Ideas of India is a podcast in which Mercatus Senior Research Fellow Shruti Rajagopalan examines the academic ideas that can propel India forward. You can subscribe to the podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google, Overcast, Stitcher or the podcast app of your choice.
In this episode, Shruti talks with Alice Evans about fraternal capital, women’s limited mobility, female friendships, representations of women in art and much more. Evans is a Senior Lecturer at King’s College London and a faculty associate at the Center for International Development at Harvard’s Kennedy School. She has published on topics such as women’s labor force participation, urbanization and social change, pro-worker reforms, what drives support for gender equality and more. Her book “The Great Gender Divergence” is forthcoming from Princeton University Press.
SHRUTI RAJAGOPALAN: Welcome to Ideas of India, a podcast where we examine academic ideas that can propel India forward. My name is Shruti Rajagopalan, and today my guest is Dr. Alice Evans, who is a Senior Lecturer at King’s College London, a faculty associate at Harvard University, the author of the fantastic blog called “The Great Gender Divergence” and also the host of the podcast “Rocking Our Priors.” Alice is working on a long-term book project titled “The Great Gender Divergence,” under contract at Princeton University Press.
We talked about gender and fraternal capital, women’s limited mobility, female friendships, gender quotas, representations of women in art and much more. For a full transcript of this conversation, including helpful links of all the references mentioned, click the link in the show notes or visit Discourse Magazine DOT COM.
Hi, Alice, welcome to the show.
ALICE EVANS: Thank you so much, Shruti.
Gender and Fraternal Capital
RAJAGOPALAN: It’s funny because a lot of the things that we’re talking about today have a lot to do with our personal relationship. We have discovered each other through work, by reading each other on Twitter and reading each other’s papers. We got to know each other even better and became friends when we did the podcast together last time.
You recently wrote a piece for the CNN on fraternal capital [releasing next week]. You’re talking about how friendships are the foundation of feminism and feminist progress in society. Of course, some of this has to do with how we treat women in public spaces and how women reclaim public spaces. It has to do with how women engage at universities. It has to do with how women are at the workplace. Are they hired in sufficient enough numbers? Do they have upward mobility because they form these clubs and so on? Can you talk a little bit about where we are in the long arc of female friendships and fraternal capital when it comes to women?
EVANS: Oh, the long arc? If you want us to talk about the past 10,000 years, I would say that deep and diverse friendships like yours and mine are a 20th-century phenomenon because it’s only in the 20th century that women have joined the labor market en masse, pursued careers and been able to network much more broadly. Before industrialization, women like you and me would have spent most of our lives nursing, breastfeeding, being pregnant, being saddled with domestic drudgery. That really hobbled us.
It limited our mobility and meant that you and I would have done marginalized, low-status, home-based work, not really being able to pursue a career, not being able to really develop outside the home. In Cambodia, where I’ve done ethnographic work, it’s still that patrilineal society. There’s no strong prescriptions on women’s mobility, but they say, “Women are short-legged and men are long-legged.” It means that men have far greater mobility. They say women can only move around the kitchen because they were so saddled with domestic drudgery, whereas men could not be encumbered by child care.
Men could pursue crafts and trades and travel as merchants, and they could mingle much more freely. For example, I was recently reading this brilliant book [“Brewing Resistance”] about India’s Emergency, and there was this place in Delhi—I don’t know if you’ve been to it, Shruti—called the Indian Coffee House. Have you been to it?
EVANS: Right. I discovered that this Indian Coffee House was an incredibly important meeting place during the Emergency, and people from all political stripes and persuasions would go to the Indian Coffee House. So there would be BJP, there would be socialists, there would be communists, and they would mix and mingle, debate, huge debates and arguments. They would share knowledge and debate the latest things and forge new friendships and horizons and see different things going on. And they would become perceived as knowledgeable through sharing out all that information. They were able to build political networks, broaden their horizons.
There was one common factor to all those people who went to the Indian coffee shop. They were all men. The vast majority of them. I really struggled to find, from people’s life histories or recollections, examples of women going there. It was men forming these brilliant friendships. These men were doing incredibly important work. We see the same—the Tahrir Square. It was men who were meeting in coffee houses in Cairo to develop and pursue the latest discussions. Similarly, in Georgian England, the coffee houses were the place of civil society, and men would go.
Men would form these civil society associations. It’s not just about democracy, but even economic now. If we look historically in medieval England, men who were pursuing crafts as butchers or whatever, or as tailors or as weavers, they built guilds in medieval Europe. And to preserve their very precarious advantages, they locked women out. They really banned women from pursuing these crafts independently. A neoclassical economist might say that this is a supply-and-demand thing, that women are hobbled by child care and there’s low demand for jobs. Actually, we need to recognize the importance of fraternal capital, how men were able to build these more deep and diverse friendships.
These organizations, not just guilds, but think of the church, think of any kind of religion, governments locking women out of politics, locking women out of political parties, the law. Men built those alliances. It wasn’t a conscious project like, “I’m out here to preserve the patriarchy.” But in protecting their niche interests, whether you’re a butcher or a trader—in Cologne, women weren’t allowed to sell fish because men wanted to protect that trade. There are also parallels if you look at scientific networks. When people in Enlightenment Europe, they were pursuing these brilliant scientific innovations, which is in one of my favorite books by Mokyr.
They talk about how they celebrated innovations and these artisans employed those innovations and they shared ideas. They gathered in conferences, and they gained tremendously from these insider benefits, from encouraging, supporting, sharing new ideas. All those insider benefits were monopolized by men. Of course, there were female scientists. There were women writing literature, but every time they wrote in one of those Enlightenment journals or newspapers or whatever, they were pilloried and mocked and cast aside. They didn’t have any of that incredibly important fraternal capital. And there are so many parallels today. This isn’t just an ancient phenomenon.
There are so many parallels today. There’s a new study, and they look at an East Asian firm and they show that men are more likely to gain promotion because of homosocial schmoozing. These are young junior men taking cigarette breaks with their bosses, and so because of developing trust and rapport, the boss comes to see that person. Again, it’s not a conscious project of, “I’m going to be patriarchal” or “I’m going to be sexist.” If they’re talking together, smoking cigarettes, they build trust and rapport. They like each other and they think, “Hey, this is a great guy. Let me promote this guy.”
It’s not people being nasty or malicious or whatever, but just by men being comfortable, spending time with each other, and having that greater mobility—whereas women are much more hobbled. There were two things that enabled this gender inequality and friendships. Well, three things.
One is the domestic drudgery. There’s women’s marginalization employment, which limits the kinds of people they are interacting with. If you’re a home-based worker, your friendships are—for example, in India, your friendships are your family, your kin and your neighbors. That limits the kinds of people you’re able to talk to, the kinds of capital and networks and resources and influence you’re able to draw on. On top of that marginalization in employment, there are also ideals of chastity and honor.
As we know, in Uttar Pradesh and Odisha women have very few friends. So there’s some very nice research showing that huge restrictions on young women’s mobility, huge restrictions on allowing them to independently meet people—even if they do go out to meet people, it’s likely to be other marginalized women. These are huge gaps. Then on top of that, there are additional limitations on women gathering in the evening. One of my favorite books, “Why Loiter?,” shows that even in Mumbai, women might be going out into the workforce. They might be in telecoms, engineering, all those brilliant jobs. All those high-flying brilliant jobs, but are they allowed to gather together in a cafe after work?
No, and that’s the crucial part, Shruti, because work is not enough. Work is about getting paid. Okay, that’s great, but you need a friendship in order to navigate so many of these hurdles at work. When people are harassed or bullied or exploited or taken advantage of, or when their husband doesn’t give them the autonomy to spend their money or to meet their family or friends or to redistribute care work, it’s the friends who you talk to, who you share ideas with, who help you work out what’s going on and embolden you to think.
RAJAGOPALAN: There about three or four different things. The first is female friendships by themselves. It’s not that they don’t exist, but that they are stunted. If women have a lot of child care, family care and drudgery work that you’ve talked about, then when they get together with other women, that is most likely the margin on which they form these bonds, they help each other, they give each other advice on nursing, maybe share recipes.
When you go to ancient temple towns in India, all the sculptures that you see, a lot of it is women making garlands together. It’s not that women are not represented in the temple scene. It is that they are seen doing very specific tasks related to cleaning of the deity, putting together the garlands, stitching clothes, things like that. It’s not the male jobs that are represented.
Alternatively, of course, we know they’re all represented in a very sexualized way. They’re effectively models for men to sculpt and for men to paint. We’ll talk about art in a minute. One is, most of the female friendships tend to be very limited around the care work that they do, and they don’t lead. It’s not that they don’t help with the division of labor and specialization and actually make their lives easier. It’s more simply that they don’t lead to any kind of upward social mobility in the same way that men’s fraternal capital leads to.
Recently I’ve been watching “Ted Lasso,” which—I know you don’t watch any television. It’s this TV show. There’s a little scene where there is a female owner of a football club in England, and she has basically got the football club as part of the divorce settlement. There is a very big model cum social media influencer who has had a small success in helping promote one of the football stars. They are at a party together and they get together in the restroom, and they’re talking about this.
Later, the football club owner, she offers her a job and says, “Do you mind promoting some of the other soccer players?” She says, “What? Are you offering me a job in a bathroom?” She says, “Yes, why not? Men do it all the time. They offer each other jobs in restrooms at parties all the time, so why not?” Then that’s this moment that, “Oh, we can get together and we can offer each other a job. We don’t just have to gossip about our private lives and how men are treating us horribly.” Which is kind of the scene that is taking place in the bathroom. This reminded me of that.
EVANS: Absolutely. Let me add to that. I think across South Asia, there’s been this huge euphoria for self-help groups, and that’s sometimes associated with microcredit. Let’s get women in a circle. That can lead to some benefit. There’s nice study in Bihar talking about first when women went out to this group, there’s huge violence and resistance to them even meeting. Then through talking together, we see improvements in health, we see women dismantling various myths about misogyny and whatever.
There is a limit to how much marginalized, home-based, economically precarious rural women can lift each other up by their bootstraps just by talking together in a circle because these are all marginalized women. The crucial part—I think you have to understand it is a sequential process—really crucial part is that you really—the ideal scenario is a big city like Mumbai where there’s lots of demand for female labor, where women can move more freely in the public sphere, and allowing those brilliant women who are thriving in software engineering, et cetera, to gather in public spaces and to loiter.
That loitering is absolutely fundamental. It’s female employment plus loitering. You need the double whammy, because just loitering in itself is just housewife chat about what should we do with the housework or the cooking, et cetera? “I’ll give you my recipe,” whatever, which is nice, but it’s not going to really transform gender relations.
RAJAGOPALAN: Actually, it’s amazing that you mentioned Bihar because I recently had this conversation with Biju Rao on the podcast.
EVANS: I mean his paper, yes, exactly.
RAJAGOPALAN: His paper. He’s written a fantastic book with Paromita Sanyal on “Oral Democracy.“
EVANS: “Oral Democracy.”
RAJAGOPALAN: Exactly. It’s such a great book. There were a couple of things that came out of that conversation and the book that I learned from Biju, which have to do exactly with the issue that you’re flagging. When self-help groups come together, of course, women start talking to each other. Biju pointed out that it’s no surprise, but women talk less and are listened to less in Gram Sabhas, in village assemblies, in all public spheres in society, basically. He said there are three things that are going on.
One is that the reservations that were constitutionally included, the affirmative action to include women in the Panchayati Raj institutions, when they were combined with the self-help groups, that helped change governance conversations in a big way. Because what we find is areas or districts that have self-help groups, they’re more likely to have women speaking and deliberating in the Panchayati Raj space. This is because, of course, women start talking to each other, they’re more likely to speak, they gain a sense of self and agency, they form relationships.
The most important outcome of this was that women were seen now as an important and independent political force in the village itself. As you said, it’s not that the self-help groups in itself are enough. All the reservations might be enough by themselves. It’s that when these things start interacting with each other, and women have multiple spaces to speak with each other and express themselves, then some magic starts happening. In a rural setting, it might be Panchayati Raj and village governance. In an urban setting like Mumbai, it might be the case of “Why Loiter?” and women start talking to each other.
EVANS: Wait. I want to push back a little bit. Maybe it’s the case that if you have the reservations and the self-help groups, women have more spaces to talk and they’re slightly more vocal. But as long as demand for labor is low, as long as women have no exit options outside the village, as long as women are trapped in marginalized home-based labor—maybe they’re doing some beedi work or they’re sewing, their husband is the intermediary taking it out—they’re still economically dependent. Their idea—they’re not seen as knowledgeable. Their mobility is still limited.
If you take a study and show, “Listen, we’ve done these interventions, and if you have X and Y together, then we see an improvement.” Still, those improvements are very, very marginal. Women’s position in Bihar—it’s in an incredibly patriarchal state. Often political scientists, Ph.D. students, come to me and talk to me about gender and say, “Well, I want to look at the effect of this institution and this configuration.” I say, “You need to look at how women are living their lives, and to think about what are the massive changes that really predict a shift in gender relations.” It’s one thing to examine the effects of X.
If you really look at what drives progress towards gender equality, I will tattoo it across my neck: jobs, jobs, jobs. I think that is so fundamental. That is so fundamental.
There’s no political, institutional configuration that can compensate for that. For example, let me give another example. Going back to the reservations, Rachel Brulé has got this new book showing that women are much more likely to inherit if there’s a female Panchayat leader. That’s great. That shows the importance of affirmative action; that shows how women can support each other. That’s another example of friendships, solidarity, support, and the two things together.
What is the total percentage of women in India who have actually inherited? Even with that special configuration, it is still incredibly low. Only 4% of women in India have inherited property. Why is that? Parents know that it is men who are the breadwinners. Mothers and fathers rely on sons to provide for them in old age. In the absence of social security as part of a quid pro quo, the son inherits. Lots of traditional reasons why you’d give to the son. It’s also an economic part of social survival, whereas if you give to the daughter, then that might break up the family estate, she might give it to her husband, et cetera.
As long as women are economically marginalized, it’s very difficult for them to support their parents, so they’re very unlikely to inherit. This is why I have to get the tattoo, Shruti.
RAJAGOPALAN: I think you would look fantastic with that tattoo. I think it will also be helpful.
EVANS: Thank you, Shruti, thank you.
RAJAGOPALAN: I completely agree with you that I don’t think these mechanisms are substitutes for the greater economic structural transformations that lead to jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. I don’t think they’re substitutes. I do think these small marginal steps are incredibly important. In fact, some of it is influenced by your work. It’s about zooming in versus zooming out.
When I think of the very long arc of human history and patriarchy, I think all these little steps help chip away. Whether it is women who come in as master weavers, at some point a few hundred years ago; whether it is now women in the last 25 years who are coming in as Panchayati Raj leaders in India. Initially, there was this thing about how they have what they call the Pati Sarpanch, which is the husband sarpanch because the wife has the reservation and the name on the ticket.
EVANS: There’s that famous case in Bihar, yes, yes.
RAJAGOPALAN: Exactly. It’s actually really the husbands who are running the show, but we see that over four or five iterations of Panchayati Raj elections, the Pati Sarpanch as a phenomenon has slowly stopped producing, if not disappeared completely.
We need to slowly and marginally change the world. I don’t think this is a revolution which is going to happen overnight. I do think these are very important things. I see your larger point that they’re not easy to overcome. One of the examples that you just gave on governance—I recently read a wonderful paper. This is by Bhumi Purohit. You know the work from her on the job market series that we have coming out soon. She’s a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Berkeley.
She has a lovely paper on how bureaucrats are more likely to resist female politicians. She’s trying to explain why female politicians are less effective, or perceived to be less effective, in providing public goods. She says it’s because bureaucrats don’t help the politicians. The reason they don’t help female politicians, it’s not just because they’re misogynistic, as you said, or it’s part of some grand conspiracy.
It’s also because they have a very negative perception of how they view women’s ability to get work done in politics. They think it’s going to hurt their incentives when it comes to promotion and their own job growth or upward mobility within the services. And bureaucrats are human like everyone else; they have limited resources. When they’re trying to decide how to allocate their human resources, they’re going to allocate fewer resources to women and helping them implement.
The only time women are able to overcome that is with the aid of a more senior politician, more likely men, who are able to through a different mechanism, punish the bureaucrat. This brings me to my next question, which is when we talk about fraternal capital, so far, we’ve talked about men and men, and women getting together, talking about things and loitering and self-help groups. How do we foster more women talking to men and forming fraternal capital across genders?
EVANS: Can I just go back to Bhumi’s paper?
EVANS: Shruti, here’s a question for you. Given Bhumi’s findings, what do you think should be done to solve that problem?
RAJAGOPALAN: I don’t think there is a simple policy mechanism that we can put in place. There is no lever that we can pull, in my opinion, that just solves this problem and makes it go away. I think it’s going to happen over a long period of time. I think we need more female bureaucrats. I think we need more female politicians.
I think through a lot of iterations between the bureaucrats and politicians, we need to slowly change the perception that women are not effective. There’s been a big issue in Indian Parliament on whether women should get 33% reservation in politics, standing for union parliament elections.
I think the question there is, a lot of people push back and say, “If we were to institute this, it’s their husbands and their brothers and their fathers who are going to remote-control these women.” Now the question is what happens 30 years from today. Because India is going to exist 30 years from today. We want to think of this as a very long-arc project. If you immediately bring a lot of women in parliament, I know that some of Bhumi’s findings are going to get worse before they get better.
My hunch is over a long period of time, if every political party, even without a constitutional mandate or legislative mandate, decided to have more women who are handed tickets to stand in constituencies and start hiring more female bureaucrats, I think over a period of time you’re going to see this problem go away. You’re going to start seeing this girls’ club between female bureaucrats and female politicians and so on and so forth. I do hope that is the longer-term solution. In the short term, I don’t think there is a lever that we can pull that can easily make this problem go away. I’m with you there.
EVANS: I’m very sympathetic. Let me say two things. Let me flag two papers that I think are really important here. Lakshmi Iyer has a nice paper showing that after a woman has stood as a leader, that does not seem to enable a positive feedback loop. Women nearby and women in her own constituency are no more likely to stand for office. We can’t assume that there’s any inevitable progress just from the status quo. There could just be stagnation.
One paper I take heed from is Gaurav Chiplunkar and Pinelopi Goldberg. They have a new paper showing that women accept a lower wage if they can work for female entrepreneurs, for female businesses, because their concerns for honor—it’s not in a small little back room with a bunch of men. Families are much more supportive if I’m working with women. Then again, I think that speaks to the point that women are much more comfortable and their families are much more comfortable if they work in a female environment, given concerns for honor and propriety in India.
EVANS: Going back to the bureaucrats in Bhumi’s case, for me—and this is where my feminist radicalism comes in, but I think empirically supported—I would strongly support gender quotas in management at all levels, at every single level. We know, first of all, the gender gap in education is being closed. Women are just as competent, number one.
It’s so important to have these female managers at every step of the way to provide the support that men always are getting anyway. Men are always mentored and supported and getting that homosocial schmoozing from their managers. Men can rely on various people in the organization to understand their concerns and constraints, but women are much more limited. That really makes it harder for women to progress in an organization.
It’s that fraternal capital that is built into every part of every corporation and every bureaucracy, that women might often find that they got nowhere to turn, no ally who can help them deal with harassment or deal with bullying or deal with people underestimating them, deal with people thinking they’re not good or whatever. I am a big fan of gender quotas in management. It’s already—the Nordics already have gender quotas in corporate boards, but that’s at the very top level. It’s not actually changing the gender makeup of an organization. Going back to your point about stereotypes, you’re saying that the bureaucrats think that women can’t help them.
There’s this very nice paper showing that in social democracies in Europe, they have this hours regulation, and this strict hours regulation is great for working-class women because they’ve got—they’re saddled with care work, and they struggle to work long hours like men. But if you cap the number of hours everyone is working, then women are just as competitive as men.
It’s great at raising female employment; it’s great for gender parity in non-managerial jobs. But it’s not so great for elite, ambitious, professional women, because they can’t demonstrate their very unusual proclivity to work extremely long hours just like men. The employers, the top employers think, “Well, men are the ones who worked long hours.” They fall back on that statistical discrimination, just like your Indian bureaucrats. They think, “Well, men are the ones who are better at this job. Let me promote them.”
For me, the only way that you can undermine statistical discrimination is by providing disconfirming evidence, forcing some exogenous shock that’s enables people to recognize women’s equal competence. Because here’s the thing about social psychology: People develop their stereotypes, their assumptions and expectations through observation of their local community. If they see that it’s always men working late into the evenings, that it’s men going the extra mile, that it’s men getting that project completed, then they say, “Well, men are naturally more competent, naturally better. Let me favor them, let me promote them.”
That’s entirely understandable. Men may actually be more productive because women are so hobbled by care work and ideals of chastity. People develop their stereotype and also their expectations. I may be privately critical of some of those assumptions. I may think that I’m perfectly competent, but as long as I see people in my community acting in a kind of way, favoring a particular kind of people, I follow or I might not put myself forward for those roles. What you need to disrupt these gender stereotypes and these perceptions is an exogenous shock.
That’s where I think that quotas are doubly important because you’re exposing people to equally competent women in socially valued domains and on top. You’re not only breaking their stereotypes, but you’re also providing that more enabling environment for women to thrive. Cecilia Ridgeway has a very nice comparative work looking at tech companies and showing what happens when you have female managers.
RAJAGOPALAN: I would push back on the quotas a little bit.
EVANS: Oh, really?
RAJAGOPALAN: This is not because I don’t think we need more representation at all levels of management. That part I completely agree with. I think, in the short run, quotas end up reinforcing whatever are the predominant perceptions in society. I’ll give you an example of what’s happened with caste quotas at all levels of bureaucracy in India. India has had this affirmative action program since the birth of the republic.
Now, one of the byproducts of that has been, the moment people meet anyone who is Dalit, the first question they ask is, “Are you a quota candidate?” Because they think if you came through the quota, you must not have sufficient merit. Now, this is obviously nonsense because Dalits are able to compete at a level where the competition is so high.
You have a lot of Dalits who could qualify as quota candidates, who actually end up making the merit list in the general category. The moment someone perceives that this is a Dalit last name and they’re part of the services, or they’re at an elite engineering college or something, they’ll immediately say that.
Amongst Brahman circles, this is appalling, but it’s very common—I see this in the United States—to ask people if they got into an engineering college through reservations before they came to the United States or something like that. I would worry a little bit in the short run about this. It would almost be the opposite effect, that women are now taken less seriously.
EVANS: Let me push back with two points. Number one, what is your counterfactual? Yes, people who are stereotyped and prejudiced, when they see someone rise, they’ll think, “Well, how did she get that?” That’s been common throughout history. When women have risen in the ranks, people say, “Well, who did she sleep with to get that job?” People who are stereotyped assume there must’ve been some kind of shortcut.
That’s a product of sexism, casteism, discrimination, that they don’t think those people are competent, so they assume they did not get there by merit. Okay, agreed. They will always raise doubts, but the counterfactual to—what would have happened in India without that affirmative action? There’s a very nice paper out now looking at social mobility and caste in India. That affirmative action is one of the biggest reasons why we see rising social mobility.
The fact that Muslims have been locked out of that affirmative action is why Muslim sons are now doing less worse than their fathers. I think that data on social mobility shows that affirmative action, while the elites may dismiss people who’ve risen up that way, people have still risen up. My reading is that people who are prejudiced will always diminish people who rise up. The counterfactual is they might not have risen up at all, as supported by that paper.
RAJAGOPALAN: I am not so much against the affirmative action for—caste-based affirmative action for Dalits we have in India. That was not where I was going. It’s helped with the emergence of a huge Dalit middle class, which I think is incredibly important. It’s very important for representation in governance. I’m just saying that there is this very ugly byproduct, which I think affects women differently than Dalits because women are trying to get through—they’re trying to thread a different needle than just the caste-based affirmative action.
Actually, some of the work on upward mobility and caste actually strengthens your point on structural transformation more than on quotas. If you look at Amartya Lahiri’s work, he talks about how the really big benefits that you see come in the post—thanks to markets opening in India in the ’80s, the big liberalization work. I will go back and say, I agree with you. It’s jobs, jobs, jobs.
Female Labor Force Participation
RAJAGOPALAN: Here I want to flag a recent paper, which you also talked about. There’s a lovely new working paper by Ashwini Deshpande and Jitendra Singh on female labor force participation in India. We talked a little bit about this last time. Our last conversation was about the honor-income tradeoff, how there are all these things at home that are holding women back: public safety issues, child care issues.
They find something quite remarkable, which is that they don’t find much evidence of supply-side demographic characteristics, like household income, structure, motherhood or timing of childbirth, et cetera, to be very significant in the labor force participation. In fact, it has an effect on the level, but it’s not like the timing of the childbirth—you see this big dropoff and then they come back to the labor force and so on. They find that it’s mostly demand-driven, that actually female labor force participation is so low in India because the demand for women is very low.
There’s a second finding that they have. It’s bad news for India going into the immediate future, which is adverse economic shocks actually make this problem worse. Because a lot of the lack of demand or the fallen demand for female labor is because they’re getting displaced by the employment of male workers.
They find that when there’s an economic shock, like demonetization or current COVID constraints and things like that, you see women being driven out of the labor force. Now, if this is the demand problem that you talk about, what can be done to boost the demand for women at the workplace? You’ve talked about quotas as one.
EVANS: There are three things I want to say. Number one, I think it’s important that we’re talking about both caste and gender in the context of economic growth. Going back to Paul Novasad and Sam Asher’s paper, it’s not just affirmative action, but they have a very nice map of India where you can compare at district level where there’s been more progress. Again, it’s large, thriving cities where we see more social mobility. That’s absolutely essential, so growth is key. It’s also key to more out-marriage, outside caste.
We know that in large, thriving cities, you have less residential segregation by caste. Growth enables both upward mobility because people now have salaried employment. They’re less reliant on their jati network for mutual insurance credits, et cetera. Growth is good for Dalits and women for the exact same reason. It’s because employers need labor. As the labor market tightens, they eventually run out of their preferred candidates, so reluctantly employ Dalits and women.
We can say it, employers are prejudiced against both Dalits and women. But when they run out of skilled labor, they’ll say, “Right, let me hire all the Dalits and women. I need them because I’ve got so much business, business is great. Let me take on more and more labor.” Absolutely, growth is key for those two groups.
There were so many parallels between them. Your next point on the Deshpande paper, great paper. Now, let me just push back a little bit. It shows that female employment in India is highly responsive to demand, regardless of women’s individual circumstances.
Whether you’ve just had a child or not, what matters is the local demand for labor. But let me just say one caveat that doesn’t explain why female labor force participation is especially low in India compared to, say, another country. There are still strong preferences for female seclusion, so let me just add that. Now, you asked your question—sorry, too many interesting points here, Shruti. What can we do about it besides gender quotas and growth? Was that your question?
RAJAGOPALAN: Yes. I think the demand-side problem, I find, is even harder in some sense than the supply-side problem, right?
EVANS: Oh, yes. Yes, for sure.
RAJAGOPALAN: Of course, the big macro growth story, you’re absolutely right. The more economic growth we have, the better off every group is. This is also borne out by the paper. During negative economic shocks, it’s worse because women are getting displaced by men.
EVANS: Wait, on the negative economic shocks, I just wanted to flag another paper by Joana Duran-Franch. It’s a great paper. It’s a parallel, a parallel here, Shruti, because in the USA—if I can just hop us over the Indian Ocean and over the Atlantic, you don’t mind a little holiday for you and I, we’ll go to the USA. In the USA, it’s very interesting because they have stagnant female employment, whereas in Europe, female employment is rising. In the USA, it’s stagnant. It’s actually the working-class women have dropped out of the labor market.
Why is that happening? Because there’s this big problem of the loss of good jobs for men with only high school education, men who were in manufacturing, men who were in manual labor. And Daron Acemoglu and Restrepo have a nice paper showing there’s been growing automation, and there’s been a lowering labor demand in many of those sectors. Those men have actually shifted from the blue-collar manufacturing work and shunted into pink-collar work. They’ve pursued jobs in interpersonal jobs, clerical jobs, things that you might have seen as women’s work.
That, I think is really fascinating to me because, for a long time, gender scholars said, “Oh, this gender occupational segregation is because we have these strong ideologies, and women want to do women’s work or men want to do men’s work.” But actually it’s the economics which is driving the change. When there’s low demand and manufacturing, or manual labor jobs are paid terribly, then they shift; then they’re ready to seize these interpersonal pink-collar jobs.
As working-class men take on these pink-collar jobs in the USA, women now become much less competitive, partly because, in the USA, child care is unaffordable. They don’t have much support, and working-class women aren’t as competitive as the men, so they drop out of the labor market. It’s very similar, I think, to what you’re seeing in India, where again, industrialization has not been labor-intensive. There’s growing automation, and that reduces demand to men. Similarly, if you have an economic shock, employers prefer men. It’s the men who are hoovering up all these jobs.
RAJAGOPALAN: Of course, the levels are different, the level in India and the United States, but the mechanism is similar. I see your point. I think one more important thing—and this is going back a little bit even to Bhumi’s paper—is, how do we think about fraternal capital across genders?
EVANS: Oh yes, yes. Sorry, I forgot to answer your question. Rephrase the question for me.
RAJAGOPALAN: This is a little bit from personal experience. Almost all my teachers are male. All my mentors are male. My letter writers were overwhelmingly male. And the kinds of things that open doors within economics, which is sometimes you want to get someone to take a look at your paper and give you comments before you send it to a journal. Most of the journal editors are male.
If you don’t have any automatic entry to this kind of mentorship program, which is dominated by men, but they’re happy to mentor women, how do you navigate this business? This is a question that I’m constantly asked by young female economists. American economists talk about this all the time. I have personally benefited incredibly from fraternal capital, but not gendered as with women, but across genders.
I’m wondering if it makes sense to start thinking about mechanisms through which it would help male bureaucrats if they supported more women politicians, or it would help male politicians if they supported more female bureaucrats. Is there a way by which men in the American economics academic world can succeed and move up higher if they mentor more women? If they write letters for more women, if they have more Ph.D. students who are women? What is a way to think about this?
EVANS: I think that your point is you have an overrepresentation of men at the higher echelons, and that means that it’s men who are providing the support and networking to the young women who want to train. There are two options. One is the quotas. The other I think—Claudia Goldin has a new book coming out next month called “Career and Family,” and it’s fabulous. One thing she notes is that the gender pay gap among college-educated women does not kick in until they start having children.
The big problem is that women become saddled with domestic drudgery. They become reluctant to take on the long hours. It’s the long hours that are incredibly well rewarded in all these high-flying occupations, whether it’s economics, finance, et cetera. For me, I would see it as a structural problem that as long as men are shirking care work, and as long as the state is not making child care affordable, women will always struggle to be in the top jobs.
Even though women are equally competent, even though women are equally well-educated, if not better now in the USA, it’s that supply-side constraint in the USA that’s holding women back from getting the top job. Don’t worry. The friendships are an effect of this structural inequality in time. Once you fix the structural inequality in time, then women will be much more able to compete and you’ll have lots of women to navigate all these networks with, would be my answer.
RAJAGOPALAN: I agree with you. Look, I think of the structural problem as the overwhelming problem in the background all the time.
EVANS: Everything you ask me, I’m just like, “Structure, structure, structure.” [laughs]
RAJAGOPALAN: The reason I don’t push back on the structural problem is I completely agree with you. That’s the margin on which we don’t disagree at all. I won’t belabor the point, but I take that as the big problem in the room. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t small margins on which improvements cannot be made.
EVANS: You always like these low-hanging fruits, Shruti. You always want the low-hanging fruit.
RAJAGOPALAN: I’m an economist; I think from the margin.
EVANS: You want some—no, no, Shruti. No, no, no. No, it’s a waste of time looking for these low-hanging fruits and all this tinkering. Get the structure right, and then everything else will fall into place.
Mentorship Across Gender
RAJAGOPALAN: I don’t disagree with you at all. I do think we need to get the structure right. That’s an absolute problem that one needs to solve. I do think also that in the immediate run—now, let’s take someone like me, for instance. I don’t have children. The big structural problem of child care and that’s why being left behind and so on and so forth, those problems simply don’t apply to me.
When one is a young economist, there’s a question of, are you invited to a conference panel? Because sometimes when you’re invited to a conference panel, the panel turns into co-authorships; sometimes multiple panels turn into a special issue in a journal. All these things are constantly going on. People who are at a conference together on a particular topic get invited to submit chapters for an edited volume for a book.
These are the kinds of things that I have hugely benefited from in my career. Wonderful letter writers. Actually, I think having male mentors has helped me in also many different ways because I have learned to think like men, to learn to demand like men. It would have never occurred to me to negotiate on any margin.
It wouldn’t even occur to me to actually ask for something better or ask for something more, more time, more money, more anything. But I have learned to demand because the moment I would mention a problem to one of my male mentors, they would immediately, “Why don’t you just ask for it? What’s the problem?” Then I’m like, “Oh, I could just ask.” Even if the answer is no, that’s fine, but it wouldn’t even occur to me to ask.
I think there is a very important element within particular—I’m not talking about big industrial blue-collar work. I am very much talking about the elite jobs that you talked about where—
EVANS: Shruti, let me just push back on one thing, selection bias. You’re saying that all the senior people you know are men, and all the senior people tell you to be more assertive. It’s possible in a world where you had more senior people who are women, they might give the same advice because they only got there through being assertive.
RAJAGOPALAN: I completely agree, and I’m sure one day when I’m mentoring young women, I would give them the same advice to be more assertive, no question.
EVANS: Anyway, I interrupted you, continue.
RAJAGOPALAN: The more simple point is, how do we get to more senior women without some buy-in from the men? It’s very difficult to only think of fraternal capital as gendered spaces. We need mingling for fraternal capital to translate in an important way. I need my male mentors to transfer some of their very well-earned social capital and its benefits to me. Otherwise, I’m never going to get to a position where I can transfer some of my well-earned social capital to younger women and men, but especially younger women.
I think this is something we do need to resolve because if human resources, or the head of human resources in a factory in India, doesn’t have much female representation in higher-level management, how are we going to get better restrooms, better policies, better maternity leave for the blue-collar workers who are working there? I don’t think this is just a simple thing. I think we need these marginal improvements at every level. That’s what I’m trying to think about.
EVANS: Let me go back to structure, Shruti. Take a person, let’s call her Shruti. She’s a brilliant economist, and she is not constrained by child care. She can work those long hours, she could write brilliant papers, and she happens to have excellent mentors who will write her letters. But she is still constrained by statistical discrimination and fraternal capital which exist.
No matter how many male mentors you have, there will still be many people in the profession who are racist and sexist and will continue to underestimate your work. Because as long as the majority of women are hobbled by men shirking care work and men’s predominance of fraternal capital, then those men are still sharing ideas amongst themselves, and they’re still thinking that a woman is not such a good economist.
They may present a facade of egalitarianism by having a nice gender-equal panel, but behind the scenes, they maybe have these sexist ideologies. I think for you as the single woman, that is a great example of why structure is so important. Because that fraternal capital will still exist, it will still consolidate male advantage, and the statistical discrimination will still exist as long as people primarily see economics as a male thing because men are more able to thrive.
RAJAGOPALAN: Yes, I think of this maybe as a necessary condition versus other sufficient conditions. If I weren’t part of that second post-colonial generation that hugely benefited from liberalization and the birth accident and the right caste and the right family and so on, so forth, I would have never benefited from the structural transformation in India to even end up in a position where I could get my Ph.D. in economics and then pursue my life as an academic economist. Now that that’s taken care of, there is a question of how you can get more women within academia in economics, and so on and so forth.
I don’t think they preclude one another. I think the more structural transformation we have, and the more women can pursue jobs like mine, the more my question will become pressing. I think it’s also a question of the sequence. I think it’s a question of the margin on which decisions are being made. We have this problem of female representation pretty much everywhere. Many people will say, “I’m talking about a very first-world problem.” Eventually, I’m hoping that we have enough of a structural transformation to get to the first-world problem and actually solve it.
EVANS: No, no, Shruti, I’m with you and I’m sympathetic.
Female Representation in Art
RAJAGOPALAN: You recently did a lovely thread on how women are represented in art. This again goes back to your thing of fraternal capital, “Why Loiter?,” public spaces, so on and so forth. I’m very interested in art, and we can talk endlessly about women and art and things like that. The other reason I’m asking the question is, I think, as social scientists, we need to get a little bit clever when we talk about gender in the workforce and things like that. Because this hard, quantitative evidence that we’re constantly seeking in economics, a lot of that doesn’t exist for women.
We know that women have not been historically counted in many different spheres and in many different ways. It’s not that they never existed, it’s that they don’t exist in the hard data. I think we also need to think about women in music, women in art representation, to start putting together the story of the long arc when we’re thinking about gender and gender divergence. Those are the two reasons I’m very excited about this thread that you did. As I told you, I think you should write a book on this. It could be a beautiful coffee table book because it’s going to have gorgeous art in it. Walk me through the thread and then how do we use it as social scientists?
EVANS: Shruti, did I tell you that I’ve been collating a little online museum of representations of gender across the world?
RAJAGOPALAN: Yes, and I am very excited. I think you should either curate a show or put together a coffee table book. If there are publishers listening to this podcast, listen up. Here’s an opportunity to sell a coffee table book at a huge markup.
EVANS: Did I show you my Afghan paintings?
EVANS: Wait, just never mind the podcast, but let me just show you. I don’t know if you can see. I have three paintings. [turns the camera and points to the wall with the paintings]
RAJAGOPALAN: I saw them on—she’s amazing.
EVANS: She’s wonderful.
RAJAGOPALAN: I love her work.
EVANS: She’s wonderful, Shamsia Hassani, and they’re really brilliant. I love them. I do buy art and I enjoy it.
RAJAGOPALAN: As an FYI, everyone can buy Shamsia Hassani’s prints. She’s on social media and the internet, so Google “Shamsia Hassani” and find her paintings on how the feminist movement is taking place in Afghanistan.
EVANS: Yes, brilliant. I think art is one way in which we can understand gender relations historically, and also archaeology as well. For example, I study the Inca, the Andean civilizations, and we don’t have much interpretable written text, but we can still look at their iconography to understand their gender relations. Actually, they’re really fascinating because they have this idea of gender complementarity and gender parallelism. They always have two figurines, a male and female, and they’re represented as interdependent.
There’s this idea of gender parallelism, that women are descended from women and men are descended from men, and ultimately, the sun god and the moon goddess. This idea of complementarity was very, very important. Studying that iconography, that art, tells us a little bit about that civilization and the society and how they represented and understood each other.
Then economics can actually help us explain it. There are a couple of fantastic papers on potatoes and tubers. Two things: There’s a nice paper on tubers versus cereals in Africa, and they find that female labor force participation is 11% higher in tuber-growing societies, and tolerance of wife-beating is 17% lower in tuber-growing societies. Then one theory is that cereals, women are needed in the home to process the cereals for milling, et cetera.
Another paper that I may be a little bit more persuaded by is by Mayshar and Moev and others, and they show that tuber-cultivating societies are typically more egalitarian because tubers can be kept in the ground the whole year. Whereas cereals, there’s a set harvest point, then they’re taken out the ground, and then they can be more easily appropriated or taxed. That taxation enables state-building, which enables hierarchy and social stratification.
As land rises in value, inheritance becomes more important. Then you have the wealthy landowners and the poor landless laborers. As society becomes more stratified, we also tend to see the emergence of patrilineal kinship, whereby men who are wealthy landowners value female chastity because they want to inherit land. They want their sons, their legitimate heirs, to inherit their land. In order to improve their daughters’ prospects in the marriage markets, parents increasingly police their daughters’ chastity.
As land becomes more valuable with cereals or plow cultivation, you get the emergence of patriliny, and female labor force participation goes down. My interpretation of this art in the Andes is that because they grew potatoes, which they could dehydrate and keep—the Inca civilization only lasted for 100 years. They didn’t have a strong state that endured like many ancient civilizations. My interpretation is that these Ayllu communities in the Andes were very egalitarian. They relied on reciprocal labor.
As long as those communities were egalitarian and relying on reciprocal labor, women’s work was valued; land inheritance wasn’t so important. That’s why it’s represented in art. I think art is a tremendously important way of helping us understand how society is perceived and wanted to be perceived by others.
Let me give another example from ancient Mesopotamia. The iconography of male leadership is absolutely fascinating. You see this strong supplication to the king-priest. Women are virtually absent from all that iconography of leadership. It’s very much about appreciation of the king-priest. My reading of these early Sumerian cities is that—this is in southern Iraq. There was this great technological innovation, and they really improved water management and irrigation.
Through that they were enabled to have these incredibly brilliant and high crop yields. Land became very valuable, but everywhere else, your exit options were terrible. That enabled, over time, growing stratification because you had these wealthy landowners who amassed wealth and cattle and valuable land, and the poor landless laborers couldn’t really go anywhere else because their exit options were so terrible. With this emergence of these small city-states, you had the emergence of hierarchy.
When people have traced both the archeology and the Sumerian myths, they see this huge transformation in gender relations. At first, women and men went to the citadels to learn; they’re listed as scribes; women were running businesses. Then gradually, Sumerian cities become more patriarchal. In the beginning, you even have female deities, male deities in democratic assemblies being represented in the art and iconography. But over time, even their mythology becomes more authoritarian.
If you look at any archeology and art from Sumerian cities, you see strong, powerful males. They’re ripped and they’ve got bulging biceps. They’re sometimes holding a lion. It’s hilarious. Anyway, this is my point. Again, there’s another great paper, again by Mayshar, showing that irrigation—my theory is that if it’s elite-controlled irrigation, that enables social stratification. What I’m saying is you blend economics, you blend comparative political science, and then you use that archeology and the arts and iconography to really understand what’s going on.
I can talk you through any civilization you like, but those are just two examples where I think it’s incredible. To go back to your point about paintings, let me give more examples. For a long time, for a long time, female friendships have been totally underrepresented in art. If you and I went to any gallery—and I’d love to do that, you and me, Shruti, touring a gallery, because I’m nuts about art—I 100% bet you’ll see more naked women than women talking to each other.
RAJAGOPALAN: Oh, yes, absolutely.
EVANS: We’d see a lot of butt naked women.
RAJAGOPALAN: I go to galleries only to see gorgeous naked women.
EVANS: It’s totally pervy. In part, that reflects the preferences of male artists, but also there’s deep historical patriarchal anxiety about what women are up to when they talk to each other. Even though throughout history women were economically marginalized, men still got anxious about a gaggle of women chatting amongst themselves. What are they talking about? What are they getting up to?
RAJAGOPALAN: I’ll send you a lovely painting by one of my favorite artists, Thota Vaikuntam, who is an Indian artist. He has a gorgeous picture, and we’ll try and link it in the notes, on women gossiping in groups.
EVANS: Okay, I want to see that.
RAJAGOPALAN: For him, it’s coming from the origins of his memory of the women he’s seen in the village. His gaze—funnily enough, since you talked about how it’s a very male gaze and almost this nervousness about women and what they’re doing when they’re in private and so on—his gaze in this particular picture is almost nostalgic. He’s missing the women. I don’t know exactly what the story is. Maybe he’s missing his aunts and his cousins. He’s seen them walk across in a gaggle to the temple or something like that, but it is a really sweet, gorgeous painting.
There’s a great couple of books on this. There is, of course, Vidya Dehejia, the incredible art historian who’s at Columbia. She has done amazing work. She’s been writing about this really for decades, but she’s got this great book called “Representing the Body: Gender Issues in Indian Art.” She’s able to situate these things in a much broader context of what’s really happening. Also, it doesn’t just tell us differences between how women and men are represented in art, but also different religious contexts, for instance.
If you look at all the Mughal, a lot of the miniature paintings, you see a lot of female representation. Incidentally, they’re not naked women. They’re beautiful, but they’re always in this zenanas, the women’s chambers and the harem and things like that. You’ll typically see parrots and peacocks, very feminine, dainty. It’s like a peacock on the terrace as opposed to a man holding the tiger or something like that.
EVANS: Shruti, if I die, can you please commission a painting of me holding a tiger? I’d like that.
RAJAGOPALAN: Why do we need to wait for you to die to commission this painting?
EVANS: Okay. All right. Do it now, Shruti. Do it now. Get one of me holding a tiger.
RAJAGOPALAN: I feel a little bad about killing any animals. Can the tiger be alive?
EVANS: Yes. Shruti, that’s better.
RAJAGOPALAN: Can it be you taming a tiger?
EVANS: Show me holding—that’s how powerful I am. I’d be less powerful if someone had killed it; then anyone can do that. Show me holding a live tiger. That’s what I want you to do, my big painting.
RAJAGOPALAN: If there’s an artist who’s listening, we need Alice Evans as Kali riding the tiger.
EVANS: Yes, like Boudicca. Have you seen that?
RAJAGOPALAN: This is something we wish—
EVANS: I haven’t seen many films, but you know there’s that scene in “Lord of the Rings,” the four armies, where they’re all riding those ancient animals. Get me riding a tiger, then I’m happy.
RAJAGOPALAN: Awesome. Let’s do it. Let’s get you to ride a tiger. There’s another lovely book by Catherine McCormack. Have you seen this? It’s called “Women in the Picture: Women, Art and the Power of Looking.“ This was recently reviewed in the FT. It’s almost like a cautionary tale. Some of this—how we think about women in art, it’s not like it’s going to inspire us in a modern day, but it is going to inform us in a very big way about what was really going on in those times. Does European art tell us something particular about what happened in Europe?
EVANS: Oh, yes, very much so.
RAJAGOPALAN: Because the structural transformation happened in Europe much sooner. That’s the reason I was flagging Catherine McCormack’s books.
EVANS: Sorry, wait, rephrase your question for me?
RAJAGOPALAN: Basically, you were talking about how when we go to all these beautiful galleries—if you and I went, we’re just looking at all these lovely women who are naked. It’s almost pervy. But what is it really telling us about the structural transformation in Europe? How do we appropriate it as social scientists to better inform our work?
EVANS: I think there are two things. One is that male artists may have disregarded female friendships. As we were saying before, female friendships always existed, but there was a patriarchal suspicion. Women may have been chatting with their neighbors, and that existed, but they’re underrepresented. In some ways, European and Indian art tells a realistic story. If you look at these ancient classical paintings, like the “Circle of Friends,” “The Four Philosophers,” these paintings show men gathering together sharing ideas. Even if you look up pictures of taverns, it’s men in the taverns, men sharing ideas.
That very much reflected what happened throughout European and also Indian history and more broadly, and that it was men being enabled to loiter in the public sphere, to forge ideas together and to become perceived as knowledgeable. Even myself, I did ethnographic work in Cambodia, and it was men in the village who gathered in the cafe, shared and discussed and debated local politics, then became seen as knowledgeable.
To some extent, the art is incredibly valuable because it reflects things that have also been chronicled. You look at court records. One of my favorite books that I read recently—I jump all over the place, I’m so sorry. There’s this—Barbara Hanawalt did this brilliant research looking at coroners’ inquests. She looked at all these investigations of accidental deaths. It’s great, fantastic. She really traces what men or women were up to, where they were going. This is based in England in the 13th and 14th century. We can really have a good idea of what was going on. Women, for example, were much more likely to die near the home, whereas men are more likely to die in public space.
Anyway, my point is that, like I was saying about the Inca or Mesopotamia, we can gather up all these different insights, and together, we can build this big 3D jigsaw about what was going on. I think that’s the brilliance of social science.
RAJAGOPALAN: Here, again, I think structural transformation comes in. Again, if I talk about Indian art, some of my favorite representations of women in modern Indian art are by an artist called Amrita Sher-Gil. But Amrita Sher-Gil is elite. When you have female artists who were given the means of production and the means of distribution, you’re also going to get more female representation in art, which is different from the kind of gaze you’ve been talking about.
She’s also done lovely work on women in bridal chambers, getting dressed and things like that, but it’s also women out and about, which is the hallmark of Amrita Sher-Gil’s work. I think to connect it back to the larger theme, if we want to see better art and less pervy and male-gazey art, we again need a big structural transformation. We need to empower more female artists, give them channels of production and distribution.
EVANS: That’s very similar to what people say about economics, because your personal background and your experiences shape the kinds of questions you think interesting and what you want to explore. That’s why it’s so important to have Black, and people of color, and women economists, because that will shape what kinds of research is done. That’s why it’s important the first-generation economist, because then you might look at union issues, or et cetera. The same is absolutely true of art. The more experiences and perspectives we can draw on, the richer our knowledge and our understandings and our representations of the world become. What’s true of economics is true of art.
RAJAGOPALAN: That’s a wonderful note to end on. Thank you so much for doing this, Alice. As you know, you and I can chat endlessly.
EVANS: I have many more things I want to talk to you about, so you must let me come back soon, Shruti.
RAJAGOPALAN: Of course, I think we just have to keep having you back.
EVANS: I hope one of your listeners will draw me on a tiger, I’d really like it.
RAJAGOPALAN: I really hope so. We have such a great time talking with each other that I hope there are more women who want to come and have a little chat with me on the podcast. Maybe I can use you as the promotional element of, look at what a great time we have when two women get together and talk social science.
EVANS: Absolutely, Shruti. Thank you so much.
RAJAGOPALAN: Thank you so much for doing this, Alice.
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