# The economics of menstruation and the short-sighted reductionism of capitalism

In science, there’s data, and there’s interpretation. It’s really easy to collect data (usually), but interpretation is the hard part — it requires an understanding of context and theory, and an appreciation of the real complexity of the problem. It’s tempting to simplify all your models — the spherical cow problem — but you also have to justify the reduction in complexity to show that it is reasonable. And that’s where some papers blow a hole in their foot. This is particularly a problem when the interpretation of the science is used to argue for policy changes.

Here’s a paper that’s a beautiful example of the split. The data is pretty and clever, the interpretation is shit…and that it goes on to question how to deal with the issue is the toxic icing on top. It’s about women’s menstruation, and how it effects their performance on the job.

This is the first part of the abstract. I don’t disagree with this at all.

In most Western countries illness-related absenteeism is higher among female workers than among male workers. Using the personnel dataset of a large Italian bank, we show that the probability of an absence due to illness increases for females, relative to males, approximately 28 days after a previous illness. This difference disappears for workers age 45 or older. We interpret this as evidence that the menstrual cycle raises female absenteeism. Absences with a 28-day cycle explain a significant fraction of the male-female absenteeism gap.

The interesting exercise in the paper was to see if they could mathematically identify a pattern in the absences. They had a very large data set — the payroll data for 2,965 women and 11,892 men who worked at an Italian bank — and they carried out some simple statistical operations that are familiar to me. I’ve done something similar before; I collected data on the positions of neurons in the spinal cord, and asked whether there was a repeating pattern in their distribution, and whether it was the same distance seen in the pattern of segmental muscle boundaries (it was). This is the same problem! Cool!

So they just asked if there were any periodic regularities in the aggregate absences all of the women working at the bank — not whether there was any synchrony in the absences, but whether if, for example, person A had an absence on her record on one date, what was the likelihood that she’d have another absence at some interval later? When you plot out the data, the signal jumps out at you: women are more likely to have repeating absences at 28 day intervals.

Note that this plot is of women’s absences relative to men’s — this is necessary because I’m sure there were other periodicities in the data that weren’t shown. For instance, the likelihood of someone taking a day off on Friday is higher than taking a day off on Wednesday, because we all like our 3-day weekends, so there ought to be a 7-day periodicity in the chart. But those absences are going to be roughly equally frequent for men or women, so by subtracting the two you get just the differential signal.

The results are totally unsurprising. Many women experience debilitating migraines or nausea at the onset of menstruation, so of course you’re going to see that biological regularity expressed in behavior. The work also found that there was a disappearance of the regularity in post-menopausal women, exactly as expected — it does not address the fact that many women regulate their menstrual cycle with birth control, but then, that information wasn’t in the data set. The authors should be emphasizing that their procedure detected a statistically consistent variation that does not apply to all women; you cannot assess one woman’s performance by pointing to the aggregate data for 3,000 women.

But they do fall for a fallacy. The authors seem to be sucked down into a whirlpool of narrow-mindedness by the prettiness of their numbers. Here’s the rest of their abstract, where they try to interpret their findings, and that’s where I have problems with the paper.

To investigate the effect of absenteeism on earnings, we use a simple signaling model in which employers cannot directly observe workers’ productivity, and therefore use observable characteristics – including absenteeism – to set wages. Since men are absent from work because of health and shirking reasons, while women face an additional exogenous source of health shocks due to menstruation, the signal extraction based on absenteeism is more informative about shirking for males than for females. Consistent with the predictions of the model, we find that the relationship between earnings and absenteeism is more negative for males than for females. Furthermore, this difference declines with seniority, as employers learn more about their workers’ true productivity. Finally, we calculate the earnings cost for women associated with menstruation. We find that higher absenteeism induced by the 28-day cycle explains 11.8 percent of the earnings gender differential.

You should have been put on high alert by the phrase “simple signaling model”. They’re going to argue that wages and promotions are set rationally, by impartial observers looking at just a few simply quantifiable characteristics, like absenteeism. Has anyone in the history of humankind ever worked at a job like that? Punch in, punch out, zoom, you’re climbing the ladder of success and no one ever looks at your work…or the color of your skin or the kind of genitals you keep in your pants…and all decisions might as well be made by a computer.

It’s an excellent example of being blinkered by an over-simplified theory. I don’t trust their “simple signaling model” at all — it’s only virtue is that they can plug numbers into pages of mathematical formulae in their paper. But if it doesn’t accurately describe how wages are set, what good is it?

Their own data has massive differences that they cannot account for with their equations either. Notice that they have 4 times as many men as women in their data sample; why is that? Does banking have a demand for greater upper body strength? Is the ability to grow a beard, which most of them will shave off, some kind of qualification for accounting?

And there’s more. The authors say this about their data set:

Females are younger and slightly more educated, but have significantly more sick-days [In the US, men take on average 3 sick days/year; women take 5.2 –pzm]. They are also paid on average 20 percent less and are heavily under-represented in the managerial ranks.

This bank employs a quarter as many women, pays them 20% less, and doesn’t promote them to management…are we seriously going to look at the fact that they menstruate as a significant factor in those differences? Yeah, they are: they’re going to punch some numbers into their spreadsheets and announce that menstruation causes 11.8% of the discrimination…that it’s a rational decision based purely on numbers in their account books.

This is bullshit. It’s bullshit used to prop up odious arguments.

Our findings may have policy implications. Forcing employers, rather than women, to bear the monetary burden associated with menstruation may be counterproductive. Whether society should address this biological difference with a gender-based wage subsidy depends on voters’ tastes for redistribution. Clearly, this is not a case of market failure, and the rationale for the subsidy would be redistribution rather than efficiency. A gender-specific public subsidy financed out of general taxation would shift part of the costs of menstrual- related absenteeism from women to men.

That’s beancounting thinking. Of course society and employers should subsidize biology: their employees are all biological organisms! Are we going to argue that perhaps companies should not be required to pay to maintain restrooms in the workplace because every minute spent pooping is one minute not spent assembling widgets? How dare workers demand 40 hour work weeks, simply because their bodies demand nightly periods of sleep, and their brains require other activities to maintain their mental health? And don’t get me started on handicap access ramps and the need to maintain two kinds of restrooms or the whole ridiculous demand for lunch hours.

What this is is an argument that the standard for all employees is that they be an able-bodied man, and any difference from that represents a short-coming that should be penalized…and anyone who argues otherwise is promoting wealth “redistribution rather than efficiency”. And as we all know, jobs are not for people, but for the company, and our sole criterion for efficiency is what works best for the corporate management. Not the worker.

I think that’s the fundamental problem of this paper and many others like it. It looks at human beings as numbers in a spreadsheet, and assesses them statistically by their contribution to corporate “success”, as measured entirely by short-term profit to the shareholders and management. The perspective used to interpret the data skews the meaning. And when your perspective is entirely based on over-simplified models and a purpose that ignores values other than profit, you get demeaning garbage.

This paper was published by the US’s very own National Bureau of Economic Research. It is not some reactionary right-wing think tank — it has been summarized by Paul Krugman as:

The NBER is best described, I’d say, as the old-boy network of economics made flesh. There are a couple of NBER offices, but they’re small; what the organization mainly consists of is its associates and what they do. In many sub-fields of economics, just about anyone well-known in the profession is an NBER research associate (yes, me too); it’s normal for these associates to release new research as NBER working papers.

You can criticize the role the NBER plays, mainly because it privileges insiders. If you’re associated with the Bureau, you can get research out quickly in a place everyone will see, whereas if you aren’t in the magic circle, getting noticed can be much harder. I would say that economics blogs are starting to remedy this disparity, but there will never be a truly level playing field.

This is a problem, too. We aren’t talking about far right-wing tea party crazies here — this is a smug economic establishment trapped in a rigid capitalistic worldview that can’t see anything but tables of numbers. It’s a nice way to plod along, getting incremental improvements in “efficiency”, but it’s all going to hell when the people rise up and scramble all their equations with a more human reality.

1. carlie says

Also, women tend to take sick days to take care of their sick children more often than men, and because there is no provision for “I’m not sick but someone I care for is”, those all get coded as sick days. I don’t see that they tried to control for that at all.

2. Sastra says

Women who no longer menstruate are less likely to have young children at home. If the kids get sick, Mom probably is both more likely to stay home as caretaker and/or catch what they have vs. Dad. 28 days is closest to a month. Once a month could correlate with many things, esp. if you include the children’s schedule.

It doesn’t sound like they actually co-ordinated the data to personal menstrual cycles, either. They assumed.

3. Sastra says

Yeah, what carlie said.

4. says

Well, but those wouldn’t show up as a periodicity. They’d use that as a further argument that we shouldn’t redistribute the wealth to support those chronically absent women!

5. says

Yes. They have NO data on menstruation, other than that on average it has a 28 day cycle. So women who don’t menstruate are invisible in the data set, and there’s no attempt to correlate it with anything (in my neuron measuring example, I looked at both the location of cells and the location of segment boundaries, and cross-correlated those). But it’s still plausible. What event on a 28 day cycle do women experience that men don’t?

This paper is really an exercise in detecting a cyclic signal in a noisy data set. That part is believable, if predictable and completely trivial. The unbelievable part is where they assign a causality of that to wages and promotion, and then take a flaming jump over a shark in an attempt to suggest these data are applicable to policy.

6. magistramarla says

Here’s a radical idea. [snark] Rather than pay women 20% less because they take sick days for medical issues associated with menstruation, how about providing good medical insurance so that those women can easily get the hormones and other medical care to keep those issues from happening so often?

7. seraphymcrash says

They could show up as a periodicity if their children were female and menstruating.

8. seraphymcrash says

Also, sick days are provided for a reason, the concept of punishing a worker for using their sick days is incredibly infuriating…

You know whats worse for productivity? Sick workers not taking a day off and either doing a crappier job, or infecting other workers.

There are ~250 working days in a year.

The difference between 3 and 5 sick days is not nearly 20% of ~250.

10. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

So, they haven’t actually made any connection between absenteeism and menstruation except for “absences for women often have a 28-day cycle” “average woman’s period has a 28-day cycle”… Aha!

11. carlie says

If we’re just into speculation, tests in school often show up at a monthly periodicity, and I’m sure everyone remembers how well test dates correlate with the onset of severe symptoms in children.

12. carlie says

Also, maintenance doctor’s visits show up with a periodicity, and women are statistically more likely to go to the doctor for preventative care than men. Come back in a month. Come back in 3 months. Come back in 6 months. Overlay those all together, and you get a periodicity.

13. carlie says

… and those appointments are during the work day, and again can’t be coded except as sick time.

14. sonderval says

And where is the bonus for women to come back much more frequently after a single day of absence (the graph starts at -0.2, after all)?

But what I would really like to see are some kind of error bars on the numbers – if numbers for adjacent days are different by about 0.2 (and that near the end of the graph, where you would expect all correlations to become small), I would expect that the error bars are at least 0.2 units wide.

And of course, thinking this through, shouldn’t we then also pay men less money when they are ill more frequently? Or should we generally not employ chronically ill people or at least pay them less? How about smokers or people who drink alcohol?

15. says

#13: Yes. Another possible reason for a periodicity is greater responsibility and attention to detail. That’s not directly assessed either, though.

16. Ingdigo Jump says

Color me confused on this one but isn’t the sick day system work that everyone has the same allotment of days they can use?

So what does it matter how employees use them? They’re all within the allowed threshold that is considered acceptable for productivity?

17. says

But let me emphasize this: assume the data are correct, and women are more likely to miss a small amount of work with a periodic cycle. Accept it.

Is that a reason to penalize them and value men over them, because of one factor in their biology? If you accept that argument, then you’re also accepting the reasoning that people with chronic illness or other disabilities are worth less than healthy people. And it’s ignoring all of the other factors in individuals that may make them valuable contributors.

18. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

I would like to know why they assume managers are less likely to shirk than clerks.

19. glodson says

Look, the point is that men get paid more for totally rational reasons. That’s what the paper says, it isn’t like this paper stinks of rationalizing a privilege. It has numbers and everything!

20. moarscienceplz says

Does banking have a demand for greater upper body strength? Is the ability to grow a beard, which most of them will shave off, some kind of qualification for accounting?

Oh certainly! Everybody knows that threatening to scratch someone with your day-old beard stubble is a highly effective way to get them to pay their delinquent loan.

21. “Assume the cow is a sphere…”

we use a simple signaling model in which employers cannot directly observe workers’ productivity

Ahh, nothing like basing your analysis around a model that’s the complete opposite of the real world.

22. @glodson #20: Indeed. You can also tell by the paper’s completely objective attitude toward “redistribution” vs. “efficiency” that there are no unstated ideological biases in there.

23. kevinv says

24. moarscienceplz says

Nearly every job I’ve had has made no distinction between sick days and vacation days. And, if I accrue too many PTO hours without using them, I lose them. In other words, my employers recognize that my taking time off is actually beneficial to my productivity.

25. WharGarbl says

@glodson
#20

Look, the point is that men get paid more for totally rational reasons. That’s what the paper says, it isn’t like this paper stinks of rationalizing a privilege. It has numbers and everything!

Well… in that case it should be a ~1% difference (2 days more out of 250 days of work). Currently its about 10%.

26. george gonzalez says

There are many pitfalls in analyzing noisy data for periodicities, things like optimum Hammig windows, aliasing, and fixed and insufficient sample sizes.

Give that, there was a similar study done at George A Philbrick Researches around 1960. They had an assembly line of mostly ladies putting together hand-assembled operational amplifiers. These devices were very sensitive to contamination. When they plotted the failure to pass final test rate, there seemed to be a significant 28-day periodicity. Then again, it’s well documented that women are better at tedious tasks requiring finger dexterity, so I’m pretty sure it was a strong net positive to have women assembling these delicate devices.

27. frog says

Why is no one measuring productivity as “widgets produced over time”? Many people spend a good deal of their work day not working. (e.g., reading and commenting at Pharyngula)

Women taking more sick days might be overcome by them being more efficient the rest of the time.

My industry in particular is structured around getting certain things done on a certain schedule. I don’t care when my staff does their work, as long as it all gets done in time. They can do it by working at a modest pace every day, or by slamming through like a champ three days a week and slacking off for two. Some of us work best in manic/rest cycles and others work best in “steady plod” patterns. Both work fine.

(Suggesting someone slam through like a champ for five days a week is stupid. No one can maintain overdrive that long.)

28. Rey Fox says

Clearly, this is not a case of market failure

Clearly.

29. iknklast says

Another factor than absenteeism is that some jobs don’t necessarily require that you do your work on a particular day (most bank jobs do, of course). If the work doesn’t get done today, you can do it tomorrow, because you have an amount of work to do, not something that can only be done today. I’ve been in jobs like this, and found that most people (women and men) worked much harder when they got back to work, so they could get caught up, and got the same amount of work done by the end of the period (week, month, whatever). So this wouldn’t be an issue there, either. The company might not be losing much in those situations.

30. says

If you accept that argument, then you’re also accepting the reasoning that people with chronic illness or other disabilities are worth less than healthy people.

I do reject that reasoning, but at my last job, my absenteeism cost me in raises, disqualified me from receiving a bonus, and was a barrier to getting promoted. The fact that I was consistently a top performer at my job was not enough; I was worth less to them than a healthy person.

I don’t like it one bit, but employers will use absenteeism as justification to pay someone less or deny them a promotion, which of course is going to hurt people with chronic illness and disabilities more than someone who is able-bodied. Some employers may use it as grounds for job termination, too.

31. Ephiral says

“And don’t get me started on handicap access ramps and the need to maintain two kinds of restrooms…”

The post is making a solid point overall; I have no issue with its main thrust. This bit, however, is kinda jarring. There is no demonstrated “need” for washroom segregation, and the pretension that there is poses an active threat to trans people. PZ, you’re the one who taught me about the importance of equality for all – this sort of casual erasure is beneath you.

32. glodson says

@ 23: Naked Bunny with a Whip: Exactly. Numbers are objective. It isn’t like we are entirely reducing the matter to an absurd degree with this result.

@ 26:WharGarbl: Yes, but…. Science!

(I’m pretty certain that I laid the snark on thick, but just in case, I think the result is rather stupid, and as pointed out earlier, women and men do have personal days and vacation time for a reason. Which means these absences are accounted for anyways.)

33. OptimalCynic says

Well… in that case it should be a ~1% difference (2 days more out of 250 days of work). Currently its about 10%.

Isn’t that what the paper concludes (10% of that 10% is due to menstruation-based absences)?

The gender pay gap is pretty much gone before the average age of childbirth. The main cause of it is women losing earning power while they’re off having children, presumably because of an employer perception of stale skills, having to catch up on professional development, etc etc.

To be honest I think that we’re in the diminishing returns phase of educating employers now. The best way to eliminate the pay inequality once and for all would be to shift the culture so that men and women take on a more equal share of child-rearing. That would solve more than the pay gap, it’d take out a lot of other inequalities too imho.

34. OptimalCynic says

Before anyone leaps to an unwarranted conclusion…

The main cause of it is women losing earning power while they’re off having children

This is unquestionably a *bad* *thing* and needs to be solved somehow. My post was about my opinion on the best way to solve it.

35. frog

Why is no one measuring productivity as “widgets produced over time”? Many people spend a good deal of their work day not working. (e.g., reading and commenting at Pharyngula)

Because a whole lot of jobs, including the ones that this study covered (at a bank), don’t involve producing widgets? Just a guess there.
OptimalCynic

To be honest I think that we’re in the diminishing returns phase of educating employers now.

A large part of the problem on my view is that ‘educating’ employers is the correct solution to any kind of labor or wage problems. Compelling employers by force of law and threat of strike is more my speed.

36. Chie Satonaka says

Women are culturally expected to be the ones who stay home with the children when they are sick. Men are socialized to “man up,” not appear weak, etc. which often results in them brushing off illness and pretending they aren’t sick.

37. OptimalCynic says

A large part of the problem on my view is that ‘educating’ employers is the correct solution to any kind of labor or wage problems. Compelling employers by force of law and threat of strike is more my speed.

Sure, that’s a good idea too. The problem is that people find a way to work around it. If you compel without education, you end up with the female employment rate dropping because employers find excuses not to hire women.

I’m not saying that labour equality laws are a bad thing, but everything has trade-offs – all regulation has a cost. We need a combination of education, incentives, punishment and culture shift. Focusing on just one of those things is a recipe for failure.

38. carlie says

Another potential overlooked area – did they survey employers on their perception of missed days of the employees? Especially in larger companies, I wouldn’t expect a supervisor to have such attention to minutiae as to notice that one employee took two days more off in an entire year than another one, and to use that as a consideration when awarding raises/promotions.

39. Thumper; Atheist mate says

… nope.

Hmm…

*eyes wall*

*runs face first into it*

There we go.

40. Sure, that’s a good idea too. The problem is that people find a way to work around it. If you compel without education, you end up with the female employment rate dropping because employers find excuses not to hire women.

I admit, my ideal end state involves the elimination of ’employers’ per se entirely, in favour of worker cooperatives and similar.

41. OptimalCynic says

I admit, my ideal end state involves the elimination of ‘employers’ per se entirely, in favour of worker cooperatives and similar.

You’re still going to have employers. A worker’s cooperative is still an employer and it still has to make a profit. Of 0.01 cents per annum maybe, but if it makes a loss it’ll go out of business. The best end state, one that matches what you want, is to have everything automated. It’s been said that the ideal factory has two employees – a person and a dog. The person is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to bite the person if they touch anything, while the factory gets on with making stuff.

If you eliminate all human labour from the process, you reduce the cost of the things we need to the cost of the raw materials to make them, which is pretty much nothing in the grand scheme of things. Then we’ll have true communism and we can all sit back and enjoy life. Personally I doubt it’ll happen in my lifetime but it would be nice if it did.

42. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

OptimalCynic,

A worker’s cooperative is still an employer and it still has to make a profit.

But the workers are working for themselves. The cooperative’s profit is their profit.

43. gillt says

To investigate the effect of absenteeism on earnings, we use a simple signaling model in which employers cannot directly observe workers’ productivity, and therefore use observable characteristics – including absenteeism – to set wages.

What? The authors’ wording makes it sound like that because their model is blind to something means it doesn’t occur.

The abstract should say, ”

To investigate the effects of absenteeism on earnings, we paired employee/employer interactions in a real world business environment down to a few variables specifically chosen for our simple signaling model in which employers cannot directly observe works’ productivity, remember this is a highly derived simulation, and therefore use observable characteristics–including absenteeism–to set wages.

44. OptimalCynic says

But the workers are working for themselves. The cooperative’s profit is their profit.

That’s right, but who makes the decisions that affect that profit? What if they find they can make more profit by sacking 30% of the workers, and that’s increased even more by only being divided 70 ways instead of 100?

That doesn’t happen of course because people tend to value the continued employment of their friends and co-workers. But that doesn’t change the underlying point, that life is a set of trade-offs and every decision has a cost and a benefit.

I quite like worker’s cooperatives myself, I think it’s a good model for running a business. That doesn’t mean they’re exempt from the way the economy works.

45. A worker’s cooperative is still an employer and it still has to make a profit.

Untrue; profit is additional money brought in above and beyond overhead, which overhead includes compensation for labor performed (One reason why employers seek to reduce such compensation as much as they can get away with). This money is distributed amongst the owners of the company, said owners having often done no work of any kind whatsoever in exchange for receiving the lion’s share of the business income.

46. OptimalCynic says

we paired employee/employer interactions in a real world business environment down to a few variables specifically chosen

How would you suggest that we study a complex system in economics? In science, we create simplified models to study a complex organism, and we’re very careful to also study the ways in which reality departs from our model. I agree that the authors could have put more work into the second part, but how often in the scientific literature do you see both of those? In my scientific career I’ve found that you get papers on the first part, papers on the second part and you can’t get a view of a complex issue just from one paper.

I proudly include myself in the ranks of the atheist-plusers because I think it’s an excellent and worthy goal, to improve the human condition for all humans, not just a privileged few. I just wish that as a group we would apply more scientific rigour to the methods we advocate for to reach that goal.

47. OptimalCynic says

said owners having often done no work of any kind whatsoever in exchange for receiving the lion’s share of the business income.

Isn’t that the labour theory of value, which has repeatedly failed empirical testing? You need both labour and capital to get anything done. In the workers cooperative, you have the labour hiring the capital instead of the other way around, but somebody is still going to get compensated for providing that capital. Even if they donate it for free, it’s still incurring a cost – the use that capital could have been put to if it wasn’t being used by the cooperative. Perhaps another cooperative needs the same kind of machine for a different task.

48. says

Yeah, I guess I’m with those not understanding why it matters one whit how someone uses their sick days.

I could understand the argument, maybe, if they were able to show excessive absences, above and beyond provided sick days. Like, okay, if the majority of women took a week off every month, I could see how that would be an issue*. But an average of a couple days? Well within the allotted time given for sick days? And this is an issue at all because…?

I mean, even accepting that all their interpretation of the numbers is totally accurate, and women really are taking off for period-related reasons (and not sick kids or whatever), you could just as easily make the case that, say, women obviously have more integrity than their male colleagues, because they are using their sick days for actual health-related reasons and aren’t calling in sick to go catch a ball game, so we should be paying them more. It’s just so ridiculously arbitrary. Like The Bell Curve with racism, it’s trying to justify social inequality and negative stereotypes with with numbers, without examining the validity of those beliefs.

*Again, like PZ said, though, it’s wrong to assume people with chronic illness can’t be productive or important members of a workforce. I know someone with chronic migraines. She’s an engineer for airplanes. She usually has to take several days off, every month of so, because of the migraines. But she’s exceptional at her job, so they work around her physical problems, and her productivity on the days she’s at work more than make up for the days she has to take off. Plus, they would much rather she stay home, instead of trying to tough it out and do her job either on heavy-duty medication or in so much pain that she can’t open her eyes or stand up. I’m sure the people traveling in the airplanes are grateful that she stays home, too.

49. OptimalCynic says

he usually has to take several days off, every month of so, because of the migraines. But she’s exceptional at her job, so they work around her physical problems, and her productivity on the days she’s at work more than make up for the days she has to take off.

What about the people who are average at their job but have to take lots of time off? Not everybody with chronic illness is lucky enough to be exceptional at something.

Disclaimer: I’m one of those people. Good at software and electronics but not good enough to do a month’s work in three weeks. Central sleep apnoea and chronic depression got me fired because I had to take too many sick days and I couldn’t catch up.

50. Sean Boyd says

I was all set to argue how an 11.8% effect, even if real, is pretty weak, and that one might argue that this supports the (obvious) notion that women face wage discrimination in the workplace for no good reason at all (after all, where is the other 88.2% discrepancy coming from?)

Then I read this little excerpt from the paper:

These counterfactual calculations should be interpreted as lower bounds of the effect of menstrual episodes, since according to our model, the decline in worker quality associated with increases in absenteeism should be more pronounced for men than for women.

Our findings may have policy implications. Forcing employers, rather than women, to bear the monetary burden associated with menstruation may be counterproductive.

I guess one would interpret that last sentence as: But what about the biznessez?

So this highly simplistic model, which relies first upon finding periodic patterns in data, then second on triumphantly (and wrongly) concluding that correlation implies causation, is necessarily an underestimate? Because men have a bigger drop off in performance as a result of illness than women do? That doesn’t seem obvious to me, even if I accept the whole of the analysis as valid. I notice they qualify that such is a prediction of their model. Is there evidence to back that claim up? And again, even if this is actually the case, it only accounts for a small fraction of the pay discrepancy. Why the focus on minor causes?

And this:

The estimates presented so far are consistent with the hypothesis that the menstrual cycle increases the hazard of an absence from work for pre-menopausal females. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the reason for this increase in the hazard is the physical symptoms caused by menstruation. It is possible that taking a day off from work in association with one’s menstrual cycle is still a matter of choice, and that menstruation simply offers women a socially acceptable occasion to shirk.

Wow. I didn’t realize how unfortunate I was to not menstruate, as this would’ve given me an iron-clad excuse to play hooky. Because, you know, skipping work and frolicking about in the sun is such fun when doubled over with cramps.

It is easy to see that

βmale > βf emale (11)

The intuition behind the difference in slope coefficients, βmale > βf emale , is that absenteeism is a noisier signal of productivity for females than for males, and therefore observed absenteeism has a larger effect on employer’s priors for men. Thus an absence episode is associated with a smaller earnings loss for women than men.

So women should stop complaining that they’re being unfairly penalized for missing work for illness: the menz are being punished more harshly in this completely realistic not all all simplied for purposes of analysis model. So there.

The key implication is that as t goes to infinity, the slope βt becomes −1, irrespective of gender. The intuition is that when the information on Si available to the employer increases, the fact that observed absenteeism is a more noisy measure of shirking for females becomes increasingly less relevant. With perfect information (i.e. when t is equal to infinity), the signal becomes completely irrelevant, and any gender difference in the relationship between earnings and absenteeism disappears.

So all that’s required to close up this gap is perfect information? So the answer is simple: just provide one’s employer, at the commencement of employment, with a complete list of days one will miss work due to menstruation. Bam! problem solved!

One reasonable question is whether workers really have no control over health-related absenteeism. For example, one might think that for a given health shock, a worker can reduce her absenteeism by exerting effort and showing up for work even if she does not feel very well. Our framework can be generalized to include effort decisions and career concerns. Endogenizing effort as in Holmstrom (1999) allows workers to decide how much effort to exert knowing that this decision will affect their future wage via the employer signal extraction process.

All the worker has to do, in other words, is to decide to put her job ahead of her health. It’s her fault, therefore, if she decides to take care of herself, or as the authors would likely put it, shirk. And as we all know, a employee who is sick at work is a productive employee, right?

I only skimmed the paper, and I’m not an economist (or biologist, for that matter.) Even if the paper were 100% reliable in its analysis and conclusions, all it seems to do is justify bad corporate behaviour by asserting market efficiency.

51. uusuzanne says

That peak looks suspiciously narrow to me to be due to menstruation. Yes, the average cycle is around 28 days, but there is a LOT of variation. If menstruation were truly the cause, I would expect an enhancement with a width of at least 4-5 days; this one is no more than two (the points at 26 and 29 days show little to no effect). Color me suspicious.

52. Whats the distribution for duration of menstrual cycles?

The graph, and the authors’ interpretation, suggest it’s either 27 or 28 days. I’m surprised their peak is so sharp. Lucky, though, otherwise the effect would have been lost in the noise.

What is the actual mean, anyway? Seems to me like 28 days, as (almost) exactly 1 lunar cycle, is just an handy pneumonic.

53. OptimalCynic says

Seems to me like 28 days, as (almost) exactly 1 lunar cycle, is just an handy pneumonic.

Does that mean it’s inflated out of all proportion? Sorry, couldn’t resist :) You’re right though, you’d expect the peak to be broader.

54. uusuzanne, youyou beat me to it!

55. says

What about the people who are average at their job but have to take lots of time off?

I don’t know. I think we have to fundamentally change society. (I say this as someone who is on permanent disability, and also lost my job because of frequent health-related absences.)

My ideas?

1) We shouldn’t define a person’s worth by the way they make money. I’m not saying people should find worth and meaning in their career, some people will, but that shouldn’t be the main way a person’s value to society is determined.

2) We should have a real social safety net, disability services that actually provide the means to live (I make 400\$ a month; how the hell is a person supposed to exist on that?) and are accessible. And, related to 1, people who need to access those services shouldn’t be made to feel like moochers, losers, parasites, animals, whatever. (All things that I have either personally been called or heard from politicians talking about people on welfare.)

3) Hopefully as technology improves (or people just learn to use what we already have) we can continue to increase telecommuting and other ways of working beyond the traditional Mon-Fri, 9-5, go to work, etc.

I don’t know. Those are just my thoughts. I think it’s hard. I hate being 27 and on disability, it was humiliating to not be able to keep my job, but I also understood the perspective of my employer, who needed someone more dependable. Maybe people have other suggestions.

56. alyosha says

Great post AND comment thread. Economics and sociobiology at once.
My work is mostly menial so I can’t comment in the intellectual spirit of those well-conversed in interpreting data in the kind of research that requires an abstract for the layman like myself to grasp fully, not to mention PZ’s well-written rebuttal on why it is a dangerous oversimplification which other commenters have admirably added their voices to.
Management often seems preoccupied with details I find counterintuitive. I suspect this is a symptom of a business model profitable enough to exist to incorporate a bloated echelon of managers.
Going off topic I sometimes find myself thinking about the joules expended in my work and not money at all. I wonder how I pay to eat the food I can afford by working in a job that provides zero benefit to the world. Then I think about how much fuel and time and manpower goes into producing the goods my company eventually sells. I wonder how much tax my company pays after wages, insurance, maintenance etc. in order to subsidize the industries and economic policies that keep prices low here and internationally.
Then I wonder at people who work in manufacturing plants in Bangladesh and China, whose plights I can only guess at and whose overworked hands scarcely show on the products we receive.
I stop at the point of how the raw materials are produced because it leads me to consider how they are eventually and regularly disposed of.
I’m not a communist but if we imagine that the market is in a position to determine the true price of anything we’re truly deluded. Even before we conceive of it determining the value of a woman’s labour.
To me the whole thing is mechanically absurd.
A sapient shrew species trying to figure out the best way to delay the coming heat-death whilst making a buck or two.
Funny, if you step back.

57. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

uusuzanne, aggressivePerfector

Yeah, that too.

58. carlie says

I wondered about that spike too. 4 weeks is an oddly specific amount given the range of period lengths, and the fact that a large percentage of women don’t even have regular periods, much less ones of the 28 day duration.

Something just occurred to me: I wonder how the paychecks are distributed in that sample. Could it be that more women take a day (or a half-day) off once a month for bill paying and stock-up grocery shopping when they get their paychecks?

59. uusuzanne:

That peak looks suspiciously narrow to me to be due to menstruation. Yes, the average cycle is around 28 days, but there is a LOT of variation.

Yes, there is. Back in my menstrual days, my period lasted about three days, so I wouldn’t fit into a 28 day cycle.

60. mtears says

The average age of the onset of menopause for Western women is 51. So it makes no sense whatsoever to assume that decreased productivity under 45 is due to menstruation.

I’ll assume that no women were involved in producing this paper.

61. mtears:

The average age of the onset of menopause for Western women is 51.

Yes, however, within that average, there is wild variation, just as there is in the whole 28 day cycle business. I started menstruation at 9.5 years old, and started menopause at 36 years old. I’m not a lone outlier, either. I know plenty of women who have similar start/end dates. That’s the thing, women are not monolith and menstruation certainly isn’t monolith.

62. Optimalcynic

Isn’t that the labour theory of value, which has repeatedly failed empirical testing?

No, or at least not the form that you’re thinking of.

You need both labour and capital to get anything done. In the workers cooperative, you have the labour hiring the capital instead of the other way around, but somebody is still going to get compensated for providing that capital.

You appear to be conflating multiple types of capital, despite these being subject to different forces and dealt with in different ways. Labour, or rather the capacity to do certain kinds of labour, is in and of itself a form of capital. Typically this is referred to as human capital, and is increased through education, nutrition, health care etc. None of these things are really properly provided via one’s employment, rather, their provision is part of a society’s infrastructure. Physical capital is buildings, machinery, tools, etc. The purchase and maintenance of physical capital is a part of overhead, which is subtracted from income to derive profit. Financial capital, which is what people usually mean when they talk about capital, and tend to subsume physical capital into, is a horse of another colour entirely. In the present economic arrangements, the way in which financial capital is acquired typically involves kissing up to those who’ve already got a fat load of cash (through no personal virtue of their own, I might add), and giving over to them a share of control in your venture and a permanent cut of your income. This is not, however, a law of nature; Muhammed Yunus, for instance, proposes a ‘right to capital,’ whereby each individual is guaranteed a set amount of financial capital to put into a venture (larger ventures that require more work than one person can put in obviously require pooling finances as well as labour), said capital coming from a tax-supported government fund. The acquisition of physical capital would take place in the ordinary way that this is done: purchase it from whoever made it.

63. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

We find that higher absenteeism induced by the 28-day cycle explains 11.8 percent of the earnings gender differential.

They are also paid on average 20 percent less

….so, once women are making 97.64 cents on the dollar for doing the same jobs as men, we should go back to this paper and seriously consider its recommendations?

Until then…

Our findings may have policy implications. Forcing employers, rather than women, to bear the monetary burden associated with menstruation may be counterproductive. Whether society should address this biological difference with a gender-based wage subsidy depends on voters’ tastes for redistribution. Clearly, this is not a case of market failure, and the rationale for the subsidy would be redistribution rather than efficiency. A gender-specific public subsidy financed out of general taxation would shift part of the costs of menstrual- related absenteeism from women to men.

…this is flat fucking handwaving.

64. mtears says

@Caine, 62: We’re in agreement on this. I’m simply pointing out that that particular monolithic assumption on the part of the authors is flat wrong.

Believe me, I know menstruation isn’t monolithic: I “enjoy” a 21-day cycle.

65. saysomething says

A rare de-lurking for me, as this one hits close to home.

My cycle is 25 days on average. I get debilitating migraines with my period. It used to be every once in awhile, not every month, but as they tend to do, my migraines have gotten a lot worse over time. I sometimes get them mid-cycle occasionally, too, coinciding with ovulation. (I chart and so I’m fairly in tune with what’s happening to my body.)
I’ve tried prophylactic medications, but those make work almost impossible anyway – drugged work is bad work. And they only touch the pain component – not the word recall, not the vision issues, not the sound and light sensitivity, etc.
I’ve tried massage, with some success in shortening the duration and therefore missed work – there’s a muscular component with my migraines, causing neck and shoulder pain and tightness, which feeds back into the head pain in a vicious, ugly circle. But it doesn’t prevent them by any means.
I’ve tried the pill, as mentioned by several as a solution to the missed work issue, but even after being on it for nearly a decade the migraines were/are increasing in frequency. Plus, now I’m trying to get pregnant so that’s off the table.
But all of those things cost me money, and so does missed work. I’m sure my employers miss money, too, because if you don’t have someone answering phones, you miss a client, client doesn’t give you money, etc.

Anyway, point is, even in trying to be proactive and take the best care of myself to prevent migraine or decrease it’s duration or frequency, it’s still the main factor in all my missed work days. I usually struggle in mid-day, medicated, to at least be a body in a seat (part of my job is greetings and answering phones, requiring face time, the other part data entry). It’s hard to not seem like a druggy, which I basically am at the time. And then I have to work my ass off to catch up on the data entry/etc. parts of my job when I’m back to normal – that stuff is damned near impossible in a medicated and/or migraine state.
However, if I may toot my own horn, I’m really good at my job when I feel well – 6 years and all the raises to prove it. Really, with as much as I end up missing work, my employers might be better served finding someone without a chronic medical condition to serve the face time part of my job. Sometimes I feel grateful they understand. Then I feel angry that I must apologize for illness, show up ill, and then feel grateful for it.

But, point: (sorry, I’m actually ‘coming down’ off a migraine now.. spacey thinking…) I would not fall neatly on their ‘every 28 days’ mark – mine are 25 average. With each new month, I’d be farther and farther away from that peak, eventually cycling back to the average. And that 28 days average is fairly silly, anyway – there is a LOT of variability is women’s cycles! It’s why the rhythm method is so unreliable! So I’m not sure their peak is what they say it is, in the first place. Just seems suspect to me.

I’m not going to even touch how sick it makes me to think they reasoned in their paper that women are getting paid less because they menstruate, and deserve it. That deserves a fuck you, and then no more of my precious brain power.

/Please excuse the rambling.. trying to edit in my state just makes it worse ;> Hope I at least added to the conversation with my personal experience in missing work due to menstruation.

66. says

Regarding the 28-day spike: while typically there is a lot of variation among individual women, hormonal birth control often uses a 28-day cycle (3 weeks of hormones, one week of placebo pills; I believe non-daily BC, like the patch or NuvaRing, also follows a 3 weeks on, one week off cycle). Would the popularity of these methods account for the 28-day spike shown in the research? I know that when I was on the pill, I could predict exactly what day I would start menstruating (every fourth Tuesday); I was quite regular before I was on the pill, but not that regular.

67. maudell says

Also, men have been found to do a lot more ‘presenteeism’, showing up when they are sick, not really working and spreading diseases to other workers. In keeping the framework of the paper (profitability), this behaviour is very costly compared to a person just taking a day off. Still, I think suggesting to pay all men less than women because of this would be ridiculous. Why do so many people think it makes sense when it comes to women?

Of course, the fact that the data set is so disproportionally data on men also advantages men (at least they still have a fair amount of women). I think it’s odd that they didn’t consider the disparity in wages and promotions as a cause of women taking more sick days. If I feel undervalued, with no possibility of promotion, of course I will have a higher tendency to take anything of value that is available to me. This means a crampy day at work is not worth it. Also, if the lower positions are with the public, but the managers get to stay in their office, the former has a good reason to take a day off, while the manager can stay isolated. It’s a lot easier. There are so many reasons that could explain this data. But mostly, I think they reversed causality. Women are treated like shit, therefore they take more days off. Duh. (Of course, there is the expectation of women as caregivers, which is surely statistically significant as well, but I wonder if it is overly emphasized as a negative factor on employment. I think people don’t realize the amount of women who just gave up having fun to keep up with work and family expectations).

As for the peak on the graph after 28 days, it looks peaky, but really, what information does it tell us? Women are 20% likelier to have a yes (1) than men are. 20% seems high, but if you think about it, it’s not. A yes is already a rare occurrence. Let’s say the average sick days for employees in a 240 day year is 4. So at any given day, there is a 1.6% chance of a ‘yes’. If I’m thinking of this right, once every 28 days, women have a 20% of 1.6% added probability of a sick day. That would make it 3.2% likelihood of taking a sick day on that one day if you are a young undervalued woman with a shit job and little prospect of promotion. Wow. Surely, policy response should be to give them shittier positions so they can understand what a burden to the economy their menstruations are.

Oh, biology… I wonder which gender wastes more productivity on watching porn at work? Cut the salaries of everyone of that gender!

68. David Marjanović says

You should have been put on high alert by the phrase “simple signaling model”. They’re going to argue that wages and promotions are set rationally, by impartial observers looking at just a few simply quantifiable characteristics, like absenteeism.

And even so, their model with all their assumptions only explains 11.8 % of the wage gap. What are the other 88.2 % caused by? Sexism? You don’t say.

69. gillt says

OptimalCynic

I agree that the authors could have put more work into the second part, but how often in the scientific literature do you see both of those? In my scientific career I’ve found that you get papers on the first part, papers on the second part and you can’t get a view of a complex issue just from one paper.

In ecotoxicology you see both in the same paper all the time. It’s about levels of rigor.

70. OptimalCynic #48:

said owners having often done no work of any kind whatsoever in exchange for receiving the lion’s share of the business income.

Isn’t that the labour theory of value, which has repeatedly failed empirical testing?

NO. That is the principle that CEOs and other execs shouldn’t make exorbitant amounts while paying their workers pittances on the basis of a bullshit hierarchy where capital — money — is prioritized over everything.

Your abuse of ’empiricism’ in an attempt to erase this is a hallmark of capitalism defenders, insisting that we must, absolutely must have a capitalist society because of a bunch of pretty-looking numbers and condescending to anyone who tries to argue on the principles and real effects of capitalism.

No, I will not think of all the poor rich capitalists who won’t get paid exorbitantly for trips to the Bahamas to play golf with their rich buddies anymore under TEH EBIL SOCIALIZT DIKTATORSHIPZ.

71. alwayscurious says

Beings everyone else already tagged irregular cycle length, error bars & bill paying/family absence. My next thought is, “Why do the habits of Italian bankers get to justify pay-gaps for all professions in all alcoves of the economy?” They ain’t proved nothing yet.

72. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

Strange. Maybe I’ve spent too much time hanging about in Europe (being European!), but I read this:

Whether society should address this biological difference with a gender-based wage subsidy depends on voters’ tastes for redistribution.

… as this:

Society should address this biological difference with a gender-based wage subsidy. Whether soceity will depends on voters’ tastes for redistribution.

At which point the discussion (I originally typed ‘discussioni”, lol) might be slightly different.

73. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

Isn’t that the labour theory of value, which has repeatedly failed empirical testing?

NO. That is the principle that CEOs and other execs shouldn’t make exorbitant amounts while paying their workers pittances on the basis of a bullshit hierarchy where capital — money — is prioritized over everything.

LOL. As if that was what it was.

Marx has trapped himself. He has been primed to expect a deeper layer of real reality underneath mere appearances. And he has chosen the wrong model of the underlying real reality–the labor theory of value, which is simply not a very good model of the averages around which prices fluctuate. Socially-necessary labor power usually serves as an upper bound to value–if something sells for more, then a lot of people are going to start making more of them, and the prices at which it trades are going to fall. But lots of things sell for much less than the prices corresponding to their socially-necessary labor power lots of the time. And so Marx vanishes into the swamp which is the attempt to reconcile the labor theory of value with economic reality, and never comes out.

Take it to the Thunderdome? Or declare Pharyngula a no-longer-safe for you zone again? Who wins? You decide!

74. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

Sorry, that was a bit too confrontational. But you can’t misrepresent a fundamental (if wrong) theory of economics without expecting a bit of pushback.

*wanders off to the dome*

75. Jonathan Houser says

“I think that’s the fundamental problem of this paper and many others like it. It looks at human beings as numbers in a spreadsheet, and assesses them statistically by their contribution to corporate “success”, as measured entirely by short-term profit to the shareholders and management.”

That is economics…the grim science. I don’t think it is appropriate to complain that a paper on economics research is being too reductionist. It’s like complaining that neuroscientists don’t respect the “spark” of human consciousness by saying we are just a bunch of neurons. That isn’t their job. Economists as scientists aren’t worried about gender equality, or the morality of how women are treated in the work force. That isn’t a scientific topic, but a moral one. It isn’t their job to write papers to cater to morality. They ask economic questions like “will firms subsidize women’s menstruation by resource redistribution?” A valid question.

And you may have a very strong opinion on whether or not they should subsidize menstruation (yes, they should.) But don’t shoot the messenger for asking the question of how firms will deal with the issue.

76. says

That is economics…the grim science. I don’t think it is appropriate to complain that a paper on economics research is being too reductionist.

Uh, you can if they are reducing to levels that can’t actually be sustained by the data. I mean really, this is assuming rationality that isn’t actually defensible – a standard problem in economics.

I only consider it ‘grim’ in how many people will look at it as science XD

77. cm, no. I just had a post on Feminist Hivemind about the proper way to respond to radical leftists and you failed hard. In any discussion of oppression, the appropriate response to someone pointing out the inequality to be addressed is not ‘no, no, no, here’s a wall of sophisticated theory, shut up’. That’s exactly what PZ’s point was in the OP, with regards to sexism. Why does the same not apply to discussions involving classism?

78. cm
There’s a response waiting in the ‘Dome.

79. says

my comment on the LToV discussion that accidentally broke out: http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/08/08/thunderdome-29/comment-page-2/#comment-671129

anyway… that paper is weird. The only way periods could produce such a sharp, regular spike is if most women were on cyclical hormonal BC; because otherwise, periods are just entirely too regular for that kind of pattern.
and a model of employee compensation where “employers cannot directly observe workers’ productivity” or any other worker characteristics… yeah, that’s not just reductive, it’s absurd.

80. says

irregular, I meant.

And actually, that should be testable, no? whether in the aggregate, women’s periods actually are regular enough to create a 28-day cycle that’s this precise?

81. David Marjanović says

Surprises have happened in the ScienceBlogs version of this thread. The data have been reanalyzed in this paper:

Does Menstruation Explain Gender Gaps in Work Absenteeism? Mariesa A. Herrmann and Jonah E. Rockoff
J. Human Resources Spring 2012 vol. 47 no. 2 493-508
http://jhr.uwpress.org/content/47/2/493.short

which “finds cyclicality in MEN too and absence heaping at all multiples of 7 in other datasets as well. It isn’t menstruation, it’s some sort of heaping issue because weeks are 7 days long.”

82. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

David,
Thanks for the new info!

83. qynoi says

Seraphymcrash – #9 I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve worked a couple jobs (and could name others) that penalize for being sick. They worked on a point based system where if you accrued more than X points you were fired (12 and 10 is what it was). If you had an unplanned absent for any reason you would get a point, one for each day you took off, unless you had a doctor’s note – then you got 1 point no matter how many days you were off. Most people came into work sick with these policies and I kept getting sick because of it (I have anxiety/stress issues which may be why). It may have been *cough* reasonable, if they had decent healthcare so you could see a doctor or if these points didn’t also cover any other unexpected absence and being late (for any reason). It’s no wonder they had such high turnover.
#8 – Especially since women in the same household tend to menstruate on the same or similar cycles.

David Marjanović #83 – I’ve also heard of something called “male menstruation” a cyclic hormonal thing as well that affects emotional and physical well being. I don’t really know the details of it, I believe it was a report I heard on the radio so I’d need to look into it further.

saysomething #66 – Thank you for giving us an example of what a debilitating menstruation is like. The description really helps to relate what goes on and reminds why we need to think in terms of people not numbers. I have a friend who is has bad ones as well and mine, well they compound problems I have with a chronic condition I was diagnosed with last year. So, no need to apologize for spacey thinking, I can certainly relate.

84. po8crg says

Nearly every job I’ve had has made no distinction between sick days and vacation days. And, if I accrue too many PTO hours without using them, I lose them. In other words, my employers recognize that my taking time off is actually beneficial to my productivity.

Most EU countries (a) require employers to give a certain number of paid vacation days and (b) compensate employers for their employees’ paid sick days (comes out of the social insurance tax that employees and employers pay).

85. chrisauld says

Myers’s indignation at this paper is entirely based on misunderstandings of the paper and of economics more generally.

The paper contributes to a very large and mostly empirical body of literature on the gender wage gap. They consider the possibility that one of the many factors that gap is differences in absenteeism driven by menstruation. The model they use to clarify the mechanism they wish to isolate predicts that profit-maximizing firms will (note “will” and not “should”—this is an argument about what we should expect to observe, not what is right, moral, or fair) pay lower wages to workers with higher absenteeism, all else equal, and more subtly that, due to lack of information, the relationship between absenteeism and wages should be steeper for men than women, and that in the long run that difference in gradient should itself disappear. Econometric modeling based on a fairly large dataset indicates that only a small proportion of the wage gap, about 12%, can be attributed to this mechanism, and that the data are consistent with the other predictions of the model.

Subsequent research, as cited in another comment above, has called some of the results into question, specifically the results that Myer’s thinks are obvious, and not the parts he thinks are ridiculous. The objections he makes are entirely based on misunderstandings of economic jargon and the methods in the paper. Every claim in the paragraph beginning “that’s beancounting thinking” and the remainder of the post is mistaken, even including the claim the paper was “published” by the NBER.

“Efficiency” does not mean “increase in profits.” Economists absolutely do not think that anything that increases corporate profits is therefore good. “Efficient” in this context means that we as a society have arranged things in such a way that we’re figuratively not leaving money on the sidewalk. For example, one of the first things students in Economics 101 learn is that monopolies increase corporate profits, but are inefficient. Monopolies leave money on the sidewalk in the sense that both the firm and consumers would have a surplus to share if the monopoly lowered its price, but that surplus is lost when the monopoly prices to maximize only its own profits. The standard policy prescription is to break up the monopoly, which would decrease profits but increase efficiency.

When Ichino and Moretti say that the policy of providing a wage subsidy to close the portion the wage gap they attribute to menstruation-induced absences is a distributional issue and not an efficiency issue, what they are saying is that, to the extent that women earn less than men through the mechanism they discuss, closing the wage gap with a subsidy is not picking money up off the ground. Unlike in the case of a policy which induces a monopolist to lower its price, there’s no surplus to be picked up. Such a subsidy instead transfers money from one group of people to another group of people, a distributional issue. That doesn’t necessarily mean such a policy would be a bad policy—economists support lots of policies on distributional rather efficiency grounds.

Claiming that economists only care about corporate profits and have no other values is demonstrably incorrect and very offensive. People who know little about evolutionary biology but nonetheless take very strong, often moralistic, anti-evolution positions are, for good reason, not held in high esteem in these parts. Often the arguments of anti-evolutionists are based on attacking simplifications in formal models and on misunderstandings of jargon and concepts in research. Sometimes they even go beyond the scientific issues and attack the researchers’ intentions and morals. The parallels here are uncomfortable.

Chris Auld
Department of Economics
University of Victoria

86. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

Ooh, I missed a response!

cm, no. I just had a post on Feminist Hivemind about the proper way to respond to radical leftists and you failed hard.

Congratulations on having a post accepted on Feminist Hivemind.

I’m delighted that you have been able to articulate the proper response to radical leftists (essentially, “shut up and do what I say”), and am appropriately chagrined that I failed this test. This sense of political nuance will surely serve you well in your future activist career. Perhaps.

In related news, I now consider it a waste of my time having tried to explain to you how the world works.

I’m done here. Thunderdome or nowhere.