Tag Archives: gap

“Diversity” and the Gender Gap in Economics

Both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education have articles this morning about a new survey of Economics PhDs that finds a dramatic gender gap on policy questions.  Among the findings, women economists are:

  • 20% more likely than men to disagree with the notion that the United States has too much government regulation;
  • 24% more likely than men to believe that the size of the U.S. government is either “too small” or “much too small”;
  • 41% more likely than men to favor a more progressive tax structure.

The Chronicle article is tendentiously titled “Gender Gap in Economics Shows Analyses Aren’t Objective,” but nothing in the article or the survey’s press release linked above supports that conclusion. Do “objective” analyses always agree? Did the 78 male and 65 female economists who responded to the survey receive similar training — for example, did they attend more or less marked-oriented Phd programs in the same numbers? As the Chronicle noted, the survey’s lead author, Ann Mari May, professor of economics at the University of Nebraska, is executive vice president and treasurer of the International Association for Feminist Economists. Is feminist economics objective, or is no economics objective?

According to Prof. May, the results “showed little gender disparity on matters of theory and methodology. But when you get to policy questions in economics,” she said, “then you’re sort of heading into an area where people might have different experiences that lead them to see different things in the data.”

Prof. May is not at all reticent about proclaiming her own conclusions about the lessons her research teaches.

Women accounted for about 35 percent of doctorates in economics awarded by U.S. universities in 2010, up from 27 percent in 2000, Ms. May said. “If we learned anything from this study,” she said, “it’s the importance of making sure that you have diverse viewpoints at the table when you’re debating these things amongst experts.”

That’s a pretty big “if.” If Prof. May is to be believed, for starters, a male might well see “different things” in her data. If it’s true that women economists are nearly 25% more likely than men to believe the size of the U.S. government is “too small” or “much too small,” for example, some would no doubt argue that there are far too many women economists.

If more women economists are needed “at the table” (what table is that, other than the voting booth?) when “these things” are being debated “amongst experts,” then surely economics departments should make concerted (though no doubt “holistic”) efforts to recruit and produce more women PhDs, no? But if “diverse viewpoints” are the goal, why rely on a weak proxy like gender? Why not just recruit and produce by viewpoint quota?

The question of whether or not we (whoever “we” are) need more women economists sitting around the proverbial table, like the question  of the proper size of the U.S. government or the degree of progressivity of the tax code, has no objectively (or should that be “objectively”?) correct answer, and it is nothing more than academic hubris to think that the views of scholarly “experts” who tend these fields deserve special deference on policy questions.

When the questions on the table address policy choices freighted with politics, values, ideology, rather than assigning seats to economists based on gender (or race or ethnicity) I would prefer to have no economists at all.

Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

old-fashioned-school-room.jpgBy Robert Weissberg


America’s
huge investment in higher education has always had a democratic justification: everyone
should be able to attend college because this opportunity would flatten the
social pyramid. Yes, a North Dakota State and Harvard degree differ in
prestige, but at least the North Dakota State graduate can join the game. Put
ideologically, investing in higher education–more schools for more kids–is
egalitarian.

Reality,
it seems, has refused to cooperate. The billions poured into higher education
have not flattened the social pyramid. If
anything, income gaps have widened as graduates from the top schools often earn
“obscene” salaries while those from lesser schools struggle to find decent jobs
to pay down student loan debt. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart depicts an America where the rich and poor increasingly live in diverging worlds. Clearly,
something is wrong with the traditional narrative that insists that a well-
funded, open access higher education for all can ameliorate the evils of
hierarchy.    

Continue reading Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

The Underperformance Problem

On average black students do much worse on the SAT and many other standardized tests than whites. While encouraging progress was made in the 1970s and early 1980s in improving black SAT scores and reducing the black/white test score gap, progress in this direction came to a halt by the early 1990s, and today the gap stands pretty much where it was twenty years ago. Whereas whites and Asians today average a little over 500 on the math and reading portions of the SAT, blacks score only a little over 400 — in statistical metric a gap of a full standard deviation. Only about one in six blacks does as well on the SAT as the average white or Asian.
This state of affairs is well known uncomfortable though it may be to bring up in public. Less well known is what in the scholarly literature is called “the underperformance problem.” Once in college blacks with the same entering SAT scores as whites and Asians earn substantially lower grades over their college careers and wind up with substantially lower class rankings. This gap in grade performance, moreover, is not reduced by adding high school grades or socio-economic status to the criteria for matching students. Blacks equally matched with whites or Asians in terms of their entering scholastic credentials and socio-economic backgrounds simply do not perform as well as their Asian and white counterparts in college. And the degree of underperformance is often very substantial.
This is contrary to what many people have been led to believe. Standardized tests are “culturally biased,” it is said, and do not fairly indicate the abilities or promise of racial minorities growing up outside the dominant white, middle-class, Anglo-Saxon culture. Often this claim is bolstered by reciting items on long outdated verbal tests asking for the meaning of words like “regatta” or “cotillion” that only upper-class whites are likely to know. The implication is usually that those from minority cultures will do better in college in terms of grades than their test scores would predict. The “cultural bias” argument, however, is not only questionable on its face — since the clearly non-Anglo Saxon Asians do better than whites on most standardized tests of mathematical abilities including the SAT, while the equally non-Anglo Saxon Ashkenazic Jews outperform everyone else on tests of English verbal ability — but fails to account for the fact that in terms of grade performance blacks in college consistently do worse, not better, than their standardized test scores would predict. Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT overpredict, not underpredict, how well blacks will do in college, and in this sense the tests are predictively biased in favor of blacks, not against them.

Continue reading The Underperformance Problem

Probing The Black-White Achievement Gap

The Kellogg Foundation is funding a survey of four college campuses by Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute and the Educational Testing Service to examine how students of color’s experiences on college campuses impact the notorious black-white achievement gap.

Namely, it will examine how the students feel “welcome and unwelcome, respected and disrespected, supported and unsupported, and encouraged and discouraged.”

However, will the researchers be interested in evidence that the black-white achievement gap is connected to aspects of parenting and peer identification that begin long before college? That is, will there be room in their assessment for, as it is put these days, culture over structure?

In his detailed survey of Shaker Heights, Ohio, Black Students in an Affluent Suburb, the late Berkeley Anthropology Professor John Ogbu found that black parents often aren’t aware of how closely they need to attend to their children’s homework and are less likely to confer with their children’s teachers, and that black teens have a tendency to disidentify from school as “white.” Subsequent studies have shown that black students are likely to spend less time on homework than white or Asian students and are less likely to be popular if they achieve in school.

Continue reading Probing The Black-White Achievement Gap

Closing The Graduation Race Gap The Right Way

There is a substantial academic performance gap between black and white high school graduates. Most who study education readily acknowledge this fact. Institutions of higher education are presumed to be places where students come to the campus reasonably prepared to compete with others who are similarly prepared. For decades, colleges and universities have sought to close the black/white academic achievement gap largely by ignoring it and using race preferences to paper over it.

Now, along comes a report, “Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority,” which comes to the startling conclusion that if institutions of higher education expend enough resources on remedial education and “outreach” for those students who come to the university less prepared than necessary, the academic achievement gap can be significantly closed by the time a sufficient number of “minority” students reach the point of graduation. Duh!!!

The abovementioned report also seeks to make a backdoor case for race preferences: “Ward Connerly and other prominent critics of affirmative action have frequently cited low graduation rates of minority students as evidence that some are being admitted to institutions where they may not succeed – and they have argued that these students would benefit from attending institutions where their academic preparation is aligned with student expectations.” The author of the report “strongly disputes” the anti-preference argument.

Far from effectively refuting the argument that race preferences often contribute to low graduation rates for the beneficiaries of such preferences, because such students are mismatched at institutions for which they are inadequately prepared, the report simply identifies a path for closing the gap.

I am an enormous advocate of university-sponsored academic outreach programs to assist in preparing and retaining students once they are enrolled. I strongly supported the expansion of such programs while I served as a Regent of the University of California. However, university-sponsored outreach is not an effective substitute for radically improving preparation at the K-12 level. In addition, extreme care must be exercised to avoid the appearance that academic preparation is the responsibility and the priority of higher education. Shifting this responsibility from K-12 to the university helps a small number of minority students, but contributes little to the overwhelming need for massive reform of the K-12 system itself.