Thursday, February 23, 2006

Rethinking Gender Sexual Equality

In such time as I have to watch the Olympics I often pay attention to the outcomes of women’s team sports. A common pattern is that nations that are perceived to have more sexual equality do well in these sports. Economically this makes sense because it is easier for them to generate enough skilled players to man staff a team. In ice hockey in 2006, 2002 and 1998 the gold, silver and bronze were taken by (Canada, Sweden, US), (Canada, US, Sweden) and (US, Canada, Finland). Ice hockey is not so widely played worldwide, but in basketball, a much more popular sport, this pattern still generally holds. For 2004, 2000 and 1996 the medalists were (US, Australia, Russia), (US, Australia, Brazil), (US, Brazil, Austria). And for women’s soccer they were (US, Brazil, Norway), (Norway, US, Germany), and (US, China, Norway). Among these countries only Brazil and Russia (unlike the old Soviet Union) are not countries where the authorities make a big effort at trying to insure sexual or gender equality. (The choice of “sex” vs. “gender” is itself another effort in signaling via political correctness. “Gender,” as the law professor Richard Epstein noted in a famous article, is an arbitrary categorization of nouns in Romance languages, and is used by those who feel that any differences in observed outcomes between men and women must be due to cultural pressures.)

In China the government routinely issues lofty proclamations about how much better women have it under Communism, and I have had Chinese students of both sexes tell me that China is a society of sexual equality. (That some of them told me this in a special MBA class at our university for students from China in which 31 of 36 students were male, in contrast to the American classes next door which were split about 50/50, went unremarked upon.) And Scandinavian countries are famous for going to great lengths to improve equality of outcomes. Just last month the Norwegian government enacted rules requiring that 40 percent of corporate boards be female within two years.

But what of the U.S.? Can it be said to be one in which sexual equality is as “advanced” as in Europe? Many say not, and point to the undeniable poverty of females in political leadership. Norway and Finland (and of course Britain) have already had female prime ministers, for example. And so too with American legislative seats, which looks bad in comparison to what prevails on the Continent. Consider the percentage of seats held by women in five countries in the lower house of parliament in 2001, taken from this academic paper:


Sweden, like most Scandinavian countries, has political parties that have instituted de facto quotas for women on their candidate lists. The Labor Party in Britain has done much the same. In combination with proportional reputation (which makes it easier to have women constitute half the electable candidates), this gives Scandinavian nations among the highest percentages of women in Parliament in the world. The U.S., owing to its single-member-district system and its incredible incumbency advantages (with the latter slowing the pace of political change by restricting entry), has among the lowest rates in the industrialized world.

But it is possible to look at another measure of equality, that of participation in leadership in commercial life. Here the story is very different. Consider the same set of countries, with segregation data from the ILO on representation of women in the managerial ranks of businesses in 2000. (Note first that each country defines its job classifications differently. For the U.S. I use “managerial and professional specialty,” “executive, administrative and managerial,” and “managers and administrators”; for France, “productions and operations managers,” “other specialists and managers,” and “managers of small enterprise”; for Germany, “commercial, sales and branch managers,” “buyers, purchasing managers,” and “commercial sales and branch managers’; and for Sweden, “production and operations managers,” “other specialist managers,” and “managers of small enterprises.” Note also that all figures are expressed in percentages of those groups, so they should provide some decent sample of broader business management-level representation.)


The U.S., it turns out, is by far the most equitable nation in terms of letting women rise through the ranks in business, achieving almost fifty percent representation. (Representation at the highest levels, the subject of the so-called “glass ceiling,” is impossible to check for the U.S. because CEOs for some inexplicable reason are lumped in with legislators in the Bureau of Labor Statistics job-classification system.)

And this largely unknown gap reveals two different approaches to “equality.” In one, favored in many countries and by many activists, the primary measure of success is equality of representation, and hence perspective, in government, which sets the policies that bind us all. In the other, there is equality of opportunity in charting your own direction in life because of waht you can earn for your talents, manifested as an equal willingness to hire people regardless of sex. As I have argued before, politics is a zero-sum activity, and so refracting “equality” through it is a way to promote group conflict. Commerce is a positive-sum activity, and so as long as everyone’s right to trade is equally protected, people are rewarded not for group identity but for performance. With the labor force having long since transitioned from industry and agriculture to services, women are essentially as productive as men. And so if we accept that “rights” denote the ability to control your own life, your maneuverability as a desirable trader in the world of commerce is more important than your infinitesimal strength as one of many members of one of many pressure groups in the world of politics. So in the end it is Europe with the most work to do with respect to equality of the sexes.


I have found someone else's data on women in management. The source is Table 1.2 from Ch. 1 of Women in Management Worldwide, which shows "women managers" as a percentage of the total worldwide They more or less agree with the figures above. There are no data for Germany, France or Sweden, but there are for some of the European states with rigid labor markets, as well as nominally gender-equal Chine:


So these data confirm the above story: rigid labor markets allow discrimination to flourish.


Post a Comment

<< Home