Russ Roberts

Alison Wolf on Women, Inequality and the XX Factor

EconTalk Episode with Alison Wolf
Hosted by Russ Roberts
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Ordinary People... Viva la Revolution?...

XX%20Factor.jpg Alison Wolf author of The XX Factor, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the changing roles of women in the family and the workplace. Wolf argues that highly educated women are increasingly similar to highly educated men in their lifestyles and choices while becoming very different from less educated women. Wolf traces the origins of these changes and the interaction between economic and cultural factors affecting men, women, the family, and the workplace.

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0:33Intro. [Recording date: February 5, 2016.] Russ: I want to give a heads' up to parents who might be listening with young children. EconTalk is usually G-rated. This week, depending on how the conversation goes it might end up being PG or PG-13. So, respond accordingly with your own kids. Alison, your book is an eye-opening look at inequality and gender. And I want to start with a quote. You say the following:
Until now, all women's lives, whether rich or poor, have been dominated by the same experiences and pressures. Today, elite and highly educated women have become a class apart. However, these professionals, businesswomen and holders of advanced degrees, the top 15 or 20 percent of developed countries' female workforce--have not moved further apart from men. On the contrary, they are now more like the men of the family than ever before in history. It is from other women that they have drawn away. [p. 67, Wolf--Econlib Ed.]
Explain. Guest: Yes. Think back to, for example, a world of--America. And what you would find is that whether or not you are a girl in a well-off Boston household or a girl on a hardscrabble Appalachian farm, what decided your life was whether or not you made a good marriage. Essentially, you had to make a good marriage. Everything else was secondary. You had to make a good marriage because that's what you were born into the world to be. You were born into the world to be a wife and a mother. Which would mean you would have status and security and hopefully children to look after you in old age. And you would be the one who reared them. Or, you were going to be a spinster, [?] plus, on the shelf, with essentially no capacity of making a career. So, whereas a boy from a tough background could, occasionally, with difficulty make it on his own, as a woman you just couldn't. You simply couldn't. So, whatever you were, that was what being a woman was. I don't mean that it was all utter misery for everybody but it didn't make any real difference. What the wealth of your family was, that was what defined you. And that meant that all women had a completely common set of concerns and experiences. And in that sense, they were a sisterhood. I don't mean they all liked each other, because they [?] each other, and there were definitely rivals. But they were a genuine sisterhood in the sense that they had all this in common. And today, if you are a clever or privileged young person, whether you are at Oxford, Harvard, Brown, Kings--where I teach--you have far more in common as a female student with the male students who were alongside you than you will with a vast majority of other young women in your country. And it's the class that really matters. The class has always mattered. But as a woman you just kind of hung[?] on to whichever class you were born or married into. It wasn't really ¬your class in the sense that you'd created your class position. You just kind of hung in there. Today, you as a woman can also be upwardly mobile or downwardly mobile. And it's your self-made class--it's you as an educated or less educated, fortunate or less fortunate, careerist, non-careerist woman who makes your fate. And you are very likely to marry somebody like you, if you marry at all. But what really decides your life is that you are or aren't a member of that top 15%. Russ: I can't help thinking, as you mention that, the novels of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. We have Oliver on the one hand, who does rise through a set of good circumstances--and his character, it's not a [?] character--but in Jane Austen's novels, the role about, whether you marry wisely or not, as you point out, that kind of captures that different world. And in preparing for this interview I was very saddened to read--I'm ashamed I didn't know this, but Jane Austen died at 41. I didn't realize she had died so young. And she died unmarried, as was her sister. And that fate of being unmarried was probably very prominent in her mind as a person in that century. Guest: I think that's totally right. One of the things that was interesting to me when I was writing this book was how the whole way in which I read Jane Austen changed. I think, like many people, I think her novels are wonderful. And until I started to work in this field I felt that Jane Austen characters were sort of like me--they were, kind of not that I was as wonderful as some of them, you know, we'd all like to be Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice, and just in terms of the sort of amazing person she was. But these were people who sort of saw the world in sort of the same way that I did. They were intelligent, essentially quite modern women. And you could imagine knowing people like them. And at one level that's absolutely true. It's still true. It's one reason why the novels still work so well for a modern audience. But of course they are actually completely unlike me. Totally unlike me. For all the reasons that you are saying: that you look at the boys in Charles Dickens, and in the background some of the young men in the Austen novels, they are actually able to have some control over their fate other than by finding a husband. And that is so untrue in Jane Austen. It's full of young women who make marriages they don't really want to make, because there is no alternative. As well as the heroines for whom there is a happy ending. And the other heroines, like Jane Austen themselves who just actually decide they will hang in there and be kind of spinsters in the corner of their brother's sitting room rather than be emotionally deeply unhappy. But I became tremendously aware of this huge gulf between the 19th century and the 20th century. Above all in this aspect, in the fact that for women it's completely different universe. And sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad. I mean, there are other aspects of modern society which are perhaps less kind to women. But for able and fortunate women in peaceful countries, this is a pretty good time to be born and pretty good time to be able to storm the elite, and I think we should be a bit more gracious and aware that we are very lucky.
7:54Russ: I want to read another quote, where you talk about--I think you say there's about 75 million women in this elite class who are a lot like men and a lot different from other women. And I liked the way you phrased it. It's a significantly sized country, is one way to think about the magnitude of this, a modern phenomenon. And you write the following:
Today's highly educated and professional women, the top 15 or 20 percent, not only have different jobs from other women: they also have quite different patterns of lifetime employment from other women. They are different in when and how much they work. They have quite different marriage and child-bearing patterns, and very different divorce rates. They bring up their children differently and they differ in how they run their homes.
So, I want to talk about each of those in turn, because they are each--they are fascinating. So let's talk about employment, both the type of work that highly educated women do relative to men and less educated women, and the frequency and nature of it. Guest: The highly educated women whom I talk about most don't do exactly the same jobs as men. There are little differences about which they [?] excited. But they essentially do the same jobs as men. So, if you look at not the top half of half of the set, but you look at the top sort of 15-20% of jobs in a country like the United States or the United Kingdom which are well-paying professional jobs, where people have been doing fine in the last 20-30 years, we're now in a situation in which in developed countries half of those jobs are held by women. And that of course is a completely novel situation. And it's come about gradually. But it reflects and is achieved through the fact that women are also at least half of the students in the universities that feed into these good jobs. I think most people know that, or many people know, that there are far more women now in higher education than there are men. In most of the world. But I think the key point is that there are now as many women as men, and in many cases more than men, in the top schools. And that's what feeds you into these high-status, well-paid professional and business jobs. Now, of course, and I'm sure you'll be coming to this: it's still the women who have the babies, it's still the women who make more changes in their lifestyle when a child comes. But the women who are highly educated and who do these jobs, stay in work almost without interruption throughout their careers. Which is actually a very important precondition for doing very well in work--[?] may [?] part time but they don't interrupt. And that's, again, a real difference, both from their grandmothers or even their mothers, and completely different from the dominant pattern for people who are less well off. For whom staying in work is not vital in terms of career. It's not something that makes economic sense in terms of what's left in your pay packet. And so you've still got this pattern there where people tend to stop work, or go very part time, where they have a small child. And that's not true at the top.
11:24Russ: And what about marriage and childbearing? And childbearing and childrearing? Guest: Okay. Marriage is dramatically different. I suspect that people who are listening to this program know fewer and fewer people who get married before their late 20s or indeed their 30s. And almost no one who has babies very young. That's because among the highly educated and the sort of people who are sort of interested in the world's economy on a day-to-day way and want to keep up with it, these are highly educated classes. And these people just don't have babies until they are, increasingly, in their 30s. They just don't. And what has happened is that there is this big widening gap between the average age at which they have their first child and it's not just a nice smooth curve in which, you know, the very uneducated have a child at, say, sort of age 19 and then it goes up a little bit to 21 and then it's this nice smooth curve. It's actually sort of a rupture. So, people who are the best paid, the best educated, this group which as a set has done very well economically, unlike many other people--they are the ones who have actually drawn away from everybody else. And if you go back 40 or 50 years, you find that college-educated women have their first child pretty much the same age as women who had quit education after high school. And now that's not true. It's still true is that the teenage mothers, of whom there are fewer and fewer, tend to be really poorly educated. But what's truly remarkable is the way that you've got this very distinctive pattern in which the highly educated, the successful, professional women marry successful professional men; and they have their families later and later. And much, much later than anybody else. The other thing that's quite interesting is that they don't have their babies out of marriage. Other people do. The highly educated professional women don't. Russ: And the divorce rates are very different as well. Guest: The divorce rates are very different as well. Which is even more extraordinary, given the fact that, you know, fewer of the other groups get married at all. But among those who do, they are much more likely to get divorced than the privileged top layer.
13:43Russ: So, in a minute we'll turn to why this change has--this incredibly dramatic change which you highlight, and it's plural--changes--why they have happened. But one more aspect of the difference I want to talk about, very interesting, is how they run their homes. Talk about the differences between highly educated women and less educated women. Guest: The differences have an awful lot to do with[?] the fact that if you are highly educated you earn more, on the whole. And you are very likely to be part of a two-adult household in which you've got two very good incomes coming in. So, in that situation there are two things. I mean, first of all, you can afford servants. And secondly, it makes a lot of sense to have them. Because if you go back to work, you are going to stay on the career track, both of you. You are going to go on earning more over a lifetime even if there is some sort of bumps along the way, both of you. And if you are at the investment of shelling out for the cost of anatomy and the housekeeper, or a housekeeper in most cases, it makes a lot of sense. Because by definition if you are going to do this you are going to be earning enough that after tax you still have plenty left between you to pay for the childcare. And as I said, you also stand to lose more if you drop out. So, if you are working on the checkout in a store, if you stop doing it for 3 or 4 years and you come back, the job will still be there; you wouldn't have lost some tremendous amount of progress in your career by taking a break. If you take a break and you are working for a large private corporation or you are working as an academic or you are working as an M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) or any of these things, a total break is really bad news in terms of your lifetime prospects, not just your earnings right now. So you've had that on the one side. And then on the other side, after a period in which it seemed like servants had disappeared from rich countries, we've now got access to a huge global pool of people who are only too delighted to come and work for affluent families all around the world, because for them, this is, again, a very good deal. I mean, the world is full of, for example, excellent Filipino nannies and housekeepers, who are working away from home in order to pay the private school fees of children, nieces, and nephews back home. So, you could say in a way--well, you could say that in some sense everybody benefits. It's hardly an ideal world. But it's definitely a world in which it makes sense for both halves of that bargain to be doing this. It's--it's--certainly people don't like to think about, in my experience. A lot of professionals like to think of themselves as liberal and egalitarian. And the fact that their lifestyles depend on the cheap labor of other women makes them profoundly uncomfortable. But the reality is that if you are going to have a family and you are going to have two careers, then somebody has to do the childcare. And somebody has to clean the house. And somebody has to cut the grass. And you cannot do everything. Russ: Well, in a way it goes back to David Ricardo: Specialization and trade, comparative advantage are still very powerful. And the opportunity cost of a wealthy person cutting their own grass is high. And if there is a relatively cheap alternative they are going to pay someone to do that rather than to do it themselves.
17:34Russ: The part that's really stunning about the observation that you make about the number of servants that people have--and of course when you use the word 'servants' you tend to think about Downton Abbey, but we're talking--and some people do have live-in servants, of course--but we're really talking about people who hire folks here and there to do the lawn, to do childcare for a certain number of hours, to clean the house once or twice a week, once a week or every other week. But the additional point that's fascinating is the following is, you write:
Take the US. If you pick the twenty top female occupations--meaning the ones that employ the largest absolute numbers of women--you find that in seven of them the workforce is over 90 percent female.
And if you make it 80% female, it's over half of those female occupations. And that's true--and you say it's also true in Scandinavia, which is famous for its egalitarian ideals--at least the way we think about it from that side. Your point is, is that, even though women are increasingly integrated into traditional male fields such as the legal profession or medicine, in a lot of other fields nothing has changed. It's utterly fascinating. Guest: I think it's extraordinary. And I'll come back to Scandinavia in a second, actually, because I think it's a very classic example of the way that our societies develop is overwhelmingly about economics, but also a bit about values and how we feel about ourselves as well. I do refer to servants; so I do it partly for side-shock[?] value, but also because it seems to me that we have to recognize that somebody who looks after our child in a nursery outside of our home is just as much working as a servant as somebody who does it inside our home, even if it makes it feel a bit better for some of us. And it's also why in this book I try to emphasize among women, which in some ways is mirroring the class divisions among men, but in some ways, as you've just pointed out, is quite different. And that's because so many of the non-elite women who are now in the paid workforce are effectively being paid to do outside the home things which they used to do inside the home. When it was inside the home, they didn't get a pay packet, and it didn't go into GDP (Gross Domestic Product) figures; but they were doing these things. Now, overwhelmingly, with these things that we have kind of outsourced, while we've put them outside the home and they are now part of the cash economy, these are done by women just as they always were. So, those women have not changed the things that they do compared to all the rest of female human history. So, what has happened is that as well as the integration of educated women into what had traditionally been a male workforce and into traditionally male occupations, alongside this you've got these new-paid occupations which are huge. And which are overwhelmingly female. And which involve the integration into the cash economy of things which used to be outside it, which used to be inside the home. And this is very, very common. I'll come back to Scandinavia, because there is this belief that in Scandinavia somehow the whole gender gap has been abolished and everybody has the same life chances and everybody is treated the same. And these are wonderful societies in all sorts of ways. I don't want to sort of be [?] about it. They are also the most gender-segregated labor markets in the world. Because they have taken to, so far, the ultimate degree the process of taking traditional, within-the-house labor out of the house, putting it into organized institutions where the people who work there are paid. But all the people who work there are female. So, you know, they've got great day nurseries; they've got great kindergartens; they've got excellent daycare centers; they've got very, very good health care services. But, they have also got a society in which, as I said, the jobs are far more clearly mostly female or mostly male than they would be in the United States.
22:14Russ: So, I want to digress for a minute here, because I'm just fascinated by that remark you made in passing a minute ago about the unease we have about servants. So, why is it--speculate for a minute--that a high-powered male or female worker who makes a lot of money, has a lot of, all kinds of fancy things in their life--they have nice cars, nice homes, nice vacations, good schools for their kids--why is it that they feel uneasy paying for a real servant, someone who would live with them, or would come often to their house rather than paying for that exact same service outside their home through a business? And I agree with you--for some reason, it feels different. Do you have any thoughts on why that is? Guest: That's quite possible. But it fascinates me as well. And it's something that I also tend to feel. I think there are a number of things. I think the most profoundly important is the set of values that characterize modern society, which are actually central to the fact that women can succeed on their own, and we think it is absolutely right, that for example all children whether male or female should have access to education. That we feel it's completely intolerable that, for example, there should be a female quota which says only 10% of the jobs can be female, or something. And one of the things that I was utterly shocked to discover was that in my lifetime there had been a rule in some places which said that the minute you got married you had to leave your job, and opened up for some man who might need the general support of family. That didn't end in Ireland until, well, well after I was born, that's for sure. So, these are profound values and they underlie our whole society, which is that people are all worth the same amount. So, we see, for example, democracy as an unquestionably good thing, because it's one person, one vote. It's almost inconceivable for a modern citizen to argue that there is something wrong with that idea. And the point about a master-servant relationship or a mistress-servant relationship is that it is intrinsically about two human beings being unequal. And, being unequal with a very sort of undefined, face-to-face environment in which to a degree there are certain rules that you can follow and you can not interact personally in a way that underlines who is in authority and who is servile. But it's kind of hard. Whereas, if it's outside the home, then it seems to be protected by all sorts of rules that depersonalize it. So you can accept the service but you don't have to come face to face with the fact that one of you is above the other. So, it's not just about unequal pay. It's also about the intrinsically unequal status that there is with giving orders and instructions in a face-to-face way to people. And I think that's the most important part about it: that it just makes us deeply uneasy about ourselves, that we should be the people who are giving orders. And again, if you go back and you look at history and literature it's perfectly true that people took it for granted in the past, that there would be masters and there would be servants. But that doesn't mean they would like it. You know, 'We are the masters now,' is a pretty profound statement. Russ: Yeah. I guess part of it is also--I think there's an identity issue that ties in with what you are saying. It's certainly un-American; I suspect in the United Kingdom and elsewhere as well. Which is, there have been surveys done: most Americans see themselves as middle class, even when they are not. Whichever end they are on of the scale. And in particular I think people who are very well off think the rich are people who make more than they do. As opposed to themselves. And when you, as you say, when you have to confront a servant in your home, you have to come face to face with the fact that you are not necessarily like everyone else. You are not middle class. And I think it makes people uneasy. And I think you are exactly right as to that egalitarian impulse, which is in many ways--it's just a very powerful example of modern culture that we absorb whether we are aware of it or not.
27:22Russ: Let's talk a little bit about the why. So, you've talked really about a revolution--it's a revolution that affected, say, 15-20% of women. It's also of course a revolution on the male side: there are similar gaps between highly educated men and less educated or very low-education men that are very important. But if we think about the women who suddenly have this set of opportunities to get educated and then to use those skills, why did that change? Talk a little bit about how that got started and, to the extent that we understand it, why. Guest: Okay. I think there are sort of two issues here. There's the issue of widening inequality which we've got among men as well, which I think is a slightly different one; and we can come back to sort of the general phenomenon of widening inequality in a moment. But why did it happen? I mean, bluntly, why did men let all these women in? It's all a really interesting question: why did they? Because, I said that values matter. Well, values do matter. But self-interest tends to matter a lot in the world, too; and I don't think that has changed. And, when you actually think about it and you think about this huge explosion of education and the push to educate your daughters, [?] accept you should educate your daughters, I don't think values on their own would have done it. And my take on this is that it was because of the changes in the economy. Which meant that, as a parent, including as a male parent, it became more and more important for the future prospects of your children that they have an intelligent and educated mother. And once that happens then you set a dynamic going which you find quite hard to stop. And in fact one of the things that's quite interesting about the early years of the feminist movement, creation of women's education, and so on, is that you do have a lot of men who are also interested in and feel it's important that the women of the country should also be educated--partly because these were "liberal," but partly because they are talking about this as something which is going to change the quality of motherhood: that you ought to have educated and emancipated, good mothers. So, what happened in the 19th century--well, two things happened. I mean, the first thing, which is quite intriguing, is that as the economy changed it actually became much easier for more men to support a family on one wage without there being lots of people who were so poor that they went out into the fields with your kids because everybody had to bring the harvest in. You actually have, so the development of the wage-earner family. But among the middle classes what you are getting is the opening up of opportunity. And it's an opening up of opportunity for those who are, overwhelmingly, men. But they are literate and they are numerate; they are educated. So you've got a genuine change in the workforce. And that means that if you want your sons to do well in life, those sons need to be intelligent, educated. And that means that an educated, literate wife is not only going to be possibly more amusing around the house, but is actually going to be somebody who could actually help your children. And equally, you are going to want to educate your daughters, partly because by now you've come to feel that girls should be educated, but also because firstly they will probably be unattractive to a future husband if they are more or less completely uneducated themselves. And secondly because, and this is the dynamic, there are new jobs opening up, so if things don't go well and your poor daughter doesn't make a good marriage, well, she can always be a schoolteacher. So, you've got this, this, this shift, which to some degree I think is fueled by changing values, but to a large extent I think is fueled by family self-interest: that it actually starts to make sense to have not just in a few enlightened places but across the economy it starts to be more and more attractive to have both daughters who can earn a decent living before they get married by being educated, but even more--and this is in the middle classes--by having, if you like, high-value mothers for your sons. And then, once you've opened the fatal[?] door, or whatever, the [?], I mean you don't get them back in again, do you? Russ: Yeah: 'How do you keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree,' would be my metaphor. But once you have a chance to learn something, it's kind of exciting.
32:26Russ: I just want to mention before we go on that there is a temptation here to treat education as destiny. And of course, these are generalizations we are talking about. There are many highly educated people who struggle and who struggle to marry, struggle to make a good living; there are many poorly educated people who succeed, who can marry and stay married. I know we have many listeners at EconTalk who have Ph.D.s, and we have many who are high school dropouts. And we are fortunate to live in a time where you can be educated without going to school, through podcasts and other ways. So, I just want to put that footnote in. Guest: I completely agree. Like, all of these things, these are wild generalizations. But they are generalizations that are about broad-- Russ: They are true on average. Guest: And actually on education, I mean, as somebody who spends a lot of time arguing that education is neither the solution to everything nor the cause of everything, either at an individual or a social level; but it's that is clearly the case. But what I do want to emphasize is that what happened in the early 19th and 20th century was that more and more jobs demanded education. And therefore there were more and more people for whom it made sense to be educated. That did not mean that only the educated could succeed. It did not mean that the minute you were educated everything would happen. There could be also some things in your life, in your neighborhood, in your country. At an individual level, nothing is determinate in that way. But, I guess this is why we have EconTalk. At a broad historical sweep level, these changes matter. Russ: Yeah--exactly. And I just want to add one more footnote before going on, which is that if my planning as host goes as expected, by guest last week was Matt Ridley talking about his book, The Evolution of Everything, and we're talking about emergent phenomenon, and you asked the question: 'Why did the men let the women into all these jobs?' and the answer is that they weren't in charge. They looked like they were in charge; but there were broader forces at work that pushed change that nobody planned or designed. And there are many great things about it. And some things, of course, are not so great. Guest: [?] Well, I was going to say--the subtitle of my book about a Far Less Equal World--I mean, if I may, I'd like to come back to this phenomenon that you mention, which again is not something anybody planned. Which is the growing inequality. And of course one of the things that has happened is that the way you look at what has happened to women is quite interesting. Among men in the United States you've got this growing phenomenon of a bigger gap between the bottom and the top, and you've stagnant or falling average wages, and I'm sure you've talked about this on many occasions. What you get when you look at women is, well: Inequality among women has grown faster. But that's partly, of course, since professional women started way back, once you started going forward that was likely to increase inequality among women. But of course it's also the other phenomenon, which is that so many of the lower-paid women in workforce are working part time, are working at jobs which are traditional female jobs, which often fit with their own lies[lives?] but where the potential for big wage increases is very poor. And so you've got this concentration of many women in the worst-paid jobs at the same time as you've got women storming the barricades at the top, in considerable numbers. And again, I think it underlies the complexity, the emergent nature of what happens in our societies. Because you've got a sort of interaction here between a load of different factors--global changes in the economy, changes in the family patterns of women, changes in the number of women in the top [?]--I mean, all of these things interact. And they can be quite hard to disentangle.
36:37Russ: Well, the other factor, which I think is a common theme here on the program, is the challenge of the challenge of separating out the impact of the economy per se, separate from demographic changes. And one of the things that your book reminds us of, which I think is extremely important when interpreting the data, is that less educated women are less likely to marry; and highly educated women are more likely to marry highly educated men. That is compared to 40, and 50, and 30 years ago. Which means that when you use Household Income as your determinant of inequality, which most people do, you are going to get effects of inequality that are purely demographic. So, there are labor market changes interacting with these demographic changes, these marriage patterns, which are going to exacerbate the measured inequality that you find. And I think that's just--people never want to confront that, but they should. Guest: I think that's right. One of the things which actually took me kind of aback when I was doing research on the book was the fact that not only did the more educated, better paid women tend to get married more and get divorced less, but exactly this pattern of increased tendency of the, of women like that to marry men like themselves and of men like that to marry women like themselves. And that's true even allowing for sort of changes. I mean, it's not--it's partly that there were fewer highly successful professional women for professional men to marry; but it's not just that. It actually seems to be this sort of almost--'segregationist' is too strong a word. It's not pure segregation. But this tendency of like to marry like, which again is an international phenomenon, is very, very marked in marriage and family formation. And it goes, I think, with the growing anxiety also about children and child-rearing and making sure that they have the best and that they are set on a path in which they too can marry somebody like themselves. And it's a little chilling, but it's also something I think we have to be aware of. Because the numbers are there. And it's not just in the United States. It's in the Netherlands. It's in Germany. It's everywhere.
39:14Russ: Yeah. I want to step back a minute and talk about something that fascinated me. There's a myth, or at least a story--you suggest is more of a myth--about women's emancipation from housework. Which is that labor-saving devices came along--the dishwasher, the washing machine. This took a lot of the toil out of the household life, freed up women to do more work in the paid labor force. But you suggest that pizza, of all things, might be even more important. Talk about those factors. Guest: I'd be delighted to talk about pizza. I don't actually like it. But I like to talk about it. Russ: You might be alone, Alison. Guest: I think that was the single most surprising thing, actually. What seems to have happened--and this again comes back to, I think, values, and people thinking that they should put in a day's work, is that when we, as societies, invented washing machines and dishwashers and vacuum cleaners and all of this stuff, women didn't do fewer hours' work around the house. They basically just had cleaner houses; and they didn't wear clothes for as many days, and they did more elaborate meals, and all the rest of it. And we know this because we've got these fascinating sources of data in which they kept daily diaries. This isn't about, saying, which of you did their fair share of the housework last week because everybody always thinks they did more than their fair share. But it's--so actually getting people to keep diaries for actually quite limited periods of time--so you know that they are actually doing it. And what you discover is that the thing that actually made a huge difference to the number of hours that people put in at housework, and really transformed their lives, and particularly made it much easier for women to go out to work was exactly that: it was peaks[?] at first, but it was the growth of fast food, generally, of deliveries, of ready-made meals in the supermarket that you could bear to eat. All these patterns. And I don't know whether you did this at all when you were reading the book, but one of the things that I found was fabulous when I was writing it was trying to relate it to my own family, my own life. And also this is something where I tend to ask my students who are mostly not 22-year olds, are mostly people in their late 20s, early 30s. And it's just kind of like: How many meals did you actually eat outside the house last week? And how many of them did you actually get food delivered in? How many of them do you use at least some ready-cooked ingredients? And you compare that to the way that meals were made throughout the whole of human history, except for a very few people. And it's just a dramatic change. It's not that nobody cooks. We all watch cookery programs like crazy. And we have these sort of one or two meals, week after way[?] you put huge amounts of effort in. But the pattern of eating is just completely different. And I have this extraordinary book on my shelf, which belonged to my grandmother, which was a sort of guide to keeping a home: if you got married in the 1940s or something and you sort of plan these meals and you use some bits of the cold joint for this--and this was a really full-time occupation. It really was. And then, you think about how we eat today. And it's a complete revolution. It's creating vast numbers of new jobs. Most are not very well paid. A whole new industry of people preparing ready-to-eat, ready to take away meals. But it has freed women from the kitchen in the way that a washing machine, a washer or a dryer just never did. Russ: Yeah, it's an amazing thing. And of course it's a simultaneous system. There's feedback working in both directions, as more and more women work, there's more and more options that make it easier to work. And of course as those things increase, it makes it easier to work, and they work together.
43:20Russ: The other two factors, I think that are important--and again, these are, to some extent, one of them I would say is somewhat exogenous; one is more likely to be endogenous, although of course it's complicated--and that's the welfare state and birth control. So, if we think about this revolution that we are talking about: Yes, there were glimmers of it in the 1920s, in the early part of the 20th century, late part of the 19th century. There's the suffrage movement; women get to vote; there's egalitarian stirrings. But the unleashing of women into the labor market really starts dramatically--especially married women, especially married women with children--starts in the last half of the 20th century. And that interacts with marriage and male/female roles in very complicated ways. So, some of it is technology, as you pointed out, of the productivity of high education. But there's also, at the same time, sexual liberation through the Pill and also liberation from the workforce if you want in some societies because of the State. And a change in how necessary or urgent it is to find a partner who can take care of you. So, talk a little bit about how those, all those forces interact. And of course your book does this quite artfully. It's not an easy thing to weave these stories together and its obviously very complicated. But they are all going on at the same time. Guest: That's absolutely true. There are three things--occasionally you can actually date it. Like, you can date when people, you can find the year when people started to be able to phone for pizza. And you could actually feed the--you could actually see the drop-off of the number of hours people spend in the kitchen just starting and going on like that. And you can date the moment when the Pill became available. And there's absolutely no question that of course it wasn't the only thing. But the fact that there was this was this extraordinarily, uniquely reliable form of contraception was obviously one of the things that had a dramatic impact on people's behavior. So, they are sort of [?] dramatic moments. Whereas the world has stayed[?] as much more complicated and much more gradual and of course it's something where it comes in differing forms in differing countries. But, you know, absolutely right that it made a huge difference, because throughout human history until quite recently, life was genuinely insecure if you didn't have a family. It was just so easy to fall off the edge. And particularly if you were a woman. There was nothing you could do. If you didn't have a family, there was basically no acceptable way of supporting yourself and children if you were left widowed and jobless. So, the welfare state has made a huge difference, because it means, to predict broadly[?], that if all else fails, you can rely on the state as your family. They will provide the safety net, you can be--a woman is in some sense married to the state--if you don't want a particularly, high-class husband-- Russ: You can marry Uncle Sam. Guest: Exactly. The state will provide you, as a mother, with enough money to live on. And there are much better husbands out there; but if you can't get a decent husband, the state will keep you and your kids alive at a level of welfare which would have been quite luxurious to most of our ancestors. So that is another dramatic change. And you can see this. We talked earlier about the fact that professional women don't have children without husbands to help support them, and we can come back to that in a minute. But it's also not just about values, probably. The other end, of course--again, all over the world you've got this increasing number of families where there never was a father or the father is gone, and you have a mother with one or more children living partly or wholly off the state. Now, we also know that this is not a great family pattern: this is not one that any girl of 18 wants. I mean, this is not what people grow up saying, 'Hey, when I grow up I'm going to have kids and there isn't going to be a father.' That's not what they want at all. But the reality is that it is a possibility, and if nothing better is on offer it's very nice to at least have some children who will love you, and you will love them, and you will work for them, and they will be a family to you; and even though you don't need them in order to stay alive the way you did in the past, as you got older, nonetheless this is a very profound human urge. And so, this is one of the other things that has made life among women so much more varied in the life stories that they follow than ever was, 50, 100, 300 years ago. At the top it's very different; at the bottom it's very different, too.
48:29Russ: Yeah. Talk about that, actually, and talk about the similarities between men and women in this area. So, at the higher-educated levels, families tend to be very small, except at the super-high income levels. But at the upper 20%, roughly, families are very small in number; and some folks, as you say, they delay childbirth or they don't have children at all. Guest: That's true. Now, I think it's also worth pointing out, in developed societies, by historic or in quite recent standards, the families at the bottom are not very big, either. They are just bigger than the families at the top. But that's absolutely true. The more educated the family is, the less likely they are to have any children, or more than one child. And if you look at graduates, male and female graduates of the Ivy League, they aren't beginning to reproduce themselves. Many of them will not have--unless it's just as much the men as the women; I really want to emphasize this. Highly educated men are also having no children or tiny families. It's not just the women; it's the men and the women. I think there's a variety of reasons for this. But mostly it has to do with the fact that you fit[?] people are caught up in their careers; it takes time to get yourself established; there are pressures; there are opportunities; time goes by. And then either you just don't get married, because you are extremely caught up in your career, and once you get to the point where you are going to have a family, marriage becomes a bit less important anyway. But a lot of it is just that you wait till it's late; you both have pressures; you both have careers. It's expensive to have a child, to have a very highly educated, highly treasured child is an expensive proposition. Russ: In time and money. Guest: In time and money. And we put huge amounts of both in. And so what happens is that the average family size comes down; and even though you've got a lot, a considerable number of people who have, say, 2 children, then you've also got a considerable number who have none, and a considerable number who have 1 and that's it and another one never comes along, or you can't cope. And you end up with this very, very low birth rate among the highly educated. And very intermarriage professional group. And then at the bottom what you get is people having children much younger; and in the middle, much younger. And the family size is definitely bigger; and as well as having the children younger--and of course the younger you start having children the easier it is to have them. So, this is also related to when you start trying. But there too you've got a growing difference in compared history. Because historically, of course, it was the affluent who had more living children because they had children and they kept them alive more. So, again, this is a very, very dramatic change. And the fact that the birth rate has gone down for everybody has been accompanied by these growing differences. And the less educated the group as a whole, the more children they are having on average. Russ: Yeah. I am thinking about the work of Gary Becker, who was excoriated and vilified early in his career for suggesting that we should treat children as assets--as capital goods, goods that produced a flow of benefits to us. And there's something very unattractive about that way of thinking about it. Certainly as a father. But, as an economist, it's an interesting way to think about it. And he relentlessly pushed the point--at least when he began working on this: I know his earlier work in the area better than I do his later work. But in his earlier work, he talked about the tradeoff between quantity and quality. And he would argue that as we get wealthier, we wanted "higher quality children." That is, more investments in them: more music lessons, more education for them. That's very expensive--this was his explanation for why we tended to have fewer children as we get wealthier over time. And also why wealthier families have fewer children at a point in time. And what you are pointing out is that is in many ways, that effect has just become stronger as the educational demands and the--if you want your kid to get into a high-prestige university, you have to jump through a lot of fancy hoops. And as a result, it's expensive. And it's not just--we've been talking about how you can pay for certain services if you are high-income and your time is scarce. But there are a lot of things about raising a child you can't farm out, you can't pay for, you can't purchase. And so, inevitably there is a great deal of things that parents want to do for their children; and as a result, it's hard to have lots of kids. I am the happy father of four, I want to say; and I'm very glad I made that tradeoff. I encourage people to have lots of kids; I think it's generally a good thing, both for the world and for your own wellbeing and psyche. But on average, I'm way outside the norm. Guest: Well, I'm really impressed that you've got four. I have to say, I'm outside-- Russ: My wife--Alison, I have to say, my wife helped. I just want to get that clear. You said, I have four. I hope I said we have four. I don't know whether I said, 'I have four,' but we have four. Guest: I should have said 'we.' We have three. And I have to say that after that, we kind of lost our nerve. We just didn't think we could keep all the balls up at once. It was kind of, 'My God, this might even have been one too far.' Actually, it was--we just about managed. But you are absolutely right. I don't know whether--in the past I think it was entirely clear that a large part of children was that they were your welfare state. [?] You're right--Gary Becker was absolutely vilified. But I think you have to think about human behavior this way. It doesn't mean there isn't a lot of emotion, a lot of love involved. But, you make decisions as you go through life. I mean, that's what your whole program is about. It's what economics is about--scarce resources, and you have to allocate them, right? One of the things that's interesting about children is exactly what you said--the they are incredibly time-intensive today. I think that most people feel they are more of a consumption good than anything else. But one of the things that's fascinating is that all parents, and particularly all fathers have been increasing the average time they spend with their kids in the last few decades. The fathers who have been increasing time most, and the mothers who have been increasing time most, are our friends the professional classes. That's one reason why they always look so exhausted--because compared to everybody else, it isn't all wonderful at the top--they get less sleep. But it's very striking that, for a combination of reasons which are cultural, uncertainty, worry about your kids, and also as I said, just changes in culture, I think people do treat their children differently. And they are, across the classes, more involved with them in an emotional way, and in worrying about them, and in making sure that they get things and do things. And that is more intense--the more in a way your kids might have to lose and the more you feel that you might be able to help them and you owe it to them to help them and you desperately want them to have a life as good as you have had. So, there is a sense that the more you can do for your kids, the more you do do for your kids. And that brings us back to this, in some ways, over-anxious, intensive parenting that a lot of people have commented on. Which is there in the numbers--I mean, it's just extraordinary the amount of 1-to-1, face-to-face, not sort of sticking them in the back while you go to do the grocery shop but actually doing things with them--that has increased as a proportion of people's time just enormously. Alongside both parents going out to work.
57:20Russ: Well, I think it's a glorious thing, the spending time with your children. Guest: Oh, no, no, and I do, too. I would like to put that on record. But I also think spending time with your children is one of the most wonderful things you can do in life. Russ: I didn't mean to suggest you disagreed. But I think what's fascinating to me is, this is also another enormous revolution, the so-called 'helicopter parenting' and the effort that parents put in for children's status--again, in education is the most prominent example. But it's everywhere. And that's an, I think, an untapped vein of exploration. I don't think--maybe sociologists have done a lot of work on it. I assume they have, now that I think about it. But, there's been a lot of people saying it's a bad idea, it's bad for the kids. But why it's happening--and obviously, in many ways, if I had to pick one thing, which is a bizarre thing but I think it has a lot to do with it: it's the limited number of elite colleges. It's hard to create an elite college from scratch. Entry is very expensive. And parents are obsessed with their child getting into an elite college. And they may be onto something. I think maybe it's overrated; I don't know. If somebody works at Stanford, I wouldn't want to suggest that for a moment. But there is a pressure and an urgency about it for many parents. And as you point out in the book, it starts in kindergarten in some locations. The kid's got to get into the right kindergarten to get into the right private school to get into the right college. And all of these things, the fundamental scarcity that's forcing this competition is the elite college thing. Which as you point out is really what's driving the success of that 15-20% women at the top. So, we've come full circle. Guest: I think that's right. And I have no solution to it. Though, in many ways it appalls me. Because the trouble is that the more global the elite labor market becomes, the more this limited number of kind of brand names that anybody can recognize. And it's not that you can't succeed if you don't go there. It's just that if you do go there, you come out with this label, this brand, which is recognizable, and seems to any parent to be something that on the whole they'd rather their kids have than that they didn't have. And it is very hard to see how you can stop this. It's very striking in Europe, in countries where there's a very hierarchical system, like the United Kingdom where there's Oxford and Cambridge at the top and you just, you know, what everybody wants to know about a school is how many kids did they send there. And then you get European parents who are also agonizing about getting their kids into good universities in the United Kingdom because a). we have a hierarchical university system with brand-name schools, and b). of course, they improve their English as well. And you can see this kind of race going on. And it's not obvious how you stop it. Because as a parent you feel: Well, of course it's not the only way to succeed; of course it's not the only thing that matters. But it doesn't hurt, does it? Russ: Well, I'm optimistic--well, I want to say one other thing before I talk about my optimism, which is that I think for a lot of parents, it is a consumption good. It's a class status thing. It's not so much worrying about what happens to their kids. It's to make sure they can hold their head up at the cocktail party. And I don't think that's going to go away. What I do think might go away, though, is the lack of access to those top institutions. To some extent, the technological revolution of the Internet and podcasts and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and other things are going to make it easier for larger groups of people to get educated. But they still might not have the right stamp on their forehead, and we're going to find that out, how important that is relative to what you actually learn when you are in college.
1:01:26Russ: We are short on time. I'd like to close talking about culture. I think there are sort of two ways to look at the revolution that we are talking about, both the revolution of women becoming more involved in education and therefore higher-skilled jobs, higher paying jobs. At the same time the gap growing, and then becoming more like men. And at the same time a growing gap between types of women and their experiences and their income. So, there's a tendency I think among some to treat this as a cultural phenomenon, to say that Women's Liberation has brought this about. As economists, we tend to look at it as not so much as a cultural phenomenon. We look at these exogenous changes you mentioned earlier, technological change, and how that changed the returns to education; and that drove a lot of what we are talking about. But it seems to me that it all worked together. Everything is endogenous. Culture responds to economics as much as it is formed by--certainly as much by that as it is formed by elites who opine about this or that. And it just strikes me we are at a time, incredible ferment, in how men and women see their roles as parents, as spouses, as employees. And that that culture is going to evolve as to what's acceptable, what's not acceptable. You close by talking about--you are saying that even though women are much more like men, you suggest they won't become 50% of the top jobs. There are differences that are going to persist even in the face of these cultural changes. Even in the face of these economic changes. Let's talk about where you see things going, and whether you think I'm right about this ferment. Guest: I think you are totally right about ferment, and I think that when I look at younger generations, people who are younger than me, much younger than me, there are differences in how they see the world from how my generation did. But I do think that, whether or not you are male or female remains extremely important. I think in some ways, curiously enough, what I can see happening is a dramatic change in the egalitarian nature of middle income families. I think in some ways, they are more likely to have shared opportunities and fewer kind of, 'Well, do I stay at home or do you stay at home' kind of choices than at the top. I'll tell you why I don't think it will be 50-50. If you are a highly educated, successful professional woman, in some ways it's tougher for you, because you don't on the whole want to marry somebody less successful who will just stay at home, will be a not very successful person you maintain. So you've therefore got two highly motivated people who want to make careers. But it's still much more respectable to sort of go sideways, if you are the woman. And it's not just that the men force it on their wives to be the one who, on the whole, takes on the larger role in childcare. I'm sure some of it; but a lot of it is not. And this isn't [?]; it's kind of an arithmetic fact. If you have a hundred women and a hundred men and they are all starting off the same; and they are all successful, and they marry each other--and there are a number of the women who, when they become along thinks[?], you know, actually I'm not that ambitious and I don't really want to go to the top of Goldman Sachs or whatever, and this is a good reason to go slightly sideways, more of them will feel it's entirely socially acceptable to do that than the men will, who, to say, 'You know what? You go on climbing the corporate ladder and I'll go sideways a little.' So I just kind of think people end up sort of 60-40 generation after generation. Because, as a woman you are one who ends up with the baby. Everywhere but in the United States you are offered generous maternity leave. Some of you discover you actually don't really mind if you don't go up as fast as you thought you minded. And so I just think that the choices will pan out in a way that's it's not 50-50. But it will be just close--let's say, 60-40, 65-35. It will not longer be exciting that a woman is a conductor of a great orchestra or no longer be exciting that yet another country has elected a female President or a Prime Minister. It will just be normal. Now, I'm sure there are other things that are fermenting away. And the future of the human family, and the future of demography, in a time when we are watching population set to fall and a good number of the world's richest countries--I haven't a clue what's going to happen. I know I can't predict it, because nobody ever does. But I'd sort of put a lot of money in I could collect in 50 years on that 60-40 proposition. Russ: And you are betting very much against the 60-40 going the other direction. Which is--I'm thinking in a lot of law schools, a lot of universities, women, as you say, I think you mentioned this earlier: It's not just that they've--there are almost as many women as men, there are a lot more women than men. Guest: This is true. Although across, you know, if you average it out across, you know, engineering, computer science. You are right: you're argument would be: Suppose you end up where the graduates at the top colleges are 70% women and only 30% men, and then the women won't be able to find high-earning husbands so the husbands will have to be the lower earner, who stays home. Um, maybe. I'm not totally--I don't think so. I think women interestingly, this employment, which somebody will stop throwing things at whatever they are listening to [?], I think women do again subconsciously find themselves attracted to professions, because professions, as opposed to managerial business-type roles, professions are relatively easy to continue climbing up without working 150% every year of your life. So as long as you don't actually want to be a partner in a Wall Street firm, law is a pretty good thing to do if you are a female. And you actually also want to be the half of the partnership that maybe puts in a bit less in the way of hours at the office. So I think that--my hunch is that that has quite a lot to do with it. So, yeah: I'm going for the 60-40, 60% male, 40% female, in the top 1%. But 50-50 in the top 15.
1:08:16Russ: One last comment: I've been struck--I've thought about writing about this. My kids tell me I shouldn't. So I'll make a lot of enemies, and lose friends. And people throw things at whatever they are listening to. But I've been struck how cultural norms for men and women have started to emerge rather dramatically. What used to be considered feminine behavior, what used to be considered masculine behavior--my favorite example is, male athletes cry all the time now, in public. When I was a child, that just was unheard of. The culture of male athleticism was a very old-fashioned bastion of 'Keep your feelings in, tough it out.' But we have a world now where the most valuable player of the National Basketball Association will--Kevin Durant gets an award, and he's, I think it was the MVP (Most Valuable Player)--and he's sobbing on national television. In front of his teammates, who he's invited to the event. And that just--it's so unimaginable, 10 years ago, even. And he was saluted for it. No one said he's--there's something wrong with him. And he was lauded greatly for his emotional openness. And I think--I don't know whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. It's probably a good thing. I have no idea. I'm not commenting on that. What I'm commenting on is that as I see it. And I see it as a response to the labor force phenomenon, rather than an exogenous cultural change. Do you think those kind of changes are happening now? Does that ring a bell for you? Guest: I think it does. Though I would also say that the other thing that has changed is that as nations we have been on our home territory at peace for a long time. Russ: That's a great observation. Guest: At changed. I think maybe the--what is acceptable and admirable and desirable behavior might start to separate again between the two genders. I mean, I know that we have lots of women included in combat roles. But what is also true is that we are less and less societies in which also military virtues seem to be incredibly relevant. And if the world starts to blow up, who knows.

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COMMENTS (24 to date)
Steve writes:

Russ,

1) Could you have an episode on "inequality?" What does that word mean today when referring to income and employment etc? I request this because I think it is a misnomer the way it is used.
This may lead to explaining capitalism, free enterprise, and the freedom to choose.

2) Please have a podcast on hiring practices, employment economics, or labor economics. Concerning hiring practices, most corporations keep entry level positions allocated for blacks, latinos, and white women so that diversity quotas are met.

Mort Dubois writes:

I'm only a couple of minutes into this episode but I'm confused by Russ & guest referring to "the top 15 to 20 percent" of women in developed countries and then putting a number on it: 75 million highly educated women. That implies that the total population of women in developed countries is 375,000,000. That seems very, very low to me. World population is 7 billion. Presumably half of that number, more or less, is women. So only 11 percent of the world's female population lives in developed countries? Or are we really talking about a much smaller percentage of the female population than stated?

I'll listen to the rest tomorrow - maybe this mystery is cleared up.

Kailer writes:

Great podcast. I usually don't find gender stuff interesting, buy that was fascinating.

Bob S writes:

Great podcast as always but with a special, personal twist for me! I am a long time, faithful listener and one of the nuts who frequently listens to an episode more than one time.

I am the happy father of nine children and would not choose any other path for my life. I will spare everyone here a harangue about life, values and parenting but, I think that this podcast did in fact help me with a great many things I ponder frequently. When you're the father, or mother of a large family, you cannot avoid the sometimes awful, awful things people say who do not share your view of the world. Ironically, it used to be that people just thought you were crazy. In our time now, you're more likely to be attacked for destroying the Earth or abusing your children than to be questioned about your sanity. This podcast helps me to better understand the thinking and behavior of people who choose to only have a few children or none at all or to trade it for a professional career. We view having/raising children as in fact a career path, one to be taken as seriously as any law or medical practice. Applying oneself to the task this way actually reduces the difficulty substantially in that you remove the greatest barrier to good parenting which is not having another place you would rather be. We teach and train children but the really hard work is always for the parent him or herself. To fully engage in the raising of a child is to submit yourself to ultimate character development program on this Earth. When a parent's temper is fired up or their patience worn to a thin thread, the answer for some is the daycare or public school or a nanny. For some the answer is to be willing to learn to be more patient, more loving, more caring, less self centered, to have a greater measure of grace for yourself and for the child(ren) you have. Most people don't want to face that. To get on your knee and ask a small child to forgive you for saying that thing, or acting that way.... most people would rather take hits from a 350# lineman for three hours each Sunday or medical school for 20 years or the professional practice that takes 100 hours/week to keep going. Is there anything more difficult in this world than to humble yourself before a child.... your child. It is not for the faint of heart that's for sure. Please don't flame me for elevating myself as parent of the year or something, I am not, don't claim to be and never will be.

One thing that I found terribly interesting was the talk about servants and domestic workers in the home vs. out. Most people have no experience and perhaps no stomach for being an employer. To look another human being in the face and choose if they work or don't work, how much they are paid (comparing value of work vs. value of the person on a constant basis) and to take on the responsibility of supporting their families and households. How do you make economic decisions like "how much of this enormous pile of money I have should I share with this person I'm hiring to care for my house, child etc" The impersonal position is to give them as little as you can while keeping them working at a satisfactory performance level but, you still have to look them in the eyes, see their broken down car etc. and reconcile those two things. When you take your child to daycare, someone else is the employer and you are the customer. When you choose a nanny, you are the employer and most people aren't prepared for that responsibility and emotional interaction.

I could go on and on about so much in this episode but I will leave it at these couple of points.

Thanks again for all the work that goes into producing these podcasts, I look forward to them each week.

Xuts writes:

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lloydfour writes:

There was no mention of gender politics.

Why aren't there more equal right regulations favoring women considering that women must be half the voting populations?


Walter Clark writes:

I'm intrigued by a concept which was only touched on and that's the difference between live-in servants and those outside that do the same thing. Some very good points were made by Bob S above on that subject.
It can be summed up in a single word: gig.
The internet is allowing a growing gig economy. My career was not that. I was a very well paid engineering servant. My whole life I had the attitude that it was proper to be a sycophant. To behave knowing that my continued service is affected by my attitude of subservience. I felt free to speak my mind ONLY when so asked.
This attitude is different from the attitude of a worker in a gig economy where the transaction cost of changing jobs is much lower than employer/employee type work. It doesn't matter the level of training of the job. Even an assembly line worker is less of a servant if he is paid by the piece rather than by the hour. Once again we can blame government for creating a regulatory environment which encourages servant/master economy rather than a gig economy.

Luke J writes:

Quality podcast, Russ. I appreciate you giving the guest opportunity to expound.

Dmitry writes:

This was definitely a controversial but thought-provoking podcast!

The topic is indeed very uncomfortable, I think mainly because the vocabulary to talk about such issues is very underdeveloped: "servants, masters, nannies..."; it still bears lots of medieval slavery/serfdom connotations. I believe that part of the scientific agenda in this area should be the development of proper vocabulary to efficiently talk about those issues. "I simply don't want to think about world this way!" (c)

Apart from that I didn't find some of the explanations convincing, e.g. the explanation of why women historically started acquiring more and more education. The reasoning that husbands wanted more educated wives sounds very artificial.

I believe that the rise of women's education is mainly due to the world wars of the XX century - women had to take upon themselves men's jobs back in the rear while men were fighting at the front. And after the war, since so many men had died at the front, women just had to compensate for the shortage of male workforce.

Peter W writes:

One comment about the servant issue. I understood what Wolf was saying about females coming into one's home to do chores, such as child care, cleaning, vacuuming, etc. But how does the "servant" in that case differ from, say a female who comes to the house to do something else, say, electrical work for example? In each case a female is being paid. But we view these differently. Is one a servant and the other not?

Emerich writes:

An enjoyable discussion and Ms. Wolf comes across as thoughtful and clear-headed. The main ideas weren't particularly fresh though, and in fact were reminiscent of a lot of what Charles Murray says in his last book, "Coming Apart". In fact, he would be a great guest on these and other topics.

jw writes:

Emerich,

My thoughts exactly. Murray covered a lot of this earlier, especially the elite school mating phenomena as well as the illegitimacy epidemic.

Bob S,

This was my internal dialog during the entire child rearing discussion. I would think that there would be tremendous peer pressure to NOT have large families anymore, all based on politically correct but horribly mistaken opinions on resources, environmental impacts and even completely wrong theories like global warming.

Congrats to you and Russ for standing up to this, unfortunately, I think that many more take it into account far more than they admit.

Other observations:

- The people who frown on more than two children typically don't understand that 5-10% of women are infertile and another 5-10% simply choose not to have children. Hence the requirement for 2.3 or so children per woman for replacement. Also, people usually don't understand how dramatically the female clock affects fertility after 30.

- If children consumed more resources than they produced as adults, then the standard of living over time would go down. It doesn't.

- As a parent of a recent college graduate, in speaking to his female friends, they were acutely aware of the 60/40 female/male ratios on campus and the imbalances that it causes in college relationships (more unintended consequences?), let alone the marriage ratios later.

- I can't help but agree with "The War Against Boys" as far as explaining a lot of the 60/40 discrepancy.

- Forty years ago, a BSEE degree (all four years total, selective private) cost about 25% more than your first year salary. Now it is over 400% of the first year salary. I am sure that these "standard candles" hold for other degrees as well. The ROI is simply not there. As usual, huge government subsidies in both grants and loans have severely distorted the market.

- Surprisingly, I have seen many of his friends getting married before 25. Maybe the females are scooping up the eligible men as soon as they can, prioritizing a good marriage over their early career development?

Topper Kain writes:

@Mort Dubois- 375,000,000 sounds about right for the total number of (working age adult) women in the developed economies. That would be 750,000,000 total working age adults, and 1.125 billion total population. That's probably a little lower than the total population of Europe + US + Japan + Oceania, but not much, especially because not all of Europe would be considered "developed."

Luke J writes:

Around 7:50min into the conversation, the guest said this:

I mean, there are other aspects of modern society which are perhaps less kind to women. But for able and fortunate women in peaceful countries, this is a pretty good time to be born and pretty good time to be able to storm the elite, and I think we should be a bit more gracious and aware that we are very lucky.

I was thinking about this in regards to last week's conversation with Matt Ridley, and especially Econtalk's Amy Willis' question prompt #1 regarding evolution vs. progression. It seems to me that despite whatever national dialogue says about equality and privilege, there is no group of people in the US today who are worse off than any previous generation.

An exception might be certain Native American tribes living on certain reservations.

Megan writes:

@Dmitri -- I don't think the argument that educated women were once seen as desirable as wives/mothers is artificial at all. At least, there were Victorians espousing this very ideal. I think it's more true to say that today, our culture generally does not value having educated women raising or teaching children -- especially very young children.

Here's two quotes from British educator Charlotte Mason's "Home Education", first printed in 1886:

"We are waking up to our duties and in proportion as mothers become more highly educated and efficient, they will doubtless feel the more strongly that the education of their children during the first six years of life is an undertaking hardly to be entrusted to any hands but their own. And they will take it up as their profession––that is, with the diligence, regularity, and punctuality which men bestow on their professional labours."

"Mothers and Teachers should know about Nature.––The mother cannot devote herself too much to this kind of reading, not only that she may read tit-bits to her children about matters they have come across, but that she may be able to answer their queries and direct their observations. And not only the mother, but any woman, who is likely ever to spend an hour or two in the society of children, should make herself mistress of this sort of information; the children will adore her for knowing what they want to know, and who knows but she may give its bent for life to some young mind designed to do great things for the world."


Martina writes:

Having grown up in Sweden and then lived in another 6 European countries, I was really surprised to hear that the Scandinavian countries have the most segregated workforce and that "all the people who work there [in traditionally female occupations] are female". Already in the early seventies, it was not unusual in Sweden with male (professional) child carers and primary school teachers, but even today, it seems rare in countries like Italy and France, and it strikes me how common it is in these countries to even consider it unthinkable that a man would look after other people's children. In other "traditional" female occupations, such as cleaning, I have observed the same phenomenon: in Italy (where I live now), it is taken for granted that the cleaner is female, but this would not be the case in Sweden.

The claim that all the people who work in traditionally female occupations in Scandinavia are female is clearly false, but assuming that this was an unintended exaggeration, are there data that supports the surprising claim that there are less males in female traditional jobs in the Scandinavian countries than in other countries?

jw writes:

(My apologies, I first posted this in the Ridley podcast by mistake)

Curiosity led me to spend a little time at the US Census site:

- 2013 over 15 married and widowed percentage = 55%

- 1960 over 14 married and widowed percentage = 76%

- Widowed is a much higher percentage over 65. This data was not separated in 1960 (AFAIK), but in 2013, the 15-65 age group married and widowed is 49%. Never married/divorced/separated/absent is 51%.

We have achieved majority single status for 15-65.

Be careful what you wish for.

Robert Swan writes:

Another enjoyable interview. Particularly liked the observations about the worlds of Austen and Dickens.

At one point Russ said that it was almost inconceivable that there's something wrong with the idea of democracy -- one person, one vote. Prepare to be almost inconceived!

Well, nothing so dramatic. Firstly I'll point out that you apparently only become a "person" at voting age. Until then you have to rely on your parents to represent your interests. This is real paternalism, but justifiable on the basis of them not yet being sophisticated enough to make wise choices.

This brings me to the interesting thing of Rhodesian democracy of the 1950s, (described by my father -- I was born there but we left when I was an infant). As is well known, Rhodesia was a majority black nation, with a white minority largely in control of the wealth and politics. This inequality earned them pariah status.

Interestingly, they had something in place in the '50s that tried to address this. Rather than one vote per person, you had: one vote as a person, another vote if you were born in Rhodesia, another vote if you paid tax last year, another vote if you had completed primary school, another for secondary, another for tertiary, another if you owned your home, perhaps others. There was universal free education so, over the course of two or so decades the black majority would have gradually increased its political influence and taken over the reins. Justified paternalism?

How it would have worked out if left in place we can't know. Outside nations exerted influence, the government changed and so did the rules. I think it was doomed on both sides. Too slow for one, too fast for the other. One thing I'm pretty confident about: there can't be anybody truly happy with what the country has become.

In any case, far from inconceivable, I find this notion of a democracy where you get some sort of extra say in accordance with how you "contribute" to the nation to be interesting. Getting a satisfactory definition of "contribute" would be tricky, but I certainly don't find the idea unthinkable.

SaveyourSelf writes:

Dmitry wrote, “The explanation of why women historically started acquiring more and more education. The reasoning that husbands wanted more educated wives sounds very artificial.”

I don’t find it artificial. Incomplete, certainly. Have you ever tried talking with someone significantly smarter or dumber than yourself? It’s very difficult, perhaps impossible, not to fall in a Master-Subordinate relationship when there are large disparities in cognitive conditioning. For most people I know, marriage is only a consideration between equals, which makes sense given marriage is a contractual arrangement. It would not make sense to form a contract in which one party contributes far more than the other. People who are in a Master-Subordinate relationship would not, generally, qualify as marriage partners. That’s why there used to be dowries—to try and bridge that gap. But when divorce became easy, dowries became a poor investment.
I liked your point about the expansion of women during the world wars.
I also liked Alison Wolf’s idea that men value educated women because it might give their children a competitive edge. That argument would work regardless of the weights given to “nature vs nurture.” Smart women would have smart genes and, at the same time, smart women would have smart skills to model and teach their children.
Peter W wrote, “But how does the "servant" in that case differ from, say a female who comes to the house to do something else, say, electrical work for example?”
Great question. Made me think. Perhaps it is because, when it comes to raising children, parents have complete authority. They can micromanage every aspect of the work of the housecleaner or nanny. They cannot micromanage a plumber or electrician, though, unless they know a whole lot about plumbing or electrical practices. Even then, there are loads of regulations and practical restraints on those practitioners that they could not ever allow a homeowner to influence.
Robert Swan wrote, “Rather than one vote per person, you had: one vote as a person, another vote if you were born in Rhodesia, another vote if you paid tax last year, another vote if you had completed primary school, another for secondary, another for tertiary, another if you owned your home, perhaps others.”
That was extremely interesting. Thank you for sharing. I find it fascinating that paying taxes only got one vote. It implies that voting was possible for people who do not pay taxes. Not only that, but the system was designed to give more weight to factors other than paying taxes. [I cannot understand any system that allows voting to people who do not pay taxes. It is a recipe for "reallocation," which is a recipe for disaster.]

jw writes:

RS,SyS,

Many forms of non-proportional voting have been theorized, but you will find that currently most of them are geared towards allotting extra votes for nebulous "social justice" criteria, not citizenship or taxpaying status.

I think it is best to stick with the one vote per citizen rule as it is a difficult enough standard to maintain with the shenanigans that occur every other November.

The fact that an avowed Socialist is carrying any Democratic primaries is a testament to a failed educational system (failing in not just basic economics, but history, math and an extreme leftward bias), not vote allocation.

Rania writes:

This is one of those podcasts that doesn't travel well. Coming out of Saudi, I find it a little remarkable that she found it remarkable the centrality of marriage to a woman's life. As for being uncomfortable with servants... well, I think we're famous for how badly we treat them.

Scott Hussey writes:

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Steve Tomkinson writes:

I would certainly agree with the comment that children are good for the planet in the sense that they are obviously necessary for humanity's future and as such should be treated as a resource to be treasured. The problem, as I see it, is that children are an abundant resource but most are condemned to a life of suffering and drudgery. Should we not be trying to find a way to offer opportunity to those that now exist- each one of whom has as much right to be here as any of us?

Elizabeth Vendivel writes:

For those women who are employed as servants, does their work (same as the work they are doing at home, but for no pay there) ultimately reduce their ability to be 'good' or 'present' mothers at home, themselves? Does this then potentially further burden their children and reduce their opportunities, which spreads the gap between poor and wealthy, underserved and privileged, poorly educated and highly educated women & children. Because these servants are predominantly female, are we heading towards a market where good and present motherhood is only accessible for those who can afford it? Yes, this relationship of servant/employer exists because it is mutually beneficial, but the servants in this situation may also be unaware of the long-term impact on their children, families, society, etc.

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