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On The Importance Of Being Likable…

May 20th, 2009 · 9 Comments
Gender · Happiness

(For the record, I might have had to look up how to spell likable…even dictionary.com wasn’t clear on the matter, but, since for “likeable” it just said “see likable”, I went with the latter.)

So we all probably remember how Larry Summers got himself in trouble at Harvard for reporting on academic hypotheses and findings that males and females may differ in terms of mathematical ability. (For details, scroll down to the “Sexism allegations” section in the previous link.) Summers was very clear on the fact that he was in no way expressing a viewpoint and was merely reporting on academic research. Nonetheless, there was an uproar both among female faculty members at Harvard and within the public overall. Hmmm…could it possibly be that people didn’t like the guy so much and were just waiting with baited breath for him to do something “wrong”?

If this is indeed the case, I suppose it is very fortuitous for Greg Mankiw that he is more well-liked than Larry Summers. To quote his latest blog post:

“According to new research from Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson:

The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness
By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. The paradox of women’s declining relative well-being is found across various datasets, measures of subjective well-being, and is pervasive across demographic groups and industrialized countries. Relative declines in female happiness have eroded a gender gap in happiness in which women in the 1970s typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. These declines have continued and a new gender gap is emerging — one with higher subjective well-being for men.

I am not at all sure how to interpret this finding. It sounds like either the women’s movement was a mistake or subjective happiness is not the right objective.”

So he’s suggesting that the women’s movement was potentially a mistake. I am very curious to see if people get their panties in the twist over this.

P.S. On the subject of likability…I am watching Meghan McCain on The Colbert Report. Man, I really don’t want to like her, but she makes it hard sometimes…

Tags: Gender · Happiness

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 LL Cool A // May 20, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Fuckin’ Larry Summers… that asshole also suggested that the developed world should ship all hazardous wastes to the third world as even if more people die due to the pollution, the actuarial cost of their lives is marginal compared to that of someone in the developed world. What a shit head!

  • 2 econgirl // May 20, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    You’re kind of proving my point. Not that this makes it a whole lot better, but it’s not uncommon for economists to value a person in terms of discounted future earnings. By this metric, people in developing countries lose in terms of relative value almost by definition. Yet Larry gets singled out for being the ass clown that thinks this way.

  • 3 Jacob // May 20, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    It’s not only economists who value life in terms of discounted future earnings. The U.S. courts do the same. Also, as stated in the above article, he only reported actual academic research and was thrown under the bus by Harvard.
    Greg Mankiw did much the same. He reported research by Wolfers and Stevenson and then added commentary at the end, which is the subject of this article, postulating that PERHAPS the women’s rights movement was a mistake. IF maximizing women’s happiness was the goal of the movement, and the rights, responsibilities, and life changes caused by the movement caused the decrease in happiness, then it is hard to argue that the movement was not a mistake.

  • 4 Dan L // May 21, 2009 at 10:26 am

    I suspect that the Wolfers-Stevenson research has a lot more to do with the complicated nature of happiness (and the pursuit of it) than anything in particular about the women’s movement. I would bet that there are many “paradoxical” facts yet to be discovered by happiness research. For example, one well-established finding is that having children makes people less happy. Much like the Wolfers-Stevenson finding, this fact is more intriguing than surprising. And in both cases, as I see it, the results should have no ramifications for public policy.

    Also, I was no fan of Larry Summers as Harvard pres, but I find him way more likable than Greg Mankiw. His whole blog persona just grates on me. And it’s not *just* because Mankiw is a right-winger. I’d like to think that if Paul Krugman were to harp on all the time about his wonderful textbook the way Mankiw does (to take just one annoying example), I’d still say, “Yeah, that guy is kind of a d-bag.”

    The economist’s dirty shell game: “We typically do not engage in normative questions, only positive ones. However, 95% of the study of economics will implicitly use maximization of economic efficiency as our normative standard. This seems totally reasonable, right? We’ll just leave out the little fact that under this normative standard, the death or abject misery of thousands of poor people can actually be a *good* thing, as long as it sufficiently enriches one rich dude.” Honestly, though, I think (hope?) that most economists at least intuitively see the limitations of using economic efficiency as their normative standard. The problem with writing about polluting poor people is that it reflects a mind that has confused economic efficiency (which is mainly useful because it is *convenient*) for actual notions of right-and-wrong.

    Regarding “merely asking a question” (with respect to both Summers and Mankiw): It’s a rhetorical technique, like any other. It does not necessarily tell you what the speaker thinks the answer is, BUT it does tell you something about how the speaker has chosen to frame the question. As an exercise, go home to your spouse and merely pose the following question to your spouse, “Are you doing your fair share of the household responsibilities? I’d like you to carefully consider this question and justify your answer.”

    (Okay, I could probably go on and on with this comment, but I’ll wrap it up here.)

  • 5 BradyDale // May 21, 2009 at 11:17 am

    As an outsider looking in (not only am I a boy, but I’m a boy who’s pretty committed to skipping the whole family thing, including marriage, so I tend to look at everything about normal people’s lives like I’m watching zoo animals), it seems a little too easy too jump to the conclusion that women don’t really want to work, which they are doing.

    It seems like the world has said, “OK, women… you can work. You can be successful. But you still gotta do EVERYTHING you were doing before, too. So keep the home neat and clean and raise the kids and do the driving but go ahead and work your butt off by day, too!”

    Doesn’t seem like a prescription for happiness.

    Hope that doesn’t make anyone mad. I’m trying to be supportive of the ladies here.

    The other thing I’ve often wondered about, for economists, is whether not the greater average family income hasn’t had such an inflationary affect that women don’t really the choice not to work any more.

    In other words, in the 50s, one earner could support a home, two kids and a car, right? Now, that doesn’t hardly seem possible. Even a couple trying to live modestly seems like they’d struggle doing that. Hell, I do okay, and I struggle to support ME! So has their been a price shift in the underlying economy such that it assumes that the average household has more money so that a home, two kids and a car just isn’t sustainable under one income now, whether or not both parties WANT to work?

    Because, if it’s not, that’s a prescription to add financial stress to a woman’s average lack of well-being, you know? If the women who want to be homemakers can’t be, that would drag the number down, and if those who want to work are working more than they want to or worrying about losing their job because they need the money, that’s an issue, too.

  • 6 BradyDale // May 21, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Dear Dan L,

    Your penultimate paragraph kinda rules.

  • 7 Dan L // May 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks, BradyDale, I aim to please.

    I didn’t want to get into it, but since BradyDale did, I agree that a reasonable hypothesis for why women might be less happy now is that society now places more demands on women: They’re supposed to work now (usually out of necessity), but they’re still the primary caretakers of the home and the children. Among other problems, most husbands are just lazy about their family responsibilities. (As evidenced by the American Time Use Survey. One cringe-worthy nugget: “Unemployed men’s child care duties, by contrast, are virtually identical to those of their working counterparts, and they instead spend more time sleeping, watching TV and looking for a job, along with other domestic activities.”)

    Still, could that mean that the women’s movement was a mistake? I’d argue that the happiness issue is irrelevant–a red herring. If it were true that blacks were less happy 20 years after the abolition of slavery than before abolition, would that mean that abolition was a mistake? Even if this historical possibility is unlikely, it is theoretically possible, so the question does make sense. My answer is an emphatic NO. Slavery is wrong, regardless of whether it makes its victims happier. In fact, one of the old pro-slavery arguments was that blacks were better off as slaves. Similarly, feminism should stand or fall on its own merits, not on whether it makes people happier.

  • 8 Benjamin Allen // May 21, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Although it seems some realization as to the gross mischaracterization of the women’s movement as a “mistake” has played itself out in further posts, there are further points that ought to be made to elucidate why “happiness” is not a decent metric to judge the “success” or “failure” of any movement. BradyDale hit on the first root of this mischaracterization when he noted that the total work load and thus working hours has increased, given that in what is still an ostensibly patriarchal world, women have been submersed in a dialectic of being both “productive, modern women” and “productive, caring matriarchs.” I would be far less happy too if this was the case for me! In other words, men have too often shrugged their responsibilities in a household due to building of a socially reinforced maschismo worldview, in that doing work around the house becomes “girly stuff.” Because of this, I find it wrong to say that the women’s movement *was* a mistake, since it is hardly finished! History, revolutions, and movements never stop; history is a constantly perpetuating story of time precisely because it never stops and that, although the players and their goals may change, the impetus of any revolution remains.

    Secondly, it can also be said that the women’s movement *is* precisely why women may find themselves more unhappy than in the past because it truly has enlightened many women as to the nature of their situation. It has always been the case in history that any new, radical idea starts with a small group of people and branches outward. For many women in the 50s and 60s, they may have been happy in the sense that they were well provided for by their husbands and that they were executing their socially reinforced matriarchal role in a satisfactory manner, however, upon the realization that you have no control over your life beyond what your husband says, that you have no representation in politics, that if you aren’t married you are deemed a hussy or otherwise, and that if you do have a job, you aren’t getting paid as much as a man, you would probably say to yourself after realizing these things, “hey, I’m really unhappy!” Because of this, I’d say that perhaps this increased level of unhappiness is proof that the women’s movement has been very successful! Beyond that, I’d beg you to find me a single person who thinks radically or believes that there is injustice in the world who is happy! Why should you be when there is injustice? To pretend like there is still not injustice for women in the West (not to even mention the developing world) is disingenuous, because as we can see, despite the fact that there are plenty of laws guaranteeing equal rights for women, the difference in pay for the same job between a man and a woman, the level of representation of women in politics and so on is still disproportionally in favor of men.

    Or perhaps an even better metric of patriarchal indoctrination would be how many men read this comment and thought to themselves, “what a girl” or something along those lines, despite that I am indeed a man.

    With all of that said, Larry Summers is a freaking tool and when I heard he was appointed to Obama’s economic team I genuinely regretted voting for Obama because it was the first sign that he wasn’t about changing the status quo at all.

  • 9 Tom // May 26, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    a couple things. first is a responce to the people who say, or at least feel, that happiness isn’t a measure of “success” or “failure”. if you arent measuring based on happiness, then what are you measuring on? if you die miserable, but really rich or with a great job, then what did you really succeed at? now this in no way means that i’m against materialism and great jobs and all that, because i feel that those will probly contribute to my happiness, or at least provide me with the means to become happy. but if thats not the case then i will consider it a failure and look elsewhere.

    my other observation is that i feel everyones overthinking this. womens happiness has most probably declined due to the fact that they’re now stuck in cubicles and other work enviroments with the rest of. the type of enviroments that don’t really pump up your happiness, but instead suck it ,and your life, out of you. i would also hazard the guess that this will lead to womens average life spans falling down to around those of men.

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