Salon: Social conservatives’ enduring myth: Women just want to stay home

Elizabeth Stoker has a new piece at Salon that I contributed on. The title is a bit odd. The point of the piece is that most women work because they absolutely have to. You need money to live. Of course, most women don’t like working. Most men don’t like working. You do it because you have to. But if we are worried about the toll toiling for the boss takes on women, the solution is not to thrust women back into utter spousal dependency. Liberation requires eliminating the necessary dependency on spouses or workplaces, and for that, European social democratic policies have shown the way.

Policy Shop: LGBT Employment Rights

New post at Policy Shop. Excerpt:

Last week, Pew released a fairly detailed survey of LGBT opinion in the United States. One of the more interesting findings is that the top policy priority among LGBT Americans is equal employment rights, beating out marriage equality by 4 percentage points. This prioritization makes sense of course: the ability to have and hold employment — and thereby collect an income — is core to basically anything else you might want to do. Despite its importance and prioritization among LGBT individuals themselves, the economics of being LGBT in America has been overshadowed in mainstream discourse by other LGBT issues.

Read the rest at Policy Shop.

The weak feminist case against a basic income

Mike Konczal dedicated his Saturday wonkblog post to the universal basic income (UBI). I’ve written about the UBI here from time to time. I am supportive of it, although I am more partial to a slight permutation on the idea that I’ve generally seen referred to as a social wage. A social wage is comprised of a basic income (equal cash grant to every adult) plus conditional income boosts, e.g. for those with children, disabilities, the elderly, and so on. I like the social wage because I think it better fits with the capability approach to equality in that it recognizes that different people will need different incomes to achieve the same capabilities.

In his piece, Konczal links to a post by Ingrid Robeyns arguing that a basic income is not so hot of an idea from a feminist perspective. I think she is wrong, and will resurrect my line-by-line rebuttal style in this post to respond to the arguments she advances.

Before I get into it, it is important to note that Robeyns is offering her arguments within the German context. Given my ignorance of Germany’s welfare state situation, I cannot comment on whether her arguments work in that context. I am approaching them within the framework of American institutions.

Which women will UBI clearly advantage?
Robeyns writes:

There’s only one group of women for whom basic income will clearly be a short-term advantage – women who would not (want to) be on the labour market, with or without a basic income. But for other groups of women the total income and labour supply effects are unclear and hard to predict.

Robeyn mentions two criteria to use in evaluating the effects on women: 1) total income and 2) labor supply. So she picks out not-in-labor-force (NILF) women as the only group of women that is clearly advantaged because 1) they are making $0 already, meaning their total income will necessarily go up, and 2) they are out of the labor force already, meaning the amount of labor they supply cannot go down.

Robeyn’s use of total income in this analysis is wrongheaded. As I understand it, she is observing that women making high enough incomes will actually see their post-tax incomes go down as a result of the UBI because they will pay more into the UBI system than they get out of it (relative to their market income). These women will be net income losers as a result of the UBI, and so they are weighed against the UBI in the feminist lens.

This is simply bizarre. Stripped down, the argument says that redistribution is, at least in part, not a feminist venture because high-income women are harmed by it (relative to their market incomes). A feminist lens that says inequality-reducing programs are partly anti-feminist because they reduce the total income of rich women needs to be trashed. This is especially true given the gender wage gap, which ensures women are much more likely to be lower-income than men are. Wasn’t intersectional feminism supposed to get rid of this kind of myopic take on things?

If we dispose of the “total income” part of the analysis, and we should, then only the labor supply disparity part remains. But these issues only really present themselves in women-men partnerships where women will be tempted to reduce their labor force participation at higher rates than their men partners. Therefore, there are actually three groups of women that are clearly advantaged by the UBI: 1) not-in-labor-force (NILF) women, the category Robeyns picks out, 2) single women, and 3) women in same-sex partnerships (SSP).

A single woman is not in a position to reduce her market labor supply relative to her male partner — thereby creating the gendered division of labor that Robeyn is concerned about — because she does not have a male partner. Same goes of course for SSP women. How many women do these three categories include? A lot. According to the April 2013 CPS, 41.2% of adult civilian women over the age of 20 were not in the labor force. According to my own calculations of the April CPS, 52.5% of adult civilian women are without a spouse, a figure which closely mirrors others produced on this topic. According to my own calculations of the April CPS, around 72% of adult civilian women in the US are either NILF or spouseless or both.

I don’t know how many SSP women there are, but you can throw them on top of that figure as well, and you start to see that — a least when we get rid of the total income argument — the vast majority of US women fall into a group clearly advantaged by the UBI. That is, the vast majority of women are not in a situation where the woman-man gendered divide of labor concerns really present themselves.

The gendered division of labor among partners
So again, we are only talking about a minority of women for whom this really comes in. But they exist. So what about those cases?

Robeyn writes:

Moreover, a basic income does nothing to change the fact that many (most?) women want to share care and unpaid work [with men], independent of the financial consequences.

Even if we stipulate this is true, it is not a point against UBI. A UBI will fail to accomplish all sorts of things, just like any other program. For instance, introducing a UBI in the US will not fix the Israel-Palestine situation. It doesn’t make much sense to attack the UBI for things it will not change. Robeyn goes for these kinds of arguments often.

Robeyn writes:

I’ve also increasingly come to question whether it will contribute to any serious revaluation of care and unpaid work. Since a basic income is given to all citizens, including those who do not make any positive contribution to society, how can it signal a positive revaluation for care work? If it is given to a 18-year old school drop out watching videos all day on the same terms as to a full time carer, how can it signal that society appreciates the work that this carer does?

This is a mean-spirited run at high school drop outs. Besides that, it is very weak. In the status quo, the high school drop out gets paid $0 and the full-time carer (i.e. someone doing care work) gets paid $0. After UBI, the dropout is paid $10,000 and the full-time carer is paid $10,000. How could the latter situation possibly be worse than the former? This is another of Robeyn’s “it doesn’t fix this other thing” arguments that just strike me as entirely irrelevant. UBI would give carers $10,000, but would not change our perception of them. Since our perception of them is a wash between the status quo and the UBI world, then how does that weigh against UBI? It doesn’t.

Robeyn writes:

But if a basic income is introduced together with a reform of the tax rates from progressive taxation on labour to a flat tax rate, and with the abolition of child care subsidies, then a basic income is likely to put mothers into a child care trap. The monthly cost of a full-time child care place in the Netherlands is over 1.000 Euro; so the basic income for children will not cover that cost.

US does not have child care subsidies, not that I am aware of. So this argument is inapplicable in the US context. In other contexts, the social wage described above could be designed to fix this problem.

Robeyn writes:

a sizeable basic income will take such a large share of GDP that there will be no public funds left for important goods such as public schools, physical and mental health care, child and elderly care arrangements, and so forth.

Social wage with conditional enhancers for children, for the disabled, and for the retired, fixes most if not all of these problems. If you really want to fund these things directly instead of giving out cash and having people pay for them, it’s just a matter of budgeting it out.

All in all, I don’t see Robeyn’s arguments here as very convincing, but then again I am not sure she does either. She concludes the piece by saying “the devil is in the details,” which suggests to me that she holds open that whether any of her cited issues arise will depend on the UBI design. The UBI would be a huge boon to poor women, which there are more of than men and which are disproportinately women of color; single parents, which are almost entirely women; other single women; and women who are NILF. The gendered division of labor problems that pop up in the minority of situations can be managed, and Robeyn’s main argument about those problems is not that UBI causes them, just that it doesn’t solve them. Fixing our misogynistic culture is important, but it doesn’t make sense to attack the UBI for failing to do so.

The dramatic decline of rapes and sexual assaults

I stumbled upon this post from Angus Johnston about the significant decline in the incidence of rape. He claims that the incidence of rape has declined 88% since 1973. I do not doubt his figures, but the resource he linked to has been moved. In my search, I could not quickly find numbers prior to 1994, but the 1994-2010 numbers will suffice here.

According to National Crime Victimization Survey — an annual survey that samples the population directly — the rate of female rape or sexual assault victimizations has declined by 58% between 1994 and 2010. In 1994, 5 in 1000 females above the age of 12 answered that they had been raped or sexually assaulted that year. In 2010, the number was 2.1 in 1000, or 0.21%. These figures include completed, threatened, and attempted rapes and sexual assaults.

The decline held for basically all demographic breakdowns, age, race, and otherwise, but there is still a significant difference between rates of victimization for different groups. Poor females, black females, rural females, and young females faced the highest levels of victimization for which the survey yielded reliable data.

During the 1995-2010 period, males accounted for 9% of all victims in the survey, and in 2010, 0.1 in 1000 males were victimized (compared to 2.1 in 1000 females for that year). Females were the main emphasis of the report because the rate of male victimization was so low that reliably breaking down the numbers more finely was not possible.

However you break it down, the decline appears to be quite dramatic. That opens up speculation as to what the cause of this decline has been. Angus Johnston’s theory is that “feminism works.” While it is obvious that feminism does indeed work, the case for feminism being at the root of this change is a bit murkier. After all, violent crime rates have been falling across the board. As Johnston points out in his post, since the 1970s, “robbery is down 69%, assault by 62%, theft by 74%.” Unless those drops are also attributable to feminism, it would seem like the decline of rapes and sexual assaults is just part of the overall trend.

Of course, that’s impossible to say for sure. As far as I can tell, there is still no settled theory as to why crime has dropped off in the past few decades so dramatically. It is possible that the decline in rapes and sexual assaults is caused by something (e.g. feminism) that is totally different from the similar drops in the incidence of other kinds of crime. Maybe the decline in each crime category has its own unique cause even. I don’t know. However, outside of some sort of strong evidence, it seems a bit stretched to break out one criminal category from a whole class of crimes that have all been dramatically falling, and then attach to it a cause that is totally different from all of the others.

Ultimately, I suppose the cause does not necessarily matter so much. That yearly incidences of sexual assaults and rapes have been cut in half in 16 years is an incredible success. I had no idea that it had declined that much.

Women’s labor force participation across different countries

The New York Times had a very good Sunday piece from Stephanie Coontz called Why Gender Equality Stalled. Much of the piece is dedicated to highlighting the ways in which our economic institutions force women to make hard choices about labor force attachment. Throughout the piece, Coontz makes comparisons between the United States and other countries. So I thought it would be helpful to compare women’s labor force participation against men’s labor force participation for all of the countries that the FRED database has data for.

Basically what I have done is divided each country’s female labor force participation rate by its male labor force participation rate. So for example, if the female labor force participation rate was 7% and the male labor force participation rate was 10%, on this graph that would show up as 0.7. Using a ratio like this better captures how egalitarian labor force participation is in a given country. The higher the line is, the more equal female labor participation is to male labor participation.

To figure out what country is represented by each line, look to the legend on the bottom right. In particular, look at the first 3 letters of each line. Those are country codes. So DEU, the green line, is Germany. NLD is Netherlands. CAN is Canada, ITA is Italy, FRA is France, SWE is Sweden, GBR is Great Britian, AUS is Australia, and JPN is Japan. The bolder blue line is the United States.

So what does this graph tell us? Well it tells us that most of the countries have converged on a female labor force participation rate (FLP) that is just above 80% of the male labor force participation rate (MLP). The exceptions on the high end are Sweden and Canada, who have a FLP/MLP that is closer to 90%, and the exceptions on the low end are Italy and Japan who have a FLP/MLP that is in the 65-70% range.

I thought this graph might be a helpful supplement to Coontz piece, which is why I am posting it here. It helps work through some of the claims being made. I wont go through all of them here, but I will cover one. Coontz writes:

Women’s labor-force participation in the United States also leveled off in the second half of the 1990s, in contrast to its continued increase in most other countries.

This appears to be true. The bold blue line that represents the United States only barely inches up after 1995, while most of the other lines on the graph have moved up quite a bit since 1995. It is not clear however how significant this is because in 1995, the US was already ahead of most of the others. The other countries continued marching forward, but they did not march way past the US: they simply caught up. For a comparison, look at Sweden (the orange line at the top). Their FLP/MLP hasn’t increased since around 1987. When you are already nearer to full gender parity than every other country — as Sweden was and still is — it is necessarily harder to increase gender parity at a rate that is higher than other countries that have a more unequal starting point.