Bryan Caplan  

"The Hidden Gender Restriction"; or, the Economics of Waiting to Exhale

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Herrnstein and Murray's (HM) The Bell Curve famously reported that, controlling for cognitive ability, most or all of the black-white earnings gap disappears. An interesting chapter in Intelligence, Genes, and Success: Scientists Respond to The Bell Curve challenges this result - but not in the way you'd expect. The chapter is "The Hidden Gender Restriction: The Need for Proper Controls When Testing for Racial Discrimination" by Cavallo, El-Abbadi, and Heeb (CEH).

The paper begins by replicating HM's original result. So far, so good. But, CEH explain, HM's analysis smuggles in the statistical assumption that the effect of being black is the same for men and women. And it's not. Controlling for all other variables, black men still earn substantially less than you'd expect.

Oh, and black women earn substantially MORE than you'd expect.

This is a very interesting finding - and one that I noticed myself a few years before I read this chapter. But it's arguably even more contrarian than HM's finding. If subpar earnings are evidence of discrimination against black males, are superpar earnings evidence of discrimination in favor of black females?

When you put it that way, you start to wonder if it makes sense to automatically label statistically unexplained earnings gaps between groups as "discrimination." And the answer, of course, is No. Jews (Jewish men, to be precise) earn vastly more than you would expect given their education, IQ, and so on, and it hard to believe the reason is philo-Semitism.

So why do black women earn more than you'd expect, while black men earn less? One story I've heard is that black females are a "two-fer" for affirmative action purposes. But the effect is way too large for this to be plausible.

A better explanation, I think, comes from novels (and movies) like Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale. McMillian depicts a world of successful, independent black career women, and the black men who disappoint them. In her novels, women and men partake in radically different subcultures: On average, the women are achievement- and future-oriented; on average, the men are not. These cultural differences in turn lead to differences in earnings.

The McMillan story is extremely consistent with my first-hand observation. But I freely admit that I've only got a few data points. Anyone care to supplement first-hand observation, one way or the other?


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Brandon Berg writes:

I noticed the same thing, too, though IIRC the difference in the NLSY (controlling only for AFQT score) was something on the order of 5-10% (for black men).

Did they control for marital status and/or spousal earnings? I assume that the main reason is that black women are much less likely to have husbands who can partially or fully support them, and tend to gravitate towards high-paying jobs, whereas white women, liberated from the need to support themselves and their children singlehandedly, tend to gravitate towards "rewarding" but low-paying jobs.

Robert Speirs writes:

Seems like the women have much more motivation to earn money, since they usually are stuck with the children. A man who has abandoned his children - and these days that's most black fathers - has little motivation or self-respect to accomplish anything.

Tim Lundeen writes:

Fascinating, first time I've seen this info.

Perhaps there has been some evolutionary fitness function that caused women in Africa to become more suitable for our current environment? Maybe because they did the farming, and that meant that women with better traits for farming had kids at a higher rate, and these traits are helpful in today's economy?

Stuart Buck writes:

See page 56 of this article, and the entirety of this article for potential explanations for the gender gap here.

jaim klein writes:

There are some potential factors: (1) addictions - alcohol, drugs, etc. (women of all races tend to hate them), (2) Crime proclivity, (3) religion (4) intimidation (women are less intimidating), (5) attitude (women tend to help and are generous).

Les writes:

I'm a professor in an internet part-time MBA program with about 1,600 students. There are very many black female students. But there are hardly any black male students.

Katherine writes:

I think you can find statistics pertaining to similar findings in Francine Blau's text (co-authored by Marianne Ferber and Anne Winkler) The Economics of Women, Men, and Work, Prentice-Hall. Evidence in this book supports the view that black women presently achieve, and historically have achieved, more highly than black men. I may not remember correctly, but I believe this phenomenon was observed even in the late 1800s. Although I really didn't care for this textbook, you can cull some interesting information from it.

Djay writes:

Does this also explain why white men earn more than all other groups combined? What explains the disparity between whites and nonwhites more generally? Try using an inferencece to the BEST EXPLANATION rather than the racist Bell Curve and your own psychological conditioning. Good day.

spencer writes:

Interestingly if you actually read the latest Neumark & Wascher paper on the minimum wage -- rather then just the very misleading abstract -- you see that their latest research shows that the only group to suffer a rise in unemployment from a rise in the minimum wage are black teenager males. The latest Neuwmark & Washer results are very much in line with the results shown in this research as they found no negative impact on any other demographic subcategory, including black teenage females.

Steve Sailer writes:

A urologist in Jamaica recently wrote an article about higher levels of testosterone and testosterone receptors in blacks (which contribute to higher prostate cancer rates among black men). This can help explain this gender gap. Higher testosterone levels help black women on average have the kind of "large and in charge" personalities (e.g., Oprah) that mark them out as natural leaders of other women in pink collar jobs.

For black men, however, having higher average testosterone levels than othe race's men makes them more susceptible to being violent: e.g., blacks are imprisoned 7 times more than whites and 33 times more than Asian-Americans. Since about 30% of black males will be imprisoned during their lifetimes, this goes along with being underperformers on the job.

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