Archive for the ‘Gender’ Category

what’s the story behind declining male employment?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

in which I test whether anyone is still getting notified when I update this blog….

Matt Yglesias has a graph up showing the trends in the employment-population ratio for men and women over the past 50 years.   He observes “One striking thing that pops out is that the labor market for men never recovers from recessions. Each trough is followed by a new peak, but the new peak is lower than the previous peak.”  (By contrast, there’s an overall trend up for women.)

There’s at least two ways of thinking about this phenomenon.  One is that this graph shows the intersection of a two unrelated factors — cyclical variation in employment driven by the economy, and a secular decline in employment driven by something else (some combination of increases in education, lower retirement ages, the growth of incarceration, and other factors).  But what Yglesias seems to be implying is that the recessions are in fact part of the cause of the decline in labor force participation.  This is a possibility — we know that the longer that people are out of work, the lower the likelihood that they’ll ever get back to work — but then you’d have to make a case for why it would affect men differently than women.  (Or you could argue that recessions have depressed women’s labor force participation — but that the other factors promoting it have had even more of an impact that it would appear on face value.)

I just finished Charles Murray’s Coming Apart (I didn’t want to give him my money, so I had to wait to get the top of the list at the library).  This decline in male employment is one of his main indicators for the decline of American civilization.  He notes that it’s true even if you just look at white prime-age men, for whom incarceration, retirement and education are not a significant part of the story.  He attributes the decrease primarily to moral factors — the decline in “industriousness”  and the decline in marriage — rather than primarily economics, although at times he suggests that the government safety net, particularly disability benefits, is part of the story.

I do think there’s a real phenomenon going on in this prolonged recession, where older less-educated workers with health limitations, who could have kept their old jobs in a normal economy, but were laid off for economic reasons, are then finding it particularly hard to find new jobs.  And a lot of them are either taking early social security (if they’re old enough to qualify) or applying for disability benefits (which they may or may not get).  And that probably does reduce their likelihood of working in the future, even if the economy picks up.  But I think this is peculiar to this particular moment, and not enough to explain a 50 year trend.

What’s your explanation?



Happy International Women’s Day

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Check out Girl2Woman.

Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

I finally made it to the top of the library waiting list for Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, by Matthew Crawford, and this snowed-in week gave me the chance to sit down and read it.  I have to say that I was underwhelmed by it.  I thought that the passages where he describes his work on motorcycles were lovely — Laura was right  when she said “I dare you not to get carried away by his intoxication with his work.”  But the rest of the book read like it was written by the philosophy PhD  that Crawford is — and that’s not a compliment.  I got lost in the jargon, and found myself skimming long passages.

As best as I can tell, Crawford makes four different arguments.  Three of them I basically agree with, although I don’t think they are particularly original.

  • Skilled trades jobs can be as lucrative (or more so) than white collar jobs, and are less vulnerable to being outsourced to other countries.
  • Skilled trades jobs can be as intellectually demanding as white collar jobs, and should not be considered as only an option for people who can’t cut it on the academic track.  (Crawford cites Mike Rose’s The Mind at Work on this, which has been sitting on my to read pile for at least a year)
  • There is a value to doing work where you can see the results of what you do, where the people who benefit from your work know you, and are known to you, where you learn from people who have done the same work, not just from books.  This reminded me of Wendell Berry’s statement (which I’ve talked about here before) that “The right scale in work gives power to affection.”  (I’m not agreeing that this is the only work with value, but there is a power to it.  It’s why I used to volunteer to make meals at Food and Friends before going off to work at HHS — I needed to something where the results were tangible.)

And finally, Crawford argues that there is an autonomy and independence that comes from work where it is objectively clear whether you know what you’re doing or not — the light turns out when you flip the switch, or it doesn’t, the motorcycle starts or it doesn’t.  He contrasts this with an office culture that rewards conformity, where judgments are made about workers’ beings, because their product can’t be objectively measured.  I’m just not sure I buy this argument.  I think he’s comparing the most easily caricatured aspects of office work with idealized versions of his job — because even most motorcycle mechanics don’t own their own shops, and can’t spend 20 hours in search of the truth when the client isn’t going to be billed for more than five.  And at the same time, he seems to blame the flaws of offices on the drive for profits, although not-for-profits can be just as dysfunctional work environments in their own ways.

It’s almost impossible to write a review of this book and not think of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.    I haven’t read Zen in 20 years, and don’t remember that much about it, but I remember my outrage near the end when you learn that after riding thousands of miles with his son, he’s only just noticed that while he has a view of the open road, his son only has a view of his back.  Crawford has some similar blind spots, particularly around gender.  Early on he writes “It so happens that most of the characters who appear in this book are men, but I am sure that women, no less than men, will recognize the appeal of tangible work that is straightforwardly useful.”  Well, yes, but there’s also an issue that the forms of tangible, straightforwardly useful work that are traditionally done by women are paid far less than the forms of tangible, straightforwardly useful work that are traditionally done by men.

I also suspect that there are very few women in the trades who would agree with Crawford’s claim that the objective quality of your work is all that matters in achieving acceptance.  (He makes a nod towards acknowledging this reality in a footnote where he tells a story about a time where he was hazed by his coworkers and notes that “the new guy, the nonwhite guy, and the woman are especially likely to incur extra hardships.”  But he doesn’t seem to notice that there’s something categorically different about being the “new guy” — which you will be on one job, but not the next, and being nonwhite or female, which are permanent characteristics.

So, in spite of finding parts of Crawford’s story very appealing, I found the book a disappointment.  Go read Life Work, by Donald Hall, instead.

The New Breadwinners

Friday, October 16th, 2009

From Heather Boushey, The New Breadwinners, in The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything, Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress.


Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

This week I'm looking at two of the recent series of books about parenting from a father's perspective.  If the female version of these are "momoirs," does that make these "dadiaries?"

Of the two, Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood, by Michael Lewis, is the more recent and the more hyped.  Lewis is the author of one of the better books I've ever read (Liar's Poker, about the excesses of Wall Street in the 1980s) and so I had high hopes for this book. And it has some really funny moments.  But basically, it reads like the slapped together collection of Slate columns that it is.  In it we learn that parenting can be absurd, exhausting and messy, but that "If you want to feel the way you're meant to feel about the new baby, you need to do the grunt work.  it's only in caring for a thing that you become attached it." 

I'd actually be interested in reading a book by Lewis in which he uses his journalistic talents to look at the contested territory of parenting in the 21st century, because he does nail some issues: "For now, there's an unsettling absence of universal, or even local, standards of behavior.  Within a few miles of my house I can find perfectly sane men and women who regard me as a Neanderthal who should do more to help my poor wife with the kids, and just shut up about it.  But I can also find other perfectly sane men and women who view me as a Truly Modern Man and marvel aloud at my ability to be both breadwinner and domestic dervish — doer of an approximately 31.5 percent of all parenting.  The absence of standards is the social equivalent of the absence of an acknowledged fair price for a good in a marketplace.  At best, it leads to haggling; at worst, to market failure."

Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table by Cameron Stracher doesn't try to describe modern fatherhood in general.  Rather, it's the story of one man who decided to be home for dinner, 5 nights a week, for one school year, and how it changed his life.  And yes, it looks like it started out as a blog

In order to do this, Stracher started working from home a few days a week, and eventually wound up quitting one of his two jobs, and thus having more time to coach his kid's teams, and generally be part of their lives.  Stracher acknowledges that everything he does would be unremarkable almost anywhere but in the suburbs of New York City, but he also doesn't downplay the difficulty in changing patterns of behavior when he works a two-hour train ride from home, he's expected to travel regularly for work, and all of the kid-focused activities are scheduled for at-home-parents. 

The other major theme of the book is Stracher's desire to cook "real" (e.g. grown up) food for his family, and his frustration when his kids turn up their nose at it again and again.  He writes with passion about the pleasure of feeding people you love, and how easy it is to put undue weight on it.  (I know that one of the reasons I make waffles and muffins so often is they're pretty much the only things I can make that the kids will appreciate the effort.)  He's not the elegant writer that Lewis is, but I think I enjoyed this book more.

A Nintendo in your purse?

Monday, October 27th, 2008

I understand that A-list bloggers are used to getting all sorts of schwag to review, but I’m far from that, so I was pretty surprised last month to check my inbox and discover that Nintendo was sending me a DS Lite and games to review.  It’s part of their campaign to market the DS to women, which also includes a promo where people who rent a high end purse can receive the use of DS at the same time.

I emailed the marketer back to say that I’d give it a try, but that their games would need to knock my socks off to justify the space in my purse.  Given that I can already play a number of games on my iPod touch, why would I want to carry something else around?  And indeed, none of the games they sent with it were as addictive to me as trism.

There’s no question that if you’re serious about playing games, the DS is still a better machine.  For one thing, its battery life far exceeds the iPod’s (which frankly stinks in game playing mode).  And it has two screens, and more than one button, which gives you a lot more options for controlling a game.  And it’s cheaper, and less breakable, and has a user-replaceable battery.  But for having something handy when I’m bored on the metro, or get stuck waiting on line somewhere, the iPod does just fine.

It also didn’t help their case that the selection of programs they sent was largely based on the assumption that women don’t actually want to play video games.*  So, they sent a yoga trainer (confusing controls for selecting programs, and no audio directions), a weight loss coach with a pedometer (great concept, clunky implementation), a crossword program (fine except that you had to solve a bunch of easy ones to get to the ones that were interesting), Brain Age 2 (clever), Carnival Games (a hit with my son), and a puzzle solving game (MillionHeir, which was pretty good).  And none of these shows off the capacity of the system half as well as the Pokemon game that my son has been busily playing since the minute I handed over the system.**

So, I’m dubious about this marketing push, even as I think they’ve got a pretty good product.  I just don’t see a lot of grown ups playing with a DS. Am I missing something?  Any of you play with one of these?

*This article quotes someone from Nintendo as saying that half of the DS systems sold last year belong to women.  Sorry, but I can only believe that if: a) "women" is defined to mean "female, regardless of age" or b) "belong" is defined to mean "purchased by" regardless of the primary user.  I know some women who play computer games,*** but 50 percent just isn’t plausible to me.

** D has been asking for a DS for a long time, and we told him that we wouldn’t buy him one, but he could save up for one. And he’s been dutifully saving his allowance for over a year.  So once I tried the system enough to write a fair review, I let him buy it from me for half price.  He knows that we still retain the right to put the system in time out if he misbehaves.

***For some interesting discussion on gender differences in online games, see Geeky Mom.

Composition of the US Labor Force by Marriage and Parenting Status

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Here’s what I’ve been working on this week:


This is pretty different from the usual way these numbers are presented, which is based on families rather than workers.  (Remember, if half of the families with children have an at-home spouse and the other half is dual income, only 1/3 of the workers will have an at-home spouse.)

For what it’s worth, the furthest back I was able to come up with
roughly comparable numbers for is 1975, when 41.5 percent of the
workforce were parents, and 35 percent of the working parents had an
at-home spouse.


I’d love some feedback on these graphs — what interests you?  Surprises you?  Is the second one too many slices to be easily interpreted?

Update:  I’m responding in the comments. But I also want to register my fury that Microsoft in Excel 2007 has made it impossible to apply patterns to different slices on a pie chart so that you can tell them apart when you print them in black and white.

Update 2: Ok, here’s one that shows part-time vs. full-time.


Denting the glass ceiling

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

For all that I think Sarah Palin would be a terrible president, I do think her nomination puts another dent in the glass ceiling.  Specifically, while there are a few hardliners still arguing that women shouldn’t be in positions of authority, there’s no doubt that the world has changed when Phyllis Schlafly is going around saying that Palin’s experience as a mother will make her a better vice president.  I really do think that the next woman who runs will find it a little bit easier as a result.

Martin Manley comments on the historical nature of this election:

"On the other hand, Clinton, together with Obama and McCain, may have just killed the white male ticket. As
a country, we are having our 56th presidential election, meaning that
about 200 people in American history have had the honor of running for
President or Vice President at the head of a major party ticket (some
have run more than once, some years there have been more than two major
parties). So far as I know, all but one of these candidates has been a white man (the exception is Geraldine Ferraro in 1984). With the nomination of Palin, neither party has fielded a white male ticket. Indeed, thanks to the contestants in this year’s election and the odd way the US selects Vice Presidents, a white male ticket may now be politically untenable.



Friday, August 29th, 2008

Some reactions to Sarah Palin for VP.

First, I have to say that my dad suggested that McCain would pick Palin over a month ago.  I thought he was nuts.

Second, this choice clearly succeeded in changing the political conversation from being about Obama’s speech.

Third, I don’t know if it will make any difference to the election.  In general, very few people vote based on the VP choice.  It will make the Christian right more eager to get up on a wet November morning, but might scare some folks on the fence who worry that McCain’s VP might actually wind up in the Oval Office in the next four years.  It might win some Hillary voters, but will piss off others who see it as meaning that McCain thinks they’re stupid (or that she’s a younger and less qualified woman getting what they fought for).

Fourth, I don’t think she’s qualified to be President.  But I’m not sure she’s that much less qualified than, say, Mitt Romney.  He was Governor of Massachusetts for 4 years; she’s been Governor of Alaska for 2 years.  He’s got more business experience; she’s got more local government experience.  And even the people who like Romney’s politics think he’s plastic, while by all accounts she’s quite real and is very popular in her state.

Daring and dangerous

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

It’s been a while since I did a Tuesday book review, and I realized that I never commented on the Daring Book for Girls.  It’s a nice book, with a mixture of traditional girls’ activities (double dutch, cats cradle, slumber parties), not so traditional activities (karate, campfires), practical skills (first aid, changing a tire, basic money management) and straight-up feminism (bios of women scientists and spies and a bunch of queens).  If I had a daughter, I’d give it to her with much less reservation than I have in giving my sons the companion Dangerous book.

In fact, I mostly left the Daring book wishing that Miriam and Andi had gotten to do the book for boys as well as for girls.  Fundamentally, if the Daring book is a throwback to the 70s, the Dangerous book is a throwback much further, perhaps to Teddy Roosevelt’s youth.  And it seems a lot more useful for my sons to know how to change a tire or balance a checkbook than to make their own bow and arrows.