The Data Are In: Experiments In Policy Are Worth It
Our guest author today is David Dunning, professor of psychology at Cornell University, and a fellow of both the American Psychological Society and the American Psychological Association.
When I was a younger academic, I often taught a class on research methods in the behavioral sciences. On the first day of that class, I took as my mission to teach students only one thing—that conducting research in the behavioral sciences ages a person. I meant that in two ways. First, conducting research is humbling and frustrating. I cannot count the number of pet ideas I have had through the years, all of them beloved, that have gone to die in the laboratory at the hands of data unwilling to verify them.
But, second, there is another, more positive way in which research ages a person. At times, data come back and verify a cherished idea, or even reveal a more provocative or valuable one that no one has never expected. It is a heady experience in those moments for the researcher to know something that perhaps no one else knows, to be wiser—more aged if you will—in a small corner of the human experience that he or she cares about deeply.
An Uncertain Time For One In Five Female Workers
It’s well-known that patterns of occupational sex segregation in the labor market – the degree to which men and women are concentrated in certain occupations – have changed quite a bit over the past few decades, along with the rise of female labor force participation.
Nevertheless, this phenomenon is still a persistent feature of the U.S. labor market (and those in other nations as well). There are many reasons for this, institutional, cultural and historical. But it’s interesting to take a quick look at a few specific groups, as there are implications in our current policy environment.
The simple graph below presents the proportion of all working men and women that fall into three different occupational groups. The data are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and they apply to 2011.
The False Conflict Between Unionism and Professionalism
Some people have the unfortunate idea that unionism is somehow antithetical to or incompatible with being a professional. This notion is particularly salient within education circles, where phrases like “treat teachers like professionals” are often used as implicit arguments against policies associated with unions, such as salary schedules and tenure (examples here, here, here and here).
Let’s take a quick look at this "conflict," first by examining union membership rates among professionals versus workers in other types of occupations. As shown in the graph below, if union membership and professionalism don’t mix, we have a little problem: Almost one in five professionals is a union member. Actually, union membership is higher among professionals than among any other major occupational category except construction workers.
An Update From The Independent Labor Movement In Egypt
Our guest author today is Heba F. El-Shazli. She has 25 years of experience in the promotion of democracy, independent trade unions, political and economic development. She has worked with institutions and leaders throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to challenge authoritarian regimes. Currently she is a visiting professor of international studies and modern languages at the Virginia Military Institute. The views expressed here are her own.
The revolution in Egypt has unleashed a torrent of pent up frustration and protest from Egyptian workers in all walks of life. For weeks, beginning the day after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned, workers have taken to the streets to demand respect for basic worker rights and democratic principles. Their grievances are fundamental and share much in common with their U.S. counterparts now protesting in Wisconsin and elsewhere: the right to bargain collectively with employers over wages, hours, benefits and working conditions. Egyptian workers have been protesting at many worksites all over the country:
- More than 6,000 teachers protested in front of the Education Administration building in the governorate (state) of Qena in Upper Egypt. A majority of teachers are now working under temporary contracts without benefits. Teachers are calling for the end of these temporary contracts that cheapen their profession and cause much professional insecurity.
- Hundreds of workers from the iron and steel factory who were hired as “temporary contractual” workers demanded payment of three months’ worth of overtime and other benefits, and an end to their “temporary” status.
The never-ending “temporary contract” is a tactic to weaken workers’ rights, which has been widely used in both the Egyptian public and private sectors. In response to teacher protests, the new Education Minister did announce on Feb. 28 that the teachers who had been working under temporary contracts for more than three years will be made permanent as long as they are able to pass the teacher proficiency tests, which the Ministry will administer on March 25.
Whom Do Americans Trust? Nurses...And Teachers!
Just a couple months after the prestigious Institute of Medicine urged that nurses be seen as “full partners” in redesigning the American health care system, they have received another vote of confidence, this one from the American public. According to the most recent Gallup poll, for the 9th straight year (and the 11th year in all), the American people ranked nurses as the most honest and ethical workers in the country.
When asked to the rate the ethics and honesty of people in a variety of occupations, 81 percent of those surveyed gave a “very high/high” rating to nurses. Doctors received a very high/high rating from a still respectable of 66 percent of respondents.
Despite being regularly scapegoated by politicians and the media for the past several years, grade school teachers still edged out doctors by 1 percentage point (a statistical tie), with 67 of those polled expressing high regard for the profession. Although this places teachers fairly high on the list of trusted professions—in fourth place, behind nurses (81 percent), military officers (73 percent), and pharmacists (71 percent)—the teacher bashing has apparently had an effect: Teachers have lost ground since the 2007 version of this survey, when they were rated "very high/high" by 74 percent of those surveyed.
AMA To Nurses: Teamwork Means 'Just Follow Our Lead'
Why are some doctors so threatened by nurses? One recent example of such physician angst can be found in the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) response to a recent report on the future of nursing by the highly respected Institute of Medicine (IOM). Among the IOM’s recommendations are that “nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States."
Being a “full partner”, the IOM report notes, “transcends all levels of the nursing profession and requires leadership skills and competencies that must be applied within the profession and in collaboration with other health professionals. It includes “care environments” (hospitals and medical offices) and the policy area. Nurses must “have a voice in health policy decision-making and be engaged in implementation efforts related to health care reform”, the report argues. They must be “leaders throughout the system”.
What? Full partners? The AMA was quick on the trigger: “A physician-led team approach to care —with each member of the team playing the role they are educated and trained to play—helps ensure patients get the high quality care and value…”
Public Apples, Private Oranges: A More Ripened Look
In a previous post, I criticized articles in the USA Today and elsewhere (all citing data from the conservative Cato Institute), which claimed that federal government workers earn almost twice as much as private sector employees (including salary and benefits). I argued that en masse comparisons of public and private sector workers don’t tell us much, since the jobs that comprise the two sectors are very different.
For a more useful comparison, we need to understand not only that most public sector workers are professionals, but also that they tend to be more experienced, and more quickly promoted, than the typical private sector employee. For example, a lead research scientist will earn more than his or her staff scientists, whether they are working in the public or the private sector. So, if public sector employees in a given occupation tend to be more experienced or have more authority or responsibilities, they will appear “overpaid” even though they are not.
So, how does the public/private wage gap look when we compare professionals in the two sectors by both occupation and experience/responsibilities?