce the cost of childbearing. However, the structure of parental benefits may affect different groups in different ways. This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Anna Raute, WAPPP Fellow and Assistant Professor in Economics at the University of Mannheim, as she presented her research on the effects of the 2007 German parental leave reform.

Highly educated and high-earning women tend to have fewer children than lower-educated and lower-earning women, leading to what researchers have called a “baby gap” between these two groups. For highly-paid women, having children is associated with a greater opportunity cost than for women who are less well paid. In Germany, this manifests in a stark difference in number of children born to highly-educated versus lesser-educated women, as well as a large gap in the percentage of childless women. Close to one-third of highly educated women in Germany never have a child, compared to 18% of lower-educated women (here meaning women who have completed a high school degree but no vocational training or tertiary education). However, in other countries with family policies, such as Sweden, this gap in childlessness or number of children is not quite so stark. The structure of family policies may affect these figures.

Prior to the 2007 reform, parents received a fixed sum of 7,200 euros per child. However, after the reform, parental benefits were linked to the mother’s pre-birth earnings. Rather than the flat payment, mothers could receive between 67-100% of their pre-birth earnings, up to 21,000 euros per child. Prior to the reform, lower-earning mothers were getting a much greater relative benefit from parental benefits than their higher-earning peers. By contrast, with the new reform, higher-earning women stood to benefit much more from wage replacement than from the flat payment, which may have decreased their perceived opportunity cost of having a child.

The key question, Professor Raute asks, is whether fertility post-reform exhibited differential changes across the income and education distribution. Much of the prior literature on parental benefits focuses on cash transfers and welfare programs that provide greater incentives for lower-income mothers than higher-income mothers. This study provides a critical window to examine whether high-earning and highly-educated women are less elastic, or whether they too react to financial incentives in terms of their fertility.

Nine months after the implementation of the law, there was a statistically significant increase in the average monthly birth rate per thousand mothers, as well as a small drop in the number of abortions. In addition, the rate of IVF between 2006 and 2011 increased by 33%. The increase in fertility nine months after the law’s implementation translates to an additional 2,300 children born per year.

Using German pension data, Professor Raute examined this increase in terms of income and education level. This birth data reveals that medium- and high-earners benefitted substantially from the new reform. While benefits for lower-earning mothers did not change substantially pre- and post-reform, medium-earning mothers received an additional 4,000 euros, on average, and high-earning mothers received an additional 8,000 euros. If the difference in these benefits affects fertility, we should expect to see a relative increase in fertility for women who are benefitting greatly from the reform versus those who are not benefitting as much.

For women who are below the median income, there is not a statistically significant change in the probability of having a child. By contrast, for women who earn above the median income, fertility increases for each income bracket. Overall, each additional 5,000 euros in expected benefits raises the probability of having a child in a given year by 6%.

Professor Raute observes the same effect when examining education. Post-reform, the average probability of having a child increases by 6% for medium-educated women and by 13% for highly-educated women.

Given the recency of the reform and the lag in available data, these are only short-term effects. Professor Raute examined women at the end of their fertility cycle in an effort to understand whether we might see a permanent effect on fertility and for which groups. Indeed, for women at the end of their fertility cycle, each additional thousand euros in benefits increases mean fertility level from pre-reform levels by 5.1%. This strong effect indicates that we might expect to see a permanent effect of the reform on completed fertility.

In addition, there is a significant increase in fertility for women ages 40-45. This effect seems to be driven by women who already have one child and decide that – now that it’s cheaper – they will have a second, as opposed to childless women deciding to have their first child due to the effects of the reform. Highly-educated women are also having their first children 4.8 months earlier, on average, which is correlated with a greater number of children overall.

Overall, these findings provide strong support for a discontinuous increase in overall fertility as a result of the reform, resulting in strong effects on fertility for women with higher earnings and educational attainment. The observed baby gap between highly-educated and lesser-educated women therefore seems to be narrowing.

Interestingly, the 2007 reform also increased paternity acknowledgement, in which unmarried fathers can opt to legally register as the child’s father, with all of the attached rights and obligations. In Germany, paternity acknowledgement is strongly associated with better outcomes for children.

Professor Raute hypothesizes two possible explanations for why the 2007 reform increased parental acknowledgement. It could be that as benefits to mothers increase, fathers have to contribute less to support the household, and therefore paternal acknowledgement is cheaper (the “cost channel”). Alternatively, the reform reserved two months of paid leave for fathers, which may have encouraged paternity acknowledgement (the “paternity leave channel”).

Looking at children born in the first few months of the reform, whose parents couldn’t have known about the new reform when they were conceived, paternity acknowledgement increased by 1.5 percentage points. However, this effect was driven primarily by women who were working prior to giving birth, who were entitled to a larger share of benefits under the reform. This effect implies that the cost channel, rather than the paternity leave channel, is responsible for the increase in paternity acknowledgement post-reform.