Why we need to discuss gender in a different way

Economics ’18 alumni Eva Schoenwald, deputy chair, and Iakov Frizis, editor-in-chief, of the Women in Economics Initiative

Originally posted by the authors on Women in Economics

Recent years have seen significant improvements in female representation in the workplace. Information campaigns, feminist associations, female employment quotas and a rising number of female role models all contribute to an improved gender balance in Western European and US workplaces.

Despite this progress, we remain far from achieving gender balance in the workplace. A significant contributor to the reform slowdown is the emergence of diversity fatigue and inclusion backlash among many companies trying to implement more gender inclusion in the workplace. It becomes increasingly clear that we need to find a way to redefine popular gender discourse if we wish to deliver more inclusion. 

According to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, current projections place the closing of the gender gap at 108 years from now. Yet success stories of female economists such as Esther Duflo, Christine Lagarde and Laurence Boone make it easy to cast data aside. They often let us forget about the existence of glass cliffs, implicit gender bias in recruitment and publication processes, pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, office favouritism, lack of role models, and restroom gossip, just to name a few. As compelling as success stories might be, they seem not to be bellwethers for reform. 

In the fight against gender discrimination, we face an elusive enemy. A recent International Labour Organisation survey found discrimination and unconscious gender bias to be among the five main challenges for women holding leadership positions. Unconscious bias stems from social norms, values, and experiences that contribute to decision-making. Such bias often manifests itself in an overall masculine corporate culture, along with preconceptions related to social roles and abilities of men and women, and the masculine nature of management positions.

Limited reflection on the effect of unconscious bias towards women in the workplace risks understating the urgency to push for more equality, allowing for a feeling of diversity fatigue to set in. Cundiff and Vescio (2016) show that individuals with strong gender stereotypes are less prone to attribute workplace gender disparities to discrimination. In 2017, James Damore, a Google engineer, unintentionally sided publicly with Cundiff and Vescio when he sued his employer on the grounds of intolerance against individuals holding unpopular political beliefs. The lawsuit came as a response to Google terminating the contract of Mr. Damore, following his drafting of an internal memo in which he argued that female underrepresentation in the tech industry is due to abilities, rather than flagrant discrimination. 

The Google case describes too well the feeling of exhaustion towards diversity and inclusion issues that motivates us to take action. The recent gender inclusion backlash points to a need to revisit how we discuss gender. We should both question the validity of the design of inclusion programmes and acknowledge that we still have a long way to go until we reach equality of opportunity between genders. 

We need to reinvent the way we discuss gender by taking the focus away from high-level gender policies and fairness approaches. Instead, we propose to address gender stereotypes and to develop a strong performance-oriented approach to discussing inclusion. Only by acknowledging that our profession has a gender issue will we be able to revisit this old problem through a new perspective – one that brings together practitioners across both genders, to work towards a more inclusive workplace. 

About the Women in Economics Initiative

Together with some friends, we have recently launched the Women in Economics Initiative (WiE). The Women in Economics Initiative was established to advance gender equality in the field of economics. Our goal is to encourage equal opportunity and a balanced representation of genders in the economics profession across the academic, business and public sectors. To achieve this, we offer a platform that highlights the work of women economists, a network to connect and exchange ideas and interactive data about the status of diversity in economics.

We are looking for new members, supporters as well as submissions of articles from women economists on their work.

Eva Schoenwald ’18 is a quantitative researcher at Nesta and deputy chair of WiE. She is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

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Iakov Frizis ’18 is a senior economist at PwC Luxembourg and editor-in-chief of WiE. He is an alum of the Barcelona GSE Master’s in Economics.

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Mothers’ Care: Reversing Early Childhood Health Shocks through Parental Investments

Working paper co-authored by Barcelona GSE alum Cristina Bellés-Obrero (Economics ’12, GPEFM ’17)

Adult and baby holding hands

Barcelona GSE alum Cristina Bellés-Obrero (Economics ’12, GPEFM ’17) has co-authored a new working paper with Antonio Cabrales (UCL), Sergi Jiménez-Martín (UPF and Barcelona GSE) and Judit Vall-Castello (CRES-UPF) on “Mothers’ Care: Reversing Early Childhood Health Shocks through Parental Investments.”

Cristina shares a summary of the paper and some notes about the writing process:

The paper

Health shocks at birth are important in and of themselves. But they also have an impact on outcomes later in life, such as education, productivity or adult health.  There is a large literature showing that health shocks at birth lead to important negative outcomes later on.  For instance, children born with low birth weight have a higher probability of having adverse health and developmental outcomes in the medium run (Johnson and Schoemi (2011a,b), Case et al. (2005)).  However, there is much less research on the potential factors that can compensate those early life shocks. This represents an important element with strong implications for policy makers. 

In this paper, jointly with Antonio Cabrales, Sergi Jimenez and Judit Vall, we identify one of these factors.  In particular, we want to answer the following question: Are educated parents able to reverse a negative health shock that their children experience at birth?

To answer this question we study the causal effect of a child labor regulation on the short and long-term health of the affected individuals’ descendants. In 1980 a child labor reform took place in Spain, which increased the minimum legal age to work from 14 to 16 years old. A previous paper shows that this reform increased the education of both women and men. At the same time, the reform decreased the fertility and marriage rates of individuals affected, and importantly, it was detrimental for their male children’s health at delivery. At birth, male babies from more educated mothers have worse perinatal health outcomes, such as lower birth weight or low maturity. We estimated that the reform caused 618 more births at less than 37 weeks of gestation, 837 more first multiple births, and 768 extra births with low birth weight. On the other hand, we do not find the same negative impact of the reform over female babies. 

Given the size of the effects that we find on birth outcomes and the established links between health at birth and long-term health, we would expect that the deterioration of infant health at birth would persist in the medium and long term unless there is a compensation mechanism. Yet, in the medium run, we find that the effects of the reform on objective health outcomes are insignificant for both males and females. Thus, we can conclude that educated parents can reverse negative shocks at birth.

Our data suggest that the long term reversal is achieved through maternal vigilance. The male children of treated mothers with higher education are perceived as having worse health even at older ages. Their objective health status is, however, indistinguishable from that of other boys. This suggests more concerned mothers. These boys are also more likely to have private health insurance. This latter trait is significant. In Spain private health insurance is purchased in addition to the universal public health coverage. This double coverage allows beneficiaries to avoid the system gatekeeper and, hence, to have quicker access to specialists and additional tests and checkups. 

The process

We started this paper in 2017 as a follow-up project. In a previous paper, Elena Del Rey, Sergi Jimenez and Judit Vall analyze the effects of the child labor reform over education and labor market outcomes. They find that the reform increased the educational attainment of both men and women affected by the regulation. In particular, they find that the reform reduced the number of early school leavers (individuals not finishing compulsory education) by 7.6% in the case of men, and by 11% in the case of women. They also find a positive effect in the probability of attaining post-compulsory education. The reform decreased the number of individuals that do not attain any level of post-compulsory education by 3.3% for men and 2.7% for women.. 

In a different paper, we show that the reform decreased marriage and fertility rates for affected women. At the same time, we also find evidence that the reform is detrimental for the health of the offspring at the moment of delivery. We document three channels contributing to this detrimental effect: the postponement in age of delivery, the increase in single mothers, and the increase in the likelihood that those women engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.

Thus, the reform had a positive effect on the parents, that are now more educated, but a detrimental effect on their children’s health at the moment of delivery. This reform, then, constitute a perfect setting to analyze parent’s education as a possible factor that will allow the reversal of negative health shocks at birth. 

Predicting gender disparities in attitudes towards intimate partner violence against women: a case study from Rwanda

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series showcasing Barcelona GSE master projects by students in the Class of 2015. The project is a required component of every master program.


Authors: 
Mette Albèr, Ming Yu Wong, Urša Krenk & Stan deRuijter

Master’s Program:
Economics

Paper Abstract:

This paper examines the factors associated with gender disparities in attitudes towards intimate-partner violence against women (IPVAW) at the regional and household level using data from the 2010 Demo-graphic and Health Survey (DHS) in Rwanda. An OLS regression model was used at the regional level, while multivariate logistic regression models were fitted at the household level. The results show that women’s education level and women’s TV-viewing frequency are significant and consistent predictors of gender disparities at the household level, with sizeable marginal effects. More generally, many factors beyond national- and regional-level characteristics account for variation in IPVAW acceptance across genders, suggesting that more granular and sophisticated modes of analysis can help to determine the true nature of relationships between individual and household level factors and attitudes towards IPVAW.

Read the paper or view presentation slides:

Presentation Slides: