Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Life is not random, there are patterns in numbers....   posted by Razib @ 1/15/2008 11:56:00 PM

Jonathan Rauch has an amusing piece in Reason, The Coming American Matriarchy. To some extent it is not noteworthy, it's the sort of thing you see in the mainstream press when journalists skim over data sets for some superficial insights. I know some D.C. libertarians do read this weblog, so they should point out the silliness of the column to Rauch. Consider:

The number 1.5 is, in this case, a ratio. According to projections by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2017 half again as many women as men will earn bachelor's degrees. In the early 1990s, six women graduated from college for every five men who did so; today, the ratio is about 4-to-3. A decade from now, it will be
3-to-2-and rising, on current trends.
A college degree used to be a rarity: a mark of privileged or professional status. As recently as 1950, fewer than half of Americans even finished high school, let alone went on to college.
In other words, today's young people already live in a world where, among their peers, women are better educated than men. As the grandparents die off, every year the country's college-educated population will become more feminized. In a couple of decades, America's educational elite will be as disproportionately female as it once was male.

Here's the problem here: having a college degree once meant that you were part of the educational elite because a college degree was rare. Rauch admits that it is no longer rare, and likely at some point in the future the majority of young adults will be expected to have a college degree of some sort as a minimal qualification for a non-manual job. If the majority have a particular credential, it is no longer a good elite signaler. Additionally, it is a relatively well known fact across many domains of achievement males are disproportionately found at the higher ranks even if there is numerical parity. About the same number of medical school graduates are now male or female, but the latter tend to go into "low status" tracks relative to the former (e.g.,
surgery vs. family practice). Here is Helena Cronin:
Similarly, consider the most intellectually gifted of the USA population, an elite 1%. The difference between their bottom and top quartiles is so wide that it encompasses one-third of the entire ability range in the American population, from IQs above 137 to IQs beyond 200. And who's overwhelmingly in the top quartile? Males. Look, for instance, at the boy:girl ratios among adolescents for scores in mathematical-reasoning tests: scores of at least 500, 2:1; scores of at least 600, 4:1; scores of at least 700, 13.1.

These patterns are banal and well known to regular readers of this weblog, to the point where I don't post on these topics much. But Jonathan Rauch seems like a smart enough fellow, and Reason is heterodox enough to publish someone like Ron Bailey. There are real issues here of possible interest. For example, as the proportion of female lawyers increases I wonder if firm culture may change enough so that the billable hour system becomes a thing of the past. Such a transformation might have have the outcome of diminishing the handicap that women face in making partner (because women are, on average, burdened with more expectations in family life than men). I also don't think that intelligence or its distribution are the only characteristics to consider; personality seems to be a major area of difference between the sexes that might shape their life outcomes. Finally, there are studies which suggest women tend to be much more critical of female co-workers, a powerful united sisterhood might not be a good model for the shape of future XX dominated professions. Numbers like this can stimulate some interesting projections...but imagining a 'matriarchy' really is a waste of column space.

Addendum: Terms like 'patriarchy' or 'matriarchy' make it seems like men or women in the plural dominate the other sex. This of course elides over intrasexual dynamics. For example, extreme patriarchies such as the Saudi kingdom, do not benefit all men at the expense of all women. Rather, usually these extremely sex differentiated systems as a matter of course crystallize and reinforce the dominance of a particular oligarchic clique (e.g., the House of Saud and their clients). Marginalized males may also be quite oppressed by the patriarchy. My own opinion is that the relative weakness of sisterhoods as opposed to brotherhoods is the main reason that patriarchy has become so common over the last 10,000 years.