Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How Jesus Liberates Women VII: A Challenge to the UN Report

In  Part III of this series, I leaned heavily on a survey taken by the United Nation's Population Crisis Committee (PCC) that showed that Christian influence in countries around the world correlates strongly with a higher status of women in those countries.  (In effect, the authors of the study did not explicitly draw this correlation out.)  One might also conclude from the data on different countries that Islam and Hinduism are bad for women, and that Communism or Secular Humanism do them good.

Eight years after that survey, however, at the 1996 Conference for the International Association for Feminist Economists, Yasmeen Mohiuddin, from The University of the South in Tennessee, challenged it.  She argued that the assumptions under which the survey was conducted were flawed, and that they wrongly made Muslim countries look bad.  Arguing for a different and fairer set of premises, she jimmied the data to create an "Alternative Composite" (AC) index, which yielded rather different results.  In particular, as she pointed out, the status of women dropped dramatically in the United States on her index.  The country that came out on top this time was the Soviet Union, which  had however, disappeared from the real world in the interim.  In fact, the USSR turned out to be the ONLY country where the status of women ranked as "very good."  Despite the tweaking, Muslim countries still came out pretty poorly. 

What should we make of Dr. Mohiuddin's complaints?  Was the UN study in fact flawed?  Was the status of women really "poor" in the United States in 1988 -- well below Vietnam and Puerto Rico - and "very good" only in the USSR? 

If so, does that undermine my argument?  Maybe Christianity hasn't had such a great effect, and if we love our mothers and sisters, we should become communists instead? 

Let's take a look.

Mohiuddin began with an overview, which in part highlighted how American and Soviet positions altered under the new regime:

Out of the seven overall rankings of `excellent', `very good', `good', `fair', `poor', `very poor', `and `extremely poor', the U.S. ranks poor in the AC index compared to very good in the PCC index, the U.S.S.R. ranks very good in the AC index compared to good in the PCC index, the Nordic countries generally rank fair in the AC index compared to very good in the PCC index, while South Asian countries rank extremely poor, and the eastern European countries good, in both indices. Similarly, all Muslim countries do not rank the worst, neither do all Nordic countries the best. In fact, several Latin American countries and a few African and Asian countries rank fair alongside some western European countries.

It will be interesting to see how Mohiuddin arrives at such conclusions. 

Mohiuddin begins by offering a series of generalizations, such as "Everywhere in the world women are accorded a lower status than men."  She claims that in "developed" countries (whatever they are), this lower status is manifest in "women being paid considerably less than men in all occupational fields and industry categories," being "confined" to low-paying jobs, and in "greater family responsibilities due to divorce, abandonment, single motherhood, etc."

I don't much believe the first part of this.  Mohiuddin does not seem to allow for the fact that pay is just one good, and that women may choose different fields because they offer more flexibility or other advantages. 

But this latter point seems well-taken.  The UN survey made too little allowance for the harm single motherhood and divorce cause women (not to mention children). 

The most serious shortcoming of the PCC index is that it is heavily influenced by the extent of poverty or per capita income of a country. Consequently, the PCC index almost invariably assigns a high rank to high income countries and a low rank to low income countries. This is because it does not distinguish between the absolute status of women and the relative status of women vis-a-vis men. An index of women's status should measure, as it does in the case of the U.S., for example, the status of women relative to men, and comparisons between countries should focus on women's status relative to men's in one country compared to another. It should not compare the absolute position of women in one country to their position in the other.

This seems deeply dubious.  Is the status of women higher in Russia than in Japan, because women live 12 years longer than men in Russian (76 to 64), while they live only seven years longer than men in Japan (86 to 79)?  Is it an advantage to Russian women if their fathers get drunk and freeze to death in the streets?  And does that advantage really make up for living ten years less long, themselves? 

That would take the War of the Sexes a little too seriously.   

Thus the comparison of female literacy rates in two countries would be a poorer measure of women's status relative to men's than a comparison of the gender gap in literacy because the former is more a reflection of the income level of the two countries rather than of women's status per se. In a poor country, literacy rates are low both for poor men and poor women; the gender gap measures the relatively greater disadvantage for women. The PCC index uses several such poverty-biased indicators of women's health (such as female mortality rates, female life expectancy, adolescent marriages) and of education (such as female literacy rates, enrollments rates) which lead to the predicted result that women's status is positively related to income. But high income or growth does not guarantee high status for women any more than markets do, unless an enabling environment is in place. Thus only gender gap variables are relevant in constructing an index measuring the status of women relative to men, and only such variables are included in the new AC index.

Again, while it is true that status does often imply a comparison, and the UN study does also compare men and women in many of its questions, it also seems highly legitimate that other questions zero in  on the far more important question of absolute well-being.   We should not compare men and women as if ours were a zero-sum game: a loss for men is a gain for women, and vice-versa.  If Christianity can help both men and women improve their lives, that is ideal.  It would be bizarre to say that Abeerah has a higher status than Anna, because neither Abeerah nor her husband can read, while Anna has an MA, but her husband has a PhD.   

Mohiuddin then points out that in developing countries, women often work without pay on farms, or in the "urban informal sector," whatever that means.  (Maids in Hong Kong?  Prostitutes in Pattaya?)  She continues:

It has been argued that countries with a traditional Chinese culture or predominantly Hindu or Muslim populations have more restrictive attitudes towards women's participation in sales and clerical jobs than elsewhere. In Muslim countries, there is no restriction on women's employment per se, but there is a sort of a social censure on work done outside the home or the family farm.

This is the sort of strange pattern of words you sometimes see in articles written about life surveyed from the level of satellites orbiting the Earth.

Chinese women work in sales by the millions.  That may not be true of Muslim and Hindu cultures, but let's not get them mixed up.

And how strange that last sentence is, kind of like the doctor telling you, "Yes, you may climb as many mountains as you like, provided you hop on one foot."   There are no restrictions on employment, so long as you don't leave the property?  That'll be great comfort to all those female Saudi farmers who sell their goods from roadside stands. 

Several indicators within and between sectors in the PCC index reflect similar phenomenon, and are thus redundant. Worse still, they increase the weight on certain indicators. Thus female infant mortality, female life expectancy at birth, and gender gap in life expectancy at birth all measure more or less similar variables: the health gender gap variable should suffice.

Well, no, since how long one lives is disproportionally important.  It should carry special weight. 

Similarly, female mortality rate (listed as a health indicator), and total fertility rate, contraceptive prevalence, adolescent marriages (all 3 listed as marriage and childbearing indicators) measure, in fact, women's health and so could be combined into one variable. All together, there are seven indicators on health out of a total of 20, making the PCC index largely a health index which not surprisingly is highly correlated to poverty.

Marriage and childbirth are not just "health issues," that's rather narcissistic in effect if not intent.  But having one fourth to one third of variables relate to health and life-expectancy does not seem out of line to me.

Shortly after, Mohiuddin gives the PCC results, which I list again here:  

Table I : Country Rankings Of Women's Status By Old PCC Index

COUNTRIES              INDEX              COUNTRIES                    INDEX 
Very Good                                 Peru                          57.5
Sweden                  87                Thailand                      57.5 
Finland                 85                Dominican Republic            57  
United States           82.5              Paraguay                      57
Germany, East           82                El Slavador                   55.5   
Norway                  81.5              Brazil                        54.5   
Canada                  80.5              Nicaragua                     54.5   
Denmark                 80                Botswana                      53     
                                          South Africa                  52.5   
Good                                      Turkey                        52.5   
Australia               79.5              Honduras                      52     
Bulgaria                78                Jordan                        50     
Jamaica                 77.5                                                   
Belgium                 77                Very Poor                            
Czecholslovakia         77                Kuwait                        49.5   
Hungary                 77                Tunisia                       49     
USSR                    77                Algeria                       47.5   
New Zealand             76.5              Bolivia                       47     
France                  76                Iraq                          47     
Germany, West           76                Zimbabwe                      47     
Austria                 75.5              Indonesia                     46.5   
Poland                  75.5              Guatemala                     46     
Netherlands             75                Lesotho                       45.5   
United Kingdom          74.5              Kenya                         45     
Barbados                74                Mozambique                    44.5   
Italy                   74                Haiti                         43.5   
Switzerland             73                India                         43.5   
Yugoslavia              72                United Arab Emirates          43     
Portugal                71.5              Zambia                        42     
Israel                  71                Cameroon                      40     
Greece                  70                Syria                         40     
Spain                   70                                                     
Uruguay                 70                Extremely Poor                       
                                          Tanzania                      39.5   
Fair                                      Morocco                       39     
Costa Rica              69.5              Rwanda                        38.5   
Hong Kong               69.5              Benin                         38     
Cuba                    69                Egypt                         38     
Japan                   68.5              Nepal                         37     
Argentina               68                Libya                         36.5   
Romania                 68                Liberia                       34     
Trinidad & Tobago       68                Senegal                       33 
Panama                  67.5              Malawi                        32     
Taiwan                  67                Sudan                         31.5   
Venezuela               67                Saudi Arabia                  29.5   
Singapore               66.5              Nigeria                       29     
Ireland                 66                Pakistan                      28     
Philippines             64                Yemen, North                  26.5   
Korea, South            62                Afghanistan                   26     
Mexico                  61.5              Mali                          26     
Ecuador                 61                Bangladesh                    21.5   
Colombia                60                                                     
Sri Lanka               60                                                     
Chile                   59.5                                                   
Guyana                  59.5                                                   
China                   58.5                                                   
Malaysia                58                                                     

Source: Population Crisis Committee, 1988. Population Briefing Paper No. 20. Washington, D.C.

The PCC index also fails to incorporate some indicators which reflect women's high esteem in some Third World countries, particularly Muslim countries. These include the informal safety net in developing countries, the protection guarantee which ensures that women are not left alone to fend for themselves, the relatively lower rates of crimes against women, the overrepresentation of women in the professions, the relatively lower percentage of women-headed households, etc. Conversely, the PCC index fails to incorporate some indicators which capture the plight of women workers in developed countries such as the gender wage gap and occupational segregation, as well as the tremendous increase in women-headed households due to divorce, abandonment, single motherhood, and a general breakdown in the family system.

This it seems to me, includes a mixture of good points and bad.  Note that none of them actually bare strongly on the comparative status of women, which Mohiuddin emphasized earlier -- maybe women aren't robbed because they don't have much money, for instance.  Some of them are ambiguous.  Women don't head many households in the Muslim world -- is that a good thing, or a bad thing?  I don't know if you can call it either, in the abstract.  But if it means you can't drive to work or make a living, that seems pretty hard. 

Eight Factors in the Alternative Composite (AC)

Mohiuddin then explains her alternative ranking.  I will cite parts of her argument. 

To remedy these defects while still using the PCC index as the reference point, the paper presents an alternative composite (AC) index based on several indicators in eight sectors: health, schooling, adult education, labor force participation, conditions of employment, domestic life, political representation, and legal rights . . .  The following is a description of the indicators in different sectors.

1. The Health Sector.

We have used two indicators to compare women's health status to men's within each country: the gender gap in life expectancy at birth (measured as female minus male life expectancy), and the sex ratio (measured as the number of women per 100 men).

I explained above why focusing on gaps is problematic.  Mohiuddin points out that in some South Asian countries, women have less access to health care and nutrition, and also face widow burning, female infanticide, and selective abortion.  Certainly that does strongly indicate that the status of women is extremely low in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Iran, Afghanistan, Malawi, and Tunisia, which she mentions.  But the fact that men kill themselves off at inordinate rates does not mean the status of women is especially high in former communist countries.

2. The Schooling Sector.

We have used gender gap in primary school enrollments (measured as the ratio of female to male enrollment at this level * 100) and the gender gap in secondary school enrollments (measured as the ratio of female to male enrollment at this level * 100) as measures of women's status as far as education in early years is concerned.


3. The Adult Education Sector.

The two indicators used to compare adult women's education status to adult men's within each country are the gender gap in adult illiteracy (measured as the percentage of illiterate females in the 25 years and above age group minus the percentage of illiterate males in the same age group), and the gender gap in university and college enrollments (measured as the ratio of female to male enrollment at this level * 100).

In university and college enrollments, the numbers of women and men have become nearly equal in the developed regions, western Asia, some countries of Southern Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, with women outnumbering men in 21 out of 98 countries for which such data are reported (9 in developed countries, 7 in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 5 in Asia and the Pacific), with Puerto Rico and Qatar having more than 150 women enrolled in colleges and universities for every 100 men . . . A higher ratio of female to male enrollment indicates a higher status for women relative to men because of the greater competitive edge it provides.

Generally, this seems reasonable, but it is also based on zero-sum thinking, and brings up another issue.  Mohiuddin has claimed, rather dogmatically, that the status of women is always lower than it is for men.  So how does one explain it when almost 60% of college students are female, as in the United States?  Can't that be called gender discrimination against men?  And what is ideal?  What if some men get good blue collar jobs, while young women waste time and money on acquiring degrees which don't pay?  And what if they know that, and go to college anyway, for reasons other than to get rich? 

In Japan, almost all my students in cultural studies and nursing were girls.  The boys tended to go to engineering, science, or (I suppose) business schools, though I didn't teach any of those.  There was little question in my mind which was going to make the real money on graduation. 

4. The Labor Force Participation Sector.

The two indicators of women's labor force status used in this study are the gender gap in the economic activity rate (measured as the percentage of adult (15 years and over) women who are economically active minus the percentage of adult men who are economically active) and women's share of the labor force (measured as the percentage of the economically active population that is female). Higher values of both these indicators reflect higher status of women since work is associated with earning power, mobility, etc.

This seems so confused and simplistic, one is tempted to jettison Mohiuddin's analysis entirely at this point.  What matters is what kind of work is being done.  Planting rice on a farm, which is what this means for many women, does not give those who plant it much "earning power," still less "mobility."  This index seems to deprecate the work of housewives.  It also seems to penalize developed countries for the fact that women live long enough to retire, which is bizarre. 

5. The Employment Conditions Sector.

In Cyprus, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, women's wages are the lowest in relation to men's (50%) among those countries for which data are available. Only a few countries report women's wages as high as 75-90% of men's -- such as Iceland, France, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, and Netherlands among the developed regions, Tanzania and Kenya in Africa, and Jordan and Sri Lanka in Asia. One of the reasons for women's lower wages is that they are concentrated in low-paying jobs, the female `ghettos', in every economy . . .

The low paying job ratio varies from a maximum of 542 women per 100 men in these jobs (sales, clerical, and service) in Haiti, to a minimum of 7 in Syria . . . The advantage of using this index is that it would capture the plight of women workers in the developed countries since the `low-paying job ratio' would be higher in these countries meaning a lower status of women.

Again, this analysis seems driven more by ideology than good sense.  So is it bad that there are lots of saleswomen in Haiti, but good that women are excluded even from selling t-shirts in a department store in Syria?  Both would seem to be problems for different reasons, and it is hard to say, a priori, which is worse.  One needs to study the conditions on the ground to sort things out. 

6. The Domestic Life Sector.

We initially used two indicators to compare women's household characteristics to men's within each country: the ratio of women-headed households ( measured as a percentage of total households), and the ratio of divorced women (measured as percentage of 25-44 year old women who are currently divorced). Both these indicators reflect the economic burden on women since they have to fend for themselves, and possibly their children . . . On the other hand, however, divorce rights also represent the freedom to choose for women, and in many countries, women do not have that freedom which lowers their status. Therefore, the divorce variable was dropped from subsequent analysis. 

Women-headed households are a growing worldwide phenomenon, although the primary reason varies from widowhood and abandonment in Asia and Africa to single motherhood and divorce in developed countries. Such households make up over 20% of all households in Africa, the developed regions, and Latin America and the Caribbean, and 14% in Asia. There are marked inter-regional variations too: women head 45% of households in Botswana, 38% in Norway, 31% in the U.S., 17% in Bangladesh, and 4% in Pakistan. The women-headed households are generally poorer than those headed by men because such households often have one working-age provider, and they generally have to support children or other dependents.

I don't think this is completely irrational, and it was probably wise to drop divorce.  But what remains -- and therefore gains twice the weight -- is again confused, because of Mohuiddin's insistence on evaluating the lives of men and women in a zero-sum manner. 

If poverty is the issue, why not just compare incomes?  But of course, a Welfare Queen in the United States makes, and spends, vastly more income than the Pakistani lady who never sets foot outside her home, and cooks dinner for her husband and children.  And living longer than your husband seems, again, to oddly appear on the "loss" column in the battle of the sexes. 

But for peculiar, the seventh criteria on Dr. Mohuiddin's ledger wins the cake:

7. Public Life and Leadership.

The two indicators used to compare women's relative to men's representation in government within each country are the political participation of women (measured as the percentage of parliamentary seats occupied by women), and women decision makers in government (measured as percentage of decision making positions held by women in all ministries including executive offices, economic, political and legal affairs, social affairs, and ministerial level).

In most countries, women still play a very minor role in high-level political and economic decision-making . . . Of the 159 member States of the United Nations, only six (3.8%) were headed by women at the end of 1990: Iceland, Ireland, Nicaragua, Norway, Dominica, and the Philippines. Two more can be added after that period: Pakistan and Bangladesh. The percentage of parliamentary seats occupied by women is a good indicator of women in public life. The strength of parliamentary representation by women varies by political system and historical period. It varies from 34.5 in U.S.S.R. to 0.7 in Sudan . . . The highest consistent parliamentary representation by women has been in the Nordic countries . . .

The myopia and apparent self-delusion of these comments is astounding.  Was Dr. Mohiuddin unaware of the fact that the Soviet Union was a communist dictatorship? 

Communists asserted that women should be accorded equal status, so they made sure lots of women "occupied seats" in their parliaments.   But so what?  It was a sham parliament, there to fool the naive, not to decide what direction the state should go. 


8. The Legal Protection Sector.

The two indicators of the governments commitment to equal political and economic rights are the gender gap in the right to vote (measured as the difference in years between men and women getting the right to vote), and commitment to legal protection against sex discrimination . . .

Well, OK, but doesn't it matter if votes actually count for something?  In sham elections, I don' think the "right to vote" means anything.  You might as well give your dog the vote (as I attempted to give mine in the last election.) 

Mohiuddin then explained the difficulties the study presented (data was missing from some countries, so she made various adjustments), and why her study was better than its rival.  She then summarized some of her (to me rather incredible) findings, though the full table comes later:

"On the whole, the USSR and the eastern European countries (the former socialist countries) rank higher on the AC than the PCC scale. There are two reasons for this: very high female labor force participation rates in these countries and women's representation in parliament increases rankings whereas the plight of women workers in these countries in terms of long working hours at work and home without help from husbands or modern appliances which would have decreased rankings is not captured because of non-availability of such data for most countries. Thus the USSR has the highest rank, topping the world in terms of percentage of parliamentary seats occupied by women, their advantage over men in life expectancy, and their proportion in the labor force."

Which for any scholar with sense, would cause him or her to scoff, toss the whole study, and try again with some meaningful figures. 

The communists get high marks because lots of women are seated in parliaments that are a rubber stamps for the party?  And the real decisions are made where?  How many important Soviet leaders were women?  Besides "none?"

The communists also get extra marks because Soviet men drank themselves to death, and more marks again for "proportion in the labor force." 

On the Soviet ship I worked on, out of 100 people, there were maybe two women, both cooks. 

Then the Soviet Union broke up, and flocks of Soviet women expressed the satisfaction they felt with their high-status lives by moving to Turkey, Japan, and China to sell their bodies to the highest bidders.  The Russian mafia bosses who facilitated this sort of tourism, meanwhile, tended to be male, one band even calling itself "The Brothers." 

Education, obviously, does not always give a woman, anymore than a man, a whole lot of sense.

But, anyway, here are her results:

Table II: Status of Women Index

COUNTRIES                 INDEX     COUNTRIES          INDEX     COUNTRIES                INDEX
      Extremely Poor                45  Bolivia        48.89         Fair                        
   1  Yemen               16.50     46  Sri Lanka      49.25     88  Canada               59.69  
   2  Afganistan          16.63     47  Ghana          49.50     89  Philippines          59.75  
   3  Nepal               19.90                                  90  Italy                60.15  
   4  Pakistan            20.73         Poor                     91  Viet Nam             61.00  
   5  Saudi Arabia        23.25     48  Mauritius      50.00     92  France               61.54  
   6  Mauritania          27.38     49  Haiti          50.30     93  FRG-Fed Rep Germany  61.58   
   7  Iran                27.82     50  Indonesia      50.50     94  Burkina Faso         61.70  
   8  Sudan               28.55     51  Hong Kong      50.82     95  Bulgaria             61.83  
   9  Bangladesh          30.23     52  Mexico         50.83     96  Portugal             62.62  
  10  Jordan              30.80     53  El Salvador    50.85     97  Barbados             63.46  
  11  Papua New Guinea    31.33     54  Congo          50.91     98  Puerto Rico          63.56  
  12  India               32.82     55  Panama         51.08     99  Iceland              64.80  
  13  Morocco             33.00     56  China          51.50    100  United Rep. Tanzania 64.89  
  14  United Arab Em.     33.55     57  Senegal        51.60    101  Jamaica              64.92  
  15  Egypt               35.00     58  Spain          51.62    102  Denmark              65.58  
  16  Iraq                37.40     59  Cyprus         51.92    103  Trinidad and Tobago  65.92  
  17  Syrian Arab Rep.    37.54     60  Switzerland    51.92    104  Norway               67.08  
  18  Mali                38.09     61  Israel         52.00    105  Poland               68.91  
  19  Qatar               38.75     62  Ireland        52.08                                     
  20  Ecuador             38.91     63  Costa Rica     52.50         Good                        
                                    64  Venezuela      52.75    106  Hungary              69.91  
      Very Poor                     65  Luxemburg      53.23    107  GDR-German Dem Rep   72.00  
  21  Central African Rep 39.67     66  Japan          53.31    108  Sweden               72.08  
  22  Fiji                39.73     67  Rwanda         53.45    109  Czechoslovakia       73.36  
  23  Cote d'Ivoire       40.33     68  Cameroon       53.58    110  Finland              74.42  
  24  Comoros             40.36     69  Netherlands    53.83    111  Romania              74.90  
  25  Bahrain             40.60     70  Madagascar     54.60                                     
  26  Zambia              42.15     71  Brazil         54.90         Very Good                   
  27  Malaysia            42.42     72  Greece         54.92    112  USSR                 85.00  
  28  Myanmar             42.71     73  Guyana         55.00                                     
  29  Liberia             43.82     74  Australia      55.23                                     
  30  Mozambique          43.90     75  Chile          55.75                                     
  31  Paraguay            43.90     76  New Zealand    56.31                                     
  32  Zimbabwe            44.00     77  Argentina      56.55                                     
  33  South Africa        44.33     78  Burundi        56.60                                     
  34  Kuwait              45.18     79  Belgium        56.92                                     
  35  Peru                45.31     80  Cape Verde     57.00                                     
  36  Singapore           45.62     81  United Kingdom 57.00                                     
  37  Guatemala           46.18     82  Uruguay        57.46                                     
  38  Korea, Rep          46.25     83  United States  57.77                                     
  39  Botswana            46.77     84  Yugoslavia     58.25                                     
  40  Turkey              46.77     85  Cuba           58.27                                     
  41  Tunisia             47.08     86  Austria        58.54                                     
  42  Honduras            47.09     87  Thailand       58.55                                     
  43  Malawi              47.20                                                                  
  44  Ethiopia            48.25                                                                  

Notice that the top 20 countries, with the weird exception of Burkina Faso (more later), all still have a largely Christian heritage.  The bottom 20, with the exceptions of Papua New Guinea and Ecuador, are all still either Muslim or Hindu. 

Dr. Mohiuddin explains that Latin countries do better here, because Catholic nations discourage divorce.  But the biggest change is with the United States:

The greatest difference between our rankings and the PCC rankings is for countries like the U.S. which rank Poor in our index compared to Very Good in the PCC index. As mentioned earlier, this is because our index includes the percentage of woman-headed households as a measure of the extent of economic burden on women. The U.S. has the fifth highest percentage of woman-headed households (and the second highest of divorced women) in the world. This together with poor performance (below its average score of 57.8) in women's secondary and university enrollments, and their underrepresentation in seats in parliament (13th lowest rank) explains its overall low rank.

This, again, is a remarkable a monument to anal thinking, utterly disconnected from reality. 

America has "poor performance" in university enrollment for women?  Huh?  57% of American college students are female! 

At the time of this study, most countries in the world were not democracies.  So how does it count against America to have some female representatives, because America actually had a democracy?  Is it not possible that fewer women want to enter politics in the United States?  If so, why should we prejudge their choices, or assume this reflects a "lower status" for women?  What does my sister or mother gain by having Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin run for president? 

The issue of households headed by women is, again, complicated.  Partly this probably reflects the longer lives that women tend to lead, and the fact that many American widows live alone by choice.  This probably also reflects the fact that many young women live on their own and marry late, which can be either good or bad. .Divorce, as Mohiuddin has admitted, is ambiguous: sometimes it provides a needed outlet from an abusive marriage, but certainly it is not ideal.

Meanwhile, the life expectancy of women in Burkina Faso, ranked 11 spots higher than the US, is just 52 years, compared to 50 for men.  (Mohiuddin downgraded the importance of life expectancy, but one suspects the women of Burkina Faso might find a use for those 30 extra years?  Or should American women be lining up at the Burkina Faso embassy?)  Most women in that country also suffer genital mutilation.  The country was ruled by a series of strong men (no women, sorry), deposing and then murdering one another, with the last however holding power since 1987, becoming wealthy in the process.  Along with the high rank of communist countries, this seems good reason to ask Dr. Mohiuddin to kindly dunk her head in a bucket of cold water a few times.  But her shuffling of the data does not seem to undermine my thesis. 


So given  all these ambiguities, are both studies worthless? 

Well no.  It is noteworthy that despite Mohiuddin's concerns on behalf of Muslim countries, 16 of the countries among the bottom 20 in her survey are still Muslim.  Two are Hindu -- the only Hindu countries in the world.  Also appear Papua New Guinea, 11, with a Stone Age folk religious background, recently converted largely to Christianity, and Ecuador, which is mostly Mestizo and Catholic, no doubt the usual Christo-paganism, with a side of evangelicals, and another side of indigenous religionists. 

All top 20 countries in this study also have Christian backgrounds, with the embarrassing exception of Burkina Faso. 

In fact, given Mohiuddin's biases, her results rather reinforce the strength of my thesis.  Clearly, mix the data as you may, even mix it up, and the status of women is still higher where the Gospel has more influence.  Of course my argument is not just based on this "view from space," but on more finely-grained historical study of how Christianity helped women down through history.  But the view from space, while a bit shaky, still roughly reveals the same general picture. 


Stephen Parrish said...

David, how did the debate go?

David B Marshall said...

I thought it went well, in terms of the arguments themselves. The hosts were however concerned that Zuckerman raised numerous issues tangential to the subject, which I did not attempt to answer in our brief time on stage.