Archive for the ‘gender’ Category

biology and gender differences in personality

Andy Perrin responded on Scatterplot to a Twitter debate that happened yesterday and I couldn’t resist adding two cents. It started with a link posted by Nicholas Christakis to a review article on gender differences in personality across societies. The main claim of the article is that gender differences in personality are larger in more gender-egalitarian countries, providing support for evolutionary theories of gender differences and against social role theories, which would predict gender convergence in egalitarian countries.

Steve Vaisey commented, “I am genuinely interested to hear how sociologists who study gender would react to these findings.” Andy’s response, which is as usual worth reading, argued against the study’s interpretation from a social constructionist perspective.

This sent me down the rabbit hole of actually reading the article and a bit of the research it is based on. I am not impressed.

Let me qualify that I am not a gender scholar, nor am I deeply familiar with this literature. My priors are that gender differences in personality are both biological and social, but that the average person (obviously not everyone) is insufficiently skeptical of biological explanations because they fit our expectations and stereotypes. I am inclined to be doubtful about this kind of research, but open to evidence.

Here’s two reasons this article left me underwhelmed.

First, the lit review is sloppy in a way that makes me not trust the authors about other things — say, the quality of their data collection across relatively small samples in dozens of countries. It sets up social role theory as a straw man (“social role theories of gender development contend any and all ostensible differences between men and women are primarily the result of perceived gender roles” [p. 47], when the debate is really about relative importance, not “any and all ostensible differences”). It quotes from an article about social role theory (“men and women have inherited the same evolved psychological dispositions” [p. 47]), but the page is not part of the article, and the quote does not seem to appear in the article at all. Based on Googling, it appears to come from a misquote in an edited volume. This may seem trivial, but if you’re asking me to trust that you used good research methods on a study that involved data collection in 50+ countries, I’d like to know that I can count on you to represent the literature accurately.

Second, I dug into one of the more prominent empirical studies in the review, by the same lead author. The review describes the study like this:

More egalitarian gender roles, gender socialization and sociopolitical gender equity, however, were associated with larger gender differences. For example, the largest overall gender differences in personality were found in relatively high gender egalitarian cultures of France (d = −0.44) and the Netherlands (d = −0.36), whereas the smallest gender differences were found in the relatively low gender egalitarian cultures of Botswana (d = 0.00) and India (d = −0.01).

The examples here are somewhat cherry-picked. Yes, these are the top two and bottom two countries. But if you look at their whole chart (p. 173), there’s more to the story. The five countries with the biggest gender differences in personality (measured as mean gender difference in big-five traits) are France, Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Brazil, and Belgium. The five most gender-similar countries are Indonesia, Congo, Fiji, Botswana, and Finland.

If we look at the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap indicator, France is the only country on the top five that makes it into even the top 20 countries for gender equality. Brazil and the Czech Republic are both basically at the global median. Finland, which has among the most similar personality scores by gender, is the third most gender-equal country in the world. So while correlations may be there across all countries, this is hardly dispositive unless you can come up some explanation for why gender egalitarianism leads to personality difference across genders in France, but similarity in Finland.

And when they actually dig into the relationships, they appear to be flimsy and overstated. The study examines nine country-level measures of gender equality. After controlling for the country’s development level, only four measures show a significant relationship to the gender-personality gap at the p < 0.05 level (p. 177). So by most measures, the study finds no relationship. Notably, neither of the UN composite measures of gender equality, the Gender Empowerment Measure and Gender Development Index, are significantly related.

The four measures that appear to be related to mean country-level gender difference in personality are 1) traditional values, 2) cultural trust (“can most people be trusted”), 3) the gender gap in smoking, and 4) “when the respondents are more inclined to agree with a question irrespective its content” [sic — I don’t even know what that means]. Two of these seem very questionably related to gender, and I’m going to discount those.

That leaves us with the following: countries with more traditional values have less sex differentiation in personality traits, and countries where women smoke a lot have more sex differentiation in personality traits. Both relationships are significant at the p < 0.05 level — but note that we have already run through several possible measures that turned out not to be significant.

From this, the study winds back up to its dramatic conclusion: “in more prosperous and egalitarian societies the personality profiles of men and women become decidedly less similar” (p. 178). More prosperous, yes: development level, not gender equality, is the best explainer of gender-personality differences. But more egalitarian? Color me unconvinced.

And from that, the abstract jumps to: “It is proposed that heightened levels of sexual dimorphism result from personality traits of men and women being less constrained and more able to naturally diverge in developed nations.” Wow. The word “naturally” is doing an awful lot of work there.

The review article covers a bunch of other studies, too, but based on what I’ve read it does not seem worth the time to dive in further. My priors — that personality differences are both biological and social, and that people are too credulous of biological explanations of gender differences — remain unchanged.


Written by epopp

December 20, 2017 at 9:01 pm

harassment, destroyed careers, and returns to human capital

One of the consequences of #metoo is the burst of media stories about victims of harassment and abuse. One such story is about the actress Anabelle Sciora, whose career was on the rise before she was allegedly assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. Friends describe her withdrawal and decline in Hollywood.

This story shares much in common with our reports of violence and abuse. One feature of the experience is that people often withdraw from their social or work world after assault. I am not an expert on violent crimes, but this seems to be a very understandable reaction.

This leads to the major question of this post. If harassment and violence are common occurrences in many workplaces and withdrawal is a common response, to what degree are women’s, and men’s to a lesser extent, careers destroyed by workplace harassment and violence? I have no idea what the answer would look like, but it could potentially be high. In a hypothetical situation, if, say, 10% of men in a workplace are constantly harassing people with impunity, it could very easily decimate the female workforce in that organization or profession. And considering that many institutions, like universities, have poor track records in limiting or responding to even very serious harassment, it is worth considering how workplace environments may lead to notable wage and attainment gaps.

This is a tough question, and I welcome comments that can help address it.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 11, 2017 at 5:01 am

Posted in fabio, gender, workplace

after #metoo

It’s a bit disingenuous to be shocked. We may be surprised that a particular person abuses women, but we shouldn’t be shocked that it’s a common thing. Not after decades of complaint about sexual harassment. Not after a century of activism that tries to establish autonomy and safety for all genders.  It’s a sad truth that our culture tolerates violence against women. The only thing that shocks me is that someone is actually suffering the consequences of their actions.

But the real question is “what next?” Social conservatives will be quick to blame the culture of the sexual revolution and its view that sex can be enjoyable and diverse in form. Some have linked the voluntary expression of sexuality to violence perpetrated against women. Conservative critics are too willing to align the more general tendency to prey on people with a genuine reform of our sexual mores.

The waning stages of battle between social conservatives and their feminist foils are not important, but what #metoo means for everyday people is important. While politicians and entertainers have drawn the most attention at this moment, #metoo shows that harassment and violence are not limited to these rarefied spheres. This happens everyday.

No blog post can do justice to this issue, but we can start thinking about what does and does not work. Let’s start with what does not seem to work:

  • Private settlements: While private settlements may bring some restitution to victims, it does little to prevent future harm. The main issue is that victims, understandably, want privacy. Another issue is that settlements can be passed off onto third parties, like insurers. These do nothing to discourage future violence.
  • Institutional enforcement outside criminal justice: Many institutions – like universities – are called upon to police and monitor abuse. While institutions have an obligation to take reasonable measures to prevent employees from harming others, they are often ill suited to properly adjudicate claims. Another problem is that when abusers have status, it is people’s self-interest within the institution to not  push the issue.

What does work?

  • The current #metoo movement is facilitated by information and technology. It is really hard to imagine this movement would have succeeded in the age before social media. Similarly, high profile revelations of abuse rely on having friendly allies in the media who can collaborate and help with the story. This is also a relatively recent development.
  • Public push back: Another important thing that works is (justified) outrage. Not the faux rage of social media, but people’s genuine disgust with those who commit violence. Alas, this is a mechanism of control that is hard to trigger and it is rare.

What can we do to promote more safety and civility in everyday life? Here, I appeal to the work of my former colleague Elizabeth Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Brian Sweeney as reported in their article “Sexual Assault on Campus: A Multilevel, Integrative Approach to Party Rape,” published in 2006 in Social Problems. The crux of the argument is that when men monopolize alcohol distribution on college campuses, they have more ability to assault women.

There may a similar dynamic at play in other situations. When men have a monopoly of resources (e.g., jobs in Hollywood or careers in academia), they feel they can prey on others. This suggests to me that sexual predation is facilitated by structures that allow a few to hoard opportunities and to do so in secrecy. If this analysis is correct, then it suggests that we can do much to prevent abuse by opening up opportunities to more people and doing so in public ways. Once the initial anger has past, I hope that we, as a culture, can develop social practices that allow men and women to work together while removing opportunities for abuse.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

November 29, 2017 at 5:19 am

Posted in fabio, gender, uncategorized

that gender studies hoax is dumb, but look at this business model

Today’s five-minute-hate is on gender studies, or people who dump on gender studies, depending on your POV. The short version for those of you not paying attention: A philosopher and a math PhD decided gender studies is dumb and ideological. They wrote up a jargon- and buzzword-filled article titled “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construction” and paid to get it published in a peer-reviewed journal no one’s ever heard of. Ha ha ha! Take that, gender studies!

This is a stupid prank that has already been taken down in about five different places. I’m not going to bother with that.

But in looking at the original journal, I noticed this crazy business model they have. The journal, Cogent Social Sciences, is an open-access outlet published by Cogent OA. It charges $1350 to publish an article, unless you don’t have $1350, in which case they’ll take some unspecified minimum.

Okay, so far it sounds like every other scammy “peer-reviewed” open access journal. But wait. Cogent OA, it turns out, is owned by Taylor & Francis, one of the largest academic publishers. Taylor & Francis owns Routledge, for instance, and publishes Economy and SocietyEnvironmental Sociology, and Justice Quarterly, to pick a few I’ve heard of.

Cogent OA has a FAQ that conveniently asks, “What is the relationship between Cogent OA and Taylor & Francis?” Here’s the answer (bold is mine):

Cogent OA is part of the Taylor & Francis Group, benefitting from the resources and experiences of a major publisher, but operates independently from the Taylor & Francis and Routledge imprints.

Taylor & Francis and Routledge publish a number of fully open access journals, under the Taylor & Francis Open and Routledge Open imprints. Cogent OA publishes the Cogent Series of multidisciplinary, digital open access journals.

Together, we also provide authors with the option of transferring any sound manuscript to a journal in the Cogent Series if it is unsuitable for the original Taylor & Francis/Routledge journals, providing benefits to authors, reviewers, editors and readers.

So get this: If your article gets rejected from one of our regular journals, we’ll automatically forward it to one of our crappy interdisciplinary pay-to-play journals, where we’ll gladly take your (or your funder’s or institution’s) money to publish it after a cursory “peer review”. That is a new one to me.

There’s a hoax going on here all right. But I don’t think it’s gender studies that’s being fooled.

Written by epopp

May 20, 2017 at 4:16 pm

rhacel parrenas discusses global labor

Former guest and all around cool person Rhacel Parrenas gave a lecture summarizes her extensive work on global flows of migrant domestic labor. Self recommending!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($5 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

March 29, 2017 at 12:09 am

putting limits on the academic workday

Today, among the various administrative tasks of scheduling meetings with students and other responsibilities, I decided to RSVP yes for an upcoming evening talk.  I didn’t make this decision lightly, as it involved coordinating schedules with another party (i.e., fellow dual career parent).

With the use of technology such as email, increasing job precarity, and belief in facetime as signalling productivity and commitment, the workday in the US has elongated, blurring boundaries to the point that work can crowd out other responsibilities to family, community, hobbies, and self-care.  However, one Ivy  institution is exhorting its members to rethink making evening events and meetings the norm.

In this nuanced statement issued to department chairs, Brown University’s provost outlines the stakes and consequences of an elongated workday:

This burden [of juggling work and family commitments] may disproportionately affect female faculty members. Although data on Brown’s faculty is not available, national statistics indicate that male faculty members (of every rank) are more likely than female faculty members (of every rank) to have a spouse or partner whose comparably flexible work schedule allows that spouse or partner to handle the bulk of evening-time household responsibilities. Put differently, male faculty members are more likely than female faculty members to have the household support to attend campus events after 5:30. We must be attuned to issues of gender equity when we think about program scheduling. We must also take into consideration the particular challenges faced by single parents on the faculty when required to attend events outside the regular hours of childcare.

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Written by katherinechen

September 28, 2016 at 7:16 pm

forum on data analytics and inclusivity, part 1

Data analytics is a buzzword in the business world these days. One of the industries in which data analytics has made the biggest impact is sports. The publication of Moneyball in 2003 signaled a sea change in how baseball teams used data and statistics to make personnel changes. Basketball wasn’t far behind in implementing advanced statistics in the front office. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference has become a hub of industry activity, attracting academics, journalists, and sports insiders.

In general, data analytics has been celebrated as a more enlightened way to approach sports management. But it was only a matter of time before sports analytics got some backlash. The most recent criticism comes from the respected sports journalist, Michael Wilbon, who wrote a piece for The Undefeated about how data analytics has fallen on deaf ears in the African American community.

Log onto any mainstream website or media outlet (certainly any program within the ESPN empire) and 30 seconds cannot pass without extreme statistical analysis, which didn’t exist 20 years ago, hijacking the conversation. But not in “BlackWorld,” where never is heard an advanced analytical word. Not in urban barbershops. Not in text chains during three-hour games. Not around office water coolers. Not even in pressrooms or locker rooms where black folks who make a living in the industry spend all day and half the night talking about the most intimate details of sports.

Wilbon makes the point that in sports data analytics have become just one more way for the Old Boy Network to reassert their status. Of course, I’ve heard other people make the case that analytics levels the playing field, given that it doesn’t require any sort of credentials to participate and is potentially race- and gender-blind. Other journalists have already criticized Wilbon’s claims and methodology (including this response by Dave Schilling), but it’s undoubtedly true that Wilbon’s point of view is shared by others in sports.

We’re using Wilbon’s essay as an opportunity to have a discussion about data analytics and inclusivity. This is an issue that doesn’t just affect sports. As analytics become more integral to the business world, organizations will use analytics to sort talent in many of the most lucrative jobs. Academia, especially in STEM fields, continually wrestles with questions about inclusivity as well.

I’ve invited a handful of scholars and practitioners in the field of data analytics, many of whom work in the world of sports analytics, to comment on this issue. I’ll post their responses in two parts:  half today and the other set tomorrow. Today’s essays are written by three contributors who all have different takes on how analytics can be used to overcome the problems Wilbon identified in his essay. Brian Mills is a sports economist at the University of Florida. His research applies “economic lessons and quantitative analysis to problems that sport managers face in their everyday decision making.”  Sekou Bermiss is an organizational theorist at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. He studies the relationships between human capital, reputation, and firm performance. Laura Nelson is currently a postdoc at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. She uses computational methods to analyze organizational histories and changes in the feminist movement. She’s also, like me, a San Francisco Giants fan.

Thanks to all of the contributors. Come back for more commentary later, and please feel free to leave comments below.

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Written by brayden king

June 14, 2016 at 2:06 am