Patriarchy and Paychecks

Offline Diary: Where we look beyond some of the stories originally published on Miller-McCune.com.
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There's been much talk during the Democratic primary campaign of Hillary Clinton's disproportionate support from two slices of the electorate: women and low-wage workers. A report by the Howard Samuels Center (see "Furthering the Myth of Gender Equity") reminds us there is considerable overlap between those two groups, thanks to the persistence of gender-based income inequality.

Using data from the 2000 census, the center found white men living in New York City and holding down full-time jobs had a median income of $50,000. In contrast, the median income for similarly situated white women was $42,000. (Minorities actually fared better in terms of a gender pay gap, with a $3,000 gap between African Americans and Latino men and women; Asian Americans had rough gender equality in pay.) Among upstate New Yorkers, the disparity was even larger: $42,000 for white men versus $30,000 for white women.

There is some evidence the gap may have narrowed during this decade. According to a new study by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women, females in that largely rural state receive, on average, 78 cents for every dollar earned by males — a significant improvement over the 1999 figure of 73 cents. But the gulf remains particularly wide in traditionally female-dominated fields, such as education and health care.

If such news leaves you fed up and ready to move to Canada, think again. According to a Canadian study released this spring, the wage gap is even larger there, where the average woman earns only 70 cents for every dollar earned by a man. Perhaps surprisingly, the figure is only 68 cents for college-educated women.

A new study from Britain pinpoints one key component of the problem: The gender pay gap more than triples when women reach their 30s. Many female workers "are paying an unacceptable penalty simply for having children," complained Brendan Barber, general secretary of the British Trades Union Congress. Echoing that concern, Barbara Byers of the Canadian Labour Congress called for creation of a nonprofit child care system to help women juggle the disparate demands of child raising and their careers.

Speaking Out on the Autism "Epidemic"
In the premiere episode of the ABC courtroom drama Eli Stone, the title character took on a large pharmaceutical company on behalf of the parents of an autistic child. Echoing some real-life activists, the crusading attorney claimed a vaccine preservative caused the disability (see "TV Can Turn Public's Dial"). Medical professionals feared the show, aired late in January, would discourage parents from having their kids immunized; they pointed out the suspected link between the disease and the preservative (which is no longer in use) was definitively discredited in 2007.

Since the broadcast, three major presidential candidates have joined the network in perpetuating misinformation. John McCain declared there is "strong evidence" a mercury-based preservative is responsible for the rising autism rate. Barack Obama asserted "the science right now is inconclusive," while Hillary Clinton insisted "we don't know what, if any, kind of link" exists. Meanwhile, in Britain, a panel is considering revoking the medical license of researcher Andrew Wakefield, who raised the initial fears of a vaccine-autism connection in 1998.

Now comes word that the increased number of autism cases may be explained by a broadening of diagnostic criteria. Dorothy Bishop, a research fellow at Oxford University, interviewed 38 adults and teenagers who had been diagnosed with a developmental language disorder. After reviewing their childhood symptoms and talking at length with their parents, she concluded that, by today's criteria, between eight and 12 of them would be classified as autistic.

Bishop cautions she cannot say whether the actual number of cases of autism is rising. But her study suggests the "autism epidemic," which has led to so much stress, suspicion and scapegoating, may in fact be illusory.

There Must Be 50 Ways to Help the Climate
The push by individual states to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has slowed, as some of the same interest groups that have managed to block action on the federal level demonstrate that their clout extends to state capitols (see "States' Action and Climate Change").

One example is Maryland, where the Legislature in April failed to pass a high-profile bill that would have mandated a 25 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. The legislation had the strong support of Gov. Martin O'Malley, but his clout couldn't compare with the United Steelworkers', whose members "were a nearly constant presence in Annapolis at hearings and in the galleries" as the bill was being considered, according to The (Baltimore) Sun. The union feared the legislation could cost jobs in the state's steel, brick, cement, chemical and paper plants.

Around the same time, in Arizona, a state Senate committee unanimously approved legislation banning state agencies from enforcing any rules dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, unless the regulations were authorized by federal law. The legislation is apparently aimed at thwarting Arizona's participation in a proposed cap-and-trade system, which it is currently negotiating with five other Western states.

The president of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry argues that if the state enacts strict climate-change regulations on its own or even with a few of its neighbors, the economic consequences could be dire. Business owners would defer expansions; new entrepreneurs would choose to locate in other states. That same concern has been raised in Minnesota, where legislators are considering a variety of plans, including a cap-and-trade system.

Clearly the economic competitiveness argument, so familiar from previous regulatory battles, remains persuasive to many politicians. Given that reality, perhaps the most effective action the states can take is to band together to pressure the federal government to set nationwide standards. To that end, attorneys general from 17 states have taken the Environmental Protection Agency to court to force it to comply with a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are air pollutants and therefore the regulatory responsibility of the EPA.

Your Brain on Bach
Musicians' brains function in highly specific ways, according to research that used functional MRIs to observe the neural activity of classical flutists, violinists and jazz pianists (see "The Musician's Brain"). The larger implications of this knowledge are still being teased out, but a paper by John Jonides of the University of Michigan, part of a large Dana Foundation study on cognition and the arts, provides an interesting hint.

Jonides found musicians scored better than nonmusicians on long-term verbal memory tests, apparently because their mental memory muscles are in excellent shape due to rehearsal sessions. "What we have found for musicians is not that their memory is better," he writes. "Rather, it is that they apply strategies of rehearsal to maintain information in memory more effectively."

But the benefits of Beethoven are not limited to those who spend time in the practice room, according to a new Finnish study of stroke victims. Among a group of 60 people who had recently suffered a common type of stroke, those who listened to their favorite music for three hours a day showed a 60 percent improvement in verbal memory after three months. Those who listened to audio books improved by only 18 percent — less than the 29 percent for those who listened to neither.

In addition, the ability to focus attention improved significantly in the music listeners. It's one more piece of evidence that music can have a positive, perhaps even restorative, effect on neural networks.

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