Posner on service work

Richard Posner is puzzled by by increases in female earnings. After all: "Women are not as well suited to perform jobs requiring upper-body strength as men are, but men can perform virtually all service jobs as well as women can."

Really?

As developed economies move away from goods producing industries and towards services, there has been a shift in the demand for skills. The demand for manual skills has fallen while the demand for interpersonal skills has grown. Many of the new service jobs require ‘emotional labour‘ — labour that requires workers to attend to the emotions of the people they serve.

Skills develop throughout life. While some are learned at school, on the job or through formal training, others are learned through socialisation. And there’s good reason to think that women’s socialisation gives them an advantage in jobs requiring emotional labour. According to American academic Hazel-Anne Johnson:

… research has shown that women who perform emotional labor are significantly more satisfied than men who perform the same type of job (Wharton, 1993). This suggests that women may be socialized to handle the interpersonal demands of emotion management in service work, and this competency may lead them to have a more positive experience than their male counterparts (pdf).

According to psychologist Alicia Grandey: "It is possible that in service settings, men may need more training to manage emotions when dealing with customers."

There is some evidence that a mismatch between socialisation and job demands is one of the factors behind the falling labour force participation of less educated working class men. According to UK sociologist Darren Nixon many of the service industry jobs available to workers with low levels of education require "skills, dispositions and demeanours that are antithetical to the masculine working-class habitus."

So socialisation may be the solution to Posner’s puzzle. If so, what are the policy implications?

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Anthony
Anthony
10 years ago

Don, I’m a bit bemused by the definition of emotional labour that you give: “labour that requires workers to attend to the emotions of the people they serve.”

My understanding of Hochschild’s definition – and I haven’t read her stuff for many years – was that emotional labour meant managing one’s emotions as required by the demands of the job. The examples she gave was that airline stewards need to be nicer than natural, whilst debt collectors have to be nastier than natural. In the first example, sure, it means attending to the emotions of the customer, but in the latter example it doesn’t.

So the definition you give suits the kind of emotional labour that needs to go on in certain types of service work, but doesn’t quite encapsulate the full gamut of emotional labour.

But your overall scepticism re Posner’s view is, I think, justified. He seems to be suggesting that men can do anything, and women can do some of that.

The difficulties that many men who have been displaced from jobs “requiring upper-body strength” have in adjusting to service jobs requiring a certain type of emotional labour are real – but it is not just a gender issue. A working class immigrant woman with poor English who is displaced from a manufacturing job may also have difficulty in being re-employed as, say, a worker in a cafe in a burgeoning gentrifying economy

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
10 years ago

Anthony – That’s a fair comment. Hochschild writes:

I use the term emotional labor to mean the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display; emotional labor is sold for a wage and therefore has exchange value. I use the synonymous terms emotion work or emotion management to refer to these same acts done in a private context where they have use value.

And, as you say, emotional labour isn’t always about attending to people’s feelings in a nice way. Her bill collector stories emphasise the way collectors manipulate debtors by refusing to buy into their self image as honest, hard working citizens. Treating them as liars and cheats upsets and angers them — and that’s not an accident.

A lot of research in this area is about how managing their display of feelings affects workers. But it seems to me that for employers, the object of emotional labour is the customer or client (eg passenger, prisioner, patient, pupil). The worker attempts to exert some control over the customer’s behaviour by drawing them into a emotionally-loaded relationship. Passengers should feel safe, comfortable and respected. Debtors should be anxious, afraid and feel that the only way to regain their dignity and be able to relax is to pay up.

I should probably have offered a definition of emotional labour that was closer to Hochschild’s.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“Really?”

I think it’s politically incorrect to suggest that men/races/cultures etc. might differ on things to do with mental processing (let alone this be a non-environmental thing). My bet is that there are really two factors — both of which you have mentioned a few times here and there. (1) There may be an overal difference between men and women on traits that are needed in the jobs you mention and (2) The actual desire for men to do these jobs even if they have the ability is low. I can add something new here — men seem to be polarizing more into preferring jobs men have traditionally done, and there are some areas which used to be relatively evenly split that are now entirely female dominated (e.g., biochemistry). Thus, if anything, this desire is getting stronger, and the opposite is true of females, where, apart from a few trades, they seem happy to start doing traditionally male professions, like engineering.

Apart from this, I think there are two other potential factors not mentioned that are helping females catch up to males on earnings, and more specfically do better at education:

1) There is a fair bit of what some people would call “feminization of the curriculum” that has occured in the last few decades. This means that things boys could do well but girls couldn’t were taken out of the curriculum or had far less emphasis placed on them, which is why, for example, first year students often can’t read graphs anymore (I work with someone who was a teacher for more than 20 years, and she can point out many examples). This can’t be the whole story, since whilst it’s true of Australia, the male/female difference has changed essentially everywhere (at least in non-women hating countries) and I’m not sure the curriculum has changed everywhere — but it might have, as perhaps the curriculum has been adapted essentially everywhere such that computers and calculators are important, and this has inadvertently removed a male advantage.

2) A greater number of people can get university degrees these days. Previously, these were much more limited, and so there were always enough males to take a reasonable proportion of the places. Now places are almost unlimited, I think that this favors women over men because young males in particular often have a very poor ability to actually plan for the future, and so not enough of them are willing to make a trade-off to go to university for a few years to do better in the long run instead of obtain instant gratification via digging holes or whatever else pays. Thus you see more women getting qualifications that help them than men.

jtfsoon
jtfsoon
10 years ago

I would go mad if I had to smile at people all day. Thank god I’ve never had to do a ‘service job’.

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

A lot of women Arts graduates are employed part-time (if at all) and earn much less than a good hair dresser. There has been a lot of inflation in the tertiary sector; not all of the pieces of paper issued are worth that much anymore.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

What do male Arts grads earn John?

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

Don’t know, the report was focused on women … anybody got An idea?

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

BTW I suspect that many male arts grads earn less than many tradies do.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“anybody got An idea?”

Yes, the most recent survey should be in graduate careers. What you’ll find is that most types of graduates start on a very similar salary. There are a few obvious exceptions. So much for the very blokey belief that “not all of the pieces of paper issued are worth that much anymore”, which was essentially one of my points in comment (3).

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

A survey of 125k people who chose to complete a survey.
It looks like selectively framed ,advertising masquerading as research.

The report I read (trying to remember where) was a survey of about 60 thousand women arts graduates who had a median income of about 30K.

In my profession qualifications are purely based on performance.
I would not get out of bed for what the median grad gets…. mate

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

If the median was around 30K and it was all full time work, then that must mean a lot of them are working illegaly (i.e., less than minimum wage), which doesn’t seem very likely to me. If it wasn’t all full time work, I’m not sure how to interpret that figure.

“It looks like selectively framed ,advertising masquerading as research”

Given all professions are there, I’m not really sure why it should be so (indeed, our students we send off to industry based learning earn around that and almost inevitably earn vastly more once they start work if they stay in the field). I believe that the graduate careers survey also only uses people working full time.

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

‘I believe that the graduate careers survey also only uses people working full time.’
An lot of arts graduates would not ‘qualify’ – The survey seems selective, no? Colored by the promotional needs of the tertiary industry, no?

For an example Southern cross (until recently) offered a degree in homeopathy, how many grads of that sort of ‘training’ were surveyed?

There were a lot of TAFs that , under Dawkins, were upgraded to colleges of advanced education and further upgradedto UNI status. I will never forget (briefly) working in a place that had until the year before been an AG college, training lawn keepers, that was suddenly a Uni issuing Landscape Architecture degrees.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“The survey seems selective, no?”

Look it might well be, but the numbers don’t seem unreasonable me. If you look at the figures more carefully, then you’ll note that many Arts graduates are taken out — many keep on studying. I also don’t find it unreasonable that many graduates are earning over, say, 50K either, especially because many have worked before hand, so this would inflate the figures somewhat. In addition, how much do you think a graduate level public service job or someone going into the allied health sector earns, for example? Many employers also just want smart people — I have a friend who did an Arts degree in animation that now works as a legal professional in a bank (although he had to go and do postgraduate stuff whilst working), and there are many employers with hiring practices like this (most employers seem happy to interview Arts graduates in campus interviews for example).

“For an example Southern cross (until recently) offered a degree in homeopathy, how many grads of that sort of ‘training’ were surveyed? ”

My sister works as an alternative-medicine quack doctor. She probably earns more than me. You can look up the salaries of academics pretty easily and see how much that is if you want.

“training lawn keepers”

Are you saying lawn keepers earn 30K or less?

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

‘Are you saying lawn keepers earn 30K or less?’
Not these days.
The people who were training them as lawn-keepers, green house carnation growers, tomato growers and so on, went from TAFE teacher wages to Uni lecturer wages (at that time a difference from $40 per hour to $99 per hour) at the stroke of a pen. This happened all over the place and it was quite normal for them to then supervise each other to PHDs and onwards.

I Am a bit shocked that the survey only studied successful graduates.

How much of the economic benefit of this training is down to education and how much is the benefit of a closed ,to the unqualified, shop?

As for ‘homeopathy’ adverse effects of drinking water are rare , what exactly is a degree in Homeopathy doing in a medical training school, apart from getting fees (and helping delude the public).

As for ‘Art’ there is no question that the massive growth in tertiary art education (since 1970) maps very well to a serious decline in the number of artists for whom making art is a sole or even significant source of income .

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“at that time a difference from $40 per hour to $99 per hour”

John, I don’t know where you’re getting your figures from but $99 per hour = about 200K a year (40*99*50) is rather unbelievable. Most full professors don’t earn that these days. Alternatively $40 is about right for a level B lecturer (40*40*50) = 80K

“How much of the economic benefit of this training is down to education and how much is the benefit of a closed ,to the unqualified, shop?”

One of the really strange things about this debate (I’m not pointing the finger at you here incidentally) is that this argument is always brought up, and it’s almost brought up by the hard right (look at Catallaxy commentators as a prime example). However, if people without degrees were as good as those with them, then surely, based on market fundamentals, employers would be only too happy to employ non-graduates who be much cheaper in the same jobs (in most areas where one is not obliged to have all staff with degrees, which is most areas). If I could undercut you on wages by, say, 30%, you would be out of business and I would be rich. But this doesn’t happen, and because it doesn’t, all of these weird arguments are brought up to try and justify the fact that employers like people with degrees even though they arn’t any different to those without, despite the extra cost to them (cf. employers like graduates and hence pay more because they perform better).

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

They were causal rates , I do not know what the full time rates were but as far as I know there was a similar scale of difference between the two systems pay rates for full timers.

’employers would be only too happy to employ non-graduates’
Very true in smaller Biz and areas were performance is every thing..

but.

In the public sector passing over a formally qualified grad for a brilliant but not formally qualified (even if they have a PhD in a unrelated area) is a brave move. Many of the people we know undertake studies of what they know to be “rubbish qualifications” simply to maintain the social capital needed to maintain their position in an ‘arms race’ of qualification.

In the British navy during the long period between about 1840 and 1914 only two men from ‘below decks’ made it to officer status.
Many (most) people in senior positions in any sort of large organisation, have ‘qualifications’ and naturally have a disposition favoring similar thinking chaps from the same school of thought, its only natural, no?

Delicroix had the last word on the typical product of academic regulation of supply/traing in the arts : the “conscientious servant of the art of boredom”

Nicholas Gruen
Admin
10 years ago

It’s an aside to this discussion I know but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that Posner wrote (As Robert Solow says, Posner writes books and articles like most of us breathe) that hasn’t annoyed me – usually intensely. He’s no doubt a clever fellow, and he’s certainly a busy bee, but to be able to write “men can perform virtually all service jobs as well as women can” involves just the kind of dumbness that means these days I pretty much skip right over anything he writes.

JC
JC
10 years ago

“men can perform virtually all service jobs as well as women can” involves just the kind of dumbness that means these days I pretty much skip right over anything he writes.

But isn’t that statement broadly correct?

I find it amusing that if the same comment was made with the sexes reversed it is taken as an enlightened comment, even though it isn’t broadly true, as women have endurance and upper body strength issues.

JC
JC
10 years ago

Isn’t anyone going attack the claim that emotional labour is rewarded in the market place?

Isn’t it though. Didn’t you post a thread showing the fall off in the male labor force?

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Indeed isn’t it though? What do you call investment banking? Or management for that matter? Much of professional services – at senior levels at least? Management consulting is almost nothing else…It didn’t occur to me for even an instant that this was supposed to be a contentious claim!

JC
JC
10 years ago

Patrick. There has a noticeable fall off in male employment. That’s the point. Not everyone is an I-banker.

I have my own theory why, but that’s for another day.

Pedro
Pedro
10 years ago

“So socialisation may be the solution to Posner’s puzzle. If so, what are the policy implications?”

That’s a big ask for socialisation. I think emotional management, for want of a better term, is one of the reasons women are (over-)populating the legal profession when you look at total numbers, but perhaps also one of the reasons they are less represented at the top.

john walker
john walker
10 years ago

what exactly is ’emotional labor’? (it sounds like Betty Davis in her decline)

Is it being polite to idiots? or what?