Why #metoo is not enough

The media storm unleashed by Alyssa Milano has unearthed many experiences of harassed and abused women. It has broken the shame many women felt and feel and that kept them from telling their stories. And it has successfully shown how widespread the phenomenon is. Women who faced harassment can be sure that they are not alone and that it is reasonable to assume their perpetrator has more than one victim.

I confess that the scale of the problem did not surprise me. My default assumption is that every woman I meet has, at some point in her life, received unwelcome advances. I am actually a bit worried that signaling the number of women affected also signals the number of men guilty, which may make committing harassment look like a majority phenomenon, and thereby more acceptable to some. This effect has been proven for unconscious bias: upon learning that their bias affects the majority, not few people feel vindicated in having it.

From the economist’s point of view, harassment is a violation of property right, the property right to one’s own body. Harassment and abuse are theft; theft of bodily integrity. They are still not persecuted with the same rigor as theft. Have you ever heard that a car owner has been suspected of consenting to the theft of his car because it had an attractive shiny metallic color? Do judges routinely ask what color the car was wearing? Have car owners lost any rights of denouncing theft because of how the cars were parked, where they were parked or when? Is car theft less of a theft even when a car owner has previously lied on the tax declaration?

But when a woman denounces sexual assault, all logic gets lost. Who, in his or her right mind, can assume that a hotel cleaning lady going about her job would welcome a butt naked guest jumping right at her mouth? Or that her right to denounce this changes with what she did or didn’t truthfully state in her immigration papers. Women’s property right to their own bodies is still bizarrely conditional in the twenty-first century.

Some women report the events, which is painful enough. It is when the institutions that are supposed to help do not have enough bite to protect them that I get really depressed. I would like to know how many of Weinstein’s victims reported the incidents, just to have the case go nowhere. In the end, Weinstein was convicted by the media, not public prosecution.

I feel safe where I work and live but not everybody can say the same. I have listened to too many credible accounts of affected women speaking up appropriately just to hear that they should not be trouble makers, or that theirs is a lost cause either way. Meanwhile more than one perpetrator perpetrates his rise across the ranks.

Because in many cases, power structures are stronger than the institutions meant to control their abuse. Modern corporations are not democratic. And some of them contain more feudalism than a medieval manor. It is hard to imagine the contrary, as a smooth running of business needs a focus on executive powers and sometimes single decision makers. But when power differences across levels are too big, along with disparate salary scales, we should be careful about the side effects. You can preach against retaliation as much as you want; if the hierarchy is steep enough, and networks entrenched, it will happen. Damage will be done and traces effaced well before you can look under the carpet.

What can be done? Power and salary distance should be and often are a function of ability, but marginal productivity is hard to measure.  CEOs are not 300 times more productive than their average employee, but they earn on average this much more (in the US). Maybe because they are 300 times more powerful, and that is a situation worth looking at.

Top management often face external accountability through media and the public, but what about the upper middle? There is a lot to say for open doors and transparency requirements on files and decisions. Further, powerful staff associations can be productive for the firm and protective for corporate citizens.

But maybe we need more than this, because still things are falling through the cracks and due diligence sometimes strangely vanes. It could make sense to bring the powerful force of automation to some corporate policies, when for example a certain threshold number of independent accusations triggers automatic sanctions. Diversity can help disentangle the gender-power nexus. More women and gay men in more powerful positions would reassure us.

As for whether change is needed at all, the jury is not out any more. It has voted. #metoo.

“When he says, he doesn’t want to get attached, take his word.”

I have for a while pondered adding an economist’s twopence to the wonderful “Dear Carolyn” column in the Washington Post and not yet gotten there. But recently, there has been a recurring theme, and it has made my hands tickle.
Story no. 1 is about a relationship that means different things to him and her; basically she is committed and sees them as girlfriend and boyfriend and he does not. Story no. 2 has more or less the same theme, with the added twist that she has successfully convinced herself that he, despite saying the contrary, actually feels for her as she does for him.

Wowowow. There are a couple of themes here which we need to disentangle one by one.

1. Contracts.
At first sight, the economist thinks, ‘a-ha, incomplete contracts’. But that is not true. Incomplete contract theory states that no contract, no matter how well thought out, can include a clause for any eventuality, because many eventualities are unknown and unforeseeable, including the possibility that both contracting parties actually want something else in future.
But we are not in incomplete-contract territory. We are in no-contract territory. There is no contract, not even an incomplete one. No agreement of terms, only expectation of terms, and the side with the higher standards loses out.

Ladies, can I be your big sister for a second. You.have.to.negotiate. You.need.to.make.your.terms.clear. From an economist’s perspective, you.need.a.contract. It does not need to be a written one, but you have to talk. Early. Verbally. Before the non-verbal negotiation takes over. The second date is a good occasion to do this, assuming that the first date is just to check if you ever want to meet again, and the third date sometimes carries expectations. Yes, there is a chance that he turns your terms down. But I believe in 9 of 10 cases, he won’t. Here is why.

2. The demand for Female vs Male sex.
Ok, we need to take a cold blooded quant look at the reality of markets now. Are you ready? Female hetero sexuality is an asset. It is worth loads, concretely and figuratively. There is a gigantic, mega, market for female hetero sex, in all its forms, for just looking at things, for reading about it, for the visual and conversational presence of a woman, and I am not just talking about porn and prostitution and money. When economists say ‘market’, they mean an exchange of demand and supply more broadly. A picture of a smiling woman on a credit ad makes men willing to pay a 25% higher interest rate on that credit. There are papers that make a convincing case that marriage is in essence a contract about female hetero sex. Borrowing the words of Melissa Etheridge for a somewhat different context, many men would ‘beg, steal and lie, fight, kill and die’, to have a woman. And many have gone there.
There just is no equivalent market for male hetero sex. If you look at the actual monetary value of these markets, their size relation is more extreme than the sun vs the moon. The.sun.vs.the.moon. Let that sink in.

The relationships portrayed in stories 1 and 2 are basically sex-only relationships where male hetero sex is traded against female hetero sex. The guys are offering (less than) the moon for the sun. That is NO equivalent, from an economist’s viewpoint. Not by a large shot. In order to make this trade fair, the guys would need to put a lot more in.
That means, ladies, you get to set the terms. Make sure you do.

(In case you find my views too subtle, try Psychology Today.)

3. Oxytocin
I wrote about that before here. Women have on average more of an oxytocin response than men. Important to keep in mind. You don’t want to be negotiating with too much oxytocin in your blood. You will trust where trust is not warranted.
That is why it’s important to have that conversation early. At the time of writing to Carolyn, it was arguably a little late. But even then a cool down period can help focus and re-center.

If things fall apart because of that, don’t worry and remember the supply-demand situation set out in point 2. There is plenty more fish in the sea, and it is swimming towards you.

One man, six dates. What does the Economist think?

A week ago, @LisettePylant’s account of a six-fold date made headlines in DC. Justin Schweiger had booked six dates in 20-30min slots on a single evening. Basically, he tried to speed date unilaterally, and without announcing that he was doing so. The women noticed rather quickly, got together without him and became friends. Ms. Pylant exposed the experience on twitter. It was later featured in other outlets including the Washington Post.

First of all, this is quite wonderfully hilarious. Guy thinks the world about his own efficiency (and attractiveness?) and finds himself outmaneuvered before you can say ‘think..’. I guess, in future, Justin will only be able to date people who are either masochists or don’t read (the media) and he may or may not enjoy that situation.

What was going on here?

  1. That gender ratio. Why was he able to do that – one man, six women. Aren’t the women too busy, including with other dates? Or does that reflect the actual gender ratio in DC? – Well, 1:6 is a bit strong, but single women do outnumber single men in most neighborhoods in DC, as Holly Thomas blogs here. This situation is still current, and typical for the metropolitan areas of the East Coast. (For an eloquent analysis of gender ratios in the modern American dating world, see Jon Birger.)
  2. The ladies cracked the code. Contrary to much coverage on the event, I fail to find Justin Schweiger especially shocking. Most thinking ladies over 18 have encountered creepy behavior in the dating world at some point; sadly, it’s hardly news. What is new is that this one got public coverage – and that the women outdid the effect in solidarity. That is, by the way, the code to crack in skewed gender ratios: solidarity. Standing together as women and refusing to compete on standards. The principle has been well-known to economists for a long time, it is the good old-fashioned….trade union. It outdoes unequal (power) ratios by bundling individual demands.
  3. What now? While spontaneous and elegant, the ladies’ get together and agreement were indeed a budding trade union, from an economics point of view. (Not that trade unions can’t be spontaneous and elegant.) I would much encourage to continue on that principle and draw up a charter of standards in dating that DC women are not willing to do without. The more women subscribe, the less the gender ratio will be felt. Being the only date during one evening could be one standard, for example; or the only one, at all, before things get cozy. The bar will be as high as you set it, and firmer if many agree on it.

Fathers and Daughters

I haven’t blogged for a while, because since the death of my father in early March, my mood did not hold much space for light thoughts. Approaching Father’s Day however reminds me that he would want me to continue, and it feels like an appropriate occasion to pick up the plume.

My father was a conservative man, socially and politically, but one theme where he overtook the liberals in their own lane was women’s empowerment. From the time I was able to witness, he supported rising and powerful women. Thatcher in the 80s – at least until she started the Falkland war;  Madeleine Albright in the 90s; respect for Bhenazir Bhutto and Corazon Aquino as well as several business leaders. A vivid memory I retain is his regularly handing me newspaper articles about powerful women. “Couldn’t you do this?” Talking about Christine Bortenlaenger, who started running the Munich stock exchange at 33, or the then popular French PM Edith Cresson. Already in the new millenium, Merkel becoming chancellor was acknowledged like confirmed expectations.

What explains this progressive view, among many others he held which were rather proudly pre-Renaissance? Being raised by a war widow that needed to brave adversity may be one reason. But having a daughter may be another.

Fathers of daughters are pro-woman, in about everything

Diligent economists have shown that fathers of daughters show greater support for gender equity. US Congressmen vote more pro-woman on relevant issues, if they have daughters; and even more so if they have more daughters. Federal judges with more daughters decide more liberally on women’s issues and this effect comes, wait for it, mostly from Republican judges. (Dad, you would’ve been right at home there.)

Parenting more daughters leads to an increased propensity to hire female partners by venture capital firms. There is a 24% increase in the probability of hiring a senior female investor when a son is replaced with a daughter for the existing partners in a firm.  –  Did I mention that my boss is the proud father of three daughters?

Fathers of daughters invest better

Those senior partners I was talking about, who hire more women because they have daughters; they also invest better. The piece of research I mentioned earlier shows that improved gender diversity in the firm, induced by parenting more daughters, improves deal and fund performances. This comes mostly from the daughters of senior partners rather than junior partners (which does not surprise me, because the senior partners have more influence).

Let’s think about this for a while. There is no proof here that an imposed gender quota improves performance; but partners that hire more women because they have daughters will find their teams are more successful. Partners whose fundamental world view is women friendly, and who act accordingly, perform well. In other words: partners who likely had any possible gender biases radically removed by having a daughter, make better deals.

It makes perfect sense, really. If you are capable of taking an unbiased look at investments and other decisions, you will make better ones. Including in hiring.

It all started when countries became richer and families had fewer children

The emergence of women’s empowerment, as well as of men who supported it, has a history. Two century long trends have been shown to bring this about. First, countries became richer and individuals accumulated more capital. Second, family planning became easier. These two count on a third trend, which is crucial in making family planning popular: spreading education.

How does this mix to become a soup? Consider property rights. If they are biased towards husbands versus wives, husbands gain. But only insofar as they don’t have daughters who will lose out in future to their husbands, based on the same biased rights. With family planning, there will be more families that only have daughters, and no sons. So there will be some men who will suffer a lot seeing their daughters suffer. At the same time, with the rising wealth, more and more men will reach a level of economic security that enables them to take risks.

At some level of average wealth and average family size, the scale tips and men would want to change the property laws to benefit their daughters more. The scale tips the earlier, the more biased the current property rights system. So, historically, it tipped earlier in common law countries than civil law countries.

This kind of explanation would have fascinated my history teaching dad. Sadly, we did not have a chance to discuss it. But if we did, he would have pointed out that while most laws are already changed towards equity, the power balances are not.







Mothers In Law Are The Best Thing For Marriage

How the emergence of grandmothers helped build monogamy

You may remember the saving moment when granny arrived on the scene, a few days after the first baby decided (your) sleep was overrated. Grannies still know how to hold and soothe a baby, and many of them cannot think of anything that makes them happier. Grannies also, conveniently, biologically need sleep a little less than younger women.

While in modern times it can feel like they save young parents’ lives, in ancient times, they actually did save lives. Families who had a grandmother around, that is, a woman who would no longer bear children but could look forward to another twenty-odd years of life, had better survival chances. Granny could look after older children while mummy had a new baby at the breast, and daddy was free to go hunting. Families whose genes supported such a lifecycle, i.e. the end of female fertility during healthy years, were favored by evolution.

A recent PNAS article explains in more detail that an increase in life histories involving grandmothering had another beneficial side effect. In societies with active grandmothers as described above, fertile males would naturally outnumber fertile females. And as mentioned previously here and here, this also means, (fertile) women had higher bargaining power than men. Men needed to compete for fertile females; the latter could choose and thereby call the shots.

In a world where women call the shots (also see here), a couple of things happen to relationships and family life. You have empirically a higher incidence of monogamous marriage, higher earnings for men and higher wealth for young parents. – All symptoms of men working hard to obtain the favors of women.

In short, the emergence of grandmas has very likely helped couples form a strong and stable bond (as desired by -the newly powerful- women.)

With this in mind, a warm thanks to all grandmothers, and well wishes to all grandparents, on the occasion of National Grandparents’ Day, 13th September!

Dating in the Times of Piketty – part II

This is the second part of our musings on dating in a more unequal world. As we discussed in part I, we have a few relevant case studies, both historic (feudal Europe) and contemporary (countries with largely Western culture and relatively high inequality, say parts of Latin America). Still, both sets of cases do not fully reflect the situation developed Western nations are gliding into according to Piketty.

Let’s see what is different and what that means for us.
Different from feudal Europe:

  1. Agency of women. In contrast to Jane Austen’s times, women now have voting rights, full property rights, can marry and divorce as men can, and are active in politics and business. The first born daughter may well end up running the family business. (No need to smash the entail, Lord Grantham.) We also know that women, on average, tend to be more left leaning in politics than men. Summing up, this means on the one hand, that hypergamy will likely be an attractive option for both genders (see part I) and courtship patterns may change. Not only will we see groomed young women queuing and trying to prove their virtues to the Mr Darcys, we will also see groomed young men queuing and trying to prove their virtues to, say, Paris Hilton. On the other hand, women’s agency has shifted the political center to the left. This makes it more likely that the bottom 99 percent will oppose an unequal world and vote for a politician that can offer a credible route out of it. Finally, it will also mean that men and women overall have more occasion to meet and mix, at university and work, say.
  2. Wealth is mostly represented by capital, not land. Capital can grow; land only up to a limit. So overall, social mobility in Piketty-land should not be quite as restricted as in Austen-land.
  3. Internet, social media. Any return to inequality will be well documented and well known. The fact that Piketty stirred up the world in so short a time, even the fact that I can write and share this very blog, are witnesses to this change. The average people can see the rich people’s life style more easily, more completely and can choose to covet or to criticize it. Facebook is not exactly a paragon nexus of social mobility, but certainly more so than an Austenian ballroom. The fact that average yours truly is facebook friend with some royalty, as well as heir/esses gives reason for hope. Mrs Bennet’s duty is still valid, but got a little easier. The wealthy networks are more infiltratable.

Different from both feudal Europe and quasi-feudal contemporaries:

  1. Smaller families. This should, on average, make it a bit more difficult to spread inherited capital widely. There are simply fewer heirs and heiresses to marry off.
  2. Longevity. The overall life length is of relatively little interest. What matters is the length of productive life, which seems to expand only slowly or not at all. A longer productive life would give more opportunity to run business risks and thereby accumulate wealth; more opportunity for social mobility. Still, longevity alone already means a longer time span in which heirs need to stand on their own two feet, before cashing in.

Despite all these differences, our main prediction from part I remains. Marriage will be more important a means to access wealth than it is now. And wealth will therefore play a larger part in choosing our partner. The downside is, obviously, that loveless marriages are likely to become, once again, a distinct and accepted possibility.

Work After Marriage

I know quite a few couples where the woman gave up her career after the first kids arrived. In most of these cases, the woman was better educated than her husband and had better grades and prospects of earnings. Still, the women gave up work and stayed home. A pity for the economy, I thought at the time. The families, as well as the country would have been richer, had these women worked. Some returned to work when the children entered school, but their career path was disrupted once and for all.

I always assumed their choice to stay home was voluntary. But recently another fact about them struck me: with the exception of one couple, they all live in the countryside.  And the one wife that lives in the city was actually the first to return to work.

Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn digged up more data on this and found that dual career couples tend to choose to live in cities. A metropolitan area holds the key for more job prospects for both partners.

Marriage stability & the In-laws

Here’s the weirdest divorce statistic I have come across in a while: when husbands have a good relationship with their in-laws, divorce probability sinks by 20percent. When, instead, the wife has a good relationship with her in-laws, the divorce probability rises by 20percent. – What the heck?

Contrary to the researchers I don’t believe that reporting of ‘a good In-law relationship’ by the wife also means she suffers from meddling In-laws. I doubt she would have called the relationship good then.

I rather fear that darker forces of nature are at work here. A woman can only have so many kids in a life. I have heard of cases of 14, but say 8 is more like the natural upper boundary. A man, however, can have nearly unlimited amounts of kids – as long as he involves more than one woman. So, the parents of the wife have an evolutionary interest embedded in their genes that prompts them to foster the stability and wellbeing of their daughter’s marriage. Because the kids she will have in this marriage are likely all the kids she’ll ever have; she can certainly not increase the number of kids infinitely by divorcing and re-marrying younger men. It’s the opposite for a man: in theory, he can increase his prospect of children by divorcing and re-marrying a younger woman. Somewhere his parents must also ‘know’ this in their genes and have an evolutionary urge, however little, to nudge their son along…

So, when in doubt, celebrate the next holiday at her parents’ rather than his.. 

2 good reasons to share childcare: prevent divorce and get better sex

This is a true story. Jill is a stunning woman of about 41. She has just separated from husband number two (and partner number three), a father of two of her kids. Her serial separations have been difficult of course, but to outsiders, Jill may look like a divorcee who can afford to ‘shop’, given her looks.

Let’s, however, consider another aspect of the plot. She and her ex-husband agreed joint custody in court, and the ex looks after the kids for 1.5 days on the weekend. 1.5 days during which previously, like in most marriages, Jill looked after the kids. The same history of arrangements is true for her first child, of husband number 1. In other words, Jill now receives from the fathers of her children an effort in childcare she never got (and would have never gotten) while she was married to them.

This finding is no rarity. The time use between the genders is the area that is still ‘unemancipated’ in America. On average, women have less spare time than men, whether they are housewives or breadwinners. And the main reason is childcare. Jill had to divorce to get a fair share of childcare.

Another good reason to share childcare evenly between mum and dad is the phenomenon that men produce less testosterone when they are more involved with their children. (And women, likely, produce a bit more then, given they have more time to relax and can let stress/adrenaline take a back seat.) Less testosterone in men means less demand for sex, and, huh, more patience during the act. (And more in women means, huh, the opposite.) So, sharing childcare should balance out the gap in the need for sex often bemoaned by men, and at the same time make the act more fulfilling for both.

Off you go, guys: look after the kids and give mum a day off!