Last night’s post on the economics of higher education included this (deliberately provocative) comment:
The efficient level of investment for a bright, hardworking young man (men being more likely to work full-time throughout their careers) is likely to be massively higher than for a middle-aged women of average intelligence filling in time after the kids have left home…
Kim at LP and most though not all the following commenters rise to the bait, demonstrating not my sexism but how their normative assumptions (men and women should be treated equally, with which I agree) over-ride their analytical abilities.
I was not passing any judgment on the relative ability of men and women. Indeed, women now significantly out-perform men at school. Nor was I commenting on appropriate gender roles. Men and women can make up their own minds on work and family activities and the split between them.
Rather, I was writing about a paper on the economic benefits of higher education, which for a given graduate are the hourly additional value they produce in the workplace compared to if they had not attended university multiplied by the number of hours they spend at work.
This issue cannot be anlaysed via my actual or supposed gender attitudes. For all the changes in social attitudes over the last 30 years, men are still significantly more likely to work full-time than women. This is true of graduates as well as non-graduates (there’s a graph from 2003 on p.9 of my FEE-HELP paper).
A combination of women’s part-time work and absences from the labour market mean that on average the total hours in paid work over a lifetime is significantly lower for women than men. These are perfectly legitimate decisions by women (and their partners), but they affect the economics of higher education investment. The answer to my point is not anything about me, it is statistics showing these things are not true.
In my example, I put in additional elements to crush the arguments of even the most fact-resistant feminist critic. Add in higher intelligence and additional 20 years of graduate earnings and we are talking about huge differences in average lifetime financial gain. These flow through into large differences in the amounts that can prudently be spent on initial education without pushing economic returns down to unsatisfactory or negative levels.
And it is irrelevant to my example (and my broader argument) that many women do work full-time for much or all their adult lives; under my system but not the UA/KPMG proposal they will also be able to make higher levels of initial investment. It’s the difference between investment determined individually and investment determined collectively.
One of the commenters at LP suggests I should be awarded an Ernie for sexist remarks. The last time I received one it was for suggesting that we needed to put more effort into educating boys so that there were more of them at university. When I inquired as to why this was worthy of the award, I was told that even though boys did badly at school they still ended up earning a lot more than women, and so my priorities were misplaced. Ironically, my second Ernie could be for asserting a fact that I was previously Ernied for overlooking.