Networks, twice over

You may or may not recall that the fourth factor underpinning the Paula Principle is lack of vertical networks. Men are more likely to know people working at levels above them.  As a result they get better access to those levels, either for specific reasons such as hearing about job opportunities or for much more general ones such as understanding how organisations or systems work, the vocabulary that gets used at senior level and so on.  Nepotism may play a part, but in a way that’s the least interesting aspect of this somewhat vicious circle: men are more likely to know more senior people, and so to become more senior themselves.  (For those of us used to the terminology of social capital introduced some 20 years ago by Michael Woolcock, this meant that women tend to have strong bonding SC – links with people like oneself-  but less linking SC, ie links to people at different levels.)

Networks have become the subject of much study, especially in a digital age where the links that make them take very diverse forms.  They no longer depend on physical proximity, the clubbiness of common rooms or pubs. In the PP I drew on Paul Seabright’s provocatively title War of the Sexes:

Both men and women display a preference for networking the members of their own sex.  Although unsurprising in itself, this preference has an interesting consequence in organisations where women are under-represented, because networking primarily with their own sex tends to shut women out of networks of power and influence.

Now three economists, Lorenzo Doctor, Sanjeev Goyal and Anja Prummer,  have looked into gender disparities in their discipline; more specifically at how far differences in co-authorship networks explain these disparities.  They summarise their findings :

We have examined gender disparity in economics research over a forty year period, 1970-2010. The share of women publishing in economics grew roughly four times, but there remains a large gender difference in research output: men produce 50% more than women. The persistence in output gap is accompanied by large and persistent differences in the co-author networks of men and women: women have a higher share of co-authored work and they co-author more with senior colleagues. They also tend to have fewer co-authors (and co-author more often with the same co-authors) and exhibit greater overlap in their co-authors.

It seems that women tend to do more co-authoring; to stick more with the same authors; and to co-author more with people above them.  The first two of these sit well with PP factor 4.  A higher level of co-authoring suggests a greater tendency to collaborate, and for bonds once formed to be sustained.  The third one – that women co-author more with senior colleagues – seems to go against it.  The authors explain this by suggesting that women choose senior collaborators because they know they need them to help overcome bias, and because they will be more understanding about their family constraints.

These are plausible explanations. A more cynical interpretation might be that senior colleagues find it easier to have junior female colleagues to help them produce papers, but far be it from me to propose that.  In any case it’s an area where some good anthropological study could shed a lot of further light.  I’ve got increasingly interested in collective intelligence – what makes teams work well, so that the whole is greater that the sum of the parts –   and academic collaboration is one aspect of this.

Which takes me to my second contact this week with networks.  We’ve got new shelves up at home and so I’ve been toiling through a much-needed rearrangement of books.  Amongst those that came to hand was Manuel Castells’ The Rise of the Network Society, the first volume of his highly influential Information Age.  Castells caught on early to the importance of networks in a knowledge- or information-based economy, and the book still has a lot of salient insights.  He talks about the decentralisation of work tasks and their coordination in an interactive network of communication in real time  Welcome to the gig economy.

But as I flipped through the book my eye was caught by something Castells said about the Japanese economy.  He noted that its stability, apparently already then in contrast to the decline elsewhere of full-time long-term employment and single occupational careers, depending crucially on part-timers.  Two-thirds of the Japanese part-timers were women, and they have no security at all.  “The critical point concerns the definition of part-time”, says Castells,  In fact they work almost full-time – 6 hours a day – but are paid far less. He concludes:

This labour practice depends essentially on the occupational subservience of highly educated Japanese women….I propose the hypothesis that it is just a matter of time until the hidden flexibility of the Japanese labor market diffuses to the core labor force.

Japan is still the most extreme exemplar of the Paula Principle, with very highly qualified women and a very large gender pay gap.  But Castells’ hypothesis remains in play – for Japan and elsewhere.


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