Mitchell’s Musings 11-20-2017: Earthquake of Harassment

18 Nov 2017 11:10 AM | Daniel Mitchell (Administrator)

NOTE TO READERS OF THIS BLOG: I have become aware of a quirk in the EPRN system that can cause incorrect graphics to appear in past musings. Essentially, if an image file was used with a filename such as "Figure 1," and then a later post uses a different image file with the same name, the most recent version ends up in both musings. I will try to correct past errors that may have accumulated in past musings, if time permits. However, all past musings are also posted at:

https://issuu.com/danieljbmitchell/stacks/fa21c67c714745f79a0ab2fc5c6d6ff7.

You should be able to find a correct version at that link.

===

Mitchell’s Musings 11-20-2017: Earthquake of Harassment


Daniel J.B. Mitchell


It’s not clear exactly when to date the start of the current rush of allegations of sexual harassment and assault. If you went by the general news media, you might well focus on Hollywood celebrities and the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the beginning. But in fact, the issue has simmered within academia for several years. A typical academic case would be a senior (male) professor harassing a (generally female) graduate student. The academic cases – or at least the substantial attention paid to them within academia – might be dated as starting with the Title 9 “Dear Colleague” letter of 2011 from the U.S. Department of Education. That letter was recently withdrawn by the Trump administration, but the cases it started continue.


We might therefore draw a line from academia to Hollywood and now to politics, as various prominent individuals in all three fields have been accused of misconduct, in some cases misconduct going back as far as the 1980s. The point is that there is now an ongoing phenomenon occurring that wasn’t there in the not-so-distant past. And it raises an interesting series of questions. How do you separate a talent from the person who possesses that talent? Someone could be a very good academic, or actor, or elected official, but also act badly in other facets of life. In addition, there is the issue of the evaluation of the veracity of allegations, particularly when the accused individual denies them. At present, there is much discussion of these various issues, triggered by the many accusations.


As interesting as those questions are, I want to pose another one. Why now? That is, given that the allegations go back as far as the 1980s, why are they coming out now? Why not ten years ago? Or, for that matter, why not ten years in the future? The issue of timing seems – at least to a Californian – as something reminiscent of an earthquake. Pressure builds up over time. There may be some minor shocks along the way. But then there is a large quake followed by aftershocks. Once a fault is identified by geologists as being under pressure and active, it can be predicted that at some time in the future there will be a quake. But no one has yet been able to predict the precise timing.


It may be that something like the earthquake process was involved in the current rush of complaints of sexual misconduct. Pressure built up over time. At some point, it was going to be released, although no one could forecast the timing precisely. But that explanation raises another question. Why was the pressure building up? It may be a bias of mine, but in considering that issue, I look for labor market trends as a source and explanation.


An obvious point is that the allegations tend to have workplace connections. We have people who are employees or applicants to be employees as the complainants. Even in the academic complaints, the graduate students often were teaching assistants or research assistants or, at least, were pursuing their education in order to enter an occupation. Typically, graduate students look to their professors to help them obtain future employment. A second obvious point is that most of the complainants – not all – are women.

===

Figure 1: Both Sexes 25-54 Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate


===

It is well known that the labor force participation rate generally rose in the post-World War II period and that the rising trend leveled off in the 1990s. Figure 1 above shows the trend, focused on ages 25-54 to remove effects of changes in educational attainment and retirement. The participation rate began to decline in the 2000s, and only recently – as the slow recovery from the Great Recession finally approached full employment – showed some increase. But the rate still remains below its peak.


The male rate has generally declined since the 1950s. [Figure 2 below] So all the action – indeed, one could say more than all the action – involves the female participation rate. [Figure 3] The participation rate for women is not the only index of progress that one might use. But it certainly is one measure. So the rate’s stagnation of the 1990s - and then decline in the rate that began in the 2000s - suggests a stalling and then partial unraveling of progress. Note that the Trump phenomenon has been popularly attributed to declining opportunities in the labor market for men. So why shouldn’t we expect some kind of reaction from women when their expectations are not met?

===

Figure 2: Males 25-54 Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate


===

Figure 3 Females 25-54 Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate


===
As Figure 4 below shows, the net effect of the movements in male and female participation over the long term was a rise in women as a proportion of the labor force until the late 1990s. The fact that more women were in the workforce and were seeking to enter occupations that had traditionally been male-dominated is surely part of the story of pressure building. With more women in employment-related situations, there were more targets for misconduct. As long as women were making gains within the workforce, however, there was some release of the pressure. There are problems now, it could be rationalized, but change for the better and new opportunities lie ahead. When the gains stopped, that release of pressure also stopped. Then, as with earthquakes, you could say that something would eventually happen, but not precisely when.


The Title 9/Dear Colleague letter in academia produced a kind of foreshock. It also brought attention to the subject of sexual misconduct, at least in certain circles, as various op eds discussed whether universities were handling matters appropriately, whether there was sufficient due process in systems set up by universities, etc. The big quake first hit Hollywood and now has created aftershocks in the political realm.

===

Figure 4


===

What about pay for women relative to men? Figure 5 shows the ratio of female-to-male median usual weekly earnings. Much of the movement in the ratio is due to changes in occupational mix, i.e., as women’s occupational distribution becomes more similar to the male distribution, the ratio tends to rise. The period of big gain comes in the 1980s when the ratio rose from the low sixties to the upper seventies. The 1990s saw little change. There were modest gains in the early 2000s, when the ratio rose from the upper seventies to the low eighties. But in the period of the Great Recession and its aftermath, there has been little change. Basically, the ratio bounces around in a narrow range of 80-83%. The pay story – like the participation story – is one of notable gains early on, but a flattening out more recently (around the time of the sexual misconduct earthquake).

===

Figure 5


===

It’s true that many complainants who have received media attention are themselves prominent persons, not typical female employees. But the fact that the larger world has responded to their complaints suggests that the stories have a resonance which now makes it difficult to cover up past and current misconduct and thus requires action. Both Hollywood and electoral politics ultimately depend on broad public opinion. Both sectors are in the business of selling their “product” to the general public. The phrase “glass ceiling” in the past has been mainly applied to unseen barriers to women obtaining top management positions. Compared to the overall workforce, the number of potential candidates for top management posts is small. But it seems that a more widespread glass ceiling – the slowdown of women’s progress in the labor force – is having a wider effect. At least that’s my hypothesis. Have you got a better one?

Employment Policy Research Network (A member-driven project of the Labor and Employment Relations Association)

121 Labor and Employment Relations Bldg.

 

121 LER Building

504 East Armory Ave.

Champaign, IL 61820

 

The EPRN began with generous grants from the Rockefeller, Russell Sage, and Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundations

 

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software