Tuesday, February 22, 2005
At one point in his talk, Summers trotted out a thesis first articulated by Nobel Laureate Gary Becker, who argued that discrimination harms the discriminator. Becker's point is that it is inefficient to allow non-economic factors to affect a market decision. Therefore, the discriminator will achieve sub-optimal results, either in terms of consumption or profits.
Suppose that in math and science, some departments discriminate against women. Then according to the Becker-Summers argument, those departments, because they are willing to choose second-rate men over first-rate women, will be at a disadvantage relative to departments that are either nondiscriminatory or which discriminate in favor of women. Summers argues that we do not see evidence of these "profit opportunities." As Summers admits, this is a limited argument, because it does not speak to possible discrimination earlier in life. However, it does give pause to anyone who wants to give the automatic "True" response of discrimination.
A very old paper in sports economics by James Gwartney and Charles Haworth (JPolEcon 1974) demonstrated that those baseball teams which integrated earlier had a competitive advantage over those who did not. This is evident to anyone who remembers both Jackie Robinson and Pumpsie Green. It's an example of the Becker test.
The Becker test doesn't hold, Summers and Kling agree, for women in the sciences. So what's going on? Kling offers two new hypotheses, based entirely on casual empiricism. The first is "dominance behavior":
Males are very concerned about "whose is bigger," and this shows up particularly when a group of males gets together for the first time. They compare, they boast, and they try to assert superiority. I noticed this when my first-year graduate school class at MIT met on the lawn the day of student orientation. It made me uncomfortable then, and such behavior has made me uncomfortable ever since.
...My sense is that women find male-dominance behavior annoying. They particularly dislike being treated as "irrelevants" during meetings. I can understand their point of view. I avoid the American Economic Association meetings, in part because I am sickened by the flattery and the Show Off/Put Down. ...
So to Lawrence Summers' list of possible reasons that women are under-represented in some fields, let me add annoying male-dominance behavior. To the extent that one must put up with or join in such behavior to succeed in largely-male fields, I could see where otherwise qualified women might not have the taste for it.
I know well that AEA behavior, having witnessed it at many such meetings. I will note that the women I see at the meetings display the same behavior, but that may be a defense mechanism, or it might be that the field attracts women who exhibit the behavior. In graduate schools as well, that behavior is quite common.
Kling's other theory, that men attribute success to themselves and failure to others, while women do the opposite, doesn't persuade me in terms of the question of women in the sciences. But I don't know as we need any more.