Inequality and parenting style

Greg Mankiw refers us to this graph (there is further explanation here), which of course can be interpreted in a variety of ways, with causation running either way or perhaps not at all:

inequality and parenting style


The importance of working hard is higher in France and Spain than Germany or Japan... even higher that USA? How do you read this graph because I'm sure I'm reading it wrong.

Everybody knows that the Spaniards work much harder than the Swiss and the Swedes.

Seriously, a lot of surveys just reveal what people think they are supposed to say in public. It's often the opposite of what they really do or think: Spaniards worry that maybe they have too much of a siesta culture so they tell interviewers that they are constantly upbraiding their children to work hard. Swedes worry that maybe they are grinds, so they tell interviewers they never tell their children to work hard.

Economists should talk to a few market researchers about surveys.

Along those lines it might have to do with how lazy your kid naturally is. Analagously if you have a juvenile delinquent for a son you might rank "staying out of trouble" as very important for kids in general. Because for you your reference point is getting arrested, shoplifting, drinking and driving, etc. If you got a goody-two-shoes nerd for a kid then your mind might naturally think of "trouble" being staying up too late or watching an R-rated movie.

French parents probably think working hard is important because their reference point is the legendary French laziness. In contrast even the bottom quintile of lazy kids in Japan probably still get most everything they need to done.

I think that's probably the best explanation here.

The US and China, however, still seem to be outliers, in the sense that probably Chinese kids work much harder than most of the kids in the other countries anyway, and still have a higher emphasis from the parents. US is probably somewhere in the middle, but still a high emphases.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that there isn't all that much correlation between "emphasizing" hard work and actually working hard. I know here in the U.S we're masters of maintaining the appearance of hard work without actually getting that much done --- sort of like the Seinfeld episode where George figures out that if he acts stressed out all the time he can get away with doing nothing.


The "importance" measurement must not be reasonable at all.

The only times I've heard French people use the word "work" is when they were mentioning where they work, or discussing how their work should treat them. I've never heard any Spanish people use the word work at all, in real life, in articles, in comments, in movies, anywhere.

And I've never met a single Japanese person that works less than the average American.

Maybe, it was meant to be the difference between "working a lot" vs "working hard". As in, I only work 35 hours per week, so I work hard during those hours?

Honestly, I didn't have time to delve into the methodology, but the "Importance of working hard" access seems likely to be a pretty soft measurement. Perhaps, just a poll of peoples opinions.

Maybe most people in homogeneous countries have similar attitudes, but the United States defies broad generalization. America has strivers and slackers and a large gray area in between. Our Asian immigrant families drive their children mercilessly; others, not so much. High-income families (at least half of them) want children to do better than their parents and align incentives toward that end -- the rest assume they can take care of the kids forever. On the bottom half of the wealth distribution, it's a complete jumble, not susceptible to such simplistic measurements.

You can't really compare Japanese working with American working -- in Japan they work longer hours but they also nap during meetings and have afternoon beer carts, so...

Granted, I am posting this comment while at work... ;-)

Of course they nap during meetings. Napping at any other time would take time away from productive work.

The working hard here, if you drill in to the report, is the kids being told to work hard for success in school.

I don't know how you measure that one, but it has little if anything to do with "hard work" for paid labor.

Gini coefficients imply the possibility of out-earning peers. Working hard in school seems natural to encourage given high Gini and a meritocratic system of school placement.

If this was the point, why aren't they measuring that directly, like with a economic mobility index of some type?

Gini coeficients are a poor measure for out-earning peers due to hard work in countries with low economic mobility.

Haaaaa, what a nice American blog where I learn that French people are lazy. A nice change from French blogs where I learn that American people are fat and stupid.

FYI early selection at the age of 18 entirely based on good grades explains the focus on hard work by French parents.
I guess lazy generalizations based on clichés are easier to understand for low IQ people.

"Haaaaa, what a nice American blog where I learn that French people are lazy. A nice change from French blogs where I learn that American people are fat and stupid."

Umm, actually the graph says that the French believe in the importance of hard work to the same degree as Americans, but the Swedes don't.

I was answering to the several comments above claiming that if French parents teach hard work to their children, it would be somehow to counter balance a "legendary French laziness".
I am not discussing the graph, just the overly silly and sloppy explanation given by several not so bright commenters such as freethinking Jeremy and Doug.

It may be that some mentalities do not consider "working hard" important because their standard of "just working" is already hard enough. So in raising children they wouldn't say "you need to work really hard" but what instead say "you need to do what's necessary".

That would explain Spain, but not China I think.

Two unlikely things.

(1) Why put all responsibility for the seeming disparity (parity, actually) of response on the French and Spanish? Perhaps, in light of recent reports of our own income inequality and social immobility -- as well as obviously stagnant wages -- some enlightened Americans have soured on the theory of 'hard work equals economic advancement'.

(2) Perhaps the Germans, Swiss, Dutch, etc. perceive that working wisely is a worthier goal than working hard.

So because the data doesn't conform to racist stereotypes there must be something wrong with the data.

Maybe instead there is something wrong with the national stereotypes.

It would be great if we could measure the relation, if any, between cultures/groups and emphasize "hard work" and the level of externalities in that group

Shouldn't GINI pre tax and transfer be used here?

If observed inequality is driving the relationship, why would a counterfactual measure (pre-tax and pre-transfer is a counterfactual for no state redistribution with no behavioral adaptation) be the preferred measure? People observe the distribution of (perhaps proxies for) disposable income, not pre-tax income.

(And gini shouldn't even be used - either look at the whole Lorenz curve or use a measure that's sub-group decomposable.)

Because OECD's adjustments for tax and transfer may worse than nothing.

Some people might just prefer something a bit more detailed than a single graph - like at this link -

Thanks for the link.

And here's the paragraph describing the chart above and the others at the link:

"In our research, we show that cross-country data on parenting styles are consistent with the prediction of a link between parenting and income inequality. Parenting style can be measured using the World Value Survey, where people are asked which attitudes or values they find most important in child rearing. Here, emphasising the values of ‘imagination’ and ‘independence’ in rearing children would correspond to a more permissive parenting style, whereas authoritarian and authoritative parents would be more likely to insist on the importance of ‘working hard’. Figures 1 to 3 show the association of these values (i.e., the fraction of parents in a given country that consider the value important) with a measure of income inequality, namely the Gini index (higher values correspond to more inequality). As predicted by the theory, across OECD economies parents in more unequal countries place more emphasis on hard work, and consider imagination and independence to be less important."

Thanks for the post, that helps me understand the “Importance of working hard” axis.

Well it's not about working harder, but working smarter. The Greeks, like the Chinese, work hard (I think they clock more hours than the Germans). But they don't work smart. By contrast the Swedes have a higher standard of living than the Chinese because they work smarter. Productivity is the key.

"By contrast the Swedes have a higher standard of living than the Chinese because they work smarter."

Well ok, but the US gets a higher rating on the "Human Development Index" than Germany, but places a lot more importance on working hard. So, I don't think your statement matches up with the evidence.

However, it may be just a case that the Axis of ‘imagination’ and ‘independence’ VS "working hard" doesn't measure working smarter. It's quite possible when an American picks "working hard", they understand that applying your intelligence, diligently to a task is "hard work". Does anyone think that Smart people are always Lazy people?

On the other hand, the whole survey seems to imply that 'Imaginative and independent" people aren't "hard workers". I think the Global survey question is probably flawed,

Agreed that Spain & France = USA is pretty fishy, but at the same time the connection between inequality and parenting sure smells right. No college-educated parent would admit it, but most are terrified at the idea of their kid waiting tables as a career. This is congruent with Tyler's observations on inequality & cuisine, and inequality & gender roles.

"That's where the Socialists myke their mistyke, sir. Nothing keeps me going but the sight of other people spendin' money."

Inequality is good.

The original authors don't control at all for genetic effects. Parents might be teaching independence and working hard or they might be genetically predisposing them with the belief. They also don't make the distinction that parents' beliefs of the effects of parenting are more important than the actual effects when determining how parents raise their children.

I'm surprised by the data for Japan. Less emphasis on hard work than the Mediterranean? Maybe they just think that because hard work is such a part of Japanese culture their children will adsorb the values through the wider culture, whereas Mediterraneans and Americans want to teach their children to rise above the cultural mean.

Whenever I see these kinds of OECD charts I always group the countries into cultural/ethnic groupings, the Germanics, the British Empire countries, and the Mediterraneans. They usually cluster closely.

There might be multiple ways to incentivize to the same place.

Japanese care about quality and proper behavior, doesn't matter if they care about hard work. They'll work hard to get quality and to show propriety .

Americans care about being independent, doesn't matter if they don't care about hard work, they'll work hard enough to make enough money to get that independence. Even though they don't care about hard work, etc.

If you care about something and the way to that is by hard work, then you'll work hard even without caring about it.

I was unaware until today that MR boasted so many experts on Mediterranean culture among its readers.

No surprises here. As the Gini coefficient rises most parents will assume that the child has to eventually end up in a higher and higher percentile of earners to be happy. (In a relatively equal society, as long as their in the top 90% of earners, they're doing well enough to be happy, in a highly unequal society, perhaps the top 20% do well enough to be happy.)

As the parent perceives that fewer and fewer will succeed, it makes more and more sense to start stripping away anything that makes life for the children enjoyable in order to concentrate on what will make their future life survivable. And if the child cracks under the pressure, it's unfortunate, but then they were probably doomed anyway.

In Norway, Sweden, Finland the graph is plausible. Education is free up to a doctorship, and hence return on education is low. People don't care to work for money, as you get almost the same from welfare. People never tell their children to work hard to earn well as our grandparents told.

I agree that we can’t really compare one country’s working with that of some other country. Obviously, results will vary from nation to nation and what methodologies they employ while carrying out a specific type of task.

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