June 14, 2007

Becker and Posner on women

Related to Matt and Alec's recent comments on the gender pay gap, Gary Becker and Richard Posner have essays up on the role of women in the economy. As always, everything they write is worth reading.Becker--in making a general point that women have increased their representation in higher education--refers to an interesting recent front page article in the New York Times (for which I cannot find a link, sorry) that described the educational and professional landscape in Algeria in which many more women study in universities and subsequently also outnumber men as judges and lawyers among other professional positions. This is not dissimilar to another ultra-traditional society I have come into contact with: the large population of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.For the most part, all immigrants to Israel study in an ulpan (language school) such as Ulpan Akiva, the one that I studied at during my recent stay in Israel and described in my first Israel travel log. While there is no shortage of dedication and interest, ulpans in Israel have had a very difficult time dealing with the Ethiopian immigrants because their background is just so different from Jews coming from elsewhere in the world. In additional, their tradition is such that women often do little outside of the home. But when men are having trouble learning the language and finding work (and often turn down work they deem to be below them), women step up to the plate. In Israel, these Ethiopian women are far better at learning the language and now make up a strong majority of the Ethiopian workforce. This is great in terms of empowerment and economics, but it has caused tensions in many of the still very traditional Ethiopian homes in which it is looked down upon for women to express themselves and have a career and individualized life. Interestingly, it is also becoming a problem that Ethiopian men are less likely to become educated and work because the women from the home are doing such a good job of it. This, of course, is not a great outcome.It is interesting that in societies with traditions of varying levels of repression again women, the women manage to educationally and professionally succeed above the levels of the men doing the repressing. If only this success extended to all elements of the lives of women in these societies.Back to Alec and Matt's discussion on the gender pay gap, Alec makes the correct observation that the entry-level pay gap could be heavily due to job preferences expressed by the individuals themselves (men more than women seeking jobs in financial services and consulting, traditionally very high-paying jobs). Becker notes that women have started evening the gap in traditionally male-dominated majors such as mathematics and physics. I wonder if this evening would have a proportional effect on job preferences or if with equal numbers coming out of the mathematics and the sciences, more men still seek financial services and consulting jobs.