Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Research or ideological shaming

That's incendiary. From ‘Acting Wife’: Marriage Market Incentives and Labor Market Investments by Leonardo Bursztyn, Thomas Fujiwara, and Amanda Pallais. It is social sciences so I attach a high degree of skepticism.

From the abstract:
Do single women avoid career-enhancing actions because these actions could signal personality traits (like ambition) that are undesirable in the marriage market? We answer this question through two field experiments in an elite U.S. MBA program. Newly-admitted MBA students filled out a questionnaire on job preferences and personality traits to be used by the career center in internship placement; randomly selected students thought their answers would be shared with classmates. When they believed their classmates would not see their responses, single and non-single women answered similarly. However, single women reported desired salaries $18,000 lower and being willing to travel seven fewer days per month and work four fewer hours per week when they expected classmates would see their answers. They also reported less professional ambition and tendency for leadership. Neither men nor non-single women changed their answers in response to peer observability. A supplementary experiment asked students to make choices over hypothetical jobs before discussing their choices in their career class small groups; we randomly varied the groups’ gender composition. Single women were much less likely to select career-focused jobs when their answers would be shared with male peers, especially single ones. Two results from observational data support our experimental results. First, in a new survey, almost three-quarters of single female students reported avoiding activities they thought would help their career because they did not want to appear ambitious. They eschewed these activities at higher rates than did men and non-single women. Second, while unmarried women perform similarly to married women in class when their performance is kept private from classmates (on exams and problem sets), they have lower participation grades.
This is somewhat obfuscatory. If I am reading them correctly, they are saying that all men and married women in elite MBA programs demonstrate comparable levels of ambition and career focus. Single women also show comparable ambition and career focus where the demonstration is private. When their actions and words are public, single women demonstrate markedly lower levels of ambition and career focus.

The inference, which the researchers do not articulate, is that all men and already married women are focused on a single goal, their career. In contrast, single women are, on average, demonstrating two goals; acquisition of a husband (by downplaying their commitment to their career) and their career.

If you subscribe to the rationalist perspective of homo economicus, this makes perfect sense. Women are about 35% of most elite MBA programs. It is a target rich environment if you have more than the single goal of career. Signaling an equal commitment to career as a spouse probably is attractive to a smaller subsection of the male candidate pool than does signaling accommodation.

There are plenty of ideological or philosophical objections that one can acknowledge.
Utilitarians might object that the scarce resource of a space at an elite school is being wasted on someone not as committed to career as all the others.

Third wave feminists (or is it fourth wave; it's hard to keep track) likely would object to such women as complying with patriarchal expectations.

Ideological feminists likely would object to the reinforcement of a stereotype.
But I don't consider these to hold much water, (particularly if it does not involve government resources). They are all fair points but individuals, by the very nature of individuality, are allowed to make decisions (within the bounds of law) which optimize their array of goals.

Since some 80% of people marry, that is certainly within the bounds of expectation. If I recall correctly, some 80% of women have children. A woman has a much more constrained window of marital and fertility considerations than does a man, so it makes sense that it would be front-loaded, as it were, in terms of one's arc of life.

It is interesting that the researchers should have produced some evidence to support the old trope of women pursuing an MRS degree but it smacks of possible condescension. Or perhaps I am over reading it.

We aren't living in the 1950s where perhaps a majority of women in college might have been there for a MRS degree. On the other hand, there is no reason why women should not rationally pursue their own objectives of seeking more than a career, and optimizing their opportunities to pursue marriage and family when the opportunities present.

Perhaps I am too old and the abstract merely seems like it is shaming women for making rational decisions according to their own interests.

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