Pan Am, Revisited

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Via Instapundit and thanks, in part to a certain urchin of my acquaintance being uncharacteristically awake and alert during my usual blogging hours, I quickly bring your attention to some good counterarguments to the idea I recently entertained that government deregulation of the airline industry is the main cause of the "declining hotness of flight attendants", as Megan McArdle puts it:

As a libertarianish economics blogger, I would love if this story were true. But I'm skeptical.  Stewardesses used to be subject to all sorts of extremely strict rules: they couldn't be married, couldn't gain weight, couldn't get pregnant, couldn't be much over 30.  If you fire everyone who violates those rules, then yes, you will select for a much "hotter" group of women than the current crop.

You could probably still get a large group of young, hot women to take a job that involves free flights all around the world.  But those jobs are no longer open, because airlines stopped firing all the old, fat parents. Thanks to a combination of feminist shaming, union demands, and anti-discrimination laws. Moreover, once they no longer fired people over a certain age, union seniority rules immediately started selecting for older workers, in two ways:  layoffs are usually last hired first fired, and older people have a lot of sunk costs in terms of pension accrual and seniority, so they're less likely to leave.  If you fly a major airline, you'll notice very few stewardesses in their twenties.
Later, McArdle does concede that deregulation may have hastened this process, but she is skeptical that the cost of hiring stewardesses like those of Pan Am is a big enough factor to cause (or even appreciably hasten) this change in the visible demographics of airline attendants.

Plausibility, congeniality to one's own cherished notions, and succinctness alone do not a correct explanation make: As McArdle shows us, all relevant factors must be unearthed and accounted for in one's thinking, first.

-- CAV

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