Israel Economist Shows Arab Women Want Day Care

Cultural concerns don’t necessarily stop Israel’s Arab women from working, the lack of affordable day care does. Longer maternity leave for Austrian women might keep them in the labor force longer. And girls in areas of India with more sex-selection abortions are less likely to be malnourished.

These are some of the discoveries by Argentina-born economist Analia Schlosser of Tel Aviv University, whose research has been cited by the Bank of Israel, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Israel extended its free day-care program more widely after a policy debate that included Schlosser’s work, and a group lobbying for mixed-gender classes used her studies to show their benefits. Schlosser, who often chooses topics related to women or gender, says she went into economics rather than mathematics because she wanted to be involved in practical policy questions.

“At the end of the day, women are more interested in things connected to this world, less theoretical things,” said Schlosser, 38. “I try to find a causal effect. This is one of the things that links all my research.”

Schlosser, who spent a year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and two years at Princeton University, is a rarity in Israel. Only two of the 19 faculty members in her economics department are women. At Hebrew University of Jerusalem, only one of 26 is female. The comparable rate in the U.S. is 20 percent.

Girls, Boys

Schlosser’s work on gender separation in schools produced new information for public policy makers in the U.K. and the U.S. and led to other studies, said co-author Victor Lavy of Hebrew University, who hired Schlosser as a research assistant when she was an undergraduate.

“All of her work touches upon important questions of public policy,” Lavy said. “I see her among the leading economists in Israel doing empirical work, very careful empirical work.” Lavy helped arrange for Schlosser’s year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at MIT as a doctoral student, and her two years at Princeton in New Jersey as a post-doc.

The 2011 article concluded that a higher proportion of girls in classes improves academic outcomes for both boys and girls and lowers disruption, violence and teacher fatigue. It was used by Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah, an Israeli group dedicated to fostering “tolerance and openness in Orthodoxy,” in lobbying against the trend of increasing gender separation in Israel’s state religious elementary-school classes.

‘Serious’ Research

“I’ve cited this study in lectures and in parlor meetings,” said Shmuel Shattach, executive director of the Tel Aviv-based group. “It’s a very serious piece of research.”

One of the main reasons women are rare in Israeli economics departments may be that to get a job, economists need to travel to the U.S. to do their doctorate or post-doctoral work. Partners and children can make that more difficult, according to Schlosser.

“Most of the action is there,” said the economist, who herself became a mother for the first time last year.

“Sometimes you feel more lonely, because there aren’t very many women around,” said Schlosser, who keeps a Princeton coffee cup in her office and a whiteboard adorned by mathematical equations scrawled in green marker. “When you go out to dinner, it’s all men and you. I didn’t have a female role model to follow. I do see younger women asking me for advice, and I think it’s nice.”

Schlosser says the degree of care she tries to take in her research -- using several methodologies and trying to be self-critical -- may be gender-related.

Too Cautious?

“Women are much more careful,” Schlosser said. “When they want to say something, they want to be 200 percent sure. So they recheck from all different angles, to make sure that what they see in the data is what it is.”

She doesn’t intend that necessarily to be a criticism of men. In fact, it could be that women are sometimes too cautious, she said: They tend to take longer to publish, which also could be a result of family obligations. The end result can be a slowdown in their careers.

So far, gender hasn’t hindered Schlosser, who in 2010 was chosen to be a member of the Young Scholars Forum of the prestigious Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Born in Buenos Aires, Schlosser, whose mother is a psychologist and whose father worked in the software industry before becoming a school principal, studied in Jewish schools. She first became interested in economics in high school.

‘More Useful’

“I liked math a lot, but I wanted something connected to the real world,” she said. “So the connection between math and more applied things is what got my attention. I didn’t want to study pure math; I wanted something more useful.”

After briefly attending a public university in Argentina -- where the overcrowded system meant students could take only three courses a semester and withdraw only three books from the library at one time -- Schlosser decided to move to Israel, where her sister lived.

Residual fear of police and mistrust of the government also may have played a part in her decision to leave, she said. While she is too young to remember her homeland’s junta, in which human-rights organization say as many as 30,000 people disappeared and thousands of others were kidnapped and tortured, some of her parents’ friends were among those who vanished.

In Israel, Schlosser studied economics and statistics at Hebrew University, eventually becoming a research assistant to Lavy and to Joshua Angrist. They later became her Ph.D. advisers and both encouraged her to go on to a graduate degree and, later, to go into academia.

Empirical Work

“She is one of the best applied micro economists in Israel,” said Angrist, who now teaches at MIT. “She’s a very good empiricist. Her work is very careful and in the end, very convincing.”

It was her work with Lavy and Angrist, whom she calls her mentors, that gave Schlosser the appetite to become a scholar. “It was the first time I saw what research is,” said Schlosser, whose other research also was done with co-authors. “I saw how professors live, the fact that you can study all the time, learn new things, do research on whatever you’re interested in.”

As a Ph.D. student in 2005, Schlosser became interested in Israeli-Arab women, the group with the lowest labor participation in the country by far. Only about 20 percent work, compared with more than 70 percent of Jewish women, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Preschool Enrollment

“I saw children’s enrollment in preschool was pretty low, and I asked why and I was told there was no market for that,” Schlosser said. “I tried to think whether having those institutions would help them, whether standard economic models would work for everyone.”

By studying the gradual implementation in several towns of a law providing free child care from age three, Schlosser found that expanding this resource raised labor participation. The Bank of Israel and the OECD used the study to advocate making child care more widely available. After mass social protests in the summer of 2011 over the rising cost of living and the financial difficulties faced by the middle class, the government extended the program to the entire country.

In a 2011 article, Schlosser researched the effect of changes in Austrian government benefits on mothers’ post-birth careers. When maximum parental leave was extended from one year to two years, mothers did take longer to return to work. She found, though, there was no detrimental effect on their employment or wages five years later.

Sex Selection

In a study on India, she focused on the impact of sex-selective abortion. The results showed that an increase in the practice of prenatal sex selection across regions is associated with a reduction in the prevalence of girls’ malnutrition.

Girls who are born “because they are wanted are being treated better,” Schlosser said. Her policy recommendation is that the government provide economic incentives for families with girls, which some regions already are doing.

Schlosser’s most-cited work was co-written with Lavy and Angrist and was part of her doctoral thesis. They studied the effect of large families on the educational and economic attainment of children; in a sense, whether there is a tradeoff between quantity and quality.

Using data on Israeli families, Schlosser found no evidence that size had negative consequences on an individual’s educational attainment, labor-force participation or wages. The only difference was that girls from larger families tended to marry sooner.

Less Sleep

Since the birth of her son in November, Schlosser is having her own experience balancing family and work. She’s learning to live with less sleep and has temporarily cut out her favorite leisure activities: running on the beach and yoga. She is reading a book in Hebrew called “Broom and Other Stories” by Leonid Pekarovsky, a Russian immigrant with an art degree who works in Israel as a guard in a parking lot.

While Schlosser is at work, a nanny cares for her son. Her parents, who moved to Israel last year, also help a lot with the baby, she said.

“I see how tired I am and how demanding motherhood is, even if I have a supportive partner and the most ideal conditions I can think of,” said Schlosser, noting that she is fortunate to have earned tenure before her baby was born. “It’s not that it’s impossible, but things slow down a lot. I have started to say no to a few things.”

No Travel

Motherhood also has stopped her from traveling this year, something she says is very important in terms of looking for scientific collaboration, attending conferences and presenting papers. For fathers, the situation is not the same, says Schlosser, who has chosen to breastfeed her baby.

“You can’t go against biology,” she said. “There are small biological differences, which actually make a big difference.”

Her husband, a brain researcher at Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s medical school, holds both an M.D. and Ph.D. and is also an academic.

“It’s not like regular work that you can come home and disconnect,” Schlosser said. “You have to think about work 24 hours a day.”

Schlosser says she still would encourage younger women economists who are interested to go into academia.

“You can find a way to do it,” she said. “You can find a balance.”

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