Gender Gap

After the EIU, the WEF now also has a global report on equality between the sexes.

Ireland comes 6th out of 134 countries. That is great.

The build-up is peculiar, though. Ireland tops the bill on equality in educational attainment, although bonus points seem to be given for absent men at third level.

Ireland could do better on wage equality for similar work, on labour participation, and on senior jobs — but does rather well on uncorrected wage equality and on female professionals.

I guess that the data are somewhat older, and Ireland is getting points in gender equality because young men left school to be builders.

Ireland does well in political representation, primarily because of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. I would think that the largely ceremonial presidency should be discounted. Ireland does rather more poorly on female parliamentarians and ministers.

It gets strange on “health and survival”. Ireland ranks 89th. One subindex is female to male life expectancy. Irish women do not live long enough compared to men.The other subindex is male to female births — 106 boys for 100 boys, but surely not because of selective abortion or infanticide. [THIS PARAGRAPH WAS CORRECTED]

Not sure what to make of this. Ireland’s rank is too high and too low at the same time.

38 replies on “Gender Gap”

@kevin denny

… could be in Swift’s modest proposal pot (-; tuff_times an all dat!

The last time I looked at this ranking, I got the impression that we are getting an almost entirely unwarranted boost for having female heads of state.

I mixed up the ratio and the rank …

Male to female is 1.064 according to WEF, 1.066 according to CIA (WEF’s source), and 1.053 according to the CSO for 2009.

Richard: cool. There is a lot of work in evolutionary biology on the sex ratio (males/females) and even a few economists have looked at this. The best known idea is the Trivers-Willard hypothesis ‘though it seems no one can quite agree on how to test it. But it is often thought to mean that mothers in better condition have relatively more sons or favour investment in sons: the evidence for humans seems weak over all.

It gets strange on “health and survival”. Ireland ranks 89th. One subindex is female to male life expectancy. Irish women do not live long enough compared to men

Are you saying here that the report gives a positive score on ‘equality’ if the gap (or inequality) is higher in favour of women?

@Richard Tol

Correction noted; phew! [There is some evidence of abortion rates rising recently amonst women who already have children ….; really interesting test related to China’s one child policy and its emerging consequences; not getting into Malthus and Lord Salisbury on the locals at the mo]

On Kenmare: will you be popping in the presentation/outlines on this blog as you did early this morning for today’s ESRI budget bash?

Behavioural and physiological differences imply that women live 6% longer than man. Deviations from that suggest that nutrition and health care are systematically different between the sexes.

In Ireland, women live only 4% longer. This suggests inequalities in the past.

Russia comes top in this category — because men drink themselves to death.

So logically this report suggests that policies that could reduce male life expectancy at birth from the reported 96% to, say 50%, or make every doctor and/or solicitor in the country a woman could help make Ireland the most “equal” society in the world. Interesting.

Other curios. It can be convincingly argued that Chinese experience in gender selection is producing a far more advantageous position for women in society and it is a worryingly increasing proportion of men (partnerless and biologically pointless) who are becoming marginalised.

Could the male female difference in life expectancy be to do with that Ireland is a neutral country and wouldn’t lose as many young male lives to premature death as in the US, the UK or anywhere else that is not neutral really? Surely advocating that women must always live longer than men on average is unequal to the male population, no?

Would definitely be very quick to discount these results if we are scoring well on female political representation and badly on health equality as this is a fairly counterintuitive argument to anyone who knows anything about irish politics or healthcare.

Any measure of ‘equality’ which actually increases a country’s score, directly as a result of some phenomenon in its society that is clearly bad, is a pretty worthless measure.

Finland ranks 1st for gender ‘equality’ in health, while Ireland ranks 89th. Bravo Finland! Shame on Ireland! I can allready see coming over the horizon a flood of left-wing feminist articles in the Irish Times focusing on this statistic. But, Finland’s high ranking is mainly because its ratio of female life expectancy to male life expectancy is high. at 1.07 compared to 1.04 in Ireland. And, that’s mainly because its male life expectancy is very low, due principally to its very high rate of mortality among males from suicide, homicide and accidents.

Last time I checked, a couple of years ago, the number of deaths among Finnish males from suicide, homicide and accidents was by far the highest in western Europe and about twice that in Ireland. Ireland would need about an extra 1,500 male deaths annually from suicide, homicide and accidents to have the same rate for these three causes combined as Finland. Ireland has in fact one of the lowest death rates in the world from these three causes combined. As these causes of death affect males much more than females, and affect younger males disproportionately much more than older males, this contributes to the gap between male and female life expectancy and male and female mortality being relatively low in Ireland and relatively high in Finland.

Call me old-fashioned, but I actually believe that it is a bad thing to have a very high combined suicide, homicide and accident death rate among the male population. But, in the world of ‘gender equality’ politics, it turns out to be a good thing, because it pushes up the ratio of female to male life expectancy, which earns lots of brownie poits in these sorts of ridiculous reports. If we want Ireland to do better than lowly 89th in next year’s report, and possibly even take from Finland the coveted number one ranking for gender equality in relation to health, we need about 1,500 males to jump off the Cliffs of Moher between now and Christmas. This will push Ireland’s ratio of female to male life expectancy up to the required level to earn the number one ranking for gender equality in relation to health in next year’s report. Any volunteers?

Regarding the ratio of male to female births, the CSO are publishing their figures for births in Q1 2010 tomorrow. So, we can check the very latest figures on this ratio after 11am tomorrow morning. I doubt if it will have changed much from what its been for the last couple of thousand years. I’ll be more interested in the figures for the overall number of births, birth rate, and fertility rate. There were lots of predictions at the start of the recession that these would all plummet during the recession. So far, it hasn’t happened, and they’ve remained virtually unchanged at the very level they reached just prior to the recession. I’ll be very surprised if there is any change in this in tomorrow’s figures, maybe down very slightly, but nothing like what was predicted.

This report monitors gender gaps, which is not the same as equality. In any case, this type of normative index is not particularly satisfactory, since as you and many of the comments point out, some of the indicators when unpicked are clearly negative for men rather than particularly positive for women. However useful for national PR and for sectoral lobbying they may be, it is not valid to derive a qualitative judgement from a series of quantitative indicators.

unintended consequences?

Are you referring to the risk of being assimilated by the Irish Economy collective?

As I indicated above, Q1 figures now out:

number of boys born in Q1 9,9519 – girls: 9,016 – ratio: 1.056

As I predicted, the number of births down only fractionally, by 1.3% on last year. As the number of females of child-bearing age was down by 1.7% (due mainly to fall in birth rate in 1980s), the fertility rate must actually be up on a year ago.

Even better news. Number of deaths down by over 10% on a year ago. Ireland’s undertaking and coffin-making industries back in recession, where they languished for over a decade, after a slight pick-up in 2009. So much for the many economists’ and sociologists’ forecasts that the recession would bring them an upsurge in business.

@Brendan Walsh

Are you surprised that Ireland’s birth and fertility rates are holding up so well, in view of widespread predictions at the start of the recession that the recession would cause them to plummet? And, are you similarily suprised that the fall in the death rate, which you noted in a paper a few years ago, seems to be continuing through the recession? As Ireland’s foremost expert on demographics, it would be very interesting to hear your views on both these, either here or in the IT.

Oops, typo. That should be:

number of boys born in Q1 9,519 – girls: 9,016 – ratio: 1.056

not 9,9519, as I typed above, which would have been a world-record.

@ JtO

On the connection between fertility and income, a very nice piece of research based on US data by Lindo came out in the Journal of Human Resources earlier this year, which used the fact that job displacement (i.e. losing your job) causes a drop in lifetime earnings to identify the effect of income on fertility (identifying a causal effect between the two is notoriously complicated because of endogeneity). He found that in the period immediately following job loss, the fertility rate increases, but the lifetime effect on fertility is negative. The income elasticity that he estimates is about 0.15.

There are two possible reasons for the increase in fertility following job loss; one is that because earnings growth is reduced by job loss, families have less incentive to delay births; the other is that displaced workers have more time available for childcare, so it makes sense for them to bring births forward. (Sarah Carey’s recent suggestion that people have babies to cheer them up when everything is depressing wasn’t tested).

It seems likely that expectations of earnings growth have fallen for many workers in Ireland (not just those who’ve lost their jobs) because of the crisis. In this case, a temporary increase in fertility followed by a fall in the long term (so that the net effect on fertility is negative) would be predicted by these results.

There is also probably a significant differential behind the decision to have second or subsequent children vs. people starting families during periods of economic uncertainty, with variance by type of uncertainty and how much direct child support there is. In Poland, for example, the birthrates fell off a cliff after the fall of the Berlin Wall and haven’t recovered, while birthrates have held up pretty well in Iceland.

Wolfgang Lutz has done a lot of work on some of these issues, e.g.;

@Aine Ui Ghiollagain

Orion forbid! … just that ‘… not valid to derive a qualitative judgement from a series of quantitative indicators’ is so 7_of_9 ish a comment (-; …. avoiding assimilation to the ontologically challenged is the categorical imperative of the mo ….

A welcome reality check from JtO on the silly life expectancy metric contained in this report.

To me, measures of this kind are a poor excuse for analysis. They are ideologically driven and selective in terms of which variables are considered.

In other areas the justifications for the choice of scales used to compile the index are ludicrous in their arbitrariness. Take this paragraph for instance:

The type of scale chosen determines whether the
index is rewarding women’s empowerment or gender
equality. 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 essentially
penalizes either men’s advantage over women or
women’s advantage over men, and gives the highest points
to absolute equality. The second 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.

“We find the one-sided scale more appropriate for our purposes” ?!? I looked for the footnote giving a detailed justification for this seemingly arbitrary choice, but could find none.

So I guess they mean, “we ran the calculations both ways, and we liked what we got better with scale B”

Worse: The authors’ system of equalising the sub-categories by means of weighting by the SDs results in arbitary distortions over time.

This is because, if the weights are updated with every index, the categories lose cardinality. Thus, if Ireland is ranked below, say, Sweden and there is a change in some variables for, say, Nigeria, this can effect the relative rankings between Ireland and Sweden – even if no values for either Ireland or Sweden have changed in absolute terms!

This is because a reduction in the SD caused by a change in Nigeria affects the weightings for all countries in the given sub-index.

But I guess the authors thought of that. So instead, they have decided to arbitrarily keep the 2006 weights, as careful reading of note 5 on page 33 informs us. So the subcategories are not equally weighted for 2010, as the report contends, because we do not see how much the weights may have been distorted by relative changes in the standard deviations in the intervening 4 years.

In other words, if Ireland scored relatively low in a measure for which there was a relatively high variation in 2006, that score was weighted lightly. But for 2010 the WEF keep the 2006 weights. So if Ireland now increases in that category, this rise will only be correctly estimated if the relative variation in that category remains the same. If the variation increases, the rise will be underestimated. If it decreases, the rise will be overestimated.

How much would the weights have changed, if updated? This key question determines the robustness of the entire exercise, but the authors provide no clue as to there even being a problem here, much less a solution.

Of course, choosing to equally weight each subcategory is itself completely arbitrary.

Who says labour force participation is as important an indicator of equality as literacy rates?

Why not pick some other indicators, such as some arbitrarily defined ‘shopping power’ variable (‘we considered all the methods, but for our purposes, we chose to ignore spending in the “Tie Rack” and double-weight spending in “Claires Accessories”‘)? How about ‘rate of heart attacks due to job stress’? No, I am not trying to be sexist, just contrary.

Really the whole report is toilet tissue.

One way in which the gender gap has reduced – the difference in the percentage of men and woman at work has narrowed. The recession has ‘helped’ because of the fall off in employment in the traditionally male dominated construction sector. There is now below 10 percentage points of a difference, whereas as recently as 2006 it was 20 percentage points.

1997: 62% of men and 38% of women over 15 in work
2006: 67.7% and 47.5%
2010 56.1% and 46.5%

Whether it is good or bad that so many more men are on ‘home duties’ is a different question.

I was just trying to address smaller gap = greater equality and RT’s comment:

“Not sure what to make of this. Ireland’s rank is too high and too low at the same time.”

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a discussion of the relative merits or value of this type of index. Normally I just hear them being used to buttress poor arguments at policy seminars.

This report is indeed easily abused to support a claim that all is fine between the sexes in Ireland.

When constructing an index, there is always a trade-off to make between the things that can be measured and the things that matter. In this case, they seem to have used readily available data without much thought.

The topic is too important for such a cursory treatment.

The New York Times had an interesting piece on French “equality”.

French women! You are totally encouraged to go out and get a career! By the way the clothes still need washing and the children feeding!

Interestingly enough, those men may effectively be on ‘home duties’ but still self-identify in the QNHS as unemployed.

male unemployed Jan-Mar 08 98.8; Apr-June 10 249.3
male home duties Jan-Mar 08 7.2; Apr-June 10 7.5

from QNHS

Participation in unpaid work, family care & volunteering is generally not covered by any of these indices.

Usually it’s the Nordics who are keen to quote their ratings.


Just waiting for us to figure out that our policy of propagating and sustaining a poorly educated underclass is truly lousy economics …. the Scandinavians have largely sorted it – why can’t we?

There are plenty of threads here debating the merits of the scientific & business policies/strategies/commissions being put forward to address the downturn. The Swedes realised early in the last century (when their emigration and poverty rates were similar to Ireland’s) that focus on specific sectors had the potential to allow them, a small peripheral country, to sell into the global economy. This took serious consensus building and planned investment in education and infrastructure. Some of the plans worked (e.g. Volvo) some not so well (, but there was a significant political and cultural shift which took root before the Social Democratic agenda was implemented.

JtO noted the high level of male suicide in much of Scandinavia. What the gender gap doesn’t cover is how much of it is young males; perhaps the Scandinavians don’t have a single transferable model and perhaps what we need to do as a nation is decide what’s best for us and how to proceed. But we need a forum people can engage with and we need leadership.

@Aine Ui Ghiollagin

Perhaps the Scandinavians don’t have a single transferable model and perhaps what we need to do as a nation is decide what’s best for us and how to proceed.

JTO again:

Totally agree.

The high-tax Scandanavian model is hugely overrated, and deliberately so by those in low-tax countries who want them to become high-tax countries, and who hold the Scandanavian countries up as models of everything we should aspire to.

Like the Parson’s egg, it is good in parts. Other parts are very bad.

Sweden has excellent health outcomes. But, Denmark has the worst health outcomes in western Europe, far worse than Ireland. Finland is in between, roughly level with Ireland.

Finland has excellent education results, always top in PISA tests, but Sweden and Denmark usually come below Ireland in PISA tests.

Contrary to popular myth, all of them have high crime rates.

Their economic record is greatly exaggerated. Ireland’s growth rate has been much higher than Denmark, Finland or Sweden since the 1980s. All three suffered very deep recessions in 2009. Finland’s fall in GDP in 2009 was the only one in western Europe to be greater than Ireland’s. But, in their case it was the second mega-recession in 15 years.

All three have very high suicide rates, much higher than Ireland, and indeed the highest in western Europe. My own opinion is that its partly due to the almost total absence of religious practice in these countries. But, here, we are straying into very politically incorrect territory, which isn’t really suitable for a blog such as this.

The plus factor for the Scandanavian model is greater equality than elsewhere and good public transport. But, then you’d expect that as a minimum, since their governments take so much of everybody’s money in tax.

Will Ireland tell the Scandinavians and Germans that they should follow the Irish economic model before or after the Irish government ask them to lend the Irish some money to tide Ireland over?

Ireland wants to be a low tax country. So be it. Cut the spending to match the tax take.

This model has been shown to be unsustainable. The question is where to go from here. Cutting and pasting from other countries won’t do it.


Sarah Carey’s recent suggestion that people have babies to cheer them up when everything is depressing wasn’t tested

JTO again:

Did Sarah really say that? She seems far too intelligent to come up with such nonsense. Are you sure she wasn’t just quoting someone else who said that? Anyway, it doesn’t fit in with the facts. My hastily-written post might be partly to blame, in that it might be read as suggesting that most of the increase in the birth and fertility rates have occurred since the recession began. Not so. Apologies if I misled. The point I was making that they haven’t fallen, as they were predicted to, during the recession. They have remained more or less flat at a high level since the recession started. The actual large rises in the birth and fertility rates actually occurred in the decade up to 2007. Therefore, the theory that they were caused by people being depressed at the economic news gets blown out of the water. If there was any truth in this theory, there would be a spike in the birth rate nine and a half months after every George Lee appearance on RTE. Also, that EU report came out this week showing that people in Ireland were the happiest in the EU. Obviously, the Irish sample didn’t contain many readers of this site.

@ JtO

no, you didn’t mislead. I’m aware that the fertility rate rose during the boom. That would fit in with the positive income elasticity of fertility found in the paper I referred to. I was simply saying that there are plausible economic findings that would lead us to expect a temporary rise in fertility due to job loss and/or lower earnings growth expectations. This might be enough to offset the negative effect of falling income on fertility. This could be what’s happening now – temporary rise mostly offset by falling income effect. If the effect on national income is permanent, the long term effect would be predicted to be negative. If it’s not, the predicted long-term effect would be small.

My reference to SC’s IT article was tongue in cheek. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s as far-fetched as you seem to; it’s quite possible for two (or more) things to be going on at the same time, with offsetting effects.

Just came across this thread now. Here’s the article that got mentioned. In relation to Aedin’s point referencing the Lindo research (which I hadn’t read but confirms my instinct) I said

“Look at it this way. Three years ago, maybe, there was plenty of work. Taking time out to breed meant you had to voluntarily forgo a good wage. Now, if you’re out of a job or reduced to part-time status, you’ve less to lose. If you’re at home most of the time, sure you might as well be looking after a baby. In fact, if you think things will take five years to improve, then accelerating rather than postponing your family planning is a good idea.”

But yes JtO!! I did go one further and say:

“Leaving aside the financial calculations, there are always 50 reasons not to have a baby, and just one to go ahead. Babies, even those conceived in crisis, are almost always good news. So many people I know are under so much strain that any little bit of good news gives them a huge lift. If you’re surrounded by depression, getting pregnant is a little like giving the two fingers to all the negativity. Science tells us that optimism is an irrational condition. But nil desperandum – never despair. If everything else is going wrong maybe getting pregnant feels right.”

As an optimist, surely you’d relate to that 🙂 🙂

Here’s an extract from an article I wrote back in 2007 on the same topic. (bit long)

“it’s the working mothers who are key.[to high birth rates].

“France and Sweden have long term stable policies around paid maternity leave and jobs being guaranteed on return. Their creches are subsidised and there is universal free child care from the age of three. French mothers don’t guilt trip themselves about going to work and it’s automatically assumed that they will work and have children. Working hours in France are flexible and adults are encouraged to return to the educational system at any time for re-training. Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden are renowned for their sexual equality.

In contrast, Germany doesn’t get the same value for its family support policies because social attitudes and organisation are totally different. They’ve relied on a system of cash benefits to families but these don’t work in the face of a society which works against motherhood. There are subsidised creches and kindergartens but they, along with the schools, all close at lunchtime. Mothers who work are known as Rabensmutter or raven-mothers, birds who abandon their chicks early in life.

The result is that German women’s participation in the labour force collapses after they become mothers. The family unfriendly schools don’t help but neither does their fascist history which politicised the role of women. Reiner Klingholz, head of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development told the Financial Times last week that “We always had a polarisation between conservatives who think a woman’s place is at home and leftwingers who look down on child-bearing. Germany has realised that making it easier for a woman to combine work and family is the key to higher birth rates”.

On this point of politicisation I spoke with Pete Lunn (ESRI) and he made a point that birth rates aren’t as heavily dependent on finances as we think (ahem! backing up my irrational reasons for childbirth case!). They have a lot to do with cultural expectations. Ireland has a long history of big families. So going for the 3rd child is not seen as the horror it might be in other countries.

ooops sorry (banging on this – pet subject)

Of course, (and Brendan Walsh made this point to me) the birth rate is always a function of the number of fertile women in the economy. the “pope’s girls” are all fertile! So they are due to keep having babies for another few years yet.

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