Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vapor arguments and experiential intensity

From Yes, Men Should Do More Housework by Derek Thompson. An interesting example of a so-common phenomenon - Arguing without defining the problem or the premises. The pretense of a structured argument in order to arrive at a values-based (i.e. not an evidence-based) predetermined conclusion.

Thompson's conclusion
So, yes, we could all do with slightly dirtier houses, and nobody ever died saying their only regret was they didn't buy enough ceramic tile cleaner. But maybe, now that women are out-earning us in bachelor's degrees and (often) in marriages as well, we could stand to do oh-just-slightly more than 35 percent of the dishes.
Now read the article. He is offering a lot of incidental evidence that social roles and behaviors have changed but he offers no argument that actually supports his conclusion. He gracefully elides the fact that his conclusion is simply an assertion based on his preferences, not actually an empirical argument.

But even in the maelstrom of misdirection, there can be interesting and useful information. I have commented elsewhere that in most fields of competitive effort, the upper echelons are rarely demographically representative on any variable (ethnicity, religion, gender, class, culture, etc.). I have attributed this primarily to the contextual action of the known fact that elite achievement is causatively linked to voluminous and continuing purposeful and competitive effort; what I call experiential intensity. Everyone, in virtually all fields of competitive endeavor, can be shown to have invested disproportionate hours of practice over prolonged periods of time. The discriminating factor is not ethnicity or religion or gender, but rather the circumstances that enable or retard experiential intensity.

The disparate outcomes are compounded by the fact that there is not a straight line relationship between hours and outcomes, but rather a logarithmic relationship. The person who spends 1,000 hours artistically painting in a year (an enthusiastic amateur) is significantly more accomplished than the person who spends only 500 hours (a dedicated amateur). Likewise, the person who spends 2,000 hours is more than twice as successful as the person who only spends a thousand hours.

In virtually all fields such as law and accounting and music and writing and art and academia and politics, etc., the top players in all those fields tend to skew 70-85% male. Only 15-30% of the top achievers are female.

In Thompson's article there is a graph that bolsters this argument, Time in Paid Work, Housework, and Childcare, 1965-2011. Thompson is focused on the housework and childcare numbers.

But reflect on the implications of paid work hours. If paid work is a rough proxy for purposeful effort, what this implies is that men undertake 63% percent of paid work (37.1 male paid hours/total hours 58.5) in America. The 15-30% range makes a lot more sense in that context.

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