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Sometimes I imagine how much more depressing my PhD would be without PhD comics. Then I wake up in a cold sweat to happily find that it still exists. Not only does it make the suffering of a graduate student seem funnier than it actually is, but it makes you feel like you’re not alone.
The most recent comic was particularly relevant. It also coincided with one of the MIT professors claiming that PhD students used to be interesting people at one point (hard to believe). While I’m not that cynical about the whole experience, I see how easy it is to lose sight of what’s important when you dive into academic work. People do need hobbies (and, in the words of another MIT professor, "math is not a hobby”), friends, and self-care. After I read that comic, I realized that it’s been a long time since I’ve done some things I used to really enjoy, like write poetry. It’s time to change that. Right after I do this presentation on Monday and finish my paper draft.
From my slowly-coming-together paper draft:
"The effect of capital shocks on the labor market is also ambiguous, even if population and prices are held constant. If the shock destroys capital that was held by consumers as a durable good (e.g. a house or a car), the marginal utility of consumption will rise relative to leisure and workers will increase their labor supply. The demand for the durable good will then increase as well, leading to higher demand for labor. On the other hand, if the shock destroys producer capital and labor and capital are complements in the production of a final good, then the marginal product of labor will fall and labor demand will decrease. On the third hand, if some capital was used as an intermediate input in production of capital goods and the latter are destroyed, labor demand will increase.”
OK, I didn’t actually write "third hand” in the paper, but you get the idea.
In one of last month’s posts on the Freakonomics Blog, Dubner highlights a chapter in SuperFreakonomics that discusses the wage gap between men and women, finds that many women have a lower participation in the workforce after having children and conclude that women end up earning less than men because "many women, even those with MBAs, love kids”. This is an oversimplification of the chapter, of course, but the ease with which the authors jumped from the statistic "women with kids work less” to the conclusion "women love kids and thus choose to work less” was pretty irritating to me.
Here are some more statistics: women do significantly more housework than their husbands, even after controlling for how many hours each spouse works and their earnings. Is that because they like cleanliness better or are better at cleaning? Maybe. You almost never hear of men changing their last names when they get married or of children getting their mother’s last name when they’re born. Is that because women don’t like their last names? Maybe.
But it’s also entire possible (and I think likely) that women feel more societal and family pressure to put their careers second to children and to be responsible for the housework. If society on average expects women to be the primary caretakers of children and houseworkers rather than men, women may end up working less and doing more housework even if they don’t care about kids any more than their husbands.
Imagine you come to a couple’s house for dinner and see that it’s a mess (dishes aren’t done, male and female clothes on the floor). You have to pick either the husband or the wife as the one who failed in their responsibilities. I’m sure you would be equally likely to pick either one because you’re so egalitarian? But do you think only 50% of the people would blame the woman for the mess?
How many people would think a man was a bad parent if he said, "I won’t be taking any time off when my child is born” v. if a woman said the same thing (minus some necessary time off to recover from giving birth)? Assuming no one wants to be thought of as a bad parent, who do you think will be the one taking time off? And if you’re a married woman of child-bearing age, think about what your mother would say to you if you told her that you plan to keep working while your husband stays home with the baby.
This is of course not meant to offend any women who don’t feel pressured to step back from their careers to spend more time with their children. And maybe the statistics in Dubner’s post do explain the direct cause of the wage gap. But the statistics don’t explain the fundamental cause, the reason for the career differences, and I think those causes are pretty damn important to figure out. Saying that it must be because "women love babies” is like saying that black kids score worse on standardized tests because "black people don’t like learning”.
In the past couple of months, I’ve started reading a few economists’ blogs. I’m thinking of stopping because it’s beginning to interfere with my productivity. Brad DeLong is perhaps the most prolific of them, producing several pages of postings a day. Assuming he doesn’t just post everything he reads, he must read an insane amount. I have no time to read his exerts. It’s mind-boggling. Is that what it’s like to be a genius tenured economist?
Whenever surveys ask people whether they’re saving too much, too little, or not enough, the overwhelming majority claim to be saving too little. But you always get a few people who claim they’re saving too much. I’ve lately been wondering who those people are and how they manage to save too much. Do they not know what to spend their money on? Are they constrained by a controlling spouse? Did they read the question wrong?
If we allow people to make random mistakes, we would expect the proportion of people saving too much and too little to be similar. If anything, there should be more people saving too much if credit card companies realize people may borrow too much. Maybe there are people who are saving too much but don’t realize it.
An easy answer is that certain things like spending money are tempting and people’s long-run self conflicts with their short-run self, resulting in under-saving. But lately I’ve been wondering how social norms and expectations contribute to how much we think we should be saving. An interesting aspect of this is that social norms can make you save too little (because buying a house, a car, and an expensive vacation is something every American should be doing) AND make you think you should be saving more (because it’s good to prepare for the future).
Since it is January, a related question is why are New Year’s resolutions so one-sided? Think about how the following sounds to you:
This year, I resolve to spend more money, eat more junk food, exercise less, gain weight, travel less, spend less time with loved ones and more time on facebook and on drugs…
For some reason, I keep thinking of the analogy of having a baby when I this PhD thing.
If you think about it, the process is very similar, especially in the later years.
Year 3 = first trimester. You feel like you’re on top of the world (= like you just had sex). You have no responsibilities and face little or no expectations.
Year 4 = second trimester. The morning sickness/mood swings start. Periodically, you still remember why you’re doing this. Other times, you want to abort the whole thing.
Year 5 = third trimester. Life becomes difficult. Labor starts, and you’re in a lot of pain. You worry about whether your "baby” will have all its fingers and toes intact ( = whether you’ll realize there’s a defect in your code which invalidates all your findings).
Year 6…If you’re still in grad school by year 6, they’ll induce labor by cutting your funding.
I know this post will make no difference whatsoever, but I just have to get my opinion out there. As much as I think that health care reform is necessary, no bill may be better than any bill. And the more I hear about what the current proposal contains (yes, I haven’t read the bill myself, and neither has anyone except probably 10-15 people), the more I think we’re going to end up with the "any bill” outcome.
If the US passes a bill that worsens the health care system, it’s going to be really hard to undo. First, who’s going to want to revisit something that just passed? We have unemployment, global warming, the financial sector, Guantanamo, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, China, and a million other things to worry about. Unless the reform has DRASTIC negative effects, Congress will likely not address health care again for a while.
Even if the bill creates disastrous consequences which prompt re-regulation, any changes will likely resemble a "kludge", a quick fix which may work for a while but makes the entire system more inefficient in the long run.
It is important to get this right. And right now it seems that we’re mostly getting it wrong.