Swedish gender equality scolds


Nordic countries are unusually prominent in research on the health and welfare of children, including in the context of divorce and “parental separation” (how researchers describe two biological parents that might have spent 15 minutes having sex and then never talked to each other again). Partly this is because they gather a lot of data on subjects, such as the health and happiness of children, that other societies apparently don’t care about. “Parental Responses to Child Support Obligations: Causal Evidence from Administrative Data” (Rossin-Slater and Wust 2014) is one example of what can be done with a big data set. The work of Malin Bergstrom and colleagues referenced from the Children, Mothers, and Fathers chapter is an even better one.

Swedes showed up in moderate force at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017 to present their latest research. Their data continue to show that children in 50/50 shared parenting do much better than children who live primarily with one parent. Unprompted, however, they would try to explain why shared parenting is more common in Sweden than in other countries. It would have been a major breach of conference protocol to say that “one possible explanation is that children are not profitable in Sweden and therefore people don’t fight over them.” (see the International chapter for how a plaintiff could have sex with the richest person in Sweden and get only about $2,500 per year). Certainly nobody had the temerity to raise a hand and suggest “Maybe Swedish women work because they can’t get paid for having kids or having once been married.” (See the aggregate economic effects chapter for a reference to a paper out of University of Chicago finding that married women cut back their labor force participation when no-fault-with-50-50-property-division divorce was made available.)

The go-to explanation for the Swedes was that Sweden has more gender equality than other countries. In other words, setting up court systems to give women primary custody of children (and a paycheck to go with the kids) is a remedy for gender inequality. Because Sweden doesn’t have as much gender inequality therefore fewer women put in the effort to supplement their wage income with child support checks.

What are the key elements of Swedish gender equality, as explained at the conference? One is that Swedish men can take paternity leave. Economist says that Swedish couples can divide 180 days of paternity leave between the mother and father (but what if the biological parents are no longer acquainted? How is the decision made then?). Nearly 90 percent of Sweden fathers take at least some leave and that the average amount taken is 7 weeks. But can that initial 7-week leave actually affect the parenting time schedule if the parents are together at the birth but split up when children are 8 and 10 years old?

How about gender pay gap for full-time workers, without adjusting for field, years of experience, etc.? Sweden’s is 13.2 percent. That’s a larger gap than in New York (source: National Women’s Law Center), a winner-take-all jurisdiction for custody and child support. The gap is roughly the same as in Florida, home to “permanent alimony” for the litigant identified by the court as a “dependent spouse.”

Does this focus on the family law/gender equality relationship make sense? Based on our research for Real World Divorce, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect correlation between a state’s gender equality level and friendliness toward shared parenting. If we look at state-by-state gender wage gaps (source: National Women’s Law Center) we find that Maryland has more gender equality than Pennsylvania, yet Pennsylvania is the state that supports shared parenting. California has a lower gender wage gap than neighboring Nevada and Arizona, yet it is California that stages the winner-take-all primary/secondary parent court battles (guess who wins, statistically!) and Nevada and Arizona that have 50/50 shared parenting statutes. Maine has a larger gender wage gap than Massachusetts  (the two were once a single state), yet it is Maine where courts are more likely to award 50/50 shared parenting.

Anecdotally, a Swedish family stayed in our Harvard Square apartment last year. I had spent years listening to tales of Swedish superiority in gender equality, environmentalism, welfare systems, etc. Both parents were well-educated and had full-time jobs. I took the family out for a day of suburban sightseeing, helicopter flying, etc. in our minivan. Mom sat in the back in between the two toddlers. Dad sat in the front and talked to me about computer nerdism, aviation, etc. Dad would lend a hand when necessary with the kids, but Mom did most of the child-related tasks. The condo neighbors complained that the family did not properly sort items into trash versus recycling.

Readers: Are Swedes in your direct personal experience more gender-equal than Americans? If so, does it make sense that their radically different family law system is somehow related to this increased gender equality?

[Note that Michael Lamb, a professor of psychology at Cambridge University (“the real Cambridge”), was at the conference and offered his own non-economic perspective: “The Swedes believe that children have two parents and that parents matter. You will not see fundamental changes in laws and outcomes without changes to underlying attitudes. The focus on law alone is misplaced.” (but how to explain a sudden shift from winner-take-all primary/secondary to 50/50 shared parenting as a result of a court ruling (Alaska) or a piece of legislation (Arizona and Nevada)?]


A male celebrates an all-female employment policy


A male photographer friend on Facebook linked approvingly to “When the Grip Is a Woman (and the Gaffer and the Camera Operator, Too)” (nytimes):

Ms. Lister-Jones knew she wanted to work with a woman behind the camera. Only women behind the camera, actually: For her indie comedy “Band Aid,” released Friday, June 2, Ms. Lister-Jones hired an all-female crew, from the grips to the drivers to the production assistants.

“I wanted to see what it would feel like,” she said, “if a community of women exclusively created a piece of art together.”

The article raises a few questions:

  • is it legal for an employer to establish a policy forbidding the hiring of workers based on sex, even when the job could be done by a person of any sex or gender ID?
  • what happens to an employee who changes gender ID after being hired?
  • could it be that the employer here established this policy merely to maximize profits (Hillary and the NYT assure Americans that women will do the same jobs with the same quality for only about 77 percent of the cost)?
  • why did the filmmakers hire a male actor for a leading role? (based on the linked-to trailer) Are they making a heteronormative assumption that there is something better about a male-female romance than a female-female romance? If not, why not hire an all-female cast?

But I’m a little more interested in the question of why a male photographer, who has struggled financially for most of his multi-decade career, would celebrate an employer saying “We would never hire anyone like you” and “We got a lot of work done because we didn’t hire anyone like you.” As a 53-year-old with kids, I can understand that an employer would wish to say “We don’t hire anyone over 30 because it is a drag having old people around and we don’t hire anyone with children because they don’t like to work late”, but I wouldn’t cheer about that for my friends on Facebook.

Given that the entire worldwide demand for photographers could easily be met by an all-female workforce, why would this guy celebrate a system that, if adopted by all employers, would result in him never working again?

Readers: Is this an example of ”The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them”? Why is this guy happy to hear about a policy that might make it yet harder for him to get a job?

One place where Facebookers dare not go: Bill Cosby Trial Outcome


Even with a search for “Cosby” and clicking on “Posts from Friends” I can’t find a single one of my 913 Facebook friends offering an opinion on the outcome of the Bill Cosby criminal trial. To me this is in some ways more interesting than what they might have said. Plainly this topic has been front-page news and is currently the top left story on nytimes.com (but maybe that is part of the problem with the U.S.?). My Facebook friends are not afraid to Speak Truth to Power, e.g., denouncing the dictatorship of the Trumpenfuhrer and describing their plans to #resist. I don’t think that any of them would face social consequences for condemning Cosby so at least the ones who consider him guilty should be posting, no?

[What’s my personal opinion, you might ask? I think this shows that the legal system is not well-suited to the challenge presented. If it is legal for two adults to go into a private (with no witnesses) room and have sex without any kind of written contract in advance or video camera recording the entire interaction, how are judges and jury members who weren’t in that room supposed to figure out what happened? Testimony? Especially if there is cash on the line, that makes veteran litigators laugh. From the Divorce Litigation chapter: “People who are crazy and sociopathic are great witnesses,” said one attorney with more than 20 years of experience in the courtroom. “They can lie without batting an eye and sound completely credible. That’s why con artists thrive. If we were good at assessing credibility none of us would ever get ripped off.”; from the International chapter: “Good liars can do very well in this system,” [German litigator Carola] Offenhausen responded. “And though domestic violence is not a factor in the divorce it is very helpful for getting custody.”

The result of the above is that a deadlocked jury would be a likely outcome. Because there wasn’t any real evidence of what happened during the Cosby-Constand encounters, a juror’s vote would necessarily be more about his or her personal experience than about the “evidence” presented. As there is no limit to how many times a criminal defendant can be tried, prosecutors can potentially keep Cosby on trial at 120-day intervals until he dies.]

Here’s an interesting reaction from the lawyer handling some of the cash-seeking civil lawsuits against Cosby:

‘We can never overestimate the blinding power of celebrity. But justice will come,’ [Gloria] Allred said [Daily Mail]

In other words, the jury was too stupid/emotional to weigh the facts dispassionately. (I would hesitate to call people I hadn’t met stupid, but in any case, isn’t Cosby’s “celebrity” working against him at this point? At the moment he is primarily famous for being accused of sexual assault, no?)

Readers: Is your Facebook feed quiet on this subject? If not, what are people saying?


The Spectacular Stupidity of David Brooks


In Stupid white man criticizes smart Chinese woman, I looked at David Brooks v. Tiger Mom. In a recent NYT piece, “Why Fathers Leave Their Children,” I think that he has outdone himself. He looks at a phenomenon that is roughly 3 percent of GDP and never considers that cash incentives might influence behavior.

My comment on the piece:

Touching sentiments, but hard to see how they can be squared with statistics. Compared to other developed countries with no-fault divorce, the United States has roughly twice the percentage of children living without both parents. In winner-take-all jurisdictions within the U.S., such as New York, Massachusetts, California, roughly 75 percent of divorce/custody lawsuits are filed by women (and, in more than 90 percent of the cases, the court declares that the mother will be the primary or “winner” parent). “fathers abandon their own children”? That’s a touching story, but if you look at what actually happens a better summary is “fathers discarded by courts as secondary parents”.

A shorter summary would be “If you set up a family law system in which the only thing that you want from fathers is cash, probably cash is the main thing that you’re going to get from fathers.”

(See http://www.realworlddivorce.com/MiddlesexMay2011 for an analysis of a month of cases in a typical U.S. jurisdiction.)

(I should point out that it is also much more lucrative in the U.S. to get rid of a “secondary parent” than it is in other countries. In Sweden, for example, if it were possible to get rid of a biological co-parent the resulting cashflow would be $2,000/year. The same child might yield $40,000 or $100,000/year (tax-free) in the U.S., depending on the co-parent’s income and the state. Americans’ behavior in mating and family court is exactly what you’d expect from the economic incentives presented by states. A resident of the U.S. will enjoy a higher spending power by having a brief encounter with a high-income co-parent than by being in a long-term marriage with a middle-income co-parent. Why be surprised that people avail themselves of the higher-spending-power option?)

Of course at the lower end of the income scale the behaviors are also economically rational. If neither biological parent has any income, the adult who can get custody of the child becomes entitled to a range of valuable welfare programs, including free housing.

How is it that there is a market for people to read this Brooks guy?

How CEO pay is set… from someone who set CEO pay


“How Companies Actually Decide What to Pay CEOs” (Atlantic) is interesting partly because the writer has personal experience in the area, i.e., he was on public company Boards as they were looting from shareholders to feed top executives. It is also interesting for showing a consequence of basic human psychology:

Once a peer group is established, the next step is to figure out how the CEO’s compensation will compare with those of the leaders at the other companies. If the median pay of a CEO’s peer group is $10 million, should he get $10 million? (I use the male pronoun here because so many of them are men.) It depends on where the company is benchmarked within this group. And every board I have ever sat on or researched benchmarked itself at the 50th, 75th, or 90th percentile, therefore targeting CEO pay at similarly exalted levels. Benchmarking below the 50th percentile says, We are a lousy company and don’t even aspire to be better. So in this sense all CEOs are above average: To be benchmarked at or above the 50th percentile, they need not do anything other than report to a board that considers its own company exceptional.

Executive stock options can be pretty straightforward, e.g., the 10-year right to buy stock at $X per share. Inflation obviously can be a big help to a CEO in this situation. But so can doing a share buyback instead of a dividend:

Paying CEOs in stock further props up their pay: When the economy is thriving, stock prices can rise across the board, and thus most CEOs’ pay rises too. But even if the market cools off, expectations for what CEOs should be paid—as reinforced by benchmarking and other mechanisms described above—tend not to come down when that happens. Moreover, in order to make more money from selling the stock they were given, CEOs can induce a higher share price by having the company buy back its own shares; a share buyback, though, can come at the expense of initiatives that might serve the company better in the long run, including funding research and development or employee training.

I’m not sure what the answer is here other than, perhaps, don’t buy U.S. public equities. In Europe, for example, it would be tough for a mediocre CEO to get paid $20-100 million per year. (I sat next to portfolio manager on a plane recently and she said that she prefers European stocks, which are her specialty, because Europe is just coming out of a recession whereas the U.S. is now in the 8th year of a bull market and the good times have never historically lasted forever.)

Divorce litigation, child support, and Costco in Iceland


Conferences are fun because you get to talk to people from all over the world. Of course, at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, the subject of the conversation tends to be divorce, custody, or child support litigation. Over coffee with Ragnheidur Gudrunardottir, the District Commissioner of Greater Reykjavik, I learned as much as I could about all things Icelandic.

I told her how shocked I had been at the prices when changing planes last summer on my way to the Royal Caribbean Baltic cruise. How could Icelanders afford it? Ms. Gudrunardottir agreed that the country might be due for another economic, um, adjustment. “Costco is coming to Iceland and 40,000 people signed up for memberships before they even opened,” said said. “That’s in a country with a total population not much over 300,000.” (story)

As in Denmark or Sweden, divorce can be obtained via an administrative process. It takes 2-3 months, but there may be an additional delay for the finalization due to a requirement that people spend “6 months separated from bed and table.” (Note that North Carolina uses similar terminology within their litigated process.) If parties can’t agree they may spend up to one year mediating. As a last resort, litigation is available and she estimated a maximum of $10,000 in legal fees might be spent, similar to what we heard about in Denmark.

Also as in Denmark, which formerly ruled Iceland as a dependency, child support seems to be calculated as a multiple of a basic amount. If an Icelander has custody of a child with a non-working co-parent, the government pays about $300 per month in “child support”. If the co-parent earns a good wage, the cashflow comes from the co-parent and is referred to as “alimony” even if the parents were never married. “What if you defrosted those rich bankers from 2007 and one of them was being tapped as a co-parent?” I asked. Ms. Gudrunardottir estimated that the alimony payment would be 3X the basic amount, or about $900/month ($10,800). This is a little more than the Danish maximum, much more than the Swedish maximum, and only a fraction of the potential revenue available in the U.S. (see California, for example). The after-tax (net) average monthly wage in Iceland is about ISK 370,000 (Wikipedia), $3740. Thus an Icelandic child support plaintiff would need to be collecting on a minimum of four children before being able to out-spend a median wage earner.

As was typical of conference attendees from Civil law and administrative divorce-oriented countries, Ms. Gudrunardottir didn’t say “Now that I have learned about the marvels of litigation and how Americans with lawyers and witnesses really get at the truth, I wish we had more litigation and Common law procedures in Iceland.” (And, correspondingly, people from the litigation-oriented societies (U.S., U.K., Australia) would talk about how litigation might be improved, almost never about how it could be replaced with an administrative procedure.)

Those who can’t do, teach (rotary-wing edition)


The YouTube result of one of our “Helicopter Demonstration for Schools”:


Cosby jurors have an incentive to drag out deliberations to boost their personal income?


The Cosby jury continues to deliberate (in the criminal case; not to be confused with the 10 civil cases pending against him). At neighborhood coffee this morning, which is where we develop solutions to most of the world’s problems and also come up with brilliant investment strategies and business plans, a former hedge fund manager noted that the opportunity for jurors to make money post-trial could influence their behavior.

Jurors can’t legally be paid prior to delivering a verdict. However, jurors can make money by giving interviews or writing books after a trial (see “CASEY ANTHONY JUROR: Ask Me Anything … For a Price” (TMZ), for example, and Texaco and the $10 Billion Jury, an actually great book written by a juror in what was, at least at the time, the largest verdict in American legal history (the juror was upset at the incompetent reporting by journalists and wrote the book to set the record straight on why the jurors voted as they did; essentially the judge’s instructions and Texaco’s decision not to present an alternative damages theory boxed them in).

If the jury had come back with a verdict after 30 minutes, the Cosby case would have received less total media attention. The jury’s deliberations wouldn’t have been as interesting to the public (if they all agreed immediately, who would care to hear about the discussion?).

Readers: What do you think? Could these folks be taking their sweet time partly because there is some potential for post-case cashflow?

[Morning coffee shop conversation question: Andrea Constand testified that she was so tranquilized that she couldn’t move any of her limbs, but also that she was mentally alert enough to remember what was happening. Why didn’t Cosby’s legal team present expert testimony that there are no drugs whose effects are consistent with this testimony? (except perhaps https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curare ?)]

The happiest lawyers in New York argue about children with two mommies


“What Makes a Parent?  A brutal custody battle between two women raises questions about who has a right to rear a child—and could redefine the legal meaning of family.” (New Yorker, May 22, 2017) is a good companion to today’s post about children in Spain.

A child and two adult women, none of whom have any genetic relationship to each other, serve as the raw material for a “family” court battle that will consume probably over $1 million in legal fees (“for eight days Hamilton’s witnesses came to court”). Some cheerful excerpts for those planning a career in divorce litigation: “This wasn’t a final ruling in the case” and “The next day, [one woman’s lawyer] secured an interim stay on [the judge’s] decision. … The appeal would take months, and would be preceded by a decision about whether Abush would be expected to remain in New York during that time.”

The happiest children in Spain live with two daddies


Americans like to gather statistics… as long as the numbers have dollar signs in front of them or are at least related to dollar figures (e.g., school test scores, which tend to predict employer demand for graduates).

Europeans, on the other hand, seem to be a lot more interested in how people feel. The Spanish, for example, have assembled a huge data set by surveying school children (roughly 10-18 years of age) and asking them, e.g., how satisfied they are with their lives. They also ask for a lot of demographic data and therefore it is possible to get some insight into what makes children happy.

On a slide featuring these Spanish data at the International Conference on Shared Parenting 2017, there was the same pattern that Malin Bergstrom and colleagues found in Swedish data on 172,000 children (see the Children, Mothers, and Fathers chapter for references): children who live with mom and dad in an intact family are happier than children who live in a 50/50 arrangement with a separated mom and dad who are in turn substantially happier than children who live primarily with one parent (i.e., parental separation makes children less happy, but children in 50/50 shared parenting aren’t all that different from their counterparts in nuclear families).

Much more interesting to me, however, was that the happiest children in Spain were not those who lived with their mother and father in a nuclear family. There was a yet happier group: those who lived with their two fathers. (This phenomenon cannot be explained by a preference for same-sex parenting; children who lived with their two mothers were extremely unhappy, one of the most dramatic differences in any two populations presented at the conference.)

Readers: Discuss! (I posted this on Facebook and there wasn’t a single comment. Either the above information is uninteresting or people are afraid to say anything about it! Of course I couldn’t resist noting that “for couples who really want the best for their kids it may be a good idea to look at transgender options”. Perhaps that was offensive? I don’t think it is that I have been defriended by all of the right-thinking folks on Facebook. An adjacent incredibly dull post about our 1.75-year-old’s first use of chopsticks got more than 30 “likes”)

[Separately, Spain is interesting for its regional variation in family law. Unlike France and Germany, but like the U.S., the law is different from region to region and outcomes are different from region to region even when the law is the same. For example, in some regions of Spain it is obvious that, post-separation, a child’s best interest is to be in a roughly 50/50 shared parenting situation and have ample access to both parents. Since 2010, this may be written into the law as a presumption. Across a state line, however, the statutory and/or judicial presumption will be that obviously a child’s best interest is to have a stable home base and be primarily with one parent, visiting the other parent occasionally. The regional prevalence of shared parenting tracks the legal environment and ranges from 8 percent to 40 percent (with an average of about 25 percent). Like Americans, Spaniards are comfortable with the idea that “justice” and “best interests of the child” may be completely different for two children living on opposite sides of a state or provincial border.]

Consistent with the first paragraph, I’m not aware of any way to compare Americans to their Spanish counterparts. The U.S. has more children not living with both parents than any other nation (both percentage and absolute), but nobody in the U.S. seems to care what is happening with these kids. Their living schedule and access to parents are governed by government court orders, but no state or federal agency bothers to track the contents of these orders. Therefore it would be impossible to say what percentage of children are living in shared parenting versus primary/secondary custody situations. We make K-12 students sit for standardized tests regularly, but I don’t think there are any questions about “How do you feel about your life?”

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