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The Popularization Bias: Even Imaginary New Studies are OK If They Are Sexist

echidneofthesnakess Icon Posted by Echidne of the Snakes

January 5th, 2011

A British financial website article has an interesting title “Women want rich husbands, not careers.” A snippet from the piece itself:

Women still want to ‘marry up’ and naturally choose husbands who earn more than themselves, a report suggests.

The idea of most women wanting to be financially independent is a myth, according to Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics.

Despite years of equality campaigning, more women are choosing to marry wealthy men than in the 1940s, the expert claims.

Fun stuff, don’t you agree? The comments to the piece certainly do:

At last someone in this PC age has awoken to the unspeakable truth! The fact that she is a woman gives much greater significance to her findings.

This is only natural. A womans place is at home bringing up the children. It is a very important job, and women are ideally suited for it.

Far too many women force themselves into male roles, for which they are not mentally suited, and end up being stressed and unhappy.

Women have many virtues, but pretending to be a man is not one of them.

Oldest profession in the World.

They won’t post my comments for some odd reason. Perhaps I didn’t make them adequately stupid.

Never mind, I then Googled the author of that initial piece, Catherine Hakim, and found the piece posted on an arch-conservative British website. It’s a bit like picking something from the Independent Women’s Forum, the gals’ auxiliary to the American wingnuts. I also found a BBC reference to this same piece of news. Its summary:

According to a new study more women are are marrying for money than did in the 1940s.

The author of the report, Dr Catherine Hakim, tells BBC Radio 5 live “there is this myth that women invariably choose to have a relationship of total equality”.

Speaking to Victoria Derbyshire, Dr Hakim continues: “More and more women are choosing to marry men who are substantially better educated than them, and therefore have higher earnings capacity.”

By then I was truly excited about this new research, for all sorts of reasons, and not the least because close to 100 percent of well-educated men in the 1940s had to be marrying “down”, given the gender percentages then prevailing in institutions of higher education. That, in turn must mean that loads more highly educated men are NOT marrying “down” today which, based on Hakim’s arguments, means that men are seeking a more egalitarian relationship than in the past!

Or something like that. It’s as good as Hakim’s arguments, in any case, given that adding-up problem: If a country is fairly egalitarian in education, how can “more and more” women marry “up” compared to, say, 1940s?

But I digress from the purpose of this post which is to tell you that after carefully reading through Hakim’s report, I found no new study. She links to her book published in 2000 and to a Polish paper from 2007 which is unavailable through Google. But no new study. Where did the BBC get that from?

Nowhere, is my guess. My second guess is that anything of this sort (good, juicy stuff about women) will pass through the most rudimentary filters many media sites might have. So now we are going to discuss work Hakim did in the 1990s as a new study! Because that’s what it seems to be about:

Women’s aspiration to marry up, if they can, to a man who is better-educated and higher-earning persists in most European countries,’ she said. ‘Women thereby continue to use marriage as an alternative or supplement to their employment careers.’

The research, which drew on existing data drawn from Britain and Spain, showed that 20% of British women married husbands with a significantly better education than their own in 1949.

By the 1990s, the percentage of women deciding to ‘marry up’ had climbed to 38% - with a similar pattern repeated in the rest of Europe, the US and Australia.

The report concluded that equal roles in the family, where husband and wife shared employment, childcare and housework, was ‘not the ideal sought by most couples’.

Let’s assume that this quote is all true, for the time being. Let’s then compare it to that headline: “”Women want rich husbands, not careers.” Notice anything odd? Thirty-eight percent is not all women, not even the majority of women, but both thisismoneyco.uk and the BBC have happily skipped to much more extreme interpretations, such as this one:

Women still want to ‘marry up’ and naturally choose husbands who earn more than themselves, a report suggests.

The idea of most women wanting to be financially independent is a myth, according to Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics.

Thirty-eight percent, remember? In the 1990s, by the way (are you listening, BBC?)

It pains me deeply that I cannot get hold of Hakim’s book from the year 2000, because I’m salivating at the thought of seeing her original research. Though I can make a guess about what might drive her findings, assuming the study is otherwise properly done.

My guess goes like this: Start with a fairly small percentage of educated men and a much smaller percentage of educated women in the 1940s Britain or Spain. Most educated men will have to marry “down” in this scenario, whereas only a fairly small percentage of all women can marry “up”, given the rarity of higher education even for men.

Now note the great increase in higher education after the 1940s, and add to that the fact that the increases were at first much more rapid for men than for women. What this means, essentially, is a situation where more women will marry “up”, given that now a larger percentage of men will have a college degree or something similar. The percentage of women with higher education degrees has also grown but not by as much. The overall effect of these two stages is — what?

Probably the kind of picture Hakim paints, of apparent increases in the percentage of women who are marrying “up”, even if there is no particular reason for that except a greater number of men with college degrees, say.

It is only in the third stage, one where the percentage of individuals with college degrees is essentially equal between men and women or even higher for women, that we could really apply Hakim’s theory to a test. But even then we cannot assume that it’s only women who decide whom to marry! Even evil feminists don’t go so far as to deny men any say in that. So a more complicated model would certainly be needed.

But that is only an aside. This post is really about the horrible and ethically unacceptable sloppiness shown by the popularizations here, especially as there seems to be no study for them TO popularize. The BBC, in particular, is to blame here, because they give us the impression of some brand new research in the year 2011, whereas the research seems to come from the 1990s or perhaps even earlier.
Cross-posted on my blog, Echidne of the snakes

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