Since I have to rewrite my PP book completely (a difficult verdict to swallow from a publisher, but one I now recognise as correct), I’ve been doing some further interviews, or conversations as I prefer to think of them . My latest respondent described to me the remarkable case of her father, a senior engineer who chose to leave his job and be the main parent for his four girls, while his wife took up her career as a teacher. This was not for financial reasons – the father would have earned more, even though the mother ended up a headteacher- – but simply because the couple decided that for both of them that was their preference. It all seems to have worked out extremely well, satisfaction all round – the daughters included.
How many of us men would have the imagination and courage to make that choice? In a way, trading a senior professional job for total househusbandry is just too exceptional to get much of a purchase on most people’s option ranges. We need a wide range of examples of different timetabling, at different stages in life.
I’m increasingly intrigued by how far men actually make choices, especially on just how far up the ladder they want to go, and what the constraints are on them . Another of my respondents told me of a male friend, father of two young kids, who went down to a 4-day week. He works in a profession with a largely liberal peer group, who might be expected to have given this decision a fair wind. But his male friends reacted as if he had somehow decided to give up on his career. Remember, he had gone down just to 4 days.
This comes under what Christine Nightingale in her recent post on women and democracyrefers to as the need for men and women to model behaviour differently. Christine is referring to people at the top of organisations. It would be a huge step if more men at this level worked part-time – and not only for child-rearing reasons.
I think we need to understand far more about the implicit as well as explicit pressures which narrow men’s choices. I’m very well aware that may raise some hollow laughs, or more. But I think it’s true. and I’d really like to hear from anyone who might have a story to tell about that.
On Monday evening I went to an interesting meeting on older women and politics, at my old stomping ground Birkbeck (never miss an opportunity to promote it). The event was convened by two political scientists, Joni Lovenduski and Rosie Campbell. They showed some evidence on older women’s political attitudes, voting patterns and other issues, eg on retirement age. Older women (already retired) are apparently more opposed to the raising of the State Pension Age than their younger counterparts. Rosie interpreted this as a sign of altruism (i.e. these older women didn’t want the next generation to have to work longer); I thought it could be looked at differently, that younger older women (if you see what I mean) may want to work longer.
We also had very engaging presentations from Fiona McTaggart, MP for Slough, and the journalist Jackie Ashley. Both have been involved in the Labour Party’s Commission on Older Women – Fiona in particular, as chair. She made one point which struck me as particularly relevant to the PP, on the right to request flexible working. At first she had dismissed this as flimsy – merely permission to ask for something. But now she thinks that making this right explicit has made a difference, even if this might be hard to quantify in any specific way. It is helping to change the climate about flexible work. This is particularly important in respect of caring responsibilities, which is one of the Commission’s key themes. But this is a major line of argument for the PP – that men as well as women should be more open to flexible working schedules.
The Commission’s interim report has just been published, and is well worth a read. Amongst other things, it gives a fair place to the need for training opportunities for older women, either to maintain their skills or to enable them to resume careers which may have been interrupted or slowed down for childcare. There is a major cohort effect at work here: the current generation of older women workers (50+) are on average less well qualified than their male peers, but this is changing as the younger, and better qualified , cohort of women ages. It makes the economic argument for ensuring that older women are included all the stronger.
Some familiar-but-important and some new material from a discussion on a new report today from the TUC/Work Foundation, on the Gender Jobs Split.
The familiar was about the dismal and depressing overall levels of youth unemployment, and their probable long-term impact on the futures of this generation. Familiar too, but in a different sense, is the way young women and men go into their separate groups of occupations – the difference being that many of the commentators expressed surprise (as well as dismay) at how little things have changed on this over the decades. Ian Brinkley described progress on gender desegregation as ‘glacial’; others went further and suggested that the glacier was not even moving in a forward direction, but just melting down. I’m not quite sure whether that metaphor twist works literally , but it was a sobering result, with material consequences: the occupational routes young women choose pay less, and this will show up continuously and cumulatively in their lifetime earnings.
I was made to think again about the polarisation of women’s chances by a powerful commentary from Becky Gill of the Young Women’s Trust. She argued that whilst women in general might be outperforming men educationally, those young women who do badly at school are right at the bottom of the pile, with fewer prospects than anyone. Even young men with no qualifications stand a better chance of making some progress later on. Once in the rut of no qualifications and no experience, it’s really hard to escape, especially if they have children young.
A decade ago this would not have been the case, or at least less so. Well-established Access courses ran in many colleges, helping those without qualifications – the classic Educating Rita pathway. There was a broad sweep of opportunities for those who wanted to get back into education. But the system has changed, with the incentives all pushing colleges and universities in a different direction. In HE the numbers of mature and part-time students has dropped dramatically since 2010, as a HEPI report shows very clearly. Adult learners are left increasingly to their own devices.
Piling on the gloom - this really isn’t the way to start a weekend – is the evidence from another good Resolution Foundation report, that women are overrepresented amongst National Minimum Wage earners. Nothing new in that - but the report shows how women are more likely to stay at that level than move on:
“Women make up 51 per cent of employees but 62 per cent of NMW earners are female. In this paper, we find that this disparity worsens among those who are trapped in NMW work. Three-quarters (73 per cent) of all those who have only held NMW jobs in the past five years are women.”
This confirms findings from earlier longitudinal research that men are more likely to use low-pay jobs as stepping-stones to something better.
A positive idea to finish with, from today’s meeting: could we make progress towards part-time apprenticeships, which might fit better with some young people’s outlook and capabilities?
Ever heard of the Great Gatsby curve? Nor had I (or should that be, I hadn’t) until I went to a seminar yesterday, and was told that it has been getting the attention of some important people, including the White House – though whether that includes the actual Person in the White House is not sure.
Anyway, the GGC shows a relationship between growing inequality on the one hand and diminishing social mobility (SM) on the other. This makes pretty good intuitive sense, and also appeals to me politically, ie it’s another black mark against increasing inequality. But the presenter at the seminar, John Jerrim of the Institute of Education, made out a detailed technical case against the GGC. I won’t reproduce it here – I couldn’t anyway as many of the technical details are well over my head – but it revolved mainly around the shakiness of the measures used in international comparisons of father-son incomes/earnings. Jerrim finished very neatly by unveiling a different chart, using PISA scores as a proxy for mobility, which produced an opposite result, i.e. increasing inequality seemed if anything to have a positive relationship with mobility.
Social mobility is something I want to discuss in relation to the PP, at some point. In particular I want to develop the argument that education as a route to social mobility may be oversold, especially in the case of women. But there’s a fairly obvious clue to the point of this post in the previous para: the measures all related to fathers and sons. No mention of mothers and daughters, as Heather Joshi pointed out. The answer was that that’s what the data covered.
Measuring SM is a horrendously complicated and highly contested field. Do you use income/earnings occupation/class? At which ages do you measure it – when both generations are 25, 35, 45 or 55? or over several points? Doing it across countries multiplies the difficulties. I accept, of course, that there are limits on what any analysis can do, and I’m not getting at this particular presentation, which was a stimulating one. But it seems obvious to me that any analysis of social mobility which excludes women is going to look very limited indeed. This is particularly the case in a time when highly educated women are increasingly marrying highly educated men – cf Alison Wolf’s The XX Factor - and so the prospects of boys and girls from poorer households are probably diminished.
That said, I am left in a bit of a dilemma: do I make use of the GGC….?
Women in Saudi Arabia want to be free to drive their cars. There’s a surprise. From what I’ve read on the events of the last couple of days (which is not a lot), there has been a kind of Mexican stand-off, with the authorities not enforcing their ban on women drivers and the women not pushing it too far. But this does look like some kind of crack opening up, which will be hard to paper over.
This takes me back to the World Economic Forum’s stimulating and rich Gender Gap report. I posted on this yesterday, so you’ll of course remember that it uses 4 dimensions – economics, education, health and politics – to produce overall indicators of progress towards equality. The PP-relevant point is to contrast the considerable progress across the world towards educational equality with the very much slower progress towards economic equality.
Saudi Arabia ranks 134 out of 136 on the economic equality dimension. It ranks 90th on the education dimension. At first sight this doesn’t look too big a difference, but to make sense of the information we need to distinguish between the scores and the rankings. On education a large majority of the countries score over 0.90, and so they are bunched up at the top; Saudi Arabia’s score is 0.976, and it’s only at the 110th ranking that the scores drop below 0.9 (dividing, as it happens, Morocco from Tajikistan).
By contrast, countries are hugely more diverse on the economic dimension. Only 8 score over 0.80 (and see yesterday’s for a critique of the measurement used at the top), and 52 over 0.70. The median comes at 0.667 (dividing, wonderfully, Hungary in the top half from Austria in the bottom half of the 136 countries – great material for a Joseph Roth novel).
Saudi scores just 0.32. This confirms what we generally knew about this particular case. But the important overall point is the size of the discrepancy between educational and economic equality. The discrepancy may be much smaller in the UK and similar countries than it is in the Middle East, but it’s still a powerful reminder that educational achievement may be a necessary but is certainly not a sufficient condition for overall equality.
From the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report comes some heavy duty and intriguing indicator work on progress towards gender equality in four areas: the economy, health, education and politics. I’m not a serious numbers person (more’s the pity), but you can get the essence of the report quite easily, and then spend as long as your inclination or capacity allows you digging around in the detail, including in the 136 individual country reports. Here’s my go at extracting the overall picture, and then a few nuggets. Maybe more in a later post.
For each of the four ‘pillars’ the report uses a number of indicators to measure equality between males and females; adds these indicators into a single ranking for each of the four; and then aggregates these into a single overall measure, using appropriate weighting techniques so that no single indicator has undue influence on the overall results. It ranks countries each time. The overall champions are predictable: the four Scandinavian countries of Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden. The fifth is less predictable: the Philippines – it took me some time hovering my mouse over the nifty global map to locate them.
The diagram below summarises how far progress has been made towards gender equality on the four dimensions. Frustrated apologies, but my technical competences don’t allow me to import the original chart, nor to align the labels properly, so it hasn’t come out well. Think of Economy at the north pole, Politics at the south, and Health and Education at West and East. Then look closely for the blue lines. The points on the diamond represent how close the world is to parity on each dimension. So you can see that on education and health there is almost total parity (the gap has closed to 0.93 and 0.96 respectively); but much less so in respect of the economy (0.60), still less in politics (0.21).
The WEF report confirms, on a global scale, the basic line of the PP: that of a misalignment between education and the economy, because the progress made by women in education is not reflected in their positions at work. This overall finding is striking, since the WEF cover virtually every country in the world, not only the OECD countries which are at similar levels of economic development.
But the report in fact greatly understates the extent of the misalignment, because the choice of scales in the measures. Here’s why.
“To capture gender equality, two possible scales were considered. One was a negative-positive scale capturing the size and direction of the gender gap. This scale penalizes either men’s advantage over women or women’s advantage over men, and gives the highest points to absolute equality. The second choice was a one-sided scale that measures how close women are to reaching parity with men but does not reward or penalize countries for having a gender gap in the other direction. Thus, it does not reward countries for having exceeded the parity benchmark. We find the one-sided scale more appropriate for our purposes. ” (My italics.)
In other words, if you lump together all gender inequalities whether they are male-female or female-male (as the first scale would do), then the overall results will cover up these differences, and this pretty much undercuts the whole point of the exercise. There may well be other good reasons for their choice (and I have written to the WEF to ask them for these). But since we know that in education women outperform men in many countries, the contrast between this and the economic measure is quite seriously underplayed.
There is one other feature of the report that I think is misleading, and which I can’t understand – though I should make it clear that overall I think it’s a very rich resource, and put together with admirable clarity and rigour. One of the four indicators on the Economy is the ratio between females and males in ‘estimated earned income’.
But for some reason the WEF authors apply a cut-off point of $40000. So four countries – Luxemburg, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland – all rank =1, because both men and women earn on average over this level, so they all score the max of 1.0, ie total parity. If you take their actual earnings, the respective indicator scores would be 0.54, 0.78, 0.52 and 0.62. The US is ranked 5th, with a score of 0.96, because US women earn nearly but not quite $40K and this is set against the max of $40K for men – whereas the real figure for US men is nearly $62K, giving it a score of 0.61. It means that the inequalities in rich countries (where men earn over $40k) are heavily disguised.
The other economic indicators, in addition to estimated income, are labour force participation; wage equality for similar work; and proportions of professional/technical workers. It provides fascinating material for the PP work. I’ll pick out just two items:
- Japan and Korea both show high levels of gender inequality across all the indicators. For instance, their respective scores on the female/male ratio of women professional-technical workers are 0.85 and 0.69, putting them in 78th and 90th positions on this indicator. Put this outcome next to those of the recent OECD Skills Survey, where both countries came out extremely well in the levels of skills they attain overall, and it suggests that the PP is most powerfully present over in that part of the world.
- Finally, something on the UK. As so often we do not show well in the rankings, slipping from 9th in 2006 to 18th in 2013. On professional/technical workers we are in 70th place with 0.92 (compared with the leader Lithuania, where for every male there are 2.24 women). Big sighs; but as the song says, there’s no discouragement….
I have productive friends. My previous post drew on Melissa Benn’s What Should We Tell Our Daughters? This one draws on Time on Our Side, Anna Coote’s broad-ranging and stimulating collection from the New Rconomics Foundation.
It’s subtitled ‘a new economics of work and time’, and brings together ideas about how we should measure well-being more adequately than via conventional GDP growth; reconcile economic policy and practice with the imperatives of environmental change; and arrive at fairer and more satisfying balance of paid work, caring and other activities. Sounds fairly challenging? It is, but it’s a thoroughly grounded and realistically argued set of essays.
The book’s key agenda item is the reduction of working time – hence the link to the PP, since my position is that we will only achieve a better use of women’s competences when more men work part-time. It follows on nef‘s earlier essay arguing for a 21-hour working week, but as Anna says in her introduction this can be flexibly applied across the life course, reducing hours at each end of the age scale:
” Young people entering the labour market for the first time could be offered a four-day week (or its equivalent). That way, each successive cohort adds to the numbers working a shorter working week, but no one has to cut their hours….At the other end…incremental reduction of working time could be introduced for older workers. for example, those aged 55 and over could reduce their working week by one hour each year. Someone on 40 hours a week would thus be working 30 hours a week by 65 and – if they continue in paid employment – 20 hours by 75.” Or, presumably, they could accelerate the reduction as they got further into their 70s.
The point about such gradualism is that it can happen without people experiencing a sharp cut in their living standards, conventionally measured. Some of the essays, for example by Robert Skidelsky, challenge these measures and offer a critique of consumerism as the high road to wellbeing. However nef is well aware that any strategy must confront the fact that many people do not have any margin in their budgets.
I learnt a great deal from the international examples, especially how the Dutch have gone about reducing their hours of work. Dutch workers have the right to reduce their work hours, while part-timers who want more hours can increase their hours, and they can only be refused if the employer demonstrates a business case. Part-time workers must be treated equally with respect to benefits (pro-rated, of course) and to promotion.
This has been part of a remarkable transformation in the labour market position of women in the Netherlands: only a couple of decades ago they had a very low rate of economic activity, but this has now been transformed – nicely in tandem with the growth in their qualifications. Many of these part-timers work quite long hours, ie they are at the upper end of the part-time category. Their career aspirations do not suffer. What a contrast this all makes with our position in the UK.
Melissa Benn’s new book What Should We Tell Our Daughters? dives into a heady mix of issues: body image, pornography and sex, self-esteem, motherhood, ambition and quite a few others. The book has a lot of forthright argument, but is not as prescriptive as the title might suggest.
One of the book’s many good and encouraging features is the way it expresses the ambivalences which parents feel – - about what lessons they should try to pass on to the next generation of young women to help them fulfil themselves in different ways. It speaks more directly to mothers, but fathers are very much there in the picture. (Declaration of interest: Melissa and I have tapped each other for insights for our respective books; one unambiguous outcome is that she has got on with writing hers with a great deal more competence than I have….)
WSWTOD is quite explicit about how difficult it can be to distil the different lessons from experience into a coherent message, and particularly to reconcile the forces and impulses which pull in different directions. In the chapter about motherhood, rather ominously headed ‘Breakpoint’, we read: “ ‘Ambivalence’ is one of the most useful words in the lexicons of the new mother or indeed the mother full stop. ” Melissa goes on to describe how reluctant she is to try to convey to her daughters how hard it can be to manage the mix of motherhood and life (professional and personal ) – and how reluctant her daughters have been to hear it.
” I believe we owe our daughters curiosity: the right to be, or become, strangers, even to us, as we inquire of, and show ourselves, willing to hear wishes and dreams we may never have imagined or of which we may not even approve…..The kind of question we should be – always – asking our daughters are: ” What really animates and interests you?”..And perhaps, later on in their lives, we might ask helpful questions such as “What compromises are you prepared to make – and how can I help you to figure out which compromises are worth making?” The advice seems to me to apply to sons just as much (though I have only daughters) but is less likely to include the compromise question. That, surely, makes it hard for everyone, and not only for parenting reasons. Compromises are the stuff of life, and not acknowledging the need for them will almost always cause problems.
The chapter on work (most relevant to the PP) has much wisdom, including on how to promote women’s ambitions appropriately. It includes some powerful and poignant insights from Estelle Morris. As you may recall, Estelle got further up the political pole than all but a handful of women. Uniquely, she chose to resign from her position as Secretary of State for Education – a post which might have seemed to be her dream position, as a former teacher – and to explain that she was doing it because she did not feel wholly up to the challenges it posed. This provoked a storm of ambivalent reactions: some supporting her for being so honest, others excoriating her for letting women down by not toughing it out and especially by giving her reasons for resigning.
Estelle Morris now provides mentoring for young women, “I will ask, ‘How did it go?’ I always say to women, ‘What’s your ambition? How far do you think you can go?’….Also, when they have a problem I can help them to see it in a wider perspective. I can ask: What’s the next step?’ “.
Contrast Estelle’s decision, and explanation, with Gordon Brown’s tenure as prime minister. I do not know how far Gordon perceived that his obsessively desired occupancy of the premiership had taken him a step too far, but it’s a story with many elements of a Greek tragedy as he clung desperately to power, to his own cost 9and that of his party. Both Estelle and Gordon are very prominent examples of our friend the Peter Principle; but what a difference in the ways they handled it.
“Part-time students, particularly mature undergraduates, seem to be an invisible and, in national policy terms, poorly understood cohort. ” This is Professor Sir Eric Thomas, introducing a recent UUK report on part-time HE. The report makes grim reading, for the most part. Over the past decade or so, whilst full-time undergraduates have grown considerably (11%), the numbers of part-timers have shrunk, by about 17%.
Much of my professional life has been spent promoting lifelong learning in one form or another, and especially part-time learning within universities, so this makes painful reading. My last full-time job in the UK was with the country’s oldest provider of such opportunities, Birkbeck, and I’m proud to retain a link with this great institution. (It continually amazes me how many people I run across have been a Birkbeck student – including just last night at the inspiring Inspiring the Future launch, where I met a former lawyer who had recently completed our London Studies course). I’m glad to say that Birkbeck is surviving strongly, even flourishing, but the overall picture is pretty gloomy.
Two particular PP-relevant points emerge clearly from the UUK report. First, it confirms that the great majority of part-time students are women – nearly 70%. They have been harder hit by the decline. Between 2002/3 and 2011/2, male entrants into PTHE fell by 4%, but female numbers by 14%. You could argue that since more women are now going straight into universities, and dominating regular fulltime HE, a decline in their part-time numbers is only to be expected. But PTHE is an important route for women building careers, and it’s shrivelling.
My second PP point is the one made by Eric Thomas in the quote at the top. Part-timers are often invisible in HE as they are in the workforce. They are not ‘core business’, for education or the economy. Of course part-timers are growing in the workforce, unlike in the HE student body, but the general attitude is the same. There is something very curious about this blindness, which I can only attribute to the fact that our models of work and learning are still based on traditional male patterns . They are becoming less and less sustainable.
That said there are some gleams of light from the report. In the first place, it’s encouraging that the UUK has undertaken this work, and sees it as an ongoing responsibility. The report makes a strong link to the economy and to business concerns. It demonstrates that part-time higher education is a seriously important route for people in work to raise their levels of competence, across a whole range of sectors, so there should be some heavyweight support from that quarter. It has some very practical proposals for raising the profile of PTHE: better communications on what is on offer and on financial support would help to revere the decline. I hope – and believe – that the decline is a temporary one.
And finally, a further, different gleam of light from the Inspire the Future event I mentioned above. It was the launch of a campaign to help girls and young women get a better match between their aspirations and competences and the jobs of the future. The appeal from Miriam Gonzalez Durantez was very simple: for people to give up one hour a year to go and talk about their careers, so that all young women have a broader exposure to options. They are looking for male as well as female volunteers.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to two Ibsen productions in the past week: Ghosts at the Almeida and The Doll’s House at the Duke of York. I enjoyed both, but for me the former was far the stronger, with tremendous power and a beautiful rhythm to the production. The climax, with Helen Alving cradling her dying son Oswald, could be entirely depressing, but here we saw the sun rising as he slipped away, and although her future is hardly a bright one the visual effect was one of some kind of redemption for them both.
I was again amazed at Ibsen’s boldness. In one play he tackles syphilis, hypocrisy, divine will, class relations and of course gender. Not bad going. My daughter lives in Norway and I have visited the flat where he lived and wrote. Ibsen was a first-order celebrity; people gathered just to watch him taking his daily walk for coffee in his favourite cafe. But when Ghosts came out there was total silence, and the play was first produced only a couple of years later – in Chicago.
The central women in both plays show us their self-development, but in different ways. Helen’s intellectual confidence is crucial but fragile. She begins her discussion with the pastor Manders in briskly businesslike fashion, settling issues to do with the orphanage they are proposing to build. She is not afraid to challenge him when he pompously expresses his disapproval of her reading, both because of the radical ideas the books contain, and because she demonstrates independence of mind.
“Tell me, Mrs Alving, what are these books doing here?
- These books? I am reading them.
- Do you read this sort of thing?
- Certainly I do.
- Do you feel any the better of the happier for reading books of this kind?
- I think it makes me, as it were, more self-reliant.
- That is remarkable. But why?
- Well, they give me an explanation or a confirmation of lots of different ideas that have come into my own mind.”
It turns out, though, that she is not the well-off and free-thinking bourgeoise that we might have thought, but someone who has worked her heart out to disguise and redeem her husband’s failings in order to protect her son. Her work involves both emotional labour and financial management. Of course, the skills gain no recognition at all, even within her own house.
Nora in the Doll’s House also has to earn money, but she chooses a different route (or maybe she has no choice): to redeem the debt she has lied about, she has to play up to a spendthrift image but squirrels away the housekeeping and dress money which her husband gives her. The climax in this case is her dramatic exit, with the door slamming behind her as she leaves her husband and her children. We do not know how she will survive on a day-to-day basis following her liberation.