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Frances Woolley

Frances Woolley

I am a Professor of Economics at Carleton University, where I have taught since 1990. My research centres on families and public policy. My most-cited work is on modelling family-decision making, measuring inequality within the household, feminist economics, and tax-benefit policy towards families. I hold a BA from Simon Fraser University, an MA from Queen’s, and completed my doctorate at the London School of Economics, under the supervision of Tony Atkinson.

Articles by Frances Woolley

Has Canada’s female employment rate maxed out?

November 2, 2018

Trends in employment rates have three distinct elements. The first is cohort effects. For example, women born in the 1920s and 1930s, for the most part, dropped out of the labour force when they had children. Many did not return. Their daughters, the Baby Boomers, entered the labour force in large numbers, and stayed in.  Those decisions had effects that lingered for decades. Women born in 1935, for example, were still in the employment rate calculations – and depressing female employment rates – in 1999.
The second is life-cycle effects, for example, dips in employment associated with being in school, or caring for family members, or health problems. For example, as the Canadian population gets older, relatively more workers are in the late 50s/early 60s age groups, where health

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Learning outcomes: potential game-changer, or worthless bean-counting and cataloguing exercise?

August 1, 2018

The argument:
Inadequate teaching in universities is an old problem. The latest attempt to solve this problem involves the use of National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) and Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). Roughly speaking, qualification frameworks state the learning outcomes or competencies students need to demonstrate in order to be awarded an educational credential.  These frameworks have many goals. With respect to teaching, the hope is that by specifying, in general terms, what students are expected to learn in university, it will be possible to make the education system more responsive to the demands of students and potential employers, and provide a framework for quality assurance (Allais, 2010).
Without using the qualifications terminology, the province of Ontario has

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Learning outcomes: potential game-changer, or worthless bean-counting and cataloguing exercise?

August 1, 2018

The argument:
Inadequate teaching in universities is an old problem. The latest attempt to solve this problem involves the use of National Qualifications Frameworks (NQFs) and Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). Roughly speaking, qualification frameworks state the learning outcomes or competencies students need to demonstrate in order to be awarded an educational credential.  These frameworks have many goals. With respect to teaching, the hope is that by specifying, in general terms, what students are expected to learn in university, it will be possible to make the education system more responsive to the demands of students and potential employers, and provide a framework for quality assurance (Allais, 2010).
Without using the qualifications terminology, the province of Ontario has

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A gnomic theory of higher education

June 4, 2018

Here are the powerpoint slides (.pdf format) for my CEA Presidential Address "The Political Economy of University Education in Canada":
DOWNLOAD WOOLLEY PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS SLIDES HERE. 
The talk will be written up for the November issue of Canadian Journal of Economics, and I’ll sketch out some of the main ideas here. Universities do two things. First, they produce knowledge. I say "knowledge" rather than "research" because some things that don’t count as "research", such as blog posts,  still add to what is known about the world, while some things that do count as "research" add little to knowledge. Second, universities do something to students that usually generates higher earnings – call it learning, sorting, teaching, whatever.
 
I argue that the university sector is, at

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A gnomic theory of higher education

June 4, 2018

Here are the powerpoint slides (.pdf format) for my CEA Presidential Address "The Political Economy of University Education in Canada":
DOWNLOAD WOOLLEY PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS SLIDES HERE. 
The talk will be written up for the November issue of Canadian Journal of Economics, and I’ll sketch out some of the main ideas here. Universities do two things. First, they produce knowledge. I say "knowledge" rather than "research" because some things that don’t count as "research", such as blog posts,  still add to what is known about the world, while some things that do count as "research" add little to knowledge. Second, universities do something to students that usually generates higher earnings – call it learning, sorting, teaching, whatever.
 
I argue that the university sector is, at

Read More »

Some basic facts about the distribution of sex

April 29, 2018

The Canadian Community Health Survey is an annual voluntary survey, carried out by Statistics Canada, that collects information about a wide range of health outcomes and risk factors. As part of the 2013-14 survey, 47,764  Canadians between the ages of 15 and 49 were asked about their sexual activity – whether or not they have ever had sex, and if they have had sex in the past year.
The majority of those surveyed reported being sexually active, as shown in the graph below. For example, about 88 percent of 18-19 year old women surveyed in 2013-14 (or 0.88) reported having sex in the last year.  For women, the probability of having had sex in the past year peaks at age 25-29. For men, it peaks 10 years later at ages 35-39. 

These estimates, because they are based on survey data, are

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Some basic facts about the distribution of sex

April 29, 2018

The Canadian Community Health Survey is an annual voluntary survey, carried out by Statistics Canada, that collects information about a wide range of health outcomes and risk factors. As part of the 2013-14 survey, 47,764  Canadians between the ages of 15 and 49 were asked about their sexual activity – whether or not they have ever had sex, and if they have had sex in the past year.
The majority of those surveyed reported being sexually active, as shown in the graph below. For example, about 88 percent of 18-19 year old women surveyed in 2013-14 (or 0.88) reported having sex in the last year.  For women, the probability of having had sex in the past year peaks at age 25-29. For men, it peaks 10 years later at ages 35-39. 

These estimates, because they are based on survey data, are

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Are the returns to university education falling?

April 26, 2018

[Updated to fix coding errors in some of my graphs.]
Prices are determined by supply and demand. The supply of university-educated Canadians, relative to the supply of college or high school graduates, is increasing. University participation rates have been climbing for decades (Source: CAUT):

Canada’s points based immigration system, which prioritizes those with valuable skills, further increases the supply of highly educated Canadians. Unless the demand for university graduates rises along with the supply, ECON 1000 reasoning suggests that rising education levels will, eventually, erode educated workers’ earnings advantage.

There are a number of excellent papers on the returns to education in Canada, and how these have evolved over time over time, such as Burbidge, Magee

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Are the returns to university education falling?

April 24, 2018

Prices are determined by supply and demand. The supply of university-educated Canadians, relative to the supply of college or high school graduates, is increasing. University participation rates have been climbing for decades (Source: CAUT):

Canada’s points based immigration system, which prioritizes those with valuable skills, further increases the supply of highly educated Canadians. Unless the demand for university graduates rises along with the supply, ECON 1000 reasoning suggests that rising education levels will, eventually, erode educated workers’ earnings advantage.

There are a number of excellent papers on the returns to education in Canada, and how these have evolved over time over time, such as Burbidge, Magee and Robb, Boudarbat, Lemieux and Riddell, 2010,  Ren

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In the war between generations, will universities get caught in the cross-fire?

April 19, 2018

Canada’s baby boomers are now in their late 50s and 60s. They’re done with university. Their kids, for the most part, are done with university. Sure, at some point the boomers’ grandchildren might want a university education, but that is not an immediate or pressing concern. More urgent, from the baby boomer’s point of view, are policies that benefit them directly, such as good health care, or tax/benefit policies that leave them with more money their pockets at the end of the day.
This line of reasoning suggests that, if older generations are motivated by narrow self-interest, population aging will cause public support for education spending to fall.  Poterba 1997 gives one of the classic articulations of this argument, and also sets out some countervailing forces. For example, older

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The evolving gender gap in student satisfaction

April 6, 2018

For 30 years, Canada’s National Graduates Survey (NGS) has asking college and university graduates, "If you could choose again, would you select the same field of study or specialization that you completed?"
As I explain here, the precise wording of the "would you do it again" question has changed over time, as has the placement of the question on the survey, the way graduates are categorized into "university" and "college" students, and how long after graduation the NGS is administered. These changes mean that the NGS cannot say anything meaningful about how graduates’ satisfaction with their university experience has changed over time.
Yet as long as changes to the NGS affect women’s and men’s responses equally, the NGS can tell us something about how the gender gap in university

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Do students choosing liberal arts degrees regret it?

April 5, 2018

One way to measure students’ satisfaction with their educational experience is to ask graduates, if they could choose again, would they select the same program.
Canada’s National Graduates Survey (NGS) has been asking some variation on that question since 1982. The data has many limitations, as I explain in this post. But the little we can find out from readily-available data tells us this: most graduates, when asked, would select the same field of study again again, but graduates of some programs are more likely reaffirm their choices than others.
The first snapshot comes from 1982, when students were asked, two years post-graduation, "Given your experience since completing the requirements for the ____, would you have selected the same educational program, a different program, or not

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The National Graduates Survey, student satisfaction, and the politics of statistics

April 4, 2018

One way to measure students’ satisfaction with their educational experiences is to ask graduates, if they could choose again, if they would select the same program.
Canada’s National Graduates Survey (NGS) has been asking some variation on that question since 1982. The questions asked, and the percentage of students saying that they would select the same field of study again, are shown in the table below. Although the NGS includes both college and university graduates, for ease of interpretation the table below shows results for university graduates only. 

Year
NGS question, asked two years after graduation
Population
Percent choosing  same
1982
"Given your experience since completing the requirements for the ____, would you have selected the same educational program, a

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It’s time to blunt dentists’ incentives to use general anesthetics

March 30, 2018

I recently consulted a dentist about getting a tooth extracted. The dentist recommended getting it done under general anesthetic. I responded, "I’ve had four wisdom tooth extracted under local anesthetic. I’ve given birth to two children without medication. I think I can handle it." "Ah, but some patients say dental pain is worse than child birth."
Eventually the dentist agreed to extract the tooth under a local anesthetic, and I was presented with an estimate for procedure – $350. "Why so low?" I asked the receptionist, remembering past estimates for dental work. "It’s because you’re not having a general anesthetic – if you were the bill would be more like $700." Indeed, I checked against the Alberta Dental Association fee guide (one of the few available on-line). The recommended

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Could you pass a 1950s Econ 1000 exam?

March 29, 2018

Principles of economics final exams set out, implicitly, the core of the discipline. Their questions are designed to test understanding of fundamental economics concepts; the ideas that are the foundation of economic analysis.
So when I came across Clifford L. James’s Principles of Economics (first published in 1934; ninth edition in 1956), complete with final examination and answers, I scanned the exam. Download it here.  I wanted to know what the foundations of the discipline were 60 years ago, and how have they changed.

One thing that has not changed over the decades is that economics begins with scarcity and problems of resource allocation:
 
Scarcity is inevitable; people always face trade-offs. Knowing that, it’s possible to guess that the correct answer to question 1 is

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Is the war over higher education spreading north?

March 26, 2018

In the US, higher education has become a partisan issue. While Democrats view colleges and universities as having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, a majority of Republicans now view colleges and universities as a negative influence (see this Pew survey). There is also a partisan divide in the US over the fundamental purpose of university.  According to Pew survey data, Democrats, particularly educated ones, see the primary purpose of university as personal growth, whereas Republicans consider specific skills of more importance. Is there a similar partisan split in attitudes towards higher education in this country?
The only Canadian data I could find that gathered information about both attitudes towards university education and political leanings was the

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Why don’t more economics students get SSHRC doctoral fellowships?

March 19, 2018

In 2017*, just seven economics PhD students were awarded SSHRC doctoral fellowships, according to data provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to the Canadian Economics Association. Put another way, only 1.6 percent of the 430 new SSHRC doctoral fellowships awarded that year went to students studying economics. 
The immediate cause of this lack of awards is a lack of economics PhD students applying for SSHRC funding. In the 2017* competition only 84 of the 4,141 people applying for doctoral fellowships were economics students. It is true that the economics applicants’ success rate was slightly lower than average – 8.3% as compared to 10.4%. However bringing the economics success rate up to the overall average would only have resulted in another two

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Conservatism on Canadian campuses

March 15, 2018

In the US, liberal bias in academia has long been a subject of concern, especially to those on the right of the political spectrum. Now here in Canada, pundits and politicians are increasingly bothered by a perceived lack of openness to conservative views on campus (see, for example, here, here or here). Yet Canada is not the US. Is there good reason to believe that pro-liberal or anti-conservative bias on campus is a serious issue here? 
One way of answering this question is to consider the political leanings of Canadian university professors. In Canada people do not affiliate with a political party as part of their voter registration, so the only data available on professorial political affiliation comes from surveys. The only published survey of professorial attitudes that I am

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The picture that will define Ontario politics for the next four years

March 11, 2018

Public sector employees in Ontario earn more than private sector employees. Many workers in the private sector earn the minimum wage, or only slightly above minimum wage. The peak of the public sector earnings distribution is much higher, at twenty-something dollars per hour, and there are a good number of public sector workers earning $40 or $50 an hour.

There are many things missing from this picture. Most importantly, it excludes highly-paid self-employed professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants, as well as entrepreneurs and business owners. It also excludes self-employed people in the trades, such as plumbers, electricians and contractors. The numbers are non-trivial: 13 percent of Ontario workers are self-employed. A good chunk of the upper part of the

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The gendered impact of eliminating mandatory retirement

March 7, 2018

On March 6th, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario released a report on the sustainability of university expenditures. One of the issues highlighted in the report was financial cost of eliminating standard retirement at age 65. As Simona Chiose reported in the Globe, Ontario professors "who are 66 and older have an average salary of $185,000, compared with $113,000 for the youngest cohorts." Hence retaining older profs instead of hiring younger ones is expensive.
One thing the HEQCO report did not discuss, however, was the gendered impact of removing the standard retirement age. During the debate over mandatory retirement, many of those in favour of eliminating the standard retirement age, such as Rhys Kesselman, made the argument that:
…women who have entered the labour

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Making guns obsolete

March 5, 2018

The US supposedly has a unique gun culture. Yet, for an economist, culture is a lousy explanation. We seek the origins of culture; the economic and social forces promoting and sustaining it.
Hunting, frontier living, and war can explain how the US gun culture got started, but not its persistence.  Gun-friendly rural areas are losing people; population growth is centered in urban centres and suburbs, where gun ownership rates are lower. The US population segments that are growing most rapidly, namely Hispanics, Asians, and Blacks, are the ones least likely to own guns. Moreover, these trends have been going on for decades, explaining why the percentage of US adults living in a gun-free household rose from 50 percent in 1973 to 64 percent in 2014 (General social survey data here).
The US

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The best and worst paid names on the Ontario sunshine list

February 5, 2018

The Ontario government publishes an annual "Sunshine List". This is a dataset containing detailed salary information on every Ontario government employee earning over $100,000 per year. The list includes the salaries of public servants, also salaries of people who work in Ontario universities, hospitals, and other government agencies. 
A couple of conversations I had earlier today inspired me to look through the list and try to figure out which names are the best paid, and which are the worst. For example, do Nicks, on average, earn more than Franceses? How does the average Livio compare to the average Stephen?

It’s not an easy question to answer. Some names occur much more frequently in the dataset than others. Here are the twenty most frequently-occurring first names, and

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Overselling faded dreams?

July 25, 2017

The April, 2017, issue of Science has a paper by Chetty, Grusky, Hell, Hendren, Manduca, and Narang on "The Fading American Dream" (ungated here). The paper documents falling income mobility. In particular, Chetty et al claim that, "the fraction of children earning more than their parents fell from 92% in the 1940 birth cohort to 50% in the 1984 birth cohort."
 There is something odd about Chetty et al's results. Women born in 1940 typically had children young, had relatively high fertility levels, and often did not participate in the labour force while they were raising children.  Many women in this generation had no earnings of their own. So how could they have earned more than their parents?  Given that women comprise half of the 1940 cohort, how could 90 percent of the cohort have

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Where did all the immigrants go? A fascinating puzzle with a mundane solution.

July 21, 2017

There are two ways of finding out how many immigrants there are in Canada. One is through administrative data, that is, by using landing records (the forms filled in when new immigrants arrive in Canada) to track immigrants. Another through survey data: to carry out a survey of a selected sample of the Canadian population, and ask people “are you an immigrant?”
Administrative data on immigration levels can be found on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website here: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/.Using the data on new permanent residents by source area, I calculated this table on the number of new immigrants to Canada between 2006 to 2011.

The best survey data on immigration to Canada is obtained through the Census, which is carried out every five

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Add dentists to Millennials’ list of victims

July 14, 2017

Diamonds. Napkins. Marriage. Relationships. Fashion. All are being killed by Millennials. Now it's the dental industry's turn.
 Millennials don't visit the dentist – at least not at the rates that their sweet and adorable younger siblings do, or at the rate of their responsible and sensible parents.
Now some Millennial reading this might start whining and complaining and making feeble excuses. "My employer doesn't offer dental insurance." "Other generations didn't visit the dentist when they were young." "I floss daily, have great teeth, and don't need to go." "I've got a crippling load of student debt, and can barely afford to pay the rent, let alone get a dental check-up." 
Seriously? Let's take apart that student debt thing. What about those poor

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How to value Aboriginal language television programming

June 19, 2017

Aboriginal programming is one of Canada's most worthwhile initiatives, from the classic radio program Dead Dog Cafe to Nick Rowe's favourite show, Moosemeat and Marmalade. But what is it worth? If you were asked to do an economic impact assessment of Aboriginal media – especially Aboriginal language programming – how would you do it? 
A lot of economic impact assessments work on the principle that the costs are the benefits – so the benefits of Aboriginal language television programming are the jobs that are created, and so on. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it doesn't think about opportunity costs. The money spent on Aboriginal language television programming could have been spent on something else, and that something else would also have created jobs. What is

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Quebec is a distinct society, parental leave edition

June 17, 2017

My colleague Jennifer Robson has recently published a study on parental leave for the Institute for Research on Public Policy. It provides a detailed comparison of parental leave in Quebec and the rest of Canada (ROC), and provides a number of recommendations for changing the way that parental leaves are delivered through Canada' Employment Insurance system. 
As Professor Robson describes in her study, Quebec's parental leave policies are quite different from those in the rest of the country. It is easier for parents who are self employed, and those who work relatively few hours, to claim leave. The parental benefits themselves are more generous in Quebec, especially for mothers with above average incomes – the basic Quebec benefits maxed out at $962 per week in 2016, while the

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Five things that can help you get your conference submission accepted

May 5, 2017

Over the past few months, I've been putting together the program for the upcoming Canadian Economics Association meetings: http://economics.ca/2017/en/.  It's a reasonable sized conference – this year we had almost 900 submissions – and quite a few papers were rejected.
Yet often papers were not accepted for conference program simply because the author made an easily avoidable mistake when submitting the paper. Here is a list of simple things that anyone can do to increase the chances of their conference submission being accepted.

Submit on time, and include all necessary information
Invest some time in writing a compelling, informative abstract. It should clearly state the research question, the methods used to answer the question, the results (if any) obtained, and explain why

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Trade Wars: Then and Now

May 2, 2017

I've got a new op-ed in the Globe, arguing that, to pull away from the US, Canada must look to its immigrants. 
The first draft of that article was much longer, and begun with a long discussion of the Smoot-Hawley act. I've reproduced that first draft below:
“What ifs” that were unthinkable six months ago are now chillingly plausible.
What if President Trump imposes a big border tax on Canada or Mexico? What if he tears up NAFTA? What if President Trump’s unilateral actions undermine the commitment to multilateralism that is the very foundation of the World Trade Organization? What if international trade volumes collapse, and Canada finds itself rethinking its place in the global economy?
We have been down this road before. The 1920s, like the present era, were a time of profound economic and technological transformation.  Electrification, like information technology and automation now, created a “technology shock” that affected every form of economic activity. Productivity soared but, as Laval University economist Bernard Beaudreau argues, real wages failed to keep up. Firms were able to produce goods in unprecedented volumes, but consumers lacked the purchasing power to buy them.
In the US, pressure started mounting for protectionism. Some came from industry; more from the agricultural sector.

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PhD Vouchers

May 1, 2017

Canadian universities have strong incentives to create PhD programs, and admit students into those programs. This is because provincial governments typically provide generous funds for each PhD student a university takes in. Also, PhD students are useful and cheap workers. Moreover, having a PhD program raises an academic unit's status, by signalling that it is a "research" unit  rather than a "teaching" unit. For individual faculty members, having a stable of PhD students makes it easier to get research grant funding, partly because the faculty member can show that they are active in "training", and partly because PhD students can be used as co-authors.
This incentive structure means that it can be in a department's interest to create a PhD program, even if the job prospects for their PhD students are mediocre, or only half the students they admit graduate. It can even be in a department's interests to admit PhD students that no faculty member wants to supervise. For example, if the university rewards units for admitting some target number of PhD students, or if the university threatens to close the PhD program if not enough students are admitted, there are strong incentives to take a chance on a student with poor prospects for success.
It's cruel. Students suffer.

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