The Happiness Gender Gap Again

Stevenson and Wolfers' paper, “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” covered in the Times back in 2007, has just been released as an NBER paper, giving it a second wind. Ross Douthat in his column today argues that it means that we need to do a better job stigmatizing single motherhood. That's one way we could go. In my 2007 Free Exchange post on the subject, I suggested destigmatizing female indifference to familial responsibility.

[We should] strongly and repeatedly reinforce the point that women should not have to do so much of the unpleasant domestic and child- and parent-care work. It seems to me our culture remains awash in quasi-Victorian super-sentimenal romanticism about the mother-child bond, which makes women feel guilty if they approach childrearing with the same sort of genial detachment of even attentive, involved, and loving dads. Surely many men ought to do more of this work. But I think men doing more is less important than women doing less. Neither women nor men ought not be made to feel guilty if they outsource this work to daycare, nannies, or assisted-living facilities.
The happiness studies show that men now spend less time unpleasantly occupied than they used to. That's good! Our focus should not be on the equitible distribution of unpleasantness, but on an overall reduction. The best path is cultural change that lowers to women the cost of opting out of unfair social expectations—expectations that lead them to spend too much of their time devoted to unpleasant acts of altruism.

There's no logically logical reason why Ross's restigmatization campaign can't go hand in hand with my destigmatization campaign. Ladies: don't be a single mother, because that would be bad for you, and if you are a mother, ignore your kids more, because that would be good for you! But I'm afraid there's a kind of deep cultural logic that rules out this sort of arrangement.

7 thoughts on “The Happiness Gender Gap Again”

  1. Only a slight tangent, looking at wealth equality and growth:
    Since I haven’t found any studies directly addressing it, I took a cross-country look (for developed countries) at wealth equality vis-a-vis growth in gdp per capita, using the best wealth data sets currently available.
    Short story, wealth inequality seems to correlate with short-term growth. But wealth equality correlates with long-term growth. For growth periods >25 years, correlation with growth is a profound R of .58-.67.
    This is a simple, single-variable correlation; it doesn’t correct for any other variables (for instance the most obvious, starting gdp/cap, a.k.a. the “catch-up” effect). Given the limited data sets, though, it would be difficult to achieve robust results with too many independent variables included.
    Update: I had meant to add, my findings are in keeping with correlational studies of growth vs income inequality. From the metanalysis of such studies by Dominicis et. al., p. 22:
    “The longer the length of the growth period (i.e., from 5 to 10 or 20 years), the lower the coefficient estimates of the correlation between income inequality and economic growth.”
    In other words, over the longer term, income equality correlates more with growth.

  2. To add my commentary, in addition to the data in the previous post:
    1. I agree wholeheartedly with Muirgeo that this discussion is depressingly on the wrong topic. “Does greater inequality make it politically more difficult for Republicans to implement policies that result in greater inequality?” Uh…yes…. Does that seem to be Republicans’/Libertarians’ only concern regarding inequality? For many, yes…
    2. Both Will and Jim are using (or surmising) numbers in very weird ways. More-unequal states seem to elect Democrats more. Ergo, the Democratic electorate is more unequal? Sorry, that simply doesn’t follow. Even if it is true, it doesn’t support the barely-hidden implication: that Democrats are hypocrites who rant about equality but don’t practice it. It just speaks to the constituents of the Democratic coalition: poorer people, and very rich people.
    3. Re: The idea that rich Democrats are voting against their own self-interests. Equally likely: they realize that this is true in the short term, but that in the longer term their interests (and everyone else’s) are best served by pro-growth progressive policies.

  3. If the definition of ‘rich’ is ‘top 10% of the income distribution’, then I fall into that category. In addition to Manzi’s dark story (with which I entirely concur) me explain give at least one upside reason that policies which increase equality seems to me to be in my self-interest.
    My business (I’m an upper-tier employee on the engineering side) ultimately depends on how many widgets people buy. My widgets are discretionary items, and people can’t reasonably use more than one or two of them. Increasing inequality means fewer people who can afford widgets. And while I’m quite comfortable with my abilities and capacity to produce a competitive widget, lower demand is bad for my business.
    It seems to me that increasing equality will stabilize my income growth, and solidify my wealth.
    It further seems to me that the only people who are indifferent to inequality, and who resist policies that try to ‘spread the wealth’, are people who know they are personally uncompetitive.

  4. “It seems to me that increasing equality will stabilize my income growth, and solidify my wealth. ” Not necessarily if you are taxed more to achieve the redistribution. If your money is used to buy your products then you can’t be better off. It only works if other people’s money is used. But seriously, if the level of taxation does not affect investment in production then redistribution can’t make us worse off. The tricky thing is realising that investment in production includes people’s effort at work, it’s harder to quantify what level of tax impacts on that.
    Manzi wants to eat and keep his cake if he wants to minimise inequality without redistributive taxes.
    The answer to the original question is that policies that favour the middle without significant tax and spend are still good and saleable policies. The middle class understands that ultimately people need to rely on and do it for themselves and their families.

    1. There is evidence that higher tax rates do not adversely impact productive investment (see linked article). In the article I plot private nonresidential investment as a percent of GDP and top tax rate over time. Investment rose over the 1960’s and 1970’s, fell during the 1980’s, rose during the 1990’s and fell during the 2000’s. Taxes moved in the opposite direction. On the other hand, growth rate is total credit market debt grew more quickly when taxes were lower than when they were higher. Apparently, lower taxes on interest encourage more lending (investment in debt-based securities).
      It would seem that lower taxes on investment income does stimulate investment, just not the sort of investment that boosts productivity or creates jobs.
      And then there is the record of actual GDP/worker growth, which over the 1937-81 period was 50% faster than in either the post-1981 period or the 1860-1937 period. (Dates chosen are business cycle peaks, so as to assess trend rates without influence of partial business cycles.)
      As for the effect of taxes on worker effectiveness we are talking about the highest paid employees. A good example to consider is corporate CEOs. Like a sports team, a CEO’s job is to beat the competition. And like a sports team, the median CEO is going to always have the exact same performance, they beat the competition 50% of the time and lose 50% of the time.
      This means that the effectiveness of the average CEO is constant over time. CEOs should be paid the same relative to other workers today as they were in the past, if pay has any relation to performance. In fact, since tax rates are lower today, CEO pay should be somewhat lower today than 40-60 years ago. Yet this is not the case.
      Now I haven’t considered the possibility that the absolute performance of American business today is much better than it was 40-60 years ago. If GDP were growing today at much faster rates than was in the decades after the New Deal, then higher incomes for CEOs as a group might be part of the explanation. But this fast growth is not happening, growth is actually slower.
      The data suggests that CEO incomes could be slashed by 80% and there would be no impact on the results obtained from their labor.

  5. There is one problem I see with increasing taxes only on the top 5% or so. Obama, for example, claims that his new healthcare plan can be funded by “asking” the top 5% to pay a little more.
    I claim it’s destructive to advocate new programs paid for by a minority. It encourages the majority to think that the program is free. A new program may be worth its cost, but it should not be evaluated by most voters as if it were free. Even if you believe that a particular program can be paid for by the wealthy and that that’s a moral way to fund it, it displaces some other worthy program that could have been paid for by soaking the rich.

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