A Simple Invention to Help Women’s Health

BBC News reports the story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school dropout in rural India who invented a technology that could vastly improve reproductive health for women. The user-friendly technology relies on simple machines to produce sanitary pads at a low cost, a boon for women unwilling or unable to pay for the higher-priced sanitary pads in stores.

[Muruganantham] discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads - fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.

Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don't just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don't get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene - it can also affect maternal mortality.

The Coolest Child Care Program You’ve Never Heard Of

During World War II, U.S. women entered the workforce in record numbers -- factories full of "Rosie the Riveters" producing planes and munitions for the war effort.  In response, Congress passed the Lanham Act of 1940, which administered and subsidized a large childcare system in 635 communities in the whole country except New Mexico from 1943-1946.  A new paper by Chris Herbst examines the effects of the Lanham Act; his research is particularly relevant in light of President Barack Obama's push for universal preschool.  "What's intriguing about the Lanham Act is that it's the U.S.'s first, and only, laboratory within which to assess universal child care," writes Herbst in an email about the paper. "It may just be the coolest child care program you've never heard of."  Here's the abstract:

This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the Lanham Act of 1940, a heavily-subsidized and universal child care program that was administered throughout the U.S. during World War II. I begin by estimating the impact of the Lanham Act on maternal employment using 1940 and 1950 Census data in a difference-in-difference-in-differences framework. The evidence suggests that mothers’ paid work increased substantially following the introduction of the child care program.

Paying More for the White Dress

In an article for The New York Times Magazine, Catherine Rampell  explores the "wedding markup."  While planning her own wedding, Rampell was surprised by the lack of transparency in the wedding industry, even with all the wedding-related sites on the Internet:

Wedding vendors seemed to be trying to size me up to figure out how much I’m willing to pay; consumer advocates say this is a common practice, as is charging more for a given service for a wedding than for a “family function” or “corporate event.” Austan Goolsbee, an economics professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, recalls that when he was married over a decade ago, one caterer initially quoted him about $60 a head, and then jacked up the price to about $90 per person after realizing the function was a wedding. These are forms of what economists call price discrimination; it sounds unfair, but it’s perfectly legal, and it’s easier to get away with in markets where there’s little price transparency and consumers are relatively uninformed.

Many of the industry experts Rampell interviewed attributed the markup to the fact that brides are usually less-informed "first-time shoppers," and also to the "once-in-a-lifetime logic":

Is There a Glass Ceiling in Corporate Crime?

Our podcast "Women Are Not Men" looked at a variety of gender gaps, including the fact that the vast majority of violent crime is committed by men. A new paper by Darrell J. Steffensmeier, Jennifer Schwartz, and Michael Roche in the American Sociological Review finds that women are less likely to be involved in corporate crime as well:

Typically, women were not part of conspiracy groups. When women were involved, they had more minor roles and made less profit than their male co-conspirators. Two main pathways defined female involvement: relational (close personal relationship with a main male co-conspirator) and utility (occupied a financial-gateway corporate position). Paralleling gendered labor market segmentation processes that limit and shape women’s entry into economic roles, sex segregation in corporate criminality is pervasive, suggesting only subtle shifts in gender socialization and women’s opportunities for significant white-collar crimes. Our findings do not comport with images of highly placed or powerful white-collar female criminals.

“Men lead these conspiracies, and men generally prefer to work with men,” Steffensmeier told the Washington Post. “If they do use women, they use them because they have a certain utility or they have a personal relationship with that woman and they trust her.”

What Can a Ball and a Bucket Teach Us About Why Women Earn Less Than Men?

John List and Uri Gneezy have appeared on our blog many times. Now they have written a book, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life. (The title, by the way, was crowdsourced on this blog). Below is the first in a series of guest posts adapted from the book; Gneezy spoke about this research in our podcast "Women Are Not Men."

What can a Ball and Bucket Teach Us About Why Women Earn Less than Men?
By Uri Gneezy and John List

The sign on the road leading to the city of Shilong in the Khasi hills of northeast India had a puzzling message: “Equitable distribution of self-acquired property rights.” Later we’d find out that the sign was part of a nascent men’s movement, as the men in the Khasi society were not allowed to own property. We’d traveled across the world in search of such a parallel universe—one where men felt like “breeding bulls and babysitters”—because evidence in the U.S. was starting to point to a massive gap in preferences towards competition between the genders and we wanted to understand the reason why.

Our plan was to take a simple game to a matrilineal society (the Khasi) and patrilineal society (the Masai in Tanzania) and give participants just one choice: Earn a small certain payment for their performance in the game or earn a much bigger payment for their performance, but only if they also bested a randomly chosen competitor. The game we settled on? Tossing tennis balls into a bucket 3 meters away.  The experiment was conducted with Kenneth Leonard as a coauthor.

Women as "Vessels of Reproduction"

These aren't my words. Listen to John R. Beard, who runs the Department of Ageing and Life Course for the World Health Organization:

“To some extent, we treat women as vessels of reproduction, and once they’ve done that we don’t pay much attention to them."

That's from Don McNeil's Times article about women's life expectancy:

Life expectancy for women who live to age 50 is going up around the world, but poor and middle-income countries could easily make greater gains, according to a new World Health Organization report.

Heart disease, stroke and cancer kill most women over 50, said Dr. John R. Beard, director of the W.H.O.'s department of aging, so countries should focus on lowering blood pressure with inexpensive drugs and screening for cervical and breast cancer. Those diseases can be prevented or treated, said Dr. Beard, who was also an author of the study, which was published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

Related (if barely): Ronald Coase has died at age 102.

Women, Men, and Cooperation

Women are not men, as we firmly established in a podcast earlier this year.  A new working paper (abstract; PDF) by economists Peter J. Kuhn and Marie-Claire Villeval suggests one more difference between the sexes -- women may be more drawn to cooperation. Here's the abstract:

We conduct a real-effort experiment where participants choose between individual compensation and team-based pay. In contrast to tournaments, which are often avoided by women, we find that women choose team-based pay at least as frequently as men in all our treatments and conditions, and significantly more often than men in a well-defined subset of those cases. Key factors explaining gender patterns in attraction to co-operative incentives across experimental conditions include women’s more optimistic assessments of their prospective teammate’s ability and men’s greater responsiveness to efficiency gains associated with team production. Women also respond differently to alternative rules for team formation in a manner that is consistent with stronger inequity aversion.

FREAK-est Links

1. Drew Brees criticized for not tipping enough for takeout. (HT: Steve Schwinger)

2. The People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Center: where the Chinese government collects data on Chinese public opinion.

3. The women of the "Opt-Out Revolution" are ready to lean in.

4. In South Korea, where 93 percent of students graduate from high school, "rock star" teachers earn millions.5. Is Boeing buying back old 747s to drive demand for new ones?

The Latest in Happiness Research

In the L.A. Times, Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton highlight some of the more interesting recent findings in the field of happiness research.  Two surprising examples from the article:

1. "A study of women in the United States found that homeowners were no happier than renters, on average. And even if you're currently living in a cramped basement suite, you may find that moving to a nicer home has surprisingly little impact on your overall happiness. Researchers followed thousands of people in Germany who moved to a new home because there was something they didn't like about their old home. In the five years after relocating, the residents reported a significant increase in satisfaction with their housing, but their overall satisfaction with their lives didn't budge."
2. "[D]ozens of studies show that people get more happiness from buying experiences than from buying material things. Experiential purchases — such as trips, concerts and special meals — are more deeply connected to our sense of self, making us who we are. And while it's anyone's guess where the American housing market is headed, the value of experiences tends to grow over time, becoming rosier in the rearview mirror of memory."

Is Wikipedia Ghettoizing Female Writers?

The novelist Amanda Filipacchi (a very good writer; I happen to have gone to grad school with her) writes in the Times that female novelists seem to be getting ghettoized on Wikipedia:

I just noticed something strange on Wikipedia. It appears that gradually, over time, editors have begun the process of moving women, one by one, alphabetically, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. So far, female authors whose last names begin with A or B have been most affected, although many others have, too.

The intention appears to be to create a list of “American Novelists” on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men. The category lists 3,837 authors, and the first few hundred of them are mainly men. The explanation at the top of the page is that the list of “American Novelists” is too long, and therefore the novelists have to be put in subcategories whenever possible.

Too bad there isn’t a subcategory for “American Men Novelists.”

Further details are welcome. This piece brings to mind a section of our recent "Women Are Not Men" podcast, reported by Bourree Lam, about the relative scarcity of female editors on Wikipedia -- and this followup post about females posing as males online to avoid harassment.