Unwanted Advances

In 2010, economist Jodi Hersch published a paper arguing, like Richard Posner, that the effects of sexual harassment on women in the workplace were more ambiguous than it might initially seem. Women who were more at risk of being sexually harassed received “compensating differentials”- essentially hazard pay:

Although workplace sexual harassment is illegal, many workers report that they have been victims of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may result in lower productivity, which would reduce wages. Alternatively, workers may receive a compensating differential for this undesirable working condition, which would produce a positive effect of sexual harassment on wages. Data on claims of sexual harassment filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are used to calculate the first measures of sexual harassment risks by industry, age group, and sex. This paper shows that workers receive a compensating wage differential for exposure to the risk of sexual harassment.

In particular, Hersch found that younger women in industries with higher rates of harassment and women in more male-dominated industries received larger pay bumps, while women in more female-dominated industries were worse off regardless of rates of harassment:


Hersch does not look at changes over time, but, in line with her findings, you could see reduced tolerance for sexual harassment as both a partial cause and partial effect of a rarely discussed pattern- that younger women’s earnings have barely increased since the 80s even as older women’s increased a great deal:


While younger men’s earnings have slightly declined and older men and younger women’s earnings have increased less than 10 percent, older women’s earnings have increased by almost 50 percent since 1980.


This is no doubt largely because women are less likely to leave the workplace for extended periods of time or permanently upon marrying or having children. At the same time, older women’s wages, while now well above younger men’s, have not fully converged with older men’s:


The current shift in sexual norms among media and cultural elites is probably over-determined, pushed at once by collective anger at Trump, disgust with ostensibly liberal men who failed to stop his rise, frustration with older men who continue to misbehave and monopolize top jobs despite being past their prime, the power of social media for speeding and organizing preference cascades, a disjuncture between prior permissive norms in elite cultural enclaves and restraint in the society as a whole, the gradual erosion of trust in and loyalty to individual workplaces and institutions and the shift towards politically-driven identities in their stead, and underlying changes in marriage and sexual dynamics across the whole country. But on top of all that, the economic balance of power has shifted not only from men to women, but from younger women to older, with consequences for what gets tolerated and what does not.

One thought on “Unwanted Advances

  1. In a recent Twitter thread, I remember reading something about intrasexual competition being related to the recent unpleasantness, and I thought to myself, what would it look like if older women won? Now I know.

    Liked by 1 person

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