Friday, November 12, 2004

Preference Theory

Why is it that even though men and women's access to education and actual education attainment is reaching near parity, women's labour force participation is still much lower than men's upon marriage and childrearing age?

Catherine Hakim suggests we should focus on differential preferences women have with regards to lifestyles (e.g. family oriented, work oriented). In her book she presented this as if it is some kind of real BREAKTHROUGH in sociological thought. She thinks we should use preferences as explanatory variables. And of course, once you take preferences (in terms of values and attitudes) into account, you can explain some of the variance in the employment situations of women with similar education, skills, socio-demographic characteristics. But how do we account for these differences in preferences? And how do we account for the fact that men's preferences seem much more homogeneous and consistent over time than that of women's? Huh??

From a sociological point of view, is the answer not to be found amongst all the usual suspects? Such as actual choices available to the individual, social norms and culture (yes, that old favourite amongst 1st year undergraduates), opportunity costs (perceived and actual), and the like. Preferences are not formed in a social vacuum, and the validity of the kind of preferences that are measured (or should I say measurable) in social attitude surveys is notoriously difficult to ascertain.

I'd hate to slag off my own profession but some days sociology really does seem like a waste of time. Some days.

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