Monday, August 31, 2015

What is exotic is ordinary when translated into our own terms

From Scott Alexander
70% of Pakistani medical students are female, but only 23% of doctors are. A medical education is a status symbol in Pakistan, and women seem to be pursuing it to increase their value in the marriage market, then getting married and dropping out of medicine. As a result, Pakistan spends a lot of money on medical education and is drastically short of doctors. What do they do? Does your opinion change if I tell you that people involved in US medical education have told me we have a similar problem here? (albeit much less severe, and more related to child-rearing than marriage)
When you first read this, it sounds like some exotic foreign phenomenon but it is actually prevalent across the OECD. Pakistan is typical in this manner rather than an outlier. In the US, in fields that entail lengthy and/or competitive periods of skill building (on the order of ten or fifteen years), women tend to represent 50% of the threshold of the beginning participants but only 15-30% of the workforce at the threshold achievement. Licensed doctors, law firm partners, accounting firm partners, CEO and CFOs, Senators, Senior management of companies, award winning authors, judges, etc.

The mediating factor is family formation and child rearing. I am reminded of Charles Murray's criticism in Coming Apart that the successful fail to preach what they practice. Education, then employment, then marriage and then family - regular as clockwork and with disproportionately positive outcomes.

Hence my perspective that we sometimes, in our emotional trope of the warm and cuddly elements of "family", lose sight of the fact that the family unit is also another economic and social unit and that there are varying degrees of effectiveness in structure and practices within such units. Looking at it from that dispassionate point-of-view, it is perfectly rational for Pakistani female medical students to leverage their academic career towards a marital outcome. We have assortative mating here in the US, why not in Pakistan? The mechanisms may differ somewhat but the process is similar. We may not like acknowledging the measured reality, but there it is.

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