Chris Blattman

The hard problems in social science

Lee Professor of Economics Claudia Goldin called for further research on the persistent problem of why women are paid less than men are, and how to level the playing field. Her own research has shown that most or all of this bias is unintentional: women self-select into fields that pay less.

For a salaried employee, it would seem that working longer hours would translate into earning less per hour. But, Goldin said, “In some occupations, the more you work, thehigher your hourly earnings.” In these fields, she said, employers are willing to pay more for one employee who puts in 70 hours a week than for two who put each put in 35.

Goldin is one of many scholars weighing in on the unresolved ‘hard problems’ of social science.

I thought this was her most interesting statement:

“…when we were asked to come up with a hard problem in the social sciences, I think all of us thought very hard about it, and we came up with a bunch of hard problems. But when we had to create something for the audience, we realized that we had to come up with something that we actually knew something about, so then we threw away that hard problem and we took our research.”

She added that the problem she really wanted to talk about was how and why social norms change.

2 Responses

  1. Scary post, so the amount of problems keep growing and getting worse and I’ve just celebrated another 1st of May… Besides the persistent low payment to women and all the prejudice they endure, society seems to accept and persist with its need will to “slave” the working classes independent of their gender … A worker shall not be able to have a life if one choose to work 35 hours a week. But heaven is next door if you submit yourself to serve the capital 70 hours a week….

    Blame the social system which doesn’t arrest an employer who allow (force) an employee to work 70 hours a week. It is next in line to slavery, who cares about the money when you can’t have a social life, time to make and keep a family and health anyway? A slave of the capital…. and good client of the drug lords of Mexico because this worker surely do take drugs..

  2. “Her own research has shown that most or all of this bias is unintentional: women self-select into fields that pay less.”

    Huh? I thought there was considerable evidence showing that the causal effect is the other way — professions are paid less WHEN they are female dominated and when men enter traditionally female professions, the pay rises. Examples I seem to recall relate to concert music performers in early 19th century – when men started performing the field switched from largely amateur salon performances (often by women) to paid concert hall performances (mostly by men). Early typewriter operators were well-paid men, when employers discovered women could do it better for less money the job was ‘feminised’. Soviet doctors (largely female) were low-paid compared with countries where medicine was dominated by men.

    And finally, I recall hearing of an anthropological study in Africa which studied two pre-literate communities with gender-specific trades. In one community the potters were men and this profession was highly regarded as a prestige occupation, whereas in another community the potters were women and pot-making was regarded as a low-grade activity worth little remuneration. Sorry I don’t recall the details, I came across this in a lecture a couple of decades ago.

    So, it seems that if too many women self select into high paying professions, those professions will morph into low-prestige occupations with lower pay. If this dynamic is operating, it’s hard to say that women are doing it to themselves.

    Or perhaps I have missed the point?

    The persistent problem of why women are paid less… good question. And the answer is that women choose this? Yeah, right.

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