Posts Tagged ‘equality’

As of today, men have done a full year’s work

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

10 November is Equal Pay Day. As reported by The Telegraph, women, on average, earn 14.2% less than men, so effectively, after 10 November, they are working for free for the rest of the year. If men quit their job on that date, it would take women the rest of the year to catch up.

I like the initiative. It draws attention to the gender pay gap in a clever way.

Like all such initiatives, it misses the fine detail of the discussion. The nuances of the argument. Nobody can blame it; it’s just an advertising slogan. But, when we get down to fixing it, we need to keep those nuances in mind.

The gender hours gap

One of which is that, as of today, men have done a full year’s work. On average, they have worked so many more hours that even if they quit their job today, it would take women the rest of the year to catch up.

It’s not a small difference. Forbes reports that, on average, men work 42 minutes more per day. That’s 3.5 hours per week, 14 hours per month, or an entire month’s worth of working hours by year’s end.

Okay, but why is this relevant?

It is relevant because it shows we have a holistic social problem, not just something that affects women. We’ve built a society in which men are expected to work more and to be paid more.

It is possible in theory, though unlikely in practice, that we can solve the problem by only looking at one side of it. Until we accept that we need a fundamental change in the views of our society, not just a quick fix or call for the problem to magically go away, it seems unlikely we’re going to make more significant progress.

What do we do about it?

We need to change the nature of the debate from “why do women earn less?” to “why are there differences between genders?” Once you look at the whole picture, we become better able to deal with the situation and therefore make a fairer world.

Take maternity pay, for example. Elina and I were planning to split the childcare. But, when we ran the numbers, it was just unaffordable: Elina’s wage would be partially replaced by maternity pay and mine would not.

Aviva recently announced that they would now offer up to six months full pay for any parent, regardless of gender. It will be interesting to see how this changes the progression of women through the company.

But, more widely, we need to change the culture of men go to work, and women raise the children. That won’t just be measured in wage gaps or boardroom quotas, but in whether all genders are free to choose working hours, childcare responsibilities, occupations and a range of other factors.

Why age disparity in relationships matter

Monday, February 27th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

On average, men choose to marry women slightly younger than they are. But for would-be dads, this can have a profound impact on family life.

Most people enter relationships with people of a similar age. In western culture this is normal, and indeed doing anything other than this is considered abnormal. However, in different cultures, and at different times, this as not always been the case.

If we look at the 2013 US survey data, we find that a third of heterosexual married couples are within one year of each other. It is not an equal curve on each side though. Women are far more likely to marry older men. In 20% of marriages the man is 2–3 years old, and in 13% 4–5 years older. Compare this to 7% and 3% for women being older.

This makes sense. OK Cupid data, as documented in the book Dataclysm shows that men prefer younger women, and up until the age of 30, women prepare a slightly older man. As many relationships are formed before the age of 30, the older man younger woman setup is likely to have the broader appeal to both parties.

Why is it important, though?

I think it is important because it contributes to the imbalance of women staying at home to look after the children while men continue working. For would-be stay-at-home dads and passionate career women, this is not a desirable situation.

People who are further along in their career earn more money. Nothing controversial there. This means that if you enter into a relationship with someone a few years older than you, on average, they are going to earn more money than you.

When it comes to starting a family, it would be nice to think that childcare could simply be divided as you see fit. However, this is simply not the reality that most of us live in. Many of our decisions are driven by economic factors. That is to say, there are bills to pay and we need to earn enough money to pay them.

Therefore, when it comes to starting a family, many people are faced with the decision of giving up the father’s wage or giving up the mother’s. Unfortunately, for many would-be full-time dads, giving up their own higher wage is not financially viable for the family.

Exactly what can be done about this, I am not sure. You could say that if you want to be a stay-at-home-dad you should marry someone older, or in a more lucrative career than you. However, as most of us know, love does not work that way.

Men twice as likely to be without emotional support

Friday, February 24th, 2017 | Religion & Politics

Men have an almost one in ten chance of having nobody to turn to. Could peer support fill a much-needed gap?

In June, mental health charity Mind published research suggesting that men were twice as likely to have nobody to rely on for emotional support. 9% of men, compared with 5% of women, said that they have nobody to turn to in times of need. The research also suggested men are less likely to feel comfortable talking to the people close to them about their problems, with 52% agreeing.

This is a big problem for a number of reasons.

As Susan Pinker explains in her book _The Village Effect_, having a strong social network and close emotional support is critical to both good mental and physical health. When you eliminate the bias for women to have a stronger circle of close friends to rely on, you find that the disparity between men’s and women’s life expectancies closes dramatically.

Second, with men three times more likely to take their own lives than women, having someone to turn to at the crisis point could mean the difference between an intervention that saves someone’s life, and a successful suicide attempt.

The question is, that can be done about this problem?

To an extent, the problem could lie with our gender itself. If we built stronger relationships and invested more time in building those relationships, we would have a wider circle. However, many men feel like they simply don’t have the connections to do this, that it would not be viewed upon as socially acceptable in their circle, or simply that they feel too uncomfortable to do this.

Another option would be to increase the number of peer support groups available. The advantage of being able to talk to people going through similar problems, and therefore being able to bypass the chance of people not understanding, or judging, may provide a critical avenue for men to get the emotional support they need.

Can restaurants discriminate when hiring staff?

Thursday, July 28th, 2016 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

restaurant-staff

Whenever I dine at one of the many fine Thai restaurants in Leeds I am always struck by the fact that the staff are all Thai people. Why is this? How does a restaurant get away with this? Surely it is discrimination to exclude all other races?

My assumption was that they got round the legislation by insisting on language skills. If you run a Thai restaurant, all you need to do is specify applicants must speak Thai, and without saying anything about race you have filtered almost everyone else out. I’ll come back to this point later.

Economist Steven Levitt suggests that it probably isn’t that much of a problem. There are lots of different restaurants from lots of different cultures, and so the fact that you are less likely to get a job at one restaurant is fine because you are more likely to get a job at another. If anyone loses out it is the majority population (British people in the UK) which you could argue is also less of a problem because many restaurants are not themed and minorities generally need more protection than majorities.

He also suggests that restaurants may not be directly discriminating at all. In the fictional Swedish-themed restaurant he and Stephen Dubner discuss, he says you could advertise for staff in Swedish magazines, and write the job advert in Swedish. In the restaurant Dubner visits to do some interviews, they say they also hire extensively from friends and family of existing staff. Thus the restaurants are not refusing to hire white people, they just don’t apply.

Levitt also notes that customers prefer authentic staff. Which is probably true right. It’s nice to go to a Chinese restaurant and have Chinese people working there. The experience loses something when someone clearly British is serving you. This is silly when you think about it though. This is just your waiter; they’re not the chef. They’re almost like dressing for the restaurant. And even if the chef was Chinese too, that doesn’t mean they are automatically a better Chinese food cook.

Dubner also gives the example of airline hostesses. Back in the day, airlines would specifically hire attractive, unmarried stewardesses, and after they married they were expected to give it up. This proved popular with their business clientele (middle-aged businessmen) but the court ruled against it saying part of fighting discrimination was challenging these ideas of preference. Just because we’re all a little bit wired to prefer authentic staff, doesn’t mean we should promote that as an acceptable social value.

Not to mention these groups are often lumped together: Mexican restaurants are often staffed with Spanish and Portuguese waiters, Indian restaurants are often staffed by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and Thai restaurants are often staffed by Vietnamese people.

Language could be a genuine reason. In a Latin restaurant that Dubner interviews, they say the orders are called out in Spanish in the kitchen, so you can make a case for requiring that. However, when speaking to an equality lawyer, they talked about a restaurant chain that was successfully sued because the plaintiff argued language requirements were just being used as a proxy for discrimination.

In summary, the answer is no. Restaurants cannot, and should not, discriminate to get authentic staff. However a combination of indirect discrimination and language requirements may allow restaurants to primarily hire such staff without any direct discrimination.

What your genitals say about you

Thursday, April 14th, 2016 | Religion & Politics

Last week, this picture appeared in my Facebook feed:

astrology-genitals-tweet

For making a political point, it’s quite clever. However, in this case it is rather unhelpful. That is because astrology genuinely is a load of nonsense. And your child’s genitals genuinely do predict their toy preferences.

The debate regarding nature and nurture has been going on for a long time. Like so many things though, it is not a black and white solution, but probably somewhere in between. We are all products of our DNA, and our environment.

In the case of children’s toys, it’s obvious to anyone at a quick glance that boys tend to play with trucks and girls tend to play with dolls. The question has always been why. Is it that boys and girls have predetermined generic interests, or is it a result of social conditioning?

It is almost certainly the former, at least in part. As the New Scientist reports, a study on monkeys showed that male monkeys prefered trucks and female monkeys prefered dolls. It’s difficult to to argue that monkey society conditions their young to have a preference one way or the other.

That is not to say that sex is the only factor, or that social conditioning does not play a part. Some boys like to play with dolls and some girls like to play with trucks. It is merely that the statistical average, when looking at a large enough group, with tend to fall onto one side or the other. Your child’s genitals do in fact predict what toys they most likely have a preference for: it just isn’t 100% accurate.

This is where the importance of understanding equality really comes in. I think we can draw a parallel with car insurance. I wrote about this in 2011. It is unfair to charge male drivers more than female drivers. This has traditionally been the case because male drivers are more likely to have serious accidents. However, the EU banned it later that year (what has the EU ever done for us?!?). The reason why this is unfair is because although statistically over a large group, male drivers are more likely to have a serious accident, does not mean that one specific male driver is not a very safe driver. The specific driver getting insurance may be a very safe driver, so it would be unfair to tarnish him with the same brush.

This is also true of children’s toys. Just because boys tend to prefer trucks and girls tend to prefer dolls, does not mean you should force that toy on them: let them choose for themselves. They may choose a different toy to what society might expect them to. However, if your child does in fact choose the toy society expects them to, don’t worry that you have been a victim of social conditioning: they are statistically likely to pick that toy regardless.

Income inequality around the world

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 | Religion & Politics

Michael Shermer recently tweeted a link about income inequality in different countries. One of the most interesting graphs can be seen here.

This shows the share of income that the top 1% have. In the UK this peaked (technically it troughed) in 1977 when the level reached 6%, the lowest on record. This suggests we had the lowest levels of income inequality at this time.

From here on it goes up. The data only goes as far as 1988, but other sources shows that it has continued to increase.

Notably, 1977 is two years before Margaret Thatcher came to power. “Ah ha!” I hear you yell, “I know it all along”. To some extend, it probably is Thatcher’s fault, as the UK income equality gap has grown more than most. However, it is unfair to lay all the blame at her door (or grave) because this has been a global trend. Almost all countries in the developed world peaked in the late 70s and have since become less equal.

Country 70’s low 2010
United States 8% 15%
Canada 8% 12%
Australia 5% 9%
France 7% 8%
Italy 6% 9%
Sweden 4% 7%
Finland 3% 7%

According to an article on the BBC, the UK has reached 16% by 2005. This means that despite a decade under Labour, the income equality in the UK did not stop growing after Thatcher was gone.

Ultimately, what this tells us is that we should definitely vote Loony.

On the need for diversity

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 | Thoughts

One of the topics that Noreena Hurtz covered in her book Eyes Wide Open, but which I felt deserved its own separate post, was on the need for diversity.

It is a hot topic at the moment. There is a lot of research suggestive of females being discriminated against in favour of males for example. The research on academic for example seems to clearly show that if you put a female name on something it will get less attention than if you put a male name on it.

However, we do nominally live in a free an equal society, so many people have asked how this can be the case. After all, it is illegal to discriminate on protected characteristics in the work place for example.

For me, Hurtz has been the first person to do a good job of rounding up the research.

The bias within

Hurtz talks about auditions for musicians to join symphony orchestras. To his credit, Gladwell also talks about this. The biggest change in recent decades is that it is now common for musicians to perform behind a screen, so that the judging committee cannot see them. The result has been that women, who were almost never seen in such orchestras are now far more regularly hired.

How can this be so? One answer of course is that people are just bigots. However, I have always found this difficult to accept. Maybe that was the case 50 years ago, but today, does anyone genuinely believe women should be paid less than men? I simply cannot imaging anyone thinking that. Of course, maybe they do, and I have just lead a sheltered life of high intellectual society. But this seems unlikely as such problems equally permeate the Skeptics movement.

However, Hurtz shows there is an alternative explanation, one on the subconscious. We are all biased. We are biased to people who look like us in terms of gender, skin colour, and even name! Without knowing it, I am more likely to get on with someone also named Chris than I am with someone named Phil, or Matt, or Dan. It is not that anyone is consciously discriminating, it is that our minds have evolved to be more trusting of individuals that look like us. The reasons for this are plentiful and probably fairly obvious to those of us with an understanding of human and genetic evolution.

This does not mean that there is anything inherently bigoted about each of us (or you could also look at it as we are, but we are all as bad as each other), but it is important to accept that there is a subconscious bias that we need to be aware of and try and correct for where possible.

Why it is important

This is important because there is also research to show that better decisions are made when a broader range of diverse people have input. On a large scale, this is being used by governments and the scientific community to try and gather ideas from as wide a range of people as possible.

On a local level, it means trying to actively promote a broader range of backgrounds. If you have two possible candidates for a job for example, and they both seem equally qualified, the one with the background least similar to yours is probably the one you should pick.

What are are talking about here is real diversity. For example, if I was to hire a black woman who grew up in Leeds and studied computing at university, I would not actually add much diversity, because he experiences would be very similar to mine. It is more than skin deep. However, actively seeking diverse backgrounds for genuine reasons – because you want to overcome the subconscious bias and find people that will add a new way of looking at problems – can only help you make better decisions and be more successful.

A quick note on sexism

Monday, January 27th, 2014 | Religion & Politics

I’m not actually going to comment on any issues in this short piece. I just wanted to point a link over to this blog post where Chris H has catalogued a few interesting research papers showing clear evidence for sexism.

Suicide in young men

Monday, April 15th, 2013 | Foundation, Religion & Politics

April is unfortunately suicide month. It’s the month when more people kill themselves than any other. It’s generally believed this is because the lighter days and better weather provide people will the motivation to to do it – ironically, what keeps people alive in the depths of depression is that they’re too depressed to kill themselves.

It’s timely then that the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) recently published a report claiming that suicide is now the biggest killer of young men – causing more depths than road accidents, murders and HIV combined.

Full coverage can be found in Metro.

This report echoes the issues already raised in our Men’s Issues awareness campaign. 75% of suicides are male, partly due to the stigma that surrounds men getting help for mental health issues – only 17% of men in need of help will seek it, compared to 29% of women.

Sex differences in mathematics and reading

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013 | Religion & Politics, Video

Gijsbert has published a new video based on his latest research findings.