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09/25/2005

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Cogliostro Demon

How can we predict which women will have children?

Two women got to a top-ranked law school, say UGa. or FSU. One marries and has children, the other's womb is barren. The first woman drops out and raises her family, the other, rises to be Chief Judge of the 11th Circuit. How can we tell which is which at 21?

Ash

Posner argues that when female graduates of elite institutions drop out of the workforce to stay at home, there is an overall drop in labour productivity. However, it is precisely because the female spouse is dedicating herself to the household that her husband can be fully professionally productive (and, therefore, presumably be worthy of his elite education). If there was a complete and equal division of labour, both partners would only be partially professionally productive, and this would not mean any difference in overall economic/labour production. Of course, if we all did not have families or personal lives, then we would all be professionally productive and overall economic production would increase. In this regard, university admissions committees should also be weeding out those men and women who dare to have a social life, care about public issues etc which all take away from their time in their cubicles.

Posner misses the central point of the article, which pertains to the social and feminist implications of the women most equipped to break the glass ceiling being more interested in cleaning it. There is nothing necessarily wrong with staying at home and taking care of one's family - - the women who choose this path are not empty Stepford wives. However, that this is such a consistent trend speaks to prevailing social discourses that advance a certain vision of an ideal life for women, and implicitly and explicitly pressures women to pursue this. And even when it is a rational ie. economic decision as to which spouse stays at home (that is, when the wife's income is lower than her husband's, even with equal qualifications), this still points to broad-based sexism and sexual discrimmination. There are plenty of women who genuinely choose to drop out of the workforce and find fulfillment elsewhere; however, given prevailing social norms and pressures, and the continued discrimmination in terms of labour compensation, it is unfair and inaccurate to penalise women for their 'choice' to leave the workforce.

Posner has an extremely limited conception of what is socially and economically worthwhile and an even more questionable measure of productivity. This is an inherent flaw with economic analysis that seeks to address social and political questions when it articulates no normative foundations itself. In Posner's world, women yet again have to defend their choices: women must justify why they choose to pursue a career and not dedicate their resources to the family, and now, they must justify why they should be educated if they do not plan on being productive corporate drones - - even though it is precisely their choice not to that enables such corporate drones to exist.

Harry Nelson

Both Posner in his editorial, and Ms. Wexler, sourced in the article itself, are stuck in the 70's. That is, they believe that the only real measure of worth of a person is that income that they produce. And that such an elite education gone underutilized, either in its intrinsic value of income production (Posner's point), or its social change value(Wexler's point), is tragic. Ms., excuse me, Dr. Wexler, goes so far as to lament this is something that she thought "would be solved by now." A generation has passed these two by. The 70's did produce a generation of women who flooded America's Colleges and Universities under the lie that "you can have it all." That, as a woman, you are entitled to a full professional career with all of the opportunity and compensation that accompanies, with no drag placed on it by family issues. AND, you are entitled to be the best Mother, with no prejudice on the fact that someone else actually raises their child 12 of the 15 hours that they are awake every day.

As Posner points out, the fact is that many of these women did eventually realize this under the stark reality of, well, reality. That you get what you pay for. That you get out of things what you put into them.

We all should have hope that women in today's elite universities see education, not as a job or husband producing "investment," rather an exercise that grows the mind and heart. And one that will pay dividends either in a career, or equally(or more), at home.

They realize that motherhood is more than daycare. That it is taking a primary role in building the next generation. A much more noble and difficult cause than taking $1, and turning it into $1.40(pre-tax)...

Renuka Sane

How does one reconcile this article to declining fertility rates everywhere in the West? Raising the bar for women's entry to professional schools will actually make the fertility decision that much more difficult. Is it not more likely that women will postpone/give up on babies if the cost of their education has been greater?

Linda Hirshman

"But I do not want my tax dollars going to pay for Hurricane Katrina, because some millionaire gave money to the U of C Law School to turn out these princesses and is deducting it."

Can anyone tell me what this sentence means?

Posted by R at September 27, 2005 01:05 PM
Dear R
I just glanced back here to see if there was anything I could use for an article I'm writing on this subject and found your post. Although I generally don't respond to commens like Can anyone tell me what this sentence means, because it's an implicit comment that the stance is so stupid no one could understand it.
But assuming it was just a passing fit of lack of understanding of basic principles, I will say that there's a public burden of all costs of government including Hurricane Katrina. If someone gives the U of C a million dollars, he usually deducts it as a charitable donation and pays less taxes. If the cost of government does not go down, the rest of us pay more taxes. If the U of C uses the money to pay for the non tuition part of legal education for students who then go into babysitting, I am indirectly paying for that with my tax money.
Get it now?

Glenda

Your definition of "productivity" is the foundation upon which you premise your conclusions (generalizations is probably a better word.) Since your definition is so narrow, your conclusions are too.

If education at these prestigious colleges has sunk to the point where it is only about who makes more money with their degree and how much money they can give to their alma mater until they die, then I recommend the leaders of these colleges go back and try to get in touch again with the reasons they initially chose the field of education for their profession. Believe me, it is a much broader and more honorable calling than what you have painted in this article.

PGM

"Although women continue to complain about discrimination, sometimes quite justly, the gender-neutral policies that govern admission to the elite professional schools illustrate discrimination in favor of women. Were admission to such schools based on a prediction of the social value of the education offered, fewer women would be admitted."


I find it ironic that in the conclusion, the author uses the phrase "social value" when he is really referring to the pure market-driven economic value of making lots of money as opposed to any other type of "socially" valuable, productive and enriching activity. I know many professional women who don't drop out of the work force when they are raising families, but rather take jobs with high social value, but less pay, simply because those jobs are both professionally and socially rewarding and allow adequate and meaningful time with family. In addition, these women are among the most organized, effective and creative people I know because circumstances require them to juggle so many responsibilities and still succeed in work and at home. They have to -- there simply is no other choice. How can that be a waste of an education - elite or otherwise? Furthermore, the conclusion of the author is a sad reflection on our society that we value making money (by men in particular) over taking even a reasonable amount of responsibility for raising a family -- our next generation of money earners and social contributors.

Jan Russell

The obvious extension of your argument, Judge Posner and Mr. Becker, is that giving medical treatment to gentlemen of your age has a diminishing marginal utility, and we should deny medical assistance to men over the age, let's say, of fifty. For that matter, food and shelter have a diminishing marginal utility for men your age.
The point of this comment is to illustrate that economic analysis is not appropriate for every question.

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