14 Aug

New York: The Project

I just returned to the Netherlands, after having lived in New York for three months. Yesterday I started a short series of 10 blogs about my (academic) experiences. Today: the project I’ve been working on.

The premise of my project was something that is commonly believed amongst sociologists – and something I took for granted for many years. I even remember when I first learned about it during a first-year course on inequality. Simply put: because spouses’ earnings are positively correlated, the earnings inequality between households is thought to be bigger than the earnings inequality between individuals. Intuitively, this makes sense: it is easy to imagine how the earnings gap between households with two top-earners and households with two low-income spouses is quite big. Recently, a new book by Esping-Andersen (The incomplete revolution) is getting quite some attention, and is reporting on how increased women’s earnings have contributed to income inequalities between households in several countries.

I thought it would be very interesting to delve into this issue more, and try to analyze differences between countries in the degree to which women’s earnings affects the inequality between households in these countries. Interestingly, though, once I started working seriously on the project, it quickly became clear that women’s earnings attenuate – rather than increase – inequalities between households. Virtually all authors analyzing the contribution of women’s earnings to household inequalities report this attenuating affect, and do so for various countries and for different points in time. So, the common conception that women’s earnings generally increase inequalities, turned out to be a misconception. No need to be concerned of this unintended consequence of women’s increased labour force participation.

So, I had to revise my plan. I turned my attention to a systematic review of the literature with a special focus on how it is possible that spouses’ earnings are positively correlated (which, indeed, they are), but that when women’s earnings are high the inequalities between households tend to be reduced. I won’t spoil the anticipation by disclosing my results here (but please, do contact me if you want to be informed when these results become available), but I figured it out. Also, I am still working on a systematic analysis comparing countries with very interesting preliminary results (again, no spoilers).

This concludes the most technical part of this series of blogs on my New York experiences. Tomorrow some notes on how PhD students are trained in New York.

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