Gender Equilibria

Studying social equilibrium outside of mathematical game theory is pretty tough. Since the world is complicated, and there is lots of information, it’s pretty tough to use textbook game theory models to classify an equilibrium. Even the Prisoners Dilemma, which is probably the most useful, has varied success depending on the context. Some researchers will test it out on undergraduates every once in a while, or on real prisoners, then claim it doesn’t work, because they all cooperated. The reality obviously is that they missed some parameter. It turns out prisoners who share the same prison, or students who both cheer for the Wildcats at the home game, have community connections.

It’s tough to measure and parameterize that stuff though with, like, numbers. So we use words instead, which are better at complex and high-dimensions, but don’t easily replicate.

Recently I was thinking through a sad equilibrium on women in the workplace. Let’s say that there exists some very high pressure job, which is represented 85% by men and 15% women. How do we break this down? Or, is it a problem? And if it is a problem, can we be explicit?

Let’s start by assuming that there are only two reasons any person enters a job: The first is an intrinsic interest, the second is the distribution of men and women within the job. Now let’s suppose a single women with intrinsic desire x* to do this job. For this women, the threshold of the intrinsic desire necessary would need to be greater than a man, because this existing distribution is heavily male dominated. Another way to say it, is that there could exist a man with intrinsic desire x* who enters this career, and a women with the same intrinsic desire x* who decides not to, because the additional consideration of gender balance pushed her away.

Is this a bad equilibrium? Without boring ourselves by mathematizing our assumptions, we can see that it’s possible that based only on the intrinsic desire distributions alone that the equilibrium distribution could be something like 70% and 30%, but once we add the refinement that women wouldn’t want to work in a field heavily male dominated, it grows even more skewed to 85% and 15%.

This is actually what I think is happening in reality. It’s also why I’m simultaneously against mandates for equal (50%) representation, and equal (no control variables) pay, and still strongly for improvements in social conditioning and appropriate decorum for how men treat women in the workplace.

I also view it as an example between the difference between a rationalist framework of the world combined with kindness, as opposed to a progressive framework of the world. In the rationalist world you create a strong prediction and argument for how things could be better, while doing your best to scientifically estimate the parameters involved in a non-utopian way. In the progressive one you say “I’ve determined parameter phi must be equal to zero, in accordance with the postmodern law of reality.”


12 Responses to Gender Equilibria

  1. Anonymous says:

    Saying that a rationalist view of the world is built on kindness is like saying that a political view of the world is built on practical effectiveness or that a scientific view of the world is built on empirics and falsifiability (i.e., nice if it were true, but not really true).

    • says:

      Woops! Wording was unclear. I meant a rationalist worldview + kindness. Not strictly rationalist, which I view as just a short-hand for a scientific model of the world.

    • says:

      I’m not used to people actually, like, reading my posts yet. Which is cool. But maybe I need to reread them to make sure I didn’t mess up some words. I’m trying to spend my time becoming better at Python now, so I’m lazy at editing.

      • Anonymous says:

        I see, that makes sense. Broadly, I think of the “rationalist worldview” as the set of cultural memes common on LessWrong / Slate Star Codex / etc. Which is not to say that no reader of those websites (which is a set that includes myself) exhibits kindness, ever, but really mostly a comment on how the majority of devoted Effective Altruists are, despite being effectively altruistic, strangely (to me) lacking in basic compassion and empathy, which is maybe something that becomes more apparent when meeting the real-life manifestations of these communities.

        Maybe the cynically steelmanned case for the progressive view of the world goes something along the lines of, “even if my postmodern law of reality L is only approximately rather than absolutely true, it’s consequentially best for most people to think that L is true, because people aren’t in general nuanced enough thinkers to properly incorporate awareness of the real-world deviations from L into their worldviews and actions”.

        Also, I found your blog by clicking on the link on a Marginal Revolution comment which seemed much better than average, after which I searched your email and realized you were the person who said recently that I seemed like a good neoreactionary in the making, which was an interesting coincidence (in general, my life seems to have an anthropically implausible number of bizarre coincidences, but maybe I just haven’t properly internalized how small the world of “competent people” is yet).

        • Hey, that’s really interesting! You’re right, that’s a strange coincidence. Then again, the rationalsphere often surprises me in how small it is. What’s also funny is I had this thought that it could be you commenting, simply because of the timing, your fb friend request, and the way you wrote, so I went back and saw my email was showing (blog is pseudo-anonymous, in that I don’t broadcast my identity but don’t *really* care if anyone knows). But I still couldn’t possibly fathom how you’d have found the blog (I’m glad you did, I just couldn’t piece it together).

          To be honest I’m not sure what to make of EA either. I think if pushed to make a choice, I’d strongly support them. But the implication of what EA means is weird. If you accept the premise that you should minimize suffering with your money, the conclusion can end up with some weird outcomes that seem almost anti-social (e.g. never support feel-good charities, watch them all shut down etc). On SSC some EA types were talking about how they don’t get those ‘race for the cure’ things, where people make pledges and then run. Which, to me, is silly. Yeah sure, running isn’t literally helping anyone. But at a certain point we gotta get together and do fun feel-good things, otherwise what’s the point of living?

        • Lori says:

          I’ve largely reached the conclusion that the agenda of the effective altruism movement has a phase one which consists of gradually adding effectiveness to altruism, at some point to be followed by a phase two which will consist of gradually subtracting altruism from effective altruism. Basically, effectiveness is to effective altruism as efficiency is to neoliberalism as paper clip is to paper clip maximizer.

      • Anonymous says:

        In general, it seems to me that a reasonably plausible case can be made for lot of progressive positions if one is willing to adopt a sufficiently cynical view of humanity. E.g., we all “know” that outsourcing is good, because if Chinese people thought that working at Nike factories was worse than working on the rice fields back home, then they simply wouldn’t work at the Nike factories, so its existence is almost self-justifying (to a first approximation, of course there are some obvious complications). But it seems like the position of anti-outsourcing can be argued for on the basis of people simply being so irrational en masse (maybe the Marxist conceptualization of this is “lacking in class consciousness” or “brainwashed by centuries of capitalist thinking”) that they can’t be broadly be trusted to discern that taking the factory job, and going down the general route that that entails, leads consequentially to a lower level of happiness or self-satisfaction (I imagine they would argue that the worker is “giving up their dignity” here).

        I’ve been shifting in the direction of believing that the post-industrial
        world is too complex for a large chunk of humanity (in the sense of them literally physiologically not having sufficient cognitive ability for abstraction and analysis to be happy and satisfied in the modern world), such that their lived experiences as they perceive them are closer to surrealist horror than what people in the upper 10% of cognitive ability would ever imagine.

        But I suspect this reasoning is very uncharacteristic of progressives.

        • I have been coming to the same world view. I don’t think many people, particularly those with lower ability, are happier working at a retail joint in a big city, with their iPhones and commutes, than they would be working on a farm.

          I think that’s something hard for academic types or economists to admit. Because empirically their lives are supposedly better, after all, they have flat screen TVs and warm water. But their jobs also suck, and they still struggle.

          I saw this link on MR a while back ( But I have over time moved away from my more strictly economic view, to the idea that we should probably just start building farms or wood-working towns (whatever), to let people go and let them work on something they enjoy and that humans sorta evolved to do. But they can also still have computers and hospitals.

          Anyway, this is getting into that weird scifi-techno-monarchy space. Our current government isn’t set up to let that happen, it would need to basically be run by Peter Thiel as sovereign for that to even have a chance of developing.

        • Anonymous says:

          For what it is worth, I’m measured in the top 5% of cognitive ability by official Mensa testing and I find myself disliking the modern world with passion. I think in spite of the material success that I’ve had, there’s something genuinely missing in the authenticity of the world or the ability to fulfill natural impulses that I can’t at all.

          Years of studying the problem have only basically led me to conclude that the modern world is, if anything, less happy. But it could be just cognitive bias, which doesn’t change the original reality: I’m someone who’s highly intelligent, highly successful and yet I would want nothing more than if we could go back to somewhere ritualized, hierarchial and as I see it, beautiful.

          • Anonymous says:

            Out of curiosity, what fiction do you enjoy? Video games, if any?

          • Anonymous says:

            I mostly read nonfiction; I do read old fiction such as Lovecraft, Howard, and Zelasky. I don’t really play video games anymore, but when I did, I mostly played League of Legends for its cybersport qualities.

  2. Callirrhoe says:

    Perhaps because I just watched 2 disaster movies, “Command and Control” and “Deepwater Horizon,” on successive nights, then read your post, it occurred to me that … perhaps … in a certain light …. men dominating certain dangerous professions could be viewed as the original, unpolished “effective altruism” toward women.

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