Johan Fourie's blog

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Posts Tagged ‘gender

Bad boys, what you gonna do?

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Bad-Boys

A social revolution is underway that most of us are blissfully unaware of. Its causes are fuzzy, but its consequences are likely to be significant: it could radically alter how we work, whom we marry, how many children we have, and, perhaps in the extreme, the likelihood of conflict. This social revolution is a relatively recent phenomenon. We’ve seen it emerge only in the last two decades, but it’s accelerating at a rapid pace. Welcome to the era of the widening gender gap in education.

Girls, nowadays, outperform boys at astonishing rates, both at school and at university. Two new studies, both by economists at Stellenbosch University’s Research in Social Policy unit, attest to this. First, a study by Chris van Wyk, Anderson Gondwe and Pierre de Villiers follow all 2007 Western Cape Grade 6 learners (77,633) until matric in 2013. They find that men are 29% more likely to have dropped out of school by 2013 compared to their female counterparts. These results confirm nationally representative studies of reading and math scores. Hendrik van Broekhuizen and Nic Spaull show that the gender gap in reading at South African primary schools is one of the largest in the world. But it is also in mathematics, a subject where boys traditionally outperformed girls, where the closing and then widening of the gender gap is most evident. Says Van Broekhuizen and Spaull: “In the 2000 and 2007 rounds of SACMEQ, South African grade 6 girls outperformed their male counterparts, but this difference was not statistically significant. However, in the more recently conducted TIMSS-Numeracy assessment of 2015, grade 5 girls outperformed grade 5 boys by a statistically significant margin of 16 points. This was the fourth largest (pro-girl) gender gap in mathematics of the 49 countries that participated.”

SchoolPerformance

Source: Van Broekhuizen and Spaull (2017)

Not only do girls do better than boys at school, women outperform men to an even greater extent at university. Van Broekhuizen and Spaull follow the 2008 matric cohort, and show that, while girls obtained 27% more bachelor passes in matric, more females access university (34% more), and considerably more females complete any undergraduate qualification (56% more) or any undergraduate degree (66% more). These gaps exist for all of South Africa’s race groups, although it is slightly bigger for white and coloured students. The pyramid summarizes the gap at every level: for every 100 females in matric in 2008, there were only 8 females that earned any undergraduate degree by the end of 2014, and only 5 males.

We don’t yet know what explains this gap. One argument, with some supporting evidence, is that women have more traits and behaviours that are favourable to schooling in its current form, also known as non-cognitive skills. These skills include self-control, self-motivation, dependability, sociability, perceptions of self-worth, locus of control, time-preference and delayed gratification. But why exactly these non-cognitive skills have become more valuable in the last two decades is not entirely clear. Others have pointed to technological change, particularly in computer and video games, as an explanation for why men are performing worse. But that does not explain gender differences at very young ages.

What is more interesting, though, is to think through the likely consequences. The most obvious is the effect on the job market. Graduates have a much lower unemployment rate (5%) compared to those without any tertiary qualification (33%) in South Africa. If more women have degrees, women are likely to have significant lower unemployment rates than men. And because the best students in almost all subject fields are now women, they are likely to find the best jobs, and move up the job ladder quicker.

We know that men have historically held the majority of high-ranking positions in the workplace, and this outcome can do a lot to balance things out. But it is also important that we think carefully through the full range of consequences. People prefer to match on education, meaning that women prefer men with a similar level of education, and vice versa. What does the gender-unbalanced pool of graduates mean for finding your soulmate? If women become the main (or only) breadwinners, how will that affect family planning? Women already face a more difficult trade-off than men between having to balance a family and career – will this cause fertility rates to fall further, especially for those at the upper-end of the income distribution where the gender gap is most pronounced?

And what of the men? Will they be happy to step in and take up more of the family responsibilities? In a world that increasingly rewards human capital, a large pool of unskilled men will find no outlet for their only productive resource: manual labour. If these men, without proper interventions, become more indolent and isolated, what are the likely political and social consequences? It is not surprising that the political extremes are often dominated by men. Men already outnumber women in all major crime categories. If unchecked, violence and conflict, at the household, community and international level, will in all likelihood increase.

It is natural to ask what can be done about this. Those who argue that the cause for the gender gap is the sudden increase in rewards for non-cognitive abilities would argue that the schooling system can do more to nurture these traits in men. Others would argue that the technological change that make men less productive – like video games – should be taxed.

Others, again, will say that it is pointless to intervene – why should we care about men when women have been suppressed for centuries, and many remain the victims of abuse and dominance? I would argue that that is exactly why we should care about the rising gender gap in education: if we don’t, the consequences are likely to be dire, for men and women.

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Written by Johan Fourie

March 26, 2018 at 08:30

What Amanda Gouws wants

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GouwsAmanda Gouws responded in today’s Cape Times to my blog post of August 29, which later appeared in the Cape Times under the regrettably misleading heading “Gender parity is not the ideal”. Prof. Gouws is right on many fronts: I have not read the literature on formal versus substantive gender equality, and know little about the different definitions of gender justice. I also had not read the open letter published by the Women’s Forum and, in truth, did not even know that a Stellenbosch University Women’s Forum existed or that it was them who had published the poster in the lift.

Instead, I arrived at work one morning, got into the lift and, as one does, scanned through the wall posters. One of them, the infographic on gender inequality, was fascinating. I got out of the lift and later that week, I wrote a post on this blog about my thoughts on the difference between a strict 50% gender quota and gender equality, which I defined as the opportunity to be promoted and to earn the same regardless of your gender. I said that where discrimination still persists, it is wrong. I said that I suspect we are moving in the right direction; that if you had to draw a similar infographic a decade ago, it would look remarkably different. And I made suggestions that could speed up the process by, for example, making parental leave for men compulsory and equal to that of women.

Somehow, though, prof. Gouws has missed that I agree with her on nearly every point she raises in her response today. Instead, she chooses to build her own straw man, one that vaguely sounds like he might have said the things she protests against, and shoots him down. She misquotes me several times. To give one example, she writes: “Fourie thinks it is ‘normal’ to have fewer women professors”. I don’t think that and didn’t say that. Control-F my blog post or the Cape Times piece and see if you can find the word ‘normal’ in it, which she attributes to me by placing it in direct quotes. I also did not say “in time it will change”, although, according to prof. Gouws’s own statistics, it has. She notes that in her twelve years in the Senate, the number of female professors has increased from 6 to 60, an annual growth rate of 21%. If the trend continues, we could see gender parity at senate level within the next decade, not 40 years as prof. Gouws suggests. Now that is worth celebrating, right? Wrong, according to prof. Gouws. It is simply my “sexism hiding behind arguments about numbers”.

A week or so after I wrote the original post, I was contacted by Stellenbosch University’s marketing office to know whether they could send the piece to the media. My blog is public, so I don’t mind if the posts are reposted elsewhere, and so I agreed. A month later, September 30, the piece was published in the Cape Times under the title “Gender parity is not the ideal”. I would have chosen a different title, but newspapers need an audience, and catchy titles like that sell. So I understand why they did it. But I certainly did not find it “necessary to take the issue into the media without consulting the Women’s Forum”, as prof. Gouws claims.

The Women’s Forum, according to prof. Gouws, “wanted to start a debate about gender equality at Stellenbosch University. This was an opportunity for our male colleagues to show solidarity with women.” I would suggest prof. Gouws got exactly what she wanted.

Written by Johan Fourie

October 10, 2014 at 14:20

Gender apartheid

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Boy meets girl: expect their grades to drop

Boy meets girl: now expect their grades to drop

Seeing that, according to the Cape Times, I don’t believe in gender parity, I might as well go the full distance and call for gender apartheid. Yes, I want separate neighbourhoods for boys and girls, separate beaches and benches, separate entrances to public buildings. Heck, I might even demand separate homelands for men and women. And to be honest, this will be much easier than implementing racial apartheid because we already have separate schools, separate sports teams and separate toilets.

You might think that I do this because I believe that one gender is somehow inferior to the other, but in fact I’m basing my big plan for gender apartheid on science which says that separate gender development is better for both sexes. According to a paper published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, boys and girls do better at school if they interact less with the opposite sex. Here is the blurb for Andrew Hill’s paper The Girl Next Door: The Effect of Opposite Gender Friends on High School Achievement:

This paper finds that a student’s share of opposite gender school friends negatively effects high school GPA (grades). It uses the gender composition of schoolmates in an individual’s neighbourhood as an instrument for the gender composition of an individual’s self-reported friendship network. The effect occurs across all subjects for individuals older than sixteen, but only in mathematics and science for younger students. Additional results indicate effects may operate inside the classroom through difficulties getting along with the teacher and paying attention, and outside the classroom through romantic relationships.

Hill’s paper comes at a time when there is some debate about whether single-sex schools or mixed-gender schools are best. His results show unequivocally that single-sex classrooms are better for kids because they get along easier with the teacher and are not distracted by opposite-gender friends. I would think that a romantic relationship might prove to be a valuable confidence booster, with a positive impact on grades. But alas, it seems like the opposite sex is bad news. One might also think that causality works in the opposite direction: that poor-performing kids tend to select into relationships with the opposite sex. Let me rephrase that: nerds have their books and jocks have their girls. But Hill’s clever use of an econometric technique called instrumental variables avoids this possible causal problem: kids that live in neighbourhoods with lots of kids from the other gender tend to do worse in exams than kids who live in neighbourhoods where the other kids happened to be of the same gender. Causality runs therefore clearly from interaction with other kids to worse grades.

But somehow I am slightly uncomfortable with the policy implications of these results. Maybe it’s because I attended a mixed-gender school and simply don’t want to believe that these schools are necessarily worse than single-sex schools. (My mother and my wife attended a single-sex school, though, so I can’t be too critical.) But maybe it’s also because I believe that schools impart more than just our ability to do math and learn history. Maybe the social interactions in school are really important to teach values such as fairness, equality and diversity. Of course, many single-sex schools organise student interactions outside the classroom to accommodate this vital part of social learning. But taking Hill’s findings literally, one would want to avoid even these social interactions.

The results also imply that with relatively little additional costs, the grades of high school students across the country can be improved by just making all schools same-sex schools. A sort-of Grand Gender Apartheid policy for schools. But I wonder what we’ll lose in the process. If my own high school experience is anything to go by, I would think a lot. School is a multidimensional experience and shouldn’t be reduced to only one criterium – grades. Gender apartheid, much like other forms of apartheid, is a bad idea.

Written by Johan Fourie

October 3, 2014 at 12:53

What women want

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Elsa1

An infographic pinned to the wall of our office lift last week shows the large discrepancy between male and female appointments at different levels of the university. At the top, women are significantly underrepresented; only 4 of the 23 members (17%) of Council and only 61 of the 256 Senate members (24%) are women. At the administrative level, men are in the minority. But the issue really is at the top: A recent article by Xolela Mangcu of UCT’s Department of Sociology in City Press makes the case for both more black and female professors at South African universities. The article notes that only “194 black or African South Africans are professors out of the country’s total of 4 000. This number translates to 4% of the total. The situation is more dire when it comes to women. Only 34 or 0.85% of the total number of South African professors are women.”

Mangcu’s plea for greater equality confuses gender and racial inequality. These two are not the same, and their origins are also very different. I’ll focus on gender. Mangcu was referring to black female professors, of which there is only 34, a low 1.5% of all full professors. AfricaCheck* redid Mangcu’s calculations and it turns out there are 534 female out of a total of 2174 full professors in South Africa, or 25.6%. While it suggests that Stellenbosch is very much on par with what is happening in the rest of the country, it does seem as though women are significantly underrepresented as professors in South Africa.

The critique is labelled against universities, but it is even more valid for the private sector. As an experiment, consider South African businesses that are part of Business Leadership South Africa, an “independent association whose members represent South African big business leadership and major multinational investors”. Of the 76 member companies listed on their website, which include nearly all of South Africa’s largest companies, only 14.4% has a woman in charge. That is 11 percentage points less than the number of women professors in South African universities (25.6%).

It seems like there is no reason to smile if equal numbers of men and women in leadership positions is what we are aiming for. But is equal numbers really the aim? What exactly do we mean when we say we want gender equality? Do we hope to see equal numbers of men and women in all professions? Do we hope to see, for example, equal numbers of men and women at university Senate level, but also at administrative level? Or is gender equality something else? Is gender equality perhaps not the ability of every man and every woman, regardless of their gender, to face the same barriers to entry, the same salary, the same leave, the same career opportunities? If that is true, is gender representation the best way to measure gender equality? What if the median woman have a greater propensity to choose a career that offers her more free time? What if the median woman have a greater propensity to choose a career that has a greater social impact, however defined? What if the median woman chooses to spend more time at home with her children, not because she is forced to but because she actually wants to?

This last question is tricky, right. Because perhaps our long history of unequal relations (at least since the Neolithic Revolution 10000 years ago) has ingrained in all of us the idea that women are better carers and men are better providers, where in reality there might not be such a large biological difference. Yet for the purpose of my argument, whether these preferences are because of genetics or cultural heritage doesn’t really matter. I think we can all agree that the median women has a higher likelihood of not ‘leaning in’, as Sheryl Sandberg writes.

So why this fetish of 50%? Why would we expect to see equal numbers in all professions? What if women are better learners, better connectors or better communicators? What if they work harder at university (and are therefore more likely, ceteris paribus, to become professors than, say, CEOs), live longer, or make better investments? Do we expect to see equal numbers of men and women in all occupations, in all ranks of corporate life, or do we simply want to ensure that everyone, regardless of their gender, has the opportunity to move into whatever occupation or rank or lifestyle they choose? If we choose the latter, we won’t be able to use the ratio of male to female professors and claim injustice, simply because it could signal either discrimination or preference, and we won’t be able to know which.

So how can we identify discrimination, then? Wages and salaries are a good start. Women and men should earn equal pay for equal work, and where this is not happening, the law should step in. But even this could be tricky. Should the (male) players in the Springbok rugby team earn similar salaries to the female players of the women’s team? Both represent their country, and both presumably put in equal effort. But the men’s team create a far larger income for SA Rugby, of course, so I suspect they also earn more. Other benefits, I would argue, should be equal too, like parental leave. Why is it that women get 4 months and men only 3 days? Is that not unfair? In Sweden, which ranks as one of the most gender-egalitarian countries, men and women often get an equal period of time off for parental duties. That not only seems fair, but it also affects the incentives companies face when they hire. Why would you prefer to employ men to women who are nearing child-bearing years when both are ‘penalised’ equally? (I wrote about this last year.)

This is not to deny that there are many places where women are held back simply because they are women, where stereotypes about a women’s place in society exclude their participation. I suspect that much of this is disappearing. Nevertheless, the legacies of past discrimination against female appointments will persist for some time to come (especially in universities, where staff turnover is very low), but new appointments at lower levels certainly reflect more female participation. At Stellenbosch, there are more females than males in Lecturer and Junior Lecturer positions, for example.

So at what stage, one has to ask, is gender no longer a consideration in new appointments? Will this happen only when we have at an equal share of men and women as full professors? Isn’t that a bit paternalistic, a bit social engineery?

Gender equality is not about a fixed ratio of 50% women and 50% men in all spheres of society. That ignores personal preferences, tastes, and choices. A society where we strive for a perfect 50% gender balance everywhere is a society where men and women have lost the agency to act in their own interests.

* Even AfricaCheck’s numbers are slightly wrong. They note that 21 of the 2174 professors’ race is listed as unknown. They claim it’s 0.1% of the total. It is 1%, of course.

Women’s work

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Today we celebrate Women’s Day in South Africa, commemorating a national march of women in 1956 to petition against legislation that required black South Africans to carry a special identification document. South Africa has moved far since 1956 in terms of women’s rights: we now have a constitution that instils gender equality, and in politics we see more women in leadership positions. Although South Africa has not yet had a female president, Nkosazama Ndlamini-Zuma is chairperson of the African Union Commission and three women, Helen Zille, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Patricia de Lille lead the largest opposition party.

WomensliberationYet gender inequality persists, not only in South Africa but across the globe. Sheryl Sandberg, who served as Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, recently authored a popular book on women in the workplace, Lean In. It won’t be the best book you’ve read, but it suggests some interesting reasons why women still only fill a small proportion of the top leadership roles in business. (The main thesis summarised: She asks women to not step back when making decisions about their career with the expectation that they will have to scale down when children arrives. Go for that leadership position you would love, and then deal with the demands of pregnancy and parental care when it arrives.) On the whole, though, she fails to address the most obvious concern from the demand-side: that shareholders care only about profits, and if child-birth means lower levels of efficiency for women than for men, then appointing men, ceteris paribus, may be a rational decision.

In academia, however, where the demands of profitability are less pervasive, one would expect that the gender gap has closed. Not so. As a recent article in Slate argues: for men, having children is a career advantage, while for women a child can be a ‘career killer’.

The pressure cooker years as an assistant professor leading up to tenure usually number four to seven years. At the end of this trial, the university decides “up or out”—tenure for life or dismissal. It is well established that women are less likely to be awarded tenure than men. There is a baby penalty, especially strong in the sciences—but women without children also receive tenure at a lower rate than men. There are other factors than children that cause women to fail at this critical juncture. The women who do make it often do so alone. Women professors have higher divorce rates, lower marriage rates, and fewer children than male professors. Among tenured faculty, 70 percent of men are married with children compared with 44 percent of women.

What can be done to combat this?

Sweden offers one alternative. Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave for each child, but more importantly, they are encouraged to split these days equally between both parents. If this is done, there is an additional ‘equality’ bonus of extra leave. This equality is not forced, though, as one parent can take up to 420 of the 480 days. And it’s fully funded by the State: 420 of these days are paid at 80% of your normal wage.

The important tenet here is not the length of time, but the fact that it is shared equally between husband and wife. There is no reason to discriminate in appointments for reasons of profitability or efficiency if both men and women pay an equal ‘cost’ at childbirth. Three Swedish researchers in the Journal of Public Economics (Jan 2013) exploit a Swedish policy change in 1995 to show that one month extra parental leave for fathers have no effect on their lifelong earnings, but have a positive (but small) effect for mothers, suggesting that women gain from greater equality with men.  I would go so far as to say that an equal share of parental leave should be legislated; that men and women’s share of leave are not allowed to differ. This is because men (yes, even Swedish men!) more easily shirk their parental leave duties, as recent research shows. Only when men and women are forced to share equally in the duties of parental leave will businesses have no reason to discriminate against women.

We associate gender inequality with uplifting women. But perhaps our focus is on the wrong gender. In South Africa, most companies offer three months of paid parental leave for women, but only three days for men. If we are to combat gender inequality, on this Women’s Day, women country-wide should be marching for men’s rights to more paternity leave.

Written by Johan Fourie

August 9, 2013 at 10:21