Dondena Interviews

Bringing with her an interesting story suggesting that governments may be able to shift people’s attitudes about traditional gender roles, Pamela Campa from the University of Calgary visited the Dondena Centre in December. It makes you think about just what kind of regime changes begin at home.


If someone is missing your talk today, what are they missing?

This talk is about the effect of political economic regimes on sex role attitudes. In this research project, we start from the literature that shows that the decision of the woman to participate in the labor market in part can be explained by cultural variables. What are the attitudes of this individual with respect to gender roles within the labor market? This is what we call sex role attitudes. This is a literature which is now pretty established, I have a paper with Alessandra Casarico and Paola Profeta about this, my co-author Michel Serafinelli has done research in this field too, with Francesco Giavazzi and Fabio Schiantarelli. And also there is some evidence that these attitudes evolve over time. But there is not much evidence yet about what causes this evolution, what makes these attitudes change. We argue that it is an important thing to learn given the importance that these attitudes seem to have for economic outcomes.

When I explain my research with Paola and Alessandra, about the role of culture in explaining female participation in the labor market, people tell me this is about culture and culture is persistent, and even if we provide child care, if we make work more flexible, nothing is going to work. But instead, if we learn how attitudes change, maybe we can draw some policy implications about this.

In particular, we want to see whether attitudes change when people are exposed to a political economic regime which puts emphasis on gender equality. In order to do this we exploit an experiment which is possibly controversial—we’re trying to assess one of the arguably positive aspects of socialism in eastern Europe.

Eastern European countries were exposed to socialism in an exogenous way, arguably because they didn’t vote for this government, it was imposed through the presence and the influence of the Soviets after the second world war. And on top of this, this is a good experiment for us as economists because these regimes placed a strong emphasis on gender equality. They had social policies that strongly encouraged women’s participation in the labor market, and propaganda about this. They also kept wages low, to encourage both members of a family to participate in the labor market. Then, we compare the evolution of peoples’ attitudes before and after exposure to the regime with the evolution of the attitudes in western Europe, where we have different regimes.

First we show that before exposure to socialism attitudes in these two groups of countries were evolving along the same trend. After socialism, people in eastern Europe become more progressive—they’re more likely to have less traditional gender attitudes. And we also show this in the second part of the paper comparing East and West Germany. We argue the separation of the country is exogenous and we don’t need to do the diff-in-diff, the before and after comparison, because we know that before separation these two countries were not distinguishable from each other. So we look at interviews to study attitudes of people who lived in East and West Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall. They are interviewed in June 1990, even before the unification process is complete. And we find that women in eastern Germany attribute significantly more importance to job success in their life than women in western Germany.

It’s a fun project. Of course now I’m just highlighting the good points. There are limitations that come from the fact that we use historical data, so data quality is an issue.


Tell me what the data are like, and about the process of working with it.

For the first part of the project, where we compare the evolution of attitudes in east and west Europe, we use the GSS, which is the General Social Survey in the U.S. We used it because, as you can imagine, we don’t have data on attitudes before the advent of state socialism. So we need to cope with the lack of data, and the way we do this is to rely on the literature that shows that immigrants carry cultural traits from their country of origin. This is the literature of Paola Giuliano, and many more papers followed showing this.

So then we measure the attitudes of these immigrants at a certain point in time by looking at the attitudes of first-generation immigrants and their descendents. We also used offspring based on evidence in the literature of cultural economics as well, that cultural traits are transmitted within the family.

Let’s say if we want to compare attitudes in Italy and in Poland between 1945 and 1990, we take immigrants that have Italian and Polish origins whose ancestors migrated from Italy and Poland between 1945 and 1990. Then if we want to have the attitudes from before, we take again answers to this question, the attitudes of immigrants coming from these two countries in the period before, and we look at the over-time variation.

And when I say attitudes, in particular we look at the questions that we have. There are a few questions in the General Social Survey that we could look at, but we have a problem of a low number of observations, so we have selected one because it is the one for which we have more observations: “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of home and family.”

For immigrants, we have a bunch of demographic characteristics, which as you can imagine we need to control for because a big limitation certainly that we need to confront in this project is that immigrants are selected and the selection of immigrants might change before and after in a differential way in the treatment and control group, and this might give us problems in terms of identification. The way we addressed this is to have all these demographics and controls, and we show that these controls don’t seem to matter much. If anything, the way in which they are selected goes against finding an effect, because the people who leave eastern Europe are those more likely to disagree with the regime, so probably they also haven’t updated their beliefs to a large extent about sex roles.

For what concerns the Germany part, we use the German Socioeconomic Panel, which is a very rich data set, a longitudinal dataset that actually follows people throughout their life. We look at data in June 1990, so before the unification process is even completed, that’s the first interview with East Germans, and we compare East and West Germans. There is not a specific gender role/gender attitudes question in the dataset, but there is a question that asks, “What are the important things in somebody’s life?” and one of those things listed is “job’s success”.

We can see how East and West Germans answer this question. We look at the difference among men and the difference among women, and what we show is that in general East Germans give a higher importance to work as a means to realize themselves, but the difference between East and West Germans is even more pronounced when we look at women. We interpret this as the effect of being exposed to a different regime, given the socialist focus on women’s work.

The good thing about using the German Socioeconomic Panel is that it allows us to take care of a few things. There is a paper that was published a few years ago that has done this experiment already, and it’s a very good paper, but they use another dataset which is less rich in information. The German Socioeconomic Panel allows us to take care of a few things, for instance selected migration, so we know whether individuals migrated from the east to the west. Because part of the story might be, just when the socialist regime was imposed, people who did not agree with this regime just migrated to the west. So the fact that we find that East German women are less traditional is not an effect of communism that changed the way people think, but instead that only the people that agreed with the regime stayed in that part of the country. But then we’re able to look at the people who actually migrated, and we do this sort of experiment where we assume, what happens if these people stayed in eastern Germany? So we classified them as eastern German although they migrated, and the results are not changed by that, so we interpret this as evidence that selected migration is not a problem.


How does this paper fit in with your overall research?

I’m bipolar, let’s say! There are two big topics that I work on. I’m an environmental economist, and also I have this agenda on gender economics, and that’s actually what started making me passionate about research. I started working here with Alessandra Casarico and Paola Profeta on my master’s thesis on the effect of culture on female labor market participation decisions. Within this gender research agenda I have another project that I’m very excited about, it’s basically an evaluation of gender quotas in politics.


In your field, what are some of the things that you see that you like, and what are the things you’d like to see more of?

Based on my experience, I’ve been an assistant professor for a bit more than one year, and I enjoy it. I love my department, I like the way things are done, and I think at least in Canada so far, at least funding-wise, I feel as a young researcher I get a lot of support.


Really? That’s terrific. What an encouraging message. 

One thing that I’m not sure about is ... that I see as a junior researcher on a tenure track we are doing quite a lot of research and we focus on publishing to get tenure. And I see that this potentially comes at a cost, which is the amount of time that we spend on teaching. And I see that for the way my contract is written, my incentives to provide good teaching are essentially very low. The incentives come from publications. So you might have incentives to teach well just because you feel responsible to work with students. I also think it’s a very nice part of our job, because you hope that you will be an influence on somebody, but I always find myself kind of divided between, Ok, how much time should I spend researching and teaching, given that from a purely economic perspective, everything tells me that my effort on teaching should be minimal?

But, this is a problem that many people face, and I think that this might come at a cost for the students. Because I think people who do active research should teach because these are the people at the research frontier. But I wish that there was a better balance in terms of what counts for tenure decisions because then the decisions will be made in a different way and our incentives would be different. I struggle a lot with that.


Click here to learn more about Pamela Campa. Click here to learn more about the Dondena Seminar Series.
















Last updated 08 June 2015 - 13:43:31