Are Gender Norms More Important than Policy?

A new study circulated by National Bureau of Economic Research suggests government-supported paid leave and other policies may not improve working women’s labor market outcomes relative to men, afterall. This is an important finding because advocates frequently suggest that government-supported paid leave would help close the gender gap in labor market outcomes.

The authors estimate the cost of childbearing on men’s and women’s earnings (known as “child penalties”) in the U.S. and five other countries including Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom. The study builds on previous research that finds men and women’s labor market outcomes in egalitarian Denmark are roughly equal in terms of earnings, hours worked, and employment until men and women become parents. At that point mother’s earnings, hours worked, and employment diverge and do not recover, in spite of expansive government-funded social welfare programs including 50 weeks of paid leave and public child care.

The latest study finds the trajectory of women in the U.S. and other countries follow the same pattern. Notably, U.S. women fare better than women in three of the five other countries the study measures including the United Kingdom, Germany, and Austria.

In fact, the U.S. has a significantly smaller child penalty (31 versus 44 percent) for women than the United Kingdom, a country with generous social welfare programs including 39 weeks of government sponsored paid maternity leave. The U.S. also has a smaller child earnings penalty than Germany or Austria, countries where the state provides over a year of paid leave for mothers.

child penalties in english speaking countries

What explains the difference in child penalties, if not policies or programs? The study’s authors suggest gender norms and family culture likely play a key role in women’s labor market outcomes and cite previous work that finds women incur larger child penalties following childbearing if they grow up in households with a traditional division of labor. As the authors put it “The countries that feature larger child penalties are also characterized by much more gender conservative views.”

gender norms and child penalties by country

What does this mean for policy? Advocates have been quick to posit that a more expansive social welfare state would reduce gender disparities in the labor market, but recent research suggests that paid leave and related policies are unlikely to close the gap. 

El Paso Homicides Spiked After Border Fence Was Completed; The Fence Didn’t Cause It

At a recent rally in El Paso, Texas, President Trump again claimed that that city had a high crime rate before a fence was built between it and Mexico in 2008 and 2009.  Many people have pointed out that El Paso has long been a more peaceful city than others, before and after the border fence was built.  This post adds just a few more visuals to hammer home the point made by others and an odd anomaly in homicides.

I constructed the figures using local police department crime data from the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) database, focusing on departments that policed populations of between 500,000 to 1 million.  That population size was appropriate as El Paso’s population was 683,577 in 2017.  The local police departments variable identifies city police departments in the UCR, but it also includes several large urbanized counties in Maryland, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and elsewhere.  In total, 41 different cities and counties met the criteria, including El Paso.  I further relied on the FBI population estimates to calculate the crime rates.  Lastly, I set the base year of 2000 at 100, and compared the crime rates in El Paso over time with the average crime rates across the other 40 other jurisdictions.

These charts convinced me that I did not need to run any regressions nor was the story significantly than that which was already reported, with one exception.  First, the consistent findings.  Figure 1 shows the overall crime rate in El Paso versus the other 40 jurisdictions.  The gray shaded area is when the El Paso border fence was under construction.  Looks like crime continued to decline in El Paso and in the other cities after the wall was built at about the same rate as it declined prior the government’s construction of a border fence there. 


Figure 1: All Crime


Figure 2 shows the violent crime rates in El Paso relative to the other jurisdictions, with more of a pre-fence dip in violent crime in El Paso relative to other cities, followed with a bit of a rise before construction began.  The construction of the border fence there looks uneventful.  Figure 3 shows property crime rates and it looks even less impressive than the first two figures.


Figure 2: Violent Crime


Figure 3: Property Crime


Figure 4 shows the homicide rate in El Paso versus the 40 comparison cities – and it spiked more than a year after the government constructed the fence between El Paso and Mexico.  The homicide rate in El Paso was 2.8 per 100,000 in 2008 when fence construction began, fell to 1.9 in 2009 when fence construction, fell again to 0.8 in 2010, spiked to 2.4 in 2011, and climbed again to 3.4 in 2012 before coming back down.  The big decline happened right after the fence was built, but the huge spike also occurred when the fence was fully constructed.  Without a lot more econometrics, I’m unable to even provide hypotheses to explain the crash and spike in homicides in El Paso.  Illegal immigration is probably not a factor as the number of apprehensions in El Paso crashed, partly because of the border fence and partly because of the end of mass illegal Mexican immigration.  Homicide rates in San Diego and Tucson, two other border cities, do not show a similar pattern. 


Figure 4: Homicide


Regardless of the potential explanations for the spike in homicides shortly after the government completed the border fence in El Paso, President Trump’s story is even less true than has been reported by others – at least according to the empirical standards of this public debate.  Please don’t take this post or what I wrote here as arguing that the border fence in El Paso caused the spike in homicides, as I see no evidence to support that claim and I have not carried out nearly enough statistical work on this issue to confidently state that.  

An Exchange on Consent Decrees

Readers interested in federalism and legal policy may want to check out my recent exchange on federal consent decrees with Cato alumnus Radley Balko, famed for his writing on police misconduct. It started when I wrote a partial defense at National Review of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s signing of guidelines somewhat narrowing the Department of Justice’s discretion in arriving at future consent decrees with cities and states that it sues. My piece emphasized that discontent over consent decrees has been building for decades in policy areas like education, mental health, and welfare, even though policing may have been the subject of the most recent headlines. Balko wrote a detailed response at the Washington Post (“The Trump administration gave up on federal oversight of police agencies — just as it was starting to work”) and I followed up a week later with a rejoinder agreeing with many of his points but taking issue with a couple of others.  

Here is one bit of common ground I cited: “Neither I nor, so far as I can see, the Sessions memo argued that decrees are necessarily illegitimate as a legal or constitutional matter. To the contrary, we all assume that such decrees will often have a sound legal basis and will continue to be negotiated in the future.” As my colleague Roger Pilon has pointed out, the post-Civil War Fourteenth Amendment confers on the federal government “the power to negate state actions that deny their citizens the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States.” It’s more than plausible that the practices of police departments like those in Chicago and Baltimore deny some citizens those rights. 

But moving from the case for consent decrees in principle to the way they should operate in practice quickly gets more complicated. I wrote about the Baltimore decree at the time as follows (more): 

The decree (documentsummary of high points) mingles some terms that rise to genuine constitutional significance with others that no court would have ordered, and yet others that appear not to be requirements of the law at all, but at most best practices. Many are virtually or entirely unenforceable (“professional and courteous” interaction with citizens). Whether or not the decree results in the less frequent violation of citizens’ rights, it is certain to result in large amounts of new spending and in the extension of the powers of lawyers working for various parties.

Meanwhile, the more systematic problems with consent decrees, and especially with their cumulative accretion over time, have been widely documented, as in the case of children’s services

13 years after Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod’s groundbreaking book Democracy by Decree, small groups of litigators, experts, special masters and other insiders continue to run many government agencies … “the Illinois child-welfare system is burdened by 10 different consent decrees, including one that has lasted nearly 40 years.” … By design, it is made hard to get out from under a decree, which can leave the small controlling group in control indefinitely: Connecticut’s 25-year-old child-welfare consent decree “contains 22 outcome measures that all must be met and sustained for six months before exit,” which has never happened.

The issues of federalism, practicality, and unintended consequences will not always be easy to sort out, but I hope our exchange makes at least a start. 

Lawsuit: Car Passenger Tased 11 Times, Criminally Charged after Asking Officer “Why?”

Although police violence doesn’t grab headlines as often as it did a few years ago, the problems of unnecessary and excessive force continue throughout the country. One case out of Glendale, Arizona is making its rounds on the Internet after the body camera video from the officers was released to the public.

If you click through to the very disturbing video, you can see what is detailed in the federal lawsuit against the officers and the Glendale Police Department (GPD): In July 2017, Johnny Wheatcroft, a passenger in a stopped vehicle, asks why the police officer demanded to see his identification. The officer, Matt Schneider, falsely told Wheatcroft that vehicle passengers needed to carry identification. Schneider then needlessly escalates the situation, forcibly removing Wheatcroft from the car while still entangled in his seatbelt. Wheatcroft was physically abused and shocked with a Taser 11 times, several jolts of which were inflicted after he was prone and in handcuffs, including once in the groin area (the lawsuit asserts he was shocked directly on his genitals, though GPD released a statement denying this and said the Taser was applied to Wheatcroft’s thigh). This spectacle all takes place in front of Wheatcroft’s wife and rightfully horrified children who were in the backseat of the car.

Wheatcroft was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault. He spent months in pretrial detention before charges were dismissed after review of the footage.

Taxes on Tippy Tippy Top

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren told CNBC the other day: “I want these billionaires to stop being freeloaders … I want them to pick up their fair share.”

Are billionaires freeloaders? To get an idea, we can look at IRS data on the Top 400 taxpayers in the nation with the highest incomes.

The Top 400 paid $29.4 billion in federal income taxes in 2014, an average of $74 million each. These “freeloaders” together paid enough to more than fund the budgets of NASA and the EPA that year ($26 billion).

The Top 400 paid 2.13 percent of all federal income taxes in 2014. That share has trended upwards over time, as shown in the chart. Indeed, the Top 400 share of taxes has doubled from 1.04 percent in 1992, which is the first year of IRS data.

This top group is just 0.0003 percent of all taxpayers yet paid 2.13 percent of all income taxes. Rather than freeloading, it seems that this “tippy tippy top” group, as Warren calls it, is paying more than its fair share.

Bob Murphy on Free Banking in Canada

A few months after my April 2018 Soho debate with him concerning whether fractional reserve banking is damaging to an economy’s health, Bob Murphy gave a lecture on “Rothbardians vs. ‘Free Bankers’ on Fractional Reserve Banking.”

Bob devotes a substantial chunk of that lecture to elaborating upon what he considers shortcomings of my particular arguments in favor of free banking. Though he is generous enough to allow that my theoretical arguments are not quite a cinch to refute, he thinks rather less of the empirical evidence I offer in support of those arguments. In particular, he calls the evidence supporting my claim that the Scottish and the Canadian free banking systems were quite stable “very weak.”

So far as the Scottish episode is concerned, Bob’s claim rests mainly on the fact that, between 1797 and 1821, Scottish banks followed the Bank of England’s example, though without the statutory permission Parliament had granted it, of temporarily “restricting” specie payments. So far as he’s concerned, their having done so is ipso-facto proof of their having run roughshod over their creditors’ rights and reduced their welfare. In truth the story of the Scottish bank restriction, and the correct lessons to be drawn from it, are far less straightforward than Bob supposes. Having already devoted three longish posts to explaining what happened (here, here, and here), I leave it to my readers to decide whether the evidence I assemble in those posts suffices to exonerate the Scottish bankers, as I believe to be the case. I also continue to look forward to Bob’s own response to that evidence.

Encouraging Findings of the Trump Administration’s Report on Refugees and Asylees

In July 2017, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) produced the first rigorous accounting of the fiscal effects of refugees and asylees to the United States. The study gives the best insight so far into the economic assimilation of U.S. refugees into their adopted country. While the White House prohibited the official release of the report for political reasons, the New York Times in September 2017 obtained a copy of the draft. This post summarizes the report’s main findings:

  • While refugee and asylee high school graduation rates are lower than all U.S. adults, refugee and asylee college graduation rates are slightly higher.
  • Adult refugee and asylee full-time employment grows over time to be slightly higher than all U.S. adults.
  • Refugee and asylee poverty declines over time to be only 1 percentage point higher than all U.S. families.
  • Refugee and asylee median family income almost doubles over time from $32,539 to $59,433, virtually identical to the U.S. average.
  • Refugee and asylee Medicaid-CHIP participation rate halves over time to be only 1 percentage point higher than the U.S. population.
  • The U.S. refugee and asylee population paid $63 billion more in taxes than they received in benefits to all levels of government from 2005 to 2014.
  • The per capita annual net fiscal effect of each refugee or asylee was positive $2,205 compared to a national average of $1,848 from 2005 to 2014.
  • Refugees and asylees had a more positive fiscal effect because 81 percent were in their prime working years compared to just 63 percent of the U.S. population overall.
  • Refugee fiscal benefits were more than twice as great during years when the economy was growing quickly compared to the recession years.