Finances, Opportunity, and the Path of a Little Girl

Share Button

“I think the girl who is able to earn her own living and pay her own way should be as happy as anybody on earth.” – Susan B. Anthony

The girl

Today, I’m going to talk about my daughter.

In many regards, she’s a pretty typical four year old girl – at least judging by her peers. She likes to play dress-up – in fact, we have a dress-up tub in our basement just for her. Her favorite place on our property is the sandbox, and the part about winter that she hates is that she really can’t play in that sandbox. She loves to sing and dance, and we can rarely drive more than two minutes without her bursting into song in the back seat. Her favorite toys are building blocks, from which she can build giant towers and crazy sculptures. She seems to believe that a day isn’t complete without an art project, preferably one that involves paper and glue and markers and pens and clay.

Of our three children, she’s often the one I have the hardest time relating to. I grew up in a household that held nothing but boys. All I have is brothers, and all of their friends and most of my friends growing up were boys. The only children close to my age that lived near us were boys. I’m used to the “boy” experience and I understand how boys respond to most situations. The behavior of my oldest child and my youngest child – both boys – makes sense to me based on my own experiences.

My daughter is a bit of a different story. I find myself often watching how she acts more than the other two simply because she often reacts and does things in ways that I don’t expect. She’s a beautiful enigma to me at many times.

After her fourth birthday, we started giving her an allowance, just like her older brother. They both use Money Savvy Pigs and divide up the small weekly allowance (paid in quarters) among the slots.

My oldest son has always taken the “invest” slot in the bank for granted. He puts the minimum amount of quarters into that slot and, although he occasionally asks about it, he actually focuses more on the “save” and “donate” slots. He’s not much of an impulse spender, as he’s already been able to save up for a few very expensive items, and he’s proud to be saving his nickels and dimes for Jump for Joel.

My daughter, on the other hand, was immediately curious about that “invest” slot. What will we do with that money? Will we spend it? What does “I-N-V-E-S-T” mean?

I told her that the money in that slot was for saving for things when she was much older, like college or a car or something like that. We talked a little bit about how many quarters would be in that slot by the time she was sixteen.

Then, I set the hook. “You know, the money in that slot has the power to grow on its own.”

Her eyes lit up. I explained that we could take that money to a bank and put it in a savings account, and for every four quarters she left in there for a while, the bank would give her a penny. I mentioned that there were other things you can invest in where you might even earn more than that, but you might also lose some money, too.

She was fascinated. She wanted to start “invess-TING” right now. Right now.

Before I had a daughter, I didn’t know what to expect. Now I do. This girl is a thoughtful, intelligent, quick-witted, vibrant person who deserves every chance in the world to take it all by storm. She has all the ability in the world and a skill set that is different from but at least equal to that of her siblings.

When I hear that there is still a pay discrepancy between genders, I shudder. She’s growing the passion and skills needed to take on practically any job thrown before her, so why should she not receive equal pay?

When I see that an opportunity discrepancy still exists (whether in fact or in perception), I shake my head. She’s incredibly capable of taking on impressive challenges, even at her young age. Why shouldn’t she get that opportunity as she reaches adulthood?

One of the personal goals that Sarah and I have for our children is to ensure that they can follow any educational path after high school that they wish and they won’t be limited by money or economic opportunity. Part of achieving that goal is to make sure that they have every skill and every piece of knowledge that we can give to them as they grow up. I want every single one of them to swing for the fences, and the biggest thing I hope for is that they’re each judged by and are given opportunities by the level of their skills and the content of their character, not by their gender.

How do we do that? We have well-funded 529s for each of them. We spend a lot of time engaging with them on educational endeavors – a trip to the Science Center of Iowa is a family event, for example, and we’re constantly doing writing activities and math activities and science experiments together as a family. In contrast to a lot of what we see around us, we’re encouraging our children to take control of tasks and projects and assert their independence. For example, our six year old can find his clothes, take a shower, get himself dressed, brush his teeth, pack his backpack, and get out to the bus stop in the morning (I’m around to converse with him, but he does this himself).

This little girl (and her two siblings) deserves every opportunity in the world, and it’s our job to make sure they have every tool we can give them to grab ahold of those opportunities and run wild with them. Doing that is a financial commitment and a time commitment and an energy and patience commitment, but it’s one that has giant rewards: independently functioning and thinking adults who can make a positive impact in the world.

That, to me, is “invess-TING” at its finest.

Share Button
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...

203 thoughts on “Finances, Opportunity, and the Path of a Little Girl

  1. Maybe there is a pay discrepency between genders because people like you don’t expect a girl to be a “thoughtful, intelligent, quick-witted, vibrant person who deserves every chance in the world to take it all by storm.”

  2. Yeah, Trent, you aren’t exactly innocent in which concerns sexism and gender stereotypes. A lot of that stuff is pervasive but harmful all the same.

  3. Man alive, who wrote this? I’m not commenting on the substance or the stereotypes (I’ll leave that for others), but I’m blown away that this seems to have taken more than 15 minutes to write and actually hangs together, with some nicely constructed paragraphs. What blog am I reading?

  4. Oh jeez, to counterbalance the first two comments, I actually thought this article was quite thoughtful and among the best writing I’ve seen here in a long time.
    I think the 75 cents to every dollar statistic is awful. My company publishes salary ranges for every job and level, and more places would be better off to do the same, I think.
    (…now to wait for someone to open the can of worms regarding pay equality…)

  5. Ultimately, whether your daughter gets equal pay or equal opportunity isn’t determined by her, or even by you – it’s determined by her future employers, as well as by all the teachers, mentors, coworkers, and others she encounters along the way.

    There are some things you can do, though. You can encourage her to ask for things that she wants. A big factor (but not at all the only factor) in the pay and opportunity gaps is that women are socialized to ask for less. But there’s a catch-22 here, since women who ask for “too much” may be perceived as being overly aggressive, and may be punished for that. So there’s no perfect solution.

    Paradoxically, something else you can teach her is that it’s OK to be mediocre. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t strive to be the best she can be, but it does mean that it’s OK if many, or even most, of her peers are better at something than she is. Especially in male-dominated fields, women are often given the message that if they’re not among the very best, they don’t deserve to be there at all. (While of course there are lots of men there who, by definition, aren’t among the very best, and they don’t get the same message.)

  6. If you want her to make above-average pay, you need to do some hard thinking about how the game will have changed in 20 years and prepare her for it. Equal pay is elusive because people don’t plan ahead.

  7. Michael, there’s a difference between “equal” and “above-average.” Also, your statement that “equal pay is elusive because people don’t plan ahead” suggests that what you actually mean is that women don’t plan ahead (otherwise why wouldn’t both genders experience a not-planning-ahead disadvantage?). Please consider re-phrasing to better reflect what you actually mean.

  8. Johanna — Your advice on asking for more is so correct, at least in my experience. When my sister graduated from grad school, she was offered a good job that she really wanted. It was slightly less money than she was hoping to make. When she called back to accept the job she asked for $5000 more, and they agreed to it on the spot. She was so surprised and then was mad she didn’t ask for $10,000 more!

    In my case, I was offered a federal job, so there is less negotiation involved. The initial offer was for GS9, when I had been expecting GS12. I politely told them that I couldn’t take the job unless it was a GS12. The woman I was speaking with said that she would check, but that they rarely would move up the pay ladder for a new hire. Less than 2 hours later, someone new called and said GS12 was appropriate for me. That’s more than $20,000 a year! So, I figure it can’t hurt to ask for more. All they can do is say no.

  9. Pay equality won’t happen until people who are concerned about it do more than just wring their hands. A good first step is for companies to have published pay schedules tied to specific non-gender-based requirements/accomplishments. However, in areas where people can negotiate their pay and benefits, the gender gap is going to be slower closing.

  10. Be careful when you look at pay “discrepancy.” Many women choose to concentrate more on their families during a period of their career, and therefore don’t charge ahead as hard, don’t grab at risky job changes. It’s their choice, and they understand as well as anyone that their pay will suffer during that time.

    It’s a choice, it’s their choice.

    Look at studies that adjust for that (asking participants if they had done everything they could do and were still not being compensated equally) and then perhaps adjust your assumptions.

  11. Look at studies that adjust for that (asking participants if they had done everything they could do and were still not being compensated equally) and then perhaps adjust your assumptions.

    Studies do attempt to adjust for women taking time out for maternity leave and child rearing and still find a discrepancy in pay.

  12. My first comment contained a link and is in moderation. What I said was that the gender pay gap is a myth. Search “gender pay gap” in Google, and the one of the first results is a CBS News article entitled “The Gender Pay Gap Is a Complete Myth.”

  13. @Lauren: That’s great that negotiating your salaries worked out well for you and your sister. But I wasn’t just advising women to ask for more. The reason women ask for less isn’t because there’s anything wrong with women, but because throughout our lives we’re taught that we deserve less. So I was also advising Trent – and also Sarah, and other parents – to teach their daughters to ask for more, by taking their daughters’ requests as seriously as those of their sons.

    Admittedly, that’s a tough task too, because it’s hard to judge whether we’re taking one person’s requests as seriously as another’s. We may think we’re being gender-blind when we’re not. For example, in experiments where people listen to a dialogue between a man and a woman in which both speak the same amount, most people perceive that the woman is talking more (and is therefore implicitly requesting more of the listener’s time).

  14. @Rachel (#13)

    The gender gap is a very complex issue and there are lots of different perspectives and tons of research (some good, some not good) out there.

    You can’t just make a sweeping statement that it doesn’t exist after reading one news article on CBS.

  15. @Rachel: There are so many things wrong with that CBS news article, but I’ll start with this: It’s inconsistent.

    The authors are arguing not that the wage gap is a myth, but that raw earnings data are meaningless, since you have to look at the differences in the actual jobs that women and men are doing. But then, when they claim that “unmarried women who’ve never had a child actually earn more than unmarried men,” *that’s* based on the raw earnings data. But more young women than young men have gone to college, and when you compare women and men at the same educational level, men still earn more.

  16. Misha, yes, exactly. Women as a group don’t plan to get ahead of where men are now, so they have trouble catching up because men are also evolving their methods to earn more money than others in their fields and offices.

    It’s just like saying the 2nd-place driver in an auto race needs to drive to where the 1st place driver is going at a faster rate than the 1st place driver, not to where the 1st place driver is now and not at the same speed as the 1st place driver.

    And, I said above-average income for Trent’s daughter because in order for women to achieve pay equality, many of them have to earn more than the average. If she is not interested in making that happen she’s free to pursue an average or below-average income, of course. But, I think she and her peers are capable of earning quite a lot of money if their parents think ahead and raise the children to succeed in 2030, not 2012.

  17. So, Michael, basically you’re saying that parents raise boys to succeed in the future but girls to succeed in the past, and somehow . . . this is women’s fault? And not sexist? Interesting.

  18. Equality is not a race Michael. Pay can be equitable across sexes. The whole point is that there should be no first and second place.

  19. To change the subject a little bit…

    Girls and women really should not be any more enigmatic than boys and men are. We’re all just people. For pretty much any skill or personality trait that there is, there’s going to be more variation among girls, and among boys, than there is between the “average girl” and the “average boy.” If your experience with little boys (or grown men) has left you so unprepared to understand the actions of a little girl (or grown woman), could the problem be with your expectations and where you’re getting them from?

  20. In the 1990′s I worked for a company primarily staffed by women. One of the young men who worked there got 2 substantial closely-spaced promotions with accompanying pay increases at his (female) boss’s insistence. The first was because the man got married (his wife worked too). The 2nd was because his wife had twins two years later. The actual worked performed by the guy was basically the same, just with a fancier title. We single moms were not amused, whether we were lower or higher on the pay scale than he.

  21. Hmm, stuck in the mod queue.

    Katie, it’s not the fault of the girls. That’s silly.

    Jackie, if one party wants to win and the other wants to tie it’s a race.

  22. Michael, individuals should (and do) want to win. If you’re saying that men as a group want to win over women as a group that would be, yes, sexism.

  23. Everyone’s bringing their own assumptions and hangups to this party, eh?

    Agree w/ Johanna about teaching women (and men) that it’s ok to be mediocre. In my undergrad education, several young folks left the aerospace engineering program in the first couple of semesters. Practically everyone in my classes had been in the top 2% in high school, and now many found themselves squarely in the middle of the pack. I can’t know what was in their hearts, (perhaps some found they simply didn’t like engineering, despite being able to hack it) but it seemed that many had trouble going from the best to average. I had a similar experience when I moved to grad school.

    Michael: Trent didn’t say he wanted his daughter to make above-average (or even average) pay, although he did express a desire for her to be able to achieve whatever she wants, with strong hints that he hopes she will want to excel financial.

    And, I said above-average income for Trent’s daughter because in order for women to achieve pay equality, many of them have to earn more than the average.

    That’s not really true, because when people talk about pay equality, they really don’t mean

    “average salary for a man” = “average salary for a woman”

    they mean things more like:

    “average salary for a female bus driver with 17 years experience” = “average salary for a male bus driver with 17 years experience”

  24. Where do you find ideas for writting / math / science activities? I have three children of similar ages and would like to start something similar with them.

  25. The one paragraph in the article about gender pay discrepancy almost went unnoticed until I read the comments and they made me truly think about what some may feel is gender bias in the work place and events that are happening around me right at this moment.
    I’m an Accounting Manager for a Mid Size firm. Although my children are adults I have been a working mother in the past so I know how hard it can be.

    Anyway,I am literally sitting in my office looking out the window at the work area of my four assistants. One male and three female.All four are very good workers. The third desk is empty today because it’s usual occupant is home with sick children. All total last year (other than scheduled vacations) Female assistant #3 missed 16 days of work because of children issues, Female assistant#2 missed about 2-3 days last year for children issues. Female #1 missed 5 days out sick (single, no children) and Male assistant missed 3 days of work last year (single, no children). . Female assistant # 3 is a good worker, however multiple times (16) has caused the other three and myself to take on extra work and projects in addition to our already heavy work loads because of her many absences.
    Today @ 2:30 I will be giving all three their annual reviews and raises.All will be getting a 6% increase with the exception of
    Assistant #3 she will be getting about a 1% and her review clearly states that she needs to focus on substantially reducing her absences regardless of the reason. Others are having to work way to hard to pick up the slack.
    So I wonder… will she think I did not give her a decent raise just because she is a working mother with needy children and takes care of them when they are ill. She is definitely not going to be happy with this annual increase after all when she is here she is a good worker.
    The reason she is getting such a low end increase is because she is not able to provide the stability and reliability to our company that her peers are capable of and if the children are the reason for missing so many days it may be assumed by some as the reason for her lower annual pay in years to come ( as compared to her peers) and viewed as a negative toward the company. However,in this economy I think the fact that we are trying to work around her excessive days off should be viewed as plus of our company, many employers would have termed her a long time ago.

  26. #24 Matt J
    “average salary for a female bus driver with 17 years experience” = “average salary for a male bus driver with 17 years experience”
    This is what I was trying to allude to in my lengthy post.
    For instance if my male assistant stays with the company for five more years and assistant #3 is still there in five years but accumulated two years of dismal increases because of excessive absences due to “children issues/ illnesses” ( due to the fact she is the primary care giver for such instances) I will have two people doing the same job .. One male, one female, both with 5 years of service and the male making thousands of dollars more than the female.
    I TRULY don’t believe I discriminated against the female, but it sure looks that way if you use the statistics of my two employees to fill in your formula.

  27. #26 – I have ENORMOUS problem with this. I am assuming that your company offers sick and vacation leave for your employees and that this employee used sick and vacation leave on the days she missed. So because she actually uses hers she is given 5% less raise?

    Did the other employees take all their vacation time? Would that not also be causing “the other three and myself to take on extra work and projects in addition to our already heavy work loads?”

    This is a perfect example of how working parents are judged – they are USING a benefit they have been given and then penalized for it.

    I suppose we should all start not taking our vacation and sick time so that we can get raises/not lose our jobs.

    I’d also like to add that I’ve seen this exact kind of thing in the workplace – and the comments made about how these people aren’t “pulling” their weight” is ridiculous. There is a reason for sick and vacation time!

    I suppose that people with chronic illness should also just sit at home.

  28. Katie, right, two groups here.

    1. All individuals want to win and since men are ahead and men and women are equal in ability, the men sort of stay ahead by default unless the women to where the men are going, not where they are now. Income-earning is competitive so a constant evolution of tactics/mindset is required to maintain income relative to another group of people also evolving.

    2. There are men who want to earn more than women and frankly, they are pretty good at it. This group is a mix of misogynists and sexists with some overlap.

    Hope that clears it up for you.

    MattJ, I said above-average because in order for women to achieve income parity, enough above-average women must earn above-average incomes, and since she’s a smart girl with an interest in investing, one would expect it, right? She’s of course free to do what she likes.

    A municipal employee on a fixed, public, gender-equal pay schedule is the minority so I don’t think bus driver is a good example of the problem here. The majority of jobs will pay more money to someone smarter about obtaining it, sometimes because that person figures out how to redefine the job and sometimes because that person just knows how to get offered more for doing the same job.

  29. @MARIA,

    I would hope that your company provides sick/vacation time for its employees. A little understanding/compassion would go a long way, too.

  30. #27 MARIA

    I understand what you mean, but I wasn’t about to get into that because I don’t have the energy or time to hash out that argument with anyone. (in case someone engages you – good luck!) You and I are likely largely in agreement on the bulk of the issue.

    Obviously bus drivers with poor records of job performance (whether because of lax job attendance, lax attention to the road, lax attention to the till, or whatever) should be, if not let go altogether, at least compensated less than another bus driver with similar experience. Further (for the purposes of this discussion), the cumulative decisions that result in one bus driver with 17 years experience getting paid less than another should have nothing to do with their sex.

    Oops… I’m getting into it.

  31. Maria, how would you have handled raises if your employee had missed 16 days due to, for instance, migraines or chemotherapy?

  32. Of course our company provides sick time and vacation. 2 weeks paid vacation and 5 days paid sick leave (and yes every takes their vacations). Our schedules and work load revolve around this. However when a member of the team takes 11 extra random days off than provided with no notice at all it does prove to be a large extra burden for everyone else. I believe keeping someone employed and working with them while they have this many excessive absences is showing a lot of compassion.
    I am not judging working parents, I was a working parent and lost days of work due to my children’s health. Heck, maybe I was financial discriminated against and didn’t even now it. I am saying that as a manager of a business there is a limit of what can be handled by the company. As a company we are not able to run our business without a good amount of reliability and stability. An employee (male of female) taking 11 EXTRA days off a year is a large burden for others and the company to handle. Our sick and vacations days offered to all employees are based on the # of employees we employ and the company’s ability to function while offering the best benefits we can.( side note: we spent 1.1 million dollars last year to provide health/dental care to our 106 employees)
    I was not judging her because she was a mother losing extra work due to her children. I was judging her on her ability to work and excel with in our company guidelines and I think this is fair. Even, though she is a good employee the fact is her work load is slightly less than the others simply because some (not all )more advanced/ time sensitive projects can not be given to her because of her lack of reliability to be at the office.
    Truthfully, I recall having to terminate a single female about a year ago for excessive missed days that equaled less than number of days of my current assistant has missed….in hind site maybe I actually discriminated against her because I did not think she had good enough reasons for missing so much work.

  33. Katie and Julie,

    Maria said all four of her assistants are good workers. Assuming they are all about equal in their work abilities, then the difference between an employee who takes 16 unscheduled days off in a year and one who takes 3 unscheduled days off in a year is huge. Any day off has to be worked around and an unscheduled one is often extremely burdensome to the employer and other employees, making the more dependable employee considerably more valuable to the employer, and value should be compensated accordingly.

    I’m pretty sure from what Maria said that her performance review and pay decisions would be the same no matter what the reason for Assistant #3′s absences. Personally, as an employer, I know I would be willing to make more sacrifices for an otherwise dependable employee who faced a period of chemotherapy to save his/her life, than for an employee who suffered a chronic ailment or had a family situation that prevented them from ever being dependable.

    It is unfortunately the case that women are more often the primary caretakers of their children and increasingly the only caretakers. This is not, however, the employer’s fault. If dependability is an important aspect of the job, then undependability makes for a less valuable employee.

  34. Katie,
    funny you should ask that question about chemo. My husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma cancer 2 years ago in June, he had to go through two surgeries and 1 year of chemo. He started the chemo in August and his employer was very generous and let him continue to work when he could which resulted in many days off… fast forward to Dec, he was given is usual annual review which was outstanding but NO raise that year, yup ZERO. How could someone expect a raise after missing so many days.. we were just glad he had a job and office he could go to whenever he felt up to it and thought this was a huge benefit if for no other reason than keeping him occupied with a familiar part of his life. ( He worked for a very well known large fortune 500 company )He has since left and is on total disability…got a very nice “retirement” bonus when he left though.
    So, I guess I could say that if I ever have an employee in a similar situation I might do the same. I’ll just have to wait and see if the situation arises

  35. AnnJo
    Those are my thoughts exactly.
    I am NOT a writer by any means and sometimes don’t clearly express my actual thoughts. You said it very well in your last paragraph.

  36. Gender pay equality is real. But you do have to be careful about what you’re talking about and what it means.

    Currently the median pay for women working full time is 81% that of what the median pay for full time men get.

    THe overall pay gap between genders is mostly due to choice of career, experience level etc. If you do an apples to apples comparison then there is still a discrepancy between genders but it is far lower. I saw an old study somewhere from the 90′s that compared pay for engineers where the career is the same and they compared pay for men vs women at the same experience level. The women got paid around 95-97% of what men got and that is in a very heavily male dominated field.

    Pay discrimination based on gender is illegal. Government and large companies are generally not going to systematically break the law as a matter of policy.

    Food for thought:

    Asian women in management positions make 45% more than Hispanic women in management, 40% more than black women and 22% more than white women.
    So… Who do we blame for that??

  37. Jim, that was interesting about the Asian women.
    The few Asian women I know in Management positions work extraordinary hours, give 110% all the time with out complaints and have a far superior work ethic then I do.

    In fact about 12 years ago I worked side by side an Asian CPA who I can honestly say handled more work than 2 or 3 of the best CPA’s I can think of.

    As far as I am concerned anyone with those traits and work ethics deserve 22% more than me ( maybe more)..

  38. I can’t help but think that this is an awful lot of weight to put on the shoulders of a 4 year old.
    My parents raised me (consciously or unconsciously on their parts, I’ve never asked) to believe that the only thing I cannot do is be the biological father of a child. Sometimes I suspect that my complete belief that I CAN do something (anything) drove/drives them nuts — I know it does my husband. But I was always encouraged to figure out HOW to accomplish X, even if X needed 4 people and a trained monkey to accomplish. There was probably a way to do it, using tools/machines or subbing a trained dog since I didn’t have a monkey. It made for a very agile brain. It also makes for some very strange food combinations when I get creative in the kitchen, and we won’t discuss the tree cutting incident of 2006 (however, the tree came down and nothing was broken — me or the house — unlike the professionals who took out a lamppost and two small bushes. My tree was, however, significantly smaller than the one they took down.)
    Some of this trait that I “blame” my parents for is a result of my stubbornness, and I’m not sure if I plan because my brain works that way or if my brain works that way because I plan. But I know that raising my children, of either gender, to have this much belief in themselves is important to me — however many gray hairs it may inspire.
    Part of that plan, however, includes talking to them about the people who DON’T have that belief/mindset. My parents didn’t include that part of the lesson. And that has always been the hard part for me, running up against people who tell me I can’t do X because I lack the people (or monkey) to do it. Demonstrating that it CAN be done can be very tiring.

  39. @jim: Some food for thought for you: Why was the first question you thought to ask “Who do we blame for that?” rather than “What do we do about that?”

    Attributing part of the pay gap to choice of careers doesn’t get us (as a society) off the hook either. The next question is, why do women tend to choose careers that pay less well? (Or to put it more provocatively, why do we place less monetary value on the careers that women happen to choose?)

    In the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) in particular, the idea that girls are inherently bad at or uninterested in math runs deep, but there’s really no evidence to support that at all, and a lot of evidence to contradict it.

  40. #41 Liz

    My parents raised me to believe that the only thing I cannot do is be the biological father of a child.

    I agree that you actually can’t father a child, but I still insist that you have the right to father a child.

  41. Some profit-minded company should take advantage of the inefficiency we’re discussing by focusing their hiring on those individuals who can be had more cheaply than others.

  42. @MattJ: “Some profit-minded company should take advantage of the inefficiency we’re discussing by focusing their hiring on those individuals who can be had more cheaply than others.”

    What makes you think companies don’t already do this?

  43. I apologize to Maria. This employee clearly took more than the allocated time off – which is definitely unfair to other employees.

    Just curious… was she paid for these days? Was this a one time event (i.e. did she have the same problem last year or did she have a child with a major but temporary health problem)? Are these people first year employees to get so little leave time?

    I think too little sick/vacation time is a problem endemic to the US – not to Maria’s company.

    Basically, we are agreeing that women with children (who provide the majority of sick care in the US) should be paid less or fired because they are not being offered enough sick time to reasonably care for themselves and their families. At the same time most companies refuse to adopt flexible work schedules or job sharing. How many mom’s and dad’s out there would take a reduced schedule?

    At 5 days of sick leave we are encouraging people to go to work sick. Ugh!

    I personally can’t imagine trying to balance 5 sick days against 2 kids and myself. One bout of the flu passed from one kid to the next (or to yourself) would completely decimate your sick days for the year. God forbid someone gets a cold (kids get between 6-8 per year on average!), or you have a REAL medical emergency.

    I’m actually curious now as to what the “average” days out of work are. How many days is the average kid sick? How much leave time do most companies provide? How angry does it make people when their colleagues come to work sick?

    I’ve also noticed that higher paying (& mgmt) jobs have more starting time off as well as increasing schedules of that time whereas lower paying (worker bee type) jobs -unless gov’t- seem to start lower and increase more slowly.

    Yet another reason to have a healthy emergency fund!

  44. “Why was the first question you thought to ask “Who do we blame for that?” rather than “What do we do about that?””

    Cause I was being sarcastic.

    I also agree that “why do we place less monetary value on the careers that women happen to choose?” is an important question to ask.

    Why do firefighters make more than teachers?
    Why do carpenters make more than day care workers?

  45. #45 Johanna

    What makes you think companies don’t already do this?

    One reads a great deal about companies that outsource their labor to other countries to save money, for instance.

    I’ve never heard of a company saving labor costs by only hiring women engineers and management.

  46. What right now is a gender bias that occurs only once women have children and is based (rightfully so) on lower quality performance, probably won’t change much until we can make it a parenting bias.

    When dads start taking parental leave, staying home when children are sick, leaving early to pick up kids when it’s their turn, taking kids to dentist & doctors appointments, and even being the primary emergency contact for the school – this will cease to be a gender issue, and become a 2-income family issue.

    In my experience men don’t do these things because it affects their career. Newsflash – it affects womens careers as well. There is the perception that because it is socially less acceptable for men to be cargivers that it would affect their careers more. Although, I’m sure that the fact that men generally make more money in the family also contributes to these behaviours.

    So I guess I urge employers not to even blink when a dad does any of these things. Don’t make a sly comment about ‘mom’, and don’t congratulate them either – they are just taking care of a parental obligation. It’s a valid reason for either parent to miss work occasionally.

  47. I’ve never heard of a company saving labor costs by only hiring women engineers and management.

    Because if they did, they would get sued to high heavens? But generally aiming to hire undervalued employees is a strategy I’ve heard various people in hiring roles articulate privately from time to time, yes.

  48. Laurie asked : “I’m actually curious now as to what the “average” days out of work are. How many days is the average kid sick? How much leave time do most companies provide?”

    Short answers…

    Most people get 8-11 days.
    People use about 4 days
    Kids are sick 3 days on average.
    Many people come to work sick.

    Paid sick leave is given to 73% of private full time workers and the average amount is 8 days a year after 1 year of service. Large companies give 11 days.

    One source from 2000 said that “Among those firms that did track it, the average number of sick days used per year by a salaried exempt employee was 3.8 days;”

    Another source figures that unscheduled absenses / work is around 2.3%. That would equate to about 5.7 days out per calendar year. Same site listed the reasons for absence and 22% of the time it was for ‘family issues’ which I am assuming/guessing includes sick kids. Only 34% of the time did people call in sick due to personal illness. Same study found that 38% of employers say they have a problem with employees showing up for work when they are sick rather than staying at home.

    Finally I found a reference that claimed “On average, school-age children miss at least 3 school days per year due to health reasons”

  49. #50 Katie:

    I was just in a meeting this afternoon with 12 men and one woman. Somehow my workplace is immune to such lawsuits?

    If my employer could save a significant percentage of their labor costs by reversing that ratio, why haven’t they? Perhaps they are bigots who don’t believe they can get an equivalent worker for 75 cents on the dollar, but surely somebody has given it a try.

    Seems like such a company would do substantially better than other companies who stubbornly insist on paying men too much.

  50. Thanks Jim! I’m assuming you work in HR :)

    My perception that most people had at least 10 sick days was way off! I couldn’t believe the 5 sick days – that seems crazy low for a salaried worker, but this puts it into perspective.

  51. @MattJ: Well, medical practices are increasingly using physician assistants (the majority of whom are women) to do jobs that used to be done by physicians (the majority of whom are men).

    Anyway, here are some more reasons why that argument you stole from Larry Summers is a crock of excrement:

    It assumes that everyone who’s discriminating realizes they’re discriminating. In fact, a lot of sexist discrimination is very subtle or unconscious.

    It assumes that a woman is always as profitable to the employer as an equally qualified man. But customers (and clients, funding agencies, etc.) are prone to making sexist judgements too.

    It ignores all discrimination that occurs prior to the hiring and salary decision stage. Maybe it’s not worth your employer’s effort to seek out and underpay women engineers because there just aren’t enough women engineers, because most women got pushed away from engineering school in the first place.

  52. I was just in a meeting this afternoon with 12 men and one woman. Somehow my workplace is immune to such lawsuits?

    Uh, if you had a policy of only hiring men, you would not be, which is what you were talking about. There certainly are workplaces that mostly hire women.

    And it’s not necessarily about being “bigots.” Sometimes it’s about not recognizing all the relevant factors – see, e.g., Moneyball.

  53. #54 Johanna:

    I’ve got cave rescue training (another field with huge overrepresentation by men, but we’re all volunteers, so nobody is saving any money) to attend in an hour, so I can’t respond in depth to your comment, unfortunately. Perhaps when I get home later tonight.

    I’ll leave you with this, though… I had no idea Larry Summers had made the same argument as me, and no doubt he came up with it first. Here are my questions for you:

    Who do you steal your arguments from?

    Or are you representing to us that every idea you propagate is a Johanna original?

    Sheesh…

  54. Valleycat said: “A good first step is for companies to have published pay schedules tied to specific non-gender-based requirements/accomplishments. ”

    Personally I think that is a good idea in general. Companies like to hide pay and its not cause they don’t want everyone to see how totally fair pay rates are.

  55. Johanna,

    If you do the apples to apples comparison within a specific occupation, same experience level, same education level, etc. then do you feel there is still a large discrepancy between pay rates for the genders?

    e.g. Do you really think that male engineers (all else equal) get paid much more than women engineers?

  56. @MattJ: My point being that the “sexism can’t exist, because if it did, somebody would hire all the women and make a big profit” argument has been made many times before (I suspect Summers stole it from somewhere too, but I don’t know where), and it’s been refuted just as many times.

    @jim: I haven’t a clue (and it’s not a question of what I “feel”). I’m not an engineer, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen data on pay broken down by gender specifically for engineers. The 95-97% figure you mentioned before sounds plausible to me, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the actual number were significantly different from that. Why do you ask?

  57. My professional organization takes a salary salary survey every year – they have recently begun keeping M/F stats. It’s public, go to
    WorldWideWeb(Dot)apegga(Dot)org, it’s on the left hand side in the green fast find section – salary survey.

    Looks like men and women make the same based on responsibilities – until the very senior positions – then a pay discrepancy is evident. It does not keep track of how many years of experience it takes men or women to achieve the different levels though. I suspect women on average take longer to progress from one level to another.

  58. Johanna, OK. I was asking just cause I was not sure what you were arguing. People are talking about men versus women engineers here. So I wasn’t sure if you were arguing that women engineers make a lot less then men engineers.

  59. More data points for fun:

    - Never married women make 97% of what never married men make.
    - Women age 16-25 make 95% of what men age 16-25 make.
    - Female computer programers make 94% of what males do.
    - Women who work as counselors make 104% of what men make.
    - Women employed in “Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food” jobs make 112% of what men get.
    - Comparing only part time workers women who are part time make 104% of what part time men make.
    - In the state of Delaware women make 91% of what men do and in Wyoming they make 69%.

    Yes I cherry picked several data points where women aren’t doing quite as bad as men or even better.

  60. If you do a search for “How Large is the Gap in Salaries of Male and Female Engineers?” then you can find the one old study I had seen before. When they controlled for experience level and other variables the wage gap for men / women engineers was 2%. If you don’t take experience, etc into factor women engineers made 87% of what men made.

  61. @jim: I don’t know how big a pile of data you had to pick through to find those examples, but if that’s the best you could do (only 3 categories in which women outearn men), that should tell you something.

    The more I think about it, the more I think all these “apples to apples” comparisons are red herrings. The raw earnings data are where we should actually be looking. (Total lifetime earnings minus total educational expenses might be better, but those numbers are obviously harder to come by.) For every reason why the median man might earn a different amount than the median woman, we need to ask why.

    (And yes, that includes asking why women are more likely than men these days to go to college. I suspect it’s because men have traditionally had more good-paying career options that don’t require a degree, but I don’t know.)

  62. Trent’s daughter is adorable and this was a great post!

    Puzzling that Trent didn’t know what to expect before he had a daughter (I interpreted it as meaning he had not realized that things might be perceived differently by females), but now having the experience of raising a girl, he might find that his daughter’s experiences provides a new perspective on things he had always taken for granted.

  63. LOL @ MattJ (43):

    “I agree that you actually can’t father a child, but I still insist that you have the right to father a child.”

    Which is nobody’s fault, not even the Roman’s.

  64. I hope I don’t come across as a Pollyanna here, but it seems to me our culture has made enormous strides in the span of fifty years. There is still some inequality, but it is working its way out of the system. It takes time for systems, and people, and group norms to change. Maybe by the time Trent’s daughter enters the workforce, this will be a non-issue. I enjoyed this post and the lively discussion in the comments.

  65. Men have traditionally gone into higher paying fields such as medicine (surgeos), math, science, construction, venture capital, engineering. Women have more often gone into the soft sciences like sociology and social work, majoring in English, and the “feel good” areas like “Women’s Studies”, “Gender Studies”, “Black Studies”, “Hispanic Studies”, which pay less. A brilliant biochemical engineer of either sex will make lots of money, a person with a degree in “Comparative Chaucer” will most likely not unless he/she marries a rich person, which is traditionally a lot easier for good looking young women than any other group.

  66. The whole “pay inequality” myth really bugs me. It’s 2012. Your pay is not dependent on your private parts. It’s dependent on how much overtime you put in, how much time you take off to have/raise children, how much extra independent study and training you undertake, and the results you’re able to produce as a result of that extra effort.

    The fact that women, statistically, tend to be more family-focused is not a “problem” for society to “solve.” However, the fact that this biological imperative manifests in pay levels is not surprising, and trying to “correct” it would in actuality be unfair to those who DO focus on their careers (disproportionately men).

    It’s nothing more than a statistical curiosity resulting from simple biology.

  67. @Temi: You’re right, of course, that there’s been enormous progress in recent decades, and it’s important to acknowledge that. But we’re not yet at the point where we can sit back and let the inequality work its way out of the system. There’s a lot of evidence that inequality is still being actively reinforced.

    It’s easy to look at any given profession (a lot of them are like this), see a lot of women in low-ranking positions but fewer women at the top, and think, “Great, all we have to do is wait for those women at the bottom to climb through the ranks, and then we’ll have equality everywhere.” But people have been making that observation for at least a couple of decades now, and we’re not that much closer to “equality everywhere,” because it turns out that the women aren’t actually climbing through the ranks at nearly the same rate as men are.

    The title of Virginia Valian’s excellent book “Why So Slow?” refers to exactly that situation.

  68. Here it is, simply put:

    The average working woman earns less than the average working man. This is a fact.

    It can mean one of two things. Either the average woman really is inherently worth less than the average man (e.g., she’s inherently dumber, lazier, or more prone to frivolous distractions like cuddling babies and reading Jane Austen novels, compared to serious manly pursuits like blowing things up), or else there’s a problem that society needs to solve.

    Which is it?

  69. @Johanna:

    “it turns out that the women aren’t actually climbing through the ranks at nearly the same rate as men are.”

    Is that due to some vast, intergenerational, chauvinistic conspiracy? Or is it because women would rather spend more time with their children than put in the 60-hour weeks necessary to climb into upper management?

    Note: This is definitely NOT a value judement on my part, I’m just pointing out that statistically, when it comes time to make such decisions (career/family), women tend to choose to back away from work and spend more time with their family, and men tend to pursue furthering their careers.

  70. Trent, as a long time reader and someone who very, very infrequently even reads the comments let alone makes one, I just had to leave a comment to say that I think this is the best article I’ve ever read on this site. It is sweet, touching and has financial info in it too. Who knew that was possible. I loved it! Thanks for such a great article.

  71. @Johanna: “[Women are] more prone to frivolous distractions like cuddling babies”

    That’s a pretty provacative way of putting it, but yes, actually, that is exactly the case.

    Johanna, I’m sorry we can’t all hold hands and rejoice in how men and women are exactly equal in every way, but it’s just not true. Men and women are different. We have different body parts, we have different hormones, and we (statistically) have different priorities in life. It’s not a problem, it just IS.

  72. Kevin, as you astutely pointed out earlier, the year is two thousand and freaking twelve. Are we really arguing with a straight face that childcare is women’s work and that’s just the way it is?

    And thanks for making it so clear where you stand: Women deserve to be paid less because they’re their children’s primary care-givers, and women are destined by biology to choose to be their children’s primary care-givers. Therefore (according to you) women deserve to be paid less because of biology.

  73. Yes those few examples I posted were the minority. Most of the occupations and demographics had women making 70-90% of what men do. I posted those cause I thought it was kind of interesting that there are various situations when women make nearly or more than men.

    “The more I think about it, the more I think all these “apples to apples” comparisons are red herrings.”

    You’re presenting a false dilemma.

    “It can mean one of two things. Either the average woman really is inherently worth less than the average man … or else there’s a problem that society needs to solve.

    There are many other variables involved. Education level, experience level, danger level of job, supply/demand for the occupation. etc.

    I’m sorry but its total hogwash to say its either women are worth less or society is broken.

    Surely there are some things about pay equity that are broken but that applies for almost anyone everywhere and not just women.

  74. “The more I think about it, the more I think all these “apples to apples” comparisons are red herrings.”

    I meant to comment that I very much disagree with this. It is very relevant to look at the apples to apples situations.

    If apples to apples is unfair then that is very strong evidence of a very real problem with outright discrimination. So yeah… we should look at that. But if apples to apples pay is equivalent then this points away from outright employer discrimination as far as I’m concerned.

  75. I’ll wade into this discussion with two points:

    First, Johanna’s constant raising of strawmen is of no help in having a reasoned discussion. Kevin said no such thing as what Johanna attributes to him in comment #77. As he noted several times, he was talking about the statistical results of the different choices made by men and women, not their inherent capabilities.

    Johanna, this is so elementary that I’m sure you know it but are just choosing to ignore it, but people make choices for many different reasons. Your disdain for those who choose in ways that defeat pure statistical equality doesn’t render those choices ALWAYS a result of their own or others’ discriminatory thinking. Sometimes, yes, but I know many brilliant and ambitious women who nevertheless have chosen to withdraw from their careers for several of the prime years of advancement to care for their children. I know a few men who have chosen a less aggressive career path to spend more time with their families, too, and they suffer the same career consequences. But those who make this choice are disproportionately women.

    The second point is that part of the seeming inequality of pay is an artifact of how pay is measured. For instance, I doubt that when we talk about women’s pay we include the extra value they receive through such devices as the earned income credit, the head of household filing status, and welfare benefits (all disproportionately awarded to women) and the actuarially higher value of the Social Security benefits they will receive.

    Finally, a question for Johanna: Is biology at all explanatory of the vast gender inequality of our prison population, or are men incarcerated 10 times more frequently than women because society discriminates against them, or is it because men and women statistically make different choices?

  76. Finally, a question for Johanna: Is biology at all explanatory of the vast gender inequality of our prison population, or are men incarcerated 10 times more frequently than women because society discriminates against them, or is it because men and women statistically make different choices?

    But this is a red herring. Biology is not the only explanation for why men and women might make different choices. In fact, given that men and women are socialized extremely differently from day one (before that, actually – people statistically talk differently to girl and boy babies IN THE WOMB after finding out the gender), people’s blithe assumptions that they can discern what is biological and what is cultural is completely bizarre.

  77. I should have added to #80: Is society broken because we don’t incarcerate equal numbers of men and women?

  78. On the ohter hand I’m going to kind of agree with Johanna’s point here.

    Ok lets admit that women are more likely to be teachers, day care workers, nurses, etc while men are more likely to be roofers, firefighters and truck drivers. Thats ok.

    But why are the female dominated professions generally paid less money than the male dominated professions??

    Why does society put more monetary value on firefighters than teachers? Why are day care workers paid less than roofers?

    Is this fair? Why not? If its not fair then what do we do about it? Cut firefighter pay or increase teacher pay?

  79. @jim: “There are many other variables involved. Education level, experience level, danger level of job, supply/demand for the occupation. etc.

    I’m sorry but its total hogwash to say its either women are worth less or society is broken.”

    It’s not hogwash because, as I said before, for each of the variables involved, you need to ask why. If men are more likely than women to do more dangerous jobs, then why? Are women inherently less able to do dangerous jobs? Are they inherently less willing to do them? Are people (men and women) who do dangerous jobs really compensated fairly for the dangers they face? (I mean, “sweatshop worker” is not generally known as a high-paying occupation.)

    When you get down to the bottom of the reasons behind each of those variables, you’re faced with one of two conclusions: Either women are worth less or society is broken. I don’t see what else it could be.

  80. jim- Firefighters and roofers are paid more than teachers and day care workers because the former jobs are very dangerous. Male dominated professions also tend to be the ones that either require more training/education/skills or that are dangerous.

  81. Eh, the amount of training/education we deem a job to need is not necessarily a purely objective metric that we dream up, totally unrelated to cultural constructions about how much something is worth. Quite the opposite. It’s easy to imagine a culture that views educating the young to be an incredibly knowledge-intensive job. (In fact, teachers are required to have graduate degrees in many locales and yet still are considered not to need much training and education; baffling.)

  82. @AnnJo

    You’re starting at the wrong place. The very nature of what is considered a criminal act and what is not is a societal/cultural construct and not a biological one *in itself* (even if some actions tend to be fairly universally criminalized – usually property crimes more so than violent ones)

    Although I absolutely believe that the justice system is broken – on multiple levels. But you have to isolate it down more, because there are several questions to be answered.

    1) Do men commit more crimes (society/opportunity)
    — Heck, even though not a lot of white collar criminals are being convicted, let’s face it – men are more likely to embezzle funds – because they’re more likely to have ACCESS to said funds due to the higher proportion of men in said positions. IE, Could Bernadette Madoff exist?

    2) Are men convicted at a higher rate/receive stronger sentencing for equivalent crimes (judicial system broken/society broken)
    – This is absolutely a racial bias in the system, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that there’s a gender bias in the system as well, in which case, yes that is JUST AS WRONG.

    “The second point is that part of the seeming inequality of pay is an artifact of how pay is measured. For instance, I doubt that when we talk about women’s pay we include the extra value they receive through such devices as the earned income credit, the head of household filing status, and welfare benefits (all disproportionately awarded to women) and the actuarially higher value of the Social Security benefits they will receive”

    That is so absolutely irrelevant that I can’t even fathom it. Women don’t actually make less money because society supplements them through taxes?! You do realize that if they made more money in their actual salary/paycheck, then they wouldn’t qualify for most of those benefits, right?

  83. Andrea : “Firefighters and roofers are paid more than teachers and day care workers because the former jobs are very dangerous. Male dominated professions also tend to be the ones that either require more training/education/skills or that are dangerous”

    Danger level is one factor.

    But why do we pay more for danger as opposed to occupations that are responsible for raising our children?

    I would disagree that women work in jobs with less training/skill level.

    When there is disparity there are more women working in professional and office jobs and more men in construction, manufacturing, natural resources and transportation.

  84. Johanna:

    I’ll put this as simply as I can.

    If people CHOOSE to spend more time with their families than pursuing advancement in their workplace, then you cannot expect the workplace to reward them financially the same as individuals who CHOOSE to make their career their priority.

    That goes for ANYBODY.

    The fact that, statistically, women are more predisposed to making such a choice is simply a fact of nature, not some grave injustice by society.

  85. #54 Johanna

    Well, medical practices are increasingly using physician assistants (the majority of whom are women) to do jobs that used to be done by physicians (the majority of whom are men).

    Not an example of what I was talking about, sorry. “I’ve never heard of a company saving labor costs by only hiring women engineers and management.” Replacing a class of employee with another class of employee is not the same thing as swapping a male employee for a female in the exact same position, with the same responsibilities, in order to get the work done more cheaply.

    It assumes that everyone who’s discriminating realizes they’re discriminating. In fact, a lot of sexist discrimination is very subtle or unconscious.

    To the contrary, it relies on the fact that anyone who is aware that discrimination exists (blatant or subtle) should see an opportunity to profit. The competition is paying extra to have male employees, but our hypothetical company won’t make that mistake.

    It assumes that a woman is always as profitable to the employer as an equally qualified man. But customers (and clients, funding agencies, etc.) are prone to making sexist judgements too.

    This is a good point. A way of determining its validity would be to examine the makeup of that portion of companies that is not customer-facing. This could well be a reason why such an idea wouldn’t work, in some indudstries. Not in jobs like physician assistants, probably, since the majority (according to you) of PAs are already women.

    It ignores all discrimination that occurs prior to the hiring and salary decision stage.

    The truth of the plan would make the idea more, not less, profitable.

    Maybe it’s not worth your employer’s effort to seek out and underpay women engineers because there just aren’t enough women engineers, because most women got pushed away from engineering school in the first place.

    My first employer had 30 or so engineers, none of those were women. Thirty women engineers in a town like this would be easy to find.

    #60 Johanna

    I suspect Summers stole it from somewhere too, but I don’t know where

    So despite my hint that doing so was inappropriate, you insist on describing those you disagree with as having ‘stolen’ their arguments from others, and you refuse to represent to us that every argument you use is either attributed directly to its source, or a completely original product of your mind. Since I don’t see you citing a source for every argument you make, and I don’t believe, for instance, that the first argument you present above is something you discovered through original research, I guess you’re just a hypocrite.

    It’s especially bold of you to double-down on the idea with respect to Larry Summers, considering his credentials and experience.

    it’s been refuted just as many times.

    Refuted, disputed, whatever.

  86. #47 Jim

    Why do firefighters make more than teachers?

    Do they?

    The average salary for an elementary teacher in the United States is $53,150 per year in the United States, according to a 2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics salary survey

    A firefighter in the United States can expect to earn an average salary a few thousand less than an elementary teacher. The average salary of a firefighter is $47,270.

    /I ‘stole’ this data from elsewhere on the internet – I would link except we all know that will send my post to moderation limbo…

  87. @MattJ

    Your company had 30 engineers, none of them women. 30 female engineers in a town your size would be easy to find.

    And from what I can tell, you seem to be using that as an arguement that women aren’t actually paid less than men, because if they were, your organization would have hired women at the lower pay. Which they didn’t. Instead, they didn’t hire any women at ALL.

    Am I missing something here?

  88. I’m going to argue that continuing to focus on career after children isn’t really a true ‘choice’. Sure they have the choice to stay at home (if they can afford it), or keep working… but it’s too hard to choose to keep working with a strong career focus. The support systems aren’t generally in place.

    Mother’s get intense social pressure on every side to take care of thier family. Working mom’s are asked why they had kids if they didn’t want to raise them (ever asked a working dad that). Mother’s get called first when kids misbehave in school, when they’re kids are sick, are talked about if their kids forget their lunches, if their house is too dirty, if their kids halloween costumes are store bought – it’s INSANE.

    And somebody has to take the kids to appointments, pick them up etc. and when men do they get the opposite social pressures – that borders on derogative.

    I’m a female engineer – I love my job, I don’t want to reduce my work load, or take time of with sick kids – but what choice do I have. I can spend my life organizing, working two full time jobs, fighting constantly with my husband to take over some parenting tasks, and then reminding him constantly… or I can step back, take more time and be happier. Is this really a choice? How do we make this a choice?

  89. To add – it takes a strong strong woman to stay career focused while her kids are young. I’ve seen many strong women in my profession get beaten down, and beaten into a mothering role – that would not be their first choice.

    All are happier when they do, because life get’s manageable again – but all have to choose family over career to do it (not necessarily full time, but that’s the way the hours swing)

  90. Am I missing something here?

    How about:

    My company was too dumb to realize that women engineers are a bargain.

    Or

    Women engineers are not a bargain.

    Or maybe something else.

  91. @Kristina

    I sympathize with you. You’re right, a lot of the decisions you describe aren’t really “choices,” as there is usually one option that is heavily favoured by society/coworkers/peers.

    But on the other hand, what about the “choice” to have children at all?

    My wife and I made the deliberate CHOICE not to have children. As a result, guess how many work days either of us have missed in the last 10 years due to a daycare being closed, or a child being sick, or an out-of-town soccer tournament, or a field trip injury?

    None, of course.

    If I have a co-worker who CHOSE to have kids, and missed, say 10 days last year due to various kid-related issues, and I was HERE for those 10 days, why should they be paid the same as me? Don’t I deserve to be recognized financially for being the more reliable employee?

  92. Darn it MattJ why do you have to bring ‘facts’ into it? YOu went and ruined my example! :)

    Ok, then lets compare police officers to teachers then? Average police officer makes over $55k.

  93. A society that insisted on absolute equality of outcomes despite individual choices would have to be quite totalitarian. A fair portion of our population views totalitarianism as a greater flaw in society than a failure to attain strict statistical equality in pay between men and women. That is undeniably a cultural phenomenon as well.

    I don’t think anyone would dispute that a society’s culture will exert an influence on people’s individual choices, but short of completely wiping out a culture, I don’t see any way around that. I’d say that a society that allows individuals to reject those influences is about as good as it can get. And we’ve got that. (Efforts to wipe out a culture and start fresh a la Khmer Rouge or the Cultural Revolution have tended to be rather unpleasant.) The idea that we can make all choices for all individuals equally pain-free is more than a little utopian.

  94. “A society that insisted on absolute equality of outcomes despite individual choices would have to be quite totalitarian”

    Except I don’t think anybody’s asking for that. What they’re saying is that even when people make the SAME choices, they receive different outcomes – and what can we do to try to correct that as much as possible.

    The world will never be ‘fair’ – there will always be outliers. But the more we can minimize and eliminate the most egregious problems, the better. And the first step to that is to recognize when they exist, instead of minimizing or denying.

  95. “My company was too dumb to realize that women engineers are a bargain.

    Or

    Women engineers are not a bargain.

    Or maybe something else.”

    I am going to say it was pretty clearly Something Else.

  96. “What they’re saying is that even when people make the SAME choices, they receive different outcomes – and what can we do to try to correct that as much as possible.”

    We’re also saying (or at least I am) that when one group of people makes choices that are vastly different, on average, from the choices made by another group of people, there might be some underlying reason for the difference that’s a little more complicated than “that’s just the way it is.”

  97. #102 Tracy

    My lunch break is nearly over.

    Why don’t you tell me what you have in mind?*

    *This question blatently stolen from Johanna

  98. I absolutely believe that the structual support of our society is still based around a 2-parent, 1-income family, which doesn’t reflect the reality of household demographics. And, like Kristina mentioned, women are expected to take up the slack and then penalized for it … one way or another, whichever decision they make.

  99. #103 Johanna – “We’re also saying (or at least I am) that when one group of people makes choices that are vastly different, on average, from the choices made by another group of people, there might be some underlying reason for the difference that’s a little more complicated than “that’s just the way it is.””

    There are probably a number of reasons, but one which you have implicitly deny throughout this commentary is the possibility that biological differences between men and women may play a factor. I would assert that they absolutely play a factor – men and women are inherently different in many ways, many of which lead them to make different choices when presented with the same options.

  100. Kevin : “what about the “choice” to have children at all?”

    I will point out that there is a far lower discrepancy for wages between single women and single men.

    But I don’t think that choosing not to procreate is going to work for society at large.

  101. It’s fairly obvious that straight up sexism re: qualifications of female engineers is probably responsible, whether on the part of the organization/hiring process itself or with the ‘argument’ that clients expect male engineers and it makes more sense from a business perspective.

    Otherwise the proportion of female engineers would be expected to at least reflect the demographics of male:female engineers, which pretty much insist on at least ONE female hire even in the most unbalanced engineering specialization.

    Particularly since you mention that finding 30 engineers in your town wouldn’t be hard – so how much less hard would it have been to find ONE?

  102. @Tracy:

    “What they’re saying is that even when people make the SAME choices, they receive different outcomes”

    I disagree, I don’t believe that in this day and age, this is true. I have yet to see any evidence that 2 individuals making identical choices are compensated differently, solely due to their genders. I think that is a myth.

    I think there IS a pay difference, but that it is due to different choices, and those choices are influenced by biology and evolution. But I think in a strict apples-to-apples comparison, North American society achieved true pay-equity a long time ago, and it is a strawman.

  103. @Other Jonathan: “There are probably a number of reasons, but one which you have implicitly deny throughout this commentary is the possibility that biological differences between men and women may play a factor.”

    I am not implicitly denying that possibility. In fact, I’ve explicitly mentioned it more than once.

    Beyond that, I don’t have much to say that Katie (#81) hasn’t already said.

  104. @jim:

    “I don’t think that choosing not to procreate is going to work for society at large.”

    Of course not. That’s not what I was proposing at all.

    Lots of people will choose to raise families, rather than pursue ever-higher salaries. Your statement presupposes that every rational actor would choose the higher pay over having children, and frames it as a problem to be solved by paying everyone the same, regardless of whether they spend their free time pursuing work endeavours, or raising a family. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think even knowing the financial consequences, plenty of people will still choose to have children, and that’s just fine.

  105. @Kevin

    You say you think that it’s a myth, but study after study shows that it’s not a myth. That even when *allowing* for said choices, there’s still a discrepancy.

    Catalyst just released another study this past fall (it was profiled in the Washington Post this week) that proved it again … it’s still a problem.

  106. Kristina, the pressures you describe are only as heavy and painful as you allow them to be. Ironically, another aspect of our culture (and one that is often decried by more “progressive” people) makes resistance to those pressures fairly easy. That aspect is our admiration of individualism.

    Children who are brought to think that their futures are primarily a function of their own efforts and that are taught to prize self-reliance are likely to find it easier to resist those pressures and need far less in the way of “support structures”; they expect that their own choices will have consequences and accept that.

    Having been brought up that way, the idea that I would feel pressure to behave in one way or another because of what some Hollywood screenwriter casts as a perfect family, or because someone might talk about what lunches I pack for my kids strikes me as ridiculous. The school will call the parent indicated on their records. Working out parenting responsibilities in a marriage that do not leave either party bitter and frustrated is a measure of the health of a marriage, not the health of a society. It sounds like you’ve done that, since you say you’re happier now than under the alternative arrangement, but even though you made the choice and it’s turned out to be a good one, you resist the idea that it truly was your choice.

  107. I absolutely agree with Tracy’s point that society is still built around the 2 parent, 1 income household and that system is causing problems for working mothers.

    Other Johnathan said : “biological differences between men and women may play a factor.”

    Absolutely.

  108. @Tracy:

    With all due respect, I’ll need to see something a little more convincing than 50 years of propaganda from a feminist lobby group and what passes for a “study” in that context.

    That said, I try to remain open-minded and welcome any references to objective, impartial, credible research material in support of the notion that a legitimate gender pay gap still exists.

  109. @Kevin

    With all due respect, I would take as evidence from an objective, impartial, credible research organization that it doesn’t exist but I have yet to see that.

    Although I’m curious as to why you think that just because an organization is dedicated to improving working conditions to women that they’re lying.

  110. [I mean, clearly, you didn't actually read the study at all - you dismissed it before doing so, or without looking at either the data or the methodology]

  111. Kevin : “I have yet to see any evidence that 2 individuals making identical choices are compensated differently, solely due to their genders. I think that is a myth.”

    The one study I cited before did find a 2% discrepancy between pay of male and female engineers when everything else is equal.

    That is evidence of unequal compensation solely on gender.

  112. Or look at the Lily Ledbetter case. I mean, there is absolutely NO doubt that she was paid less than men for the same work – the legal battle was basically about when she needed to file the lawsuit in order to claim discrimination.

    Unless you are arguing that it’s ok for SOME women to be paid less money for the same work as men (again, allowing for career choices) – but there’s absolutely no doubt that it does happen.

  113. I just saw that the Washington Post had an article in their National/Leadership section on Jan 9th about a new study on this very topic. One part of the study reports on female MBAs and male MBAs who request similar pay increases during salary negotiations – guess which gender comes out ahead? There’s also a blog post about the study, dated Jan 10th, at pharyngula (titled they keep taking the excuses away) with his typically snarky commenters weighing in.

  114. @Tracy:

    “why you think that just because an organization is dedicated to improving working conditions to women that they’re lying”

    Because if they ever actually succeed in their stated mission, then they’d be forced to admit that their very existence is rendered obsolete. It’s in their own financial interest to convince society (and their donors) that there is still “much work to be done,” and they remain relevant, regardless of whether or not that reflects reality. It’s a classic conflict of interest.

  115. @Kevin

    I really don’t believe that’s the case. What is the end of ‘improving working conditions for women?’

    And the fact that you dismiss them as having a conflict of interest without actually looking at the study or data – and instead trust your own gut instincts on the matter, because you don’t have any stake in this at all – doesn’t actually give your opinion much weight.

  116. (Just to be clear, the ‘because you don’t have any stake in this at all’ was meant to emphasize that you DO have a stake in it, as a member of society, so I’m just saying that the same conflict of interest would apply to your opinion)

  117. @Tracy:

    “What is the end of ‘improving working conditions for women?’”

    Pay equality, of course. Which I think has been largely achieved.

    I’ll concede it’s not perfect, and clearly, there are still pockets of “Old Boys’ Networks” with entrenched chauvinistic mindsets that persist. But I sincerely believe those are steadily becoming rarer and rarer. At the very least, such attitudes are (rightly) held in disdain by the general public, and pressure to eliminate such attitudes grows constantly.

  118. Which you THINK has been largely achieved, but do you have any evidence at all beyond your feelings?

    Because I am telling you, I haven’t seen a single study from any source that says that it has.

    And if you dimiss every study that say that it hasn’t under the assumption that they’re biased sources, than the question would be ‘why would no unbiased sources feel it a question worthy of study?’

  119. Also, pay equality is NOT the final end of ‘improving working conditions for women’ – it’s an important component, but there’s a lot, lot more to do it

    From non-hostile working environments, to access to promotions/opportunties, to elimination of the very Old Boy Networks that you acknowledge … to things that are actually relevant to both men and women, such as improved safety, hours, paid leave for both health and vacation reasons, flexibility, the list goes on and on. Trust me, there’s a LOT more to do.

  120. @Tracy: Pay equality has been achieved, because nobody says it hasn’t, because nothing that a woman has to say about the issue could possibly have any credibility, and therefore sexism doesn’t exist. HA!

  121. @ Kevin – Of course having children is a choice, and people who don’t have children should advance over those that do – but this should be a 2-working-parent household discrepancy, not a gender discrepancy… I just question why the choice to have children doesn’t affect men the way it does women.

    @ AnnJo – I don’t have children yet, I’m on the cusp of trying to decide whether to or not. My husband desperately wants them, but he doesn’t really have to sacrifice as much. I grew up truly believing you could be a wonderful career orientated working mother and you can – just not the same as if you were a father – I balk at the gender discrepancy. My friends and co-workers started having children… and a few years later I’m left with no good role models. None of the dads who started out intending to be truly involved parents actually end up doing that. Why is it (almost) always the women who caves? I disagree, I don’t think it’s as much about the marriage, as it is about how society has conditioned us to split these roles.

  122. @Kristina: I’ve often thought that, even if you think parents (i.e., mothers) *should* be penalized for paying attention to their families rather than to their careers, a lot of career paths are set up in a way that penalizes them more than is really fair.

    Academia is the example I’m most familiar with. It’s really hard to pay any attention to anything other than work when you’re a young assistant professor trying to get tenure. And it’s really hard to get tenure before your mid-30s (and sometimes it takes much longer than that). That makes things really really hard for women in academia who want to have children. But there’s no particular reason why the system needs to be set up in a way that demands superhuman levels of attention to your career during the same years that most would-be mothers want to have children. It could have you put in superhuman levels of work at some other stage, I’d think, and work just as well.

    More generally, the focus on rewarding seniority, and giving percentage-based merit pay increases, is unduly harsh on anyone who takes time out of the workforce, or who has a bad year for any reason. Earlier in this thread, Maria described an employee of hers who’s getting a 1% raise instead of a 6% raise for missing 11 extra days to care for her sick children. That employee isn’t just getting docked 5% for this coming year – she’s getting docked 5% each and every year from here on out, for at least as long as she works for Maria, and possibly even longer, if her next employer bases their salary offer on what she was getting under Maria. Depending on what her salary is and how long she has left in the workforce, those 11 missed days could cost her more than $50,000. Did each of those days cost Maria $4500 worth of inconvenience? I doubt it.

  123. Johanna, I certainly think that our workplaces in general could be more accommodating of parents.
    But how do we do that in a way that is fair for everyone including the non-parents? Do we give EVERYONE 20 sick days a year just so that everyone has more than enough? Do we let parents take extra days or ‘cut them some slack’ and expect the single workers to work harder for less?

  124. “Why is it (almost) always the women who caves?” I don’t know and I seriously doubt that there is any way to know. Maybe it’s biology. Maybe it’s “societal conditioning” although it’s remarkable how poor “societal conditioning” is at getting us to do a lot of other things that society embraces. Maybe it’s a combination. But even if the majority of women choose what’s behind Door A, as long as society allows women to choose what’s behind Door B, with the only “penalty” being catty remarks behind your back or the like, the problem is about as solved as it’s going to get.

    As long as people are different from each other in their likes, values, religious or philosophical beliefs, life experiences, etc., they are going to approve or disapprove of each other for any number of reasons and none of us is entitled to other people’s approval as a matter of right. To say that your choices are not real choices just because others might disapprove of them is to lock yourself in a cage of your own making and throw away the key.

  125. Does there exist reliable data showing whether men who are primarily responsible for child care in their households earn the same as, more than, or less than women in equivalent employment who are primarily responsible for child care in theirs?

    If such data existed, and if it showed that a man in position X who was his household’s primary child carer earned more than a woman in position X who was hers, that would be very solid evidence of arbitrary discrimination on gender grounds. Not that there is a dearth of such evidence anyway, but it occurred to me to wonder.

  126. @jim: I’d think that a more obvious solution would be to come up with a new system for calculating salaries that’s not of the form “next year’s pay = this year’s pay + some percentage.” I’m not prepared to say what the specific system should be, though, since I’m sure that anything I could come up with on the spot would also have some unintended unfair consequences for someone.

    I am getting the impression that you have the impression that gender inequality is a simple problem that has a “quick fix” solution. It isn’t, and it doesn’t. There’s lots of deeply embedded stuff here that’s not going to go away overnight no matter what anyone does.

  127. @jim

    To some extent, yes – I think that the typical sick/vacation days (In the US) are ridiculously low and unhealthy, particularly in non-salaried positions, particularly compared to other developed countries.

    But there are also lots of other options. Flexible scheduling with the ability to work from home – even today, a lot of companies are extraordinarily resistant to that, even for positions for which it would be easy.

    Or look at Kristina (my apologizes in advance if I misconstrue or say something inaccurate): Right now, even though her husband wants to have kids more than she does, she knows that *she* will be the one that has to bear more of the career burden.

    It’s much, much more likely that her company offers some paid maternity leave than it is that his offers paid paternity leave. I really think that paid paternity leave should be the same as maternity leave – and as a nonparent, that’s a benefit and if I chose not to have children, I am just not exercising that benefit. Equivalent paid paternity leave – and *encouraging men to take it* would be a pretty big first step in acknowledging that men are just important in the childrearing and just as capable of staying home for sick days, etc.

    (And not to harp on the Maria example again, but she’s actually being double penalized – I’m assuming that she wasn’t paid for the days in-excess of her alloted time off, so she brought home less than her base salary to begin with, because of her children, so the sacrifice takes place twice – on the day and in the form of her raise.)

  128. “I am getting the impression that you have the impression that gender inequality is a simple problem that has a “quick fix” solution.”

    Not at all. Not sure why you took that conclusion. I think its a very complicated thing that has no simple fixes. (And to be concise I’m only talking about pay inequality between genders not other forms of inequality)

    I think that apples to apples comparisons (men engineers versus female engineers) are *nearly* fair. That study showing 2% difference for engineers is close but not quite fair. 2% is not 25% but its still not equal. I don’t know WHY that 2% difference exists. I would be willing to bet its a combination of sexism and impact from heavier involvement in parenting for mothers. Just my guess work though.

    I think that the society wide pay differences between men and women are much more complex and a combination of the way society is, some honestly fair systems of compensation and some gender bias and sexism and some instances of illegal discrimination. So its very complex and theres clearly no simple solutions.

  129. Tracy, I agree with all that. US workplaces could be more accommodating to parents. I’d like to see more paid sick leave and paid maternity & paternity leave. Unfortunately our nation as a whole doesn’t seem to think that workers rights or more benefits for employees is a high priority.

  130. #139 Jim

    I think that apples to apples comparisons (men engineers versus female engineers) are *nearly* fair. That study showing 2% difference for engineers is close but not quite fair. 2% is not 25% but its still not equal. I don’t know WHY that 2% difference exists.

    From the study:

    The remaining 2 percent difference cannot be explained with the available variables. Although statistically significant, the remaining difference is small compared to sources of errors such as the tendency to round salaries to the nearest $1,000, and the possible effect of factors not covered by the survey.

    Sounds like it may not be a problem that needs to be solved, especially if things have gotten more equitable over the past 12 years.

  131. Comment in moderation. Let’s try piece by piece:

    @jim:I guess my impression of your impression was mistaken. My apologies.

    I am glad that you realize that a 2% pay gap is still not acceptable. A lot of people don’t get that 98 cents on the dollar is not good enough. Thank you for getting it.

  132. LOL – apparently the possibility that female engineers might be smarter than male engineers is “offensive to a general audience.”

  133. Johanna, I don’t know if I made any kind of coherent thesis stating my views. Seems most of my comments here are responses to some point someone else made with a question thrown in.
    I also notice that my very first comment started with “Gender pay equality is real.” which is actually the opposite of what I meant. I meant to say that pay INEQUALITY is real. So maybe me saying the exact opposite of what I meant confused things.

  134. “the possibility that female engineers might be smarter than male engineers”

    That is feasible.

    It could take a smarter person on average for a woman to succeed and stick to an engineering career path which is predominately male world.
    Likewise male nurses may be better nurses on average than female nurses for the very same logic.

    I have personally known and worked with at least 2-3 dozen female engineers and I can’t say I have a large enough sample size to make any conclusions about their intelligence versus male counterparts. Plus I have no objective measure of peoples smartness. The female engineers I’ve known have been more likely to go into management then the men I’ve known. But again the sample size is too small and this is just anecdotal.

  135. @ AnnJo – There are family centric cultures where men ‘choose’ to be more involved parents, and where the gender bias for having kids is drastically narrowed. It starts with eliminating those catty remarks about family dads, and working moms. It includes paternity leave where men learn right away to be parents for their children, and has support networks in place for two-income families (like affordable daycares). We learned long ago that language matters when addressing opposite races, why can’t we apply the same logic to different sex parents – call people out on it, and become a more accepting society in general. It’s not just about having a token choice, it’s about having a real choice. We don’t let bullies pick on blacks in medical school anymore, why do we accept that they can pick on working moms, or SAHD’s?

    Unfortunately, I live in a province who’s government has made it it’s business to put in place legislation that makes it possible for 1-income families to exist, and conversely has refused to provide services that would help 2-income families. Other provinces go the other way, and they have a more family-centric culture, higher birth rates especially for educated women, but of course higher taxes. The funniest thing is that we are BOOMING – we need everyone working, salaries are going up too fast to be sustainable, and our government is making it hard for a segment of the population to stay in the work force. We need these working educated moms to stay in the work force.

  136. @ Johanna – you’re taking on a whole different ball game, trying to argue that americans undervalue families, and ‘women’s work’ in general by paying less for these supposedly unskilled labour.

    @ Jim – to even things out we don’t give parents more slack because they have kids, we become more flexible in however our sick days are taken. We discourage people from working too hard, and we encourage them to be well rounded, take their vacations, and sick days (my last work only had flex days… to be used as each empoyee saw fit). We as a society put value on good marriages, good parents and good balanced lives. We get away from working solely for more money’s sake, for more stuff’s sake. But in the US I find that discussion quickly becomes heated, because y’all hate it when someone gets something for nothing.

  137. and one more interesting stat before I call it a night – american’s have a higher birth rate among educated females then canadians – the theory is that while the traditional extended family help is on the decline in both countries, americans have more access to lower income labour from mexico to pay for nannies/housekeepers.

    That is my husbands current solution to my woes – just keep paying people to do things.

  138. “we become more flexible in however our sick days are taken. We discourage people from working too hard, and we encourage them to be well rounded, take their vacations, and sick days …. We as a society put value on good marriages, good parents and good balanced lives. We get away from working solely for more money’s sake, for more stuff’s sake.”

    Kristina, how do “we” do those things? You aren’t happy with the “societal conditioning” you believe has taken place in the past, but you’d be OK with a vast program of social indoctrination into the way YOU believe it is proper for all of us to live? Laws are passed making it a crime to work too hard or refuse to take your allocated sick leave days?

    And what about all the people who are made LESS happy by other people butting into their business and trying to run their lives? What do “we” do with them?

    “Society” has assigned itself more than enough tasks already, what with trying to keep people from killing, beating, robbing, raping and defrauding each other, trying to teach children how to read, calculate and cross the street safely, and numerous other critical tasks. It is doing those tasks with barely adequate competence, and in some cases with less than adequate competence. I don’t see it as realistic to put the making of happy, well-balanced lives on the task list right now.

  139. @AnnJo

    Society and culture are NOT the same thing as government.

    “You aren’t happy with the “societal conditioning” you believe has taken place in the past, but you’d be OK with a vast program of social indoctrination into the way YOU believe it is proper for all of us to live? Laws are passed making it a crime to work too hard or refuse to take your allocated sick leave days?

    And what about all the people who are made LESS happy by other people butting into their business and trying to run their lives? What do “we” do with them?”

    Strawmen, all of them. And particularly nonsensical ones.

  140. @Johanna -RE #71 I agree that we should not be satisfied with anything less than what is fair for everyone and that we should continue to look for ways to improve our society and support the outcome of gender equality. But some things do take time. I’ll give an example: My college major in 1983 was engineering. I’m great at math and science and it seemed like the most interesting field to me. My profs were encouraging. My fellow students were supportive. But after two years I suddenly switched my major to business. I did’t know why. Just figured I wouldn’t really like being an engineer. Years later I took a class on group behaviour and learned about group norming. I thought back to when I had made the decision. By my third semester in calculus there was not another woman in class. There were only one or two in my upper level physics classes. I UNCONSCIOUSLY determined that I would not like engineering because I didn’t belong in that group. The group accepted me…they were great. I experience absolutely no discrimanation whatsoever. I just stopped wanting to be an engineer. Today, educators are aware of the problem and are trying to draw more women into the trades and sciences. But the women don’t want to go into those fields. Things are changing, but slowly in some areas because the reasons for the inequity are complex and the solutions can’t always be mandated. I’ll check out that book you referenced.

  141. I think there’s an unacknowledged bias in a lot of the points being raised in favor of working mothers, about how work environments should change to be more accommodating.

    I’m really not clear on how giving different/greater consideration to working mothers than all other employees brings about equality.

    In the earlier example of the assistants, the argument was made that the problem was that there wasn’t enough sick time afforded Assistant #3, and she was being unfairly penalized because the system didn’t have the flexibility to adjust to her different situation. The implication being she should have gotten more sick time.

    The real solution isn’t to single out a specific class of employee and give them enhanced benefits (like more vacation or sick time), it’s to give EVERYONE more vacation and sick time.

    If you want real equality in the workplace, you should base benefits on the reasonable needs of the most needy group. In most cases, working mothers have the greatest number of extra needs beyond their single, kid-less counterparts. Find a good average for that group and provide those benefits to ALL employees regardless of gender, marital status, or whether or not they have kids.

    Everyone keeps looking at the problem as something that can be solved by only targeting one specific group of employees but all that does is create a different kind of inequality, a system that indirectly rewards being a working mother over being a single guy (the flip of what some would argue happens today).

    You don’t solve inequality by selectively giving particular groups advantages and incentives over other groups. You solve inequality by making the overall workplace better and more flexible to adapt to as many life situations as possible.

    I say all of this as a married guy with no kids. If I’m being evaluated at the same time as a co-worker who’s a working mother who’s taken more extra time (beyond allotted) away from work than I have, who can honestly argue that both that woman and I should receive the same evaluation and reward? If you argue that they deserve consideration because of their status as a mother, then you’re just saying the system should be biased in her favor. Inequality in a different direction.

    Is it OK to be biased in one direction but not the other?

  142. @MikeTheRed

    I absolutely agree that the solution is making the overall workplace better and more flexible – but I am not sure where you are seeing “Everyone keeps looking at the problem as something that can be solved by only targeting one specific group of employees” because that’s not what’s happening anywhere.

    But I disagree that acknowledging situations that affect predominately one group of people and working to address those problems in an interim situation directly is unfair. The *solution* isn’t to make it a permanent bandaid, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unfair to say that RIGHT NOW things are not equal. That it is important to be aware of that and to realize when flexibility can be used.

    And that currently, too often, we swing too far in the other direction. Because fair – do you believe that somebody who is there 96% of the time you are deserves only 16% of your raise?

    And that doesn’t even address the fact that a woman who stays home extra days to take care of her kids is more likely to be judged for that than somebody who stays home those extra days to take care of themself. And that the people making those judgements often don’t even realize that they’re doing it. Which is the point of these discussions.

  143. MikeTheRed, what you suggest as a solution – giving everyone more leave time – only aids equality if giving leave time is free to the employer. Since it probably isn’t, the employer will have to reduce pay or some other benefit to pay for the extra leave. The end result is that people who would rather have the extra money than the extra leave will still end up subsidizing the extra leave required by a few.

    There really is no free lunch. There’s no getting around the reality that, all other things being equal, an employee who routinely is absent from work on short or no notice is simply not as valuable to the employer as one who shows up when needed and expected, and paying equal pay for lesser value does not advance equality but some other goal.

  144. “and one more interesting stat before I call it a night – american’s have a higher birth rate among educated females then canadians – the theory is that while the traditional extended family help is on the decline in both countries, americans have more access to lower income labour from mexico to pay for nannies/housekeepers”

    Kristina, I’m not sure where you came across that theory, but I would assume that it applies to a rather small segment of the educated American female population. I am an American female, in my early 30s, with an advanced degree and a small child. I have many, many female friends in the same situation, same age bracket, same education level, etc. And none of us employ lower income labor, or even have the means to access lower income labor. My friends and I span the socio-economic spectrum from lower class to upper middle class. Some mothers continued to work full time, some became SAHM moms, and some (like myself) work part time. But none of us employ nannies or housekeepers. The thought that we might do so made me giggle. Granted I have a relatively small sample population, but I find it hard to believe that in-home help is the norm for educated American females (though I suspect that it may be the norm for the upper class, but I do not believe that education = upper class in all cases. Most college educated folks I know fall into the middle and upper middle class socio-eco designation).

  145. @ SwingCheese, it was actually a theory that I read in a newspaper article concerning the different birth rates in the two nations – and you’re right it probably only applies to a few states in general where there is a lot of newer immigrants and unskilled labour. I don’t really believe a significant amount of people do it, but perhaps enough to justify the 0.2 birth rate difference. And of course simpledollar readers are not likely to be in this group.

    @ AnnJo, interesting how you addressed my argument about how we create equality for workers, instead of why it is ok to bully different sex parents. I meant ‘we’ as in managers, not government and not society. We focus on results and deadlines, and not the how they are achieved and we don’t judge why people are taking sick days. And in the assistants case, maybe instead of giving a smaller raise, perhaps the manager asks her if she would like a raise or more sick time/vacation time to deal with those absences – employees that would like the money can do so, and employees that would prefer the time can take that instead. The manager gets away with paying them less, and they come out thinking they’ve won too. Of course the stats should look at total compensation instead of straight pay to equate the two.

    We as a society and culture are evolving all the time – the question is do we want to become more live and let live, or do we want to be more family centric, and community orientated. Government has often legislated it when enough people start thinking that’s the way to go. However, I’m not a change the rules to force the social changes, I’m more of a change the society, and then update outdated rules kind of girl – and instead of waiting, I might just move to a place where my values mesh.

  146. 149 Kristina
    OMG – did you just say Americans have a higher birthrate because we can hire low wage Mexicans to provide childcare?
    I’m speechless, but I also have a theory that just might help your birthrate up there in Canada… come down here and take all the illegal Mexicans you want back with you and let them care for your children… maybe you can pay them in Tacos.

  147. @Temi: “Today, educators are aware of the problem and are trying to draw more women into the trades and sciences.”

    Yep, I definitely noticed this when I was in college (in the late 1990s, so still not “today”). A lot of their efforts, though, were pretty ham-handed and probably did some harm as well as good.

    I majored in math, chemistry, and physics. My math professors were always nominating me for various awards and programs for “outstanding women in mathematics” – and I kept turning them down, because I really hated the idea of being judged by my gender at all, because it seemed like the best I could ever be was “pretty good at math…for a girl.” Then my professors (mostly men, but there was one woman) would argue back at me that I was wrong to feel that way.

    There were a lot of classes in which I was either the only woman or one of two or three. This only happened in math and physics, though – chemistry was a lot more balanced, even though chemistry is no more “feminine” than math or physics, and it’s a LOT more dangerous. So how does that fit in with the idea that “men get paid more because they do more dangerous jobs”?

    There was one mid-level physics class that I think had 3 or 4 women (out of maybe 20-25 students). The professor had us do a lot of small-group assignments, and he kept assigning all the women to the same group, even as he swapped the men around. I actually confronted him about this (because of the whole “hate to be judged by my gender” thing), and he said he’d read somewhere that you should never assign one woman to a group that’s otherwise all men. I told him I was perfectly capable of holding my own in such a group, and he said “That’s because you’re comfortable with where you stand in this class. The others aren’t.” (I realized much later that it was easier for me to be comfortable with where I stood in the class, because I was at the top. But at the time, I was really fuming about it.)

    Anyway, maybe it’s gotten better in the last 10-15 years. I hope so.

  148. Kristina, I didn’t address “why it is ok to bully different sex parents” because I never suggested it was. But I guess it depends on your definition of bullying. If anyone who fails to regard you and all your actions with full approval and support at all times is “bullying” you, then maybe you’re right. The examples you gave in comment #95 do not strike me as even problematic, much less bullying. Rude, yes, and if they were persistent in a workplace I’d take disciplinary action if I were the employer just as I would any persistent rudeness. But as an employee, frankly, they wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, while you regard them as intense and insane.

    As should be obvious from my comments, my preference would be for the culture to become MORE live and let live. You don’t seem to understand that the very thing you complain of, social pressure to conform to a particular norm, is a direct result of people believing they have a right and/or responsibility to urge/guide/nudge/pressure/bully/coerce people to live in certain ways. You just resent the particular norm, and would prefer a different one.

    When/if someone tries to pressure me to conform, I am quite comfortable saying, depending on how forceful I want to be: “Different strokes for different folks, my friend,” or “Mind your own business and I’ll mind mine.” That’s because I truly believe it isn’t anybody else’s business how I choose to live my life as long as I’m not actively interfering with how they choose to live theirs. You believe we should all be MORE family-centric and community oriented, which essentially grants the community ever greater power and authority over how we live our lives.

    As for the leave issue, in my very small business, I pay only for hours actually worked. There’s no sick leave, no paid holidays, no paid vacations or anything else. I have no problem finding employees when I need to, because I pay a higher hourly rate, and if an employee isn’t intelligent enough to do the math and figure out they’re better off with the pay to hours ratio, I wouldn’t want to hire them anyway. And as long as they schedule their time off in advance and work around the three or four times a year when the workload is just too heavy to take time off, they can take as many days off as they want/need and can afford. Likewise, if they’d rather have the money and work on MLK Day or Memorial Day, they can.

  149. #157 Kristina..”However, I’m not a change the rules to force the social changes, I’m more of a change the society, and then update outdated rules kind of girl – and instead of waiting, I might just move to a place where my values mesh.”
    Come on down to Florida, I’ll sell you my house (it’s on sale at over 40% off 2008 prices) and there are plenty of low income Mexicans you can hire to raise your children.Heck there are so many you could have 10 or 12 kids and still not run out of Mexicans. Gee Whiz, were living high on the hog down here poping out youngins left and right since we have affordable childcare. How’s that for meshin with your values?

  150. Kristina, on the birthrate issue – The US has a 35% higher birthrate than Canada. That’s way too big a difference to be accounted for by the relatively few people who can afford a nanny, especially when the highest birthrate states are Utah, Texas, Idaho and Alaska, while some of the richest states (MA, CT, VT, NH) have the lowest birthrates.

    Given that US and Canada are both wealthy countries, this all suggests that someone looking for a family-centered culture would be far more likely to find it in the US than in Canada, and in a politically conservative state to boot. Utah’s birthrate is DOUBLE Canada’s. If you’re looking for a great place to have a family, that must be it.

  151. @ Maria – lol I might if I could smuggle them into the country, but I’m not sure if they could last through the cold, and I definitely couldn’t stand the heat in Florida! While it wasn’t my idea, it was one I found interesting. I was thinking more of moving to Quebec, and hopping on their 12/day daycare, mostly free post secondary education and conversely paying the 40% tax rate too.

    @ AnnJo – Just because someone doesn’t have the same thick skin you do doesn’t mean it’s not bullying. I admit I am sensitive to it, but I work with a lot of old-school men, and the sexism is pervasive in their language ONLY when it comes to parenting. It’s remarkable really.

    While there is still the WM vs. SAHM debate that gets hostile every once and a while – I bet if parenting evolves to be more gender equal, less women get pushed into being SAHM who would rather be working, but who don’t like the superhuman effort it requires… that this argument slowly subsides. There is a lovely NYT article that describes how more involved dads has affected sweden.

    Then really we agree, I don’t want much more legislation and I only really want to social condition out the gender bias for parenting (which studies show that paternity leave has the biggest impact on). Other then that all of my comments were for what individuals should do in their teams – if they want to even the playing field between working parents and single workers. It’s then a choice of who works where and with what benefits.

  152. kristina
    Your comment to AnnJo in #163 makes no sense to me after reading all your other agruments.
    In the same comment you refer to not wanted much more legislation but are willing to just that by purchasing their dangling carrot of social conditoning out of gender bias for parenting for 40% in exchange for “12/day daycare, mostly free post secondary education “

  153. @DOT

    I would say Kristina is talking about two different things – to AnnJo, she’s talking about how not legislating the responsibilities of corporations and companies and to Maria, she’s talking about an expansion of an education system that already exists. Those are separate issues (even if they can have similar impacts)

    Although there’s also a difference between saying you like a system that already exists elsewhere and would like to move to it *yourself* and saying that you think that is the same system that should be implemented where you are.

  154. I am going to take a stab at this. I think the pay inequality issue is more a result of current societal norms than merely employers disriminating against women, etc…

    As a society (men & women) we create this enequality between the sexes very early in life. Regardless of what our parents teach us we are not raised in a vacuum. Take a look at schools, the media, and most religions. All empahsize the male gender.

    Schools do it thru athletics – I have nothing against atheltics and feel they can provide a great deal to any student’s academic life. However our societal norms support, encourage and give great importance to males when it comes to athletics – football, baseball, etc. this carries over into college as well. So from very young girls are percieved as less in society because they are not in the game.

    Now imagine for a minute if the high school debate team was given the same societal importance that is placed on highschool football. How what that change the game for girls and boys? I don’t believe that boys would lose much but I think girls would gain quite a bit.

    This was just an example of how as a society we highlight, empahsize, idolize, the male gender and yet there is little in this respect for female. Until society as a whole moves away from this bias or uplifts the female gender to similiar status – females will always be at a disadvantage.

  155. Kristina, which do you think is easier: Developing a thicker skin or changing human nature? The fact is some of those old-school guys may really just not approve of you, and that’s their right, whether their reasons are rational or irrational. Let’s face it, you don’t approve of them either. Do you imagine they lose any sleep over that?

    I realize temperamentally some people are more thin-skinned than others. I realize this because I was once one of them. But having chosen a severely male-dominated and highly aggressive and competitive profession, I long ago decided life would be more pleasant if I made a concerted effort to toughen-up. It is a profession that values and rewards doing things to throw one’s adversaries off balance, and developing a good defense and counter-offense is an acquired skill. I honestly believe anybody can do it.

    If someone is actively trying to get under your skin, the best way to get them to stop is to not let them succeed. And if it is inadvertent, then they’ll learn faster to stop by a self-confident deflection than by your internalized anguish.

  156. Tiffany, while we “idolize” the male gender, it’s worth keeping in mind that along with their elevated status, they live two or three years less on average, live longer proportions of their lives with disabilities, are victims of violent crime and suicide at vastly higher rates than women, spend vastly longer periods on average incarcerated, pay more for and collect less of their Social Security and Medicare benefits, have much higher societal pressure to put themselves in dangerous and disabling situations and professions, such as warrior, building trades, LEO & FF, etc. It is still almost unheard of for a man to prevail in a custody contest unless he can establish that the mother is unfit in some serious way. The chances of a low-income male receiving alimony from a high-income divorcing spouse are still very low, although improving.

    There may be some value to maintaining a broader perspective on debates over gender equality.

  157. “There may be some value to maintaining a broader perspective on debates over gender equality.”

    If this means what it says, I absolutely agree.

    But if, instead, it means “There may be some value to crying ‘What about the men?’ with the aim of *shutting down* debates over gender equality,” that’s another matter.

  158. @ DOT – Just because I would move to a place with those social safety nets, because they reflect my values – doesn’t mean I would create legislation in a place where those values aren’t in the majority to force people into that mold. In Quebec the social values were there, then they legislated rules to support it. That’s very different then the other way around.

  159. @ AnnJo, they don’t pick on me, they pick on working dads when they take 3 months parental leave to be with a new born. That’s what really gets under my skin. I can’t control how they react to that bullying, but I watch as their masculinity takes a beating and they back off parenting. I listen as my good friends (their wives) complain about their lack of involvement.

    so yeah, I disaprove, it’s not acceptable. Sexist comments shouldn’t be acceptable when it comes to parenting, or any other situations – just like racist comments aren’t acceptable regardless of race.

  160. Kristina, although finding out that someone regards you as less than fully human for something over which you have no control, like your race or sex, can be hurtful, I’ve always preferred to know where I stand with people. The drive over the last few decades to drive such beliefs underground is not one I’ve been entirely comfortable with.

    I remember vividly having discussions in the 1960s and early 1970s where people, free to express openly their sexist or racist views, could actually be persuaded to re-think those views. But you can’t challenge or discuss candidly that which it is “unacceptable” to ever express.

    Not to mention that a lot of “sexist” language is far less offensive to me than some of Trent’s cringingly bad grammar, or the unavoidable and frequent “f” bombs one must dodge on every visit to a mall, or the use of the word “like” as a full one-third of some people’s verbal repertoire. Compared to those, someone calling me a “gal” or (as happens remarkably often) telling me they want to hire me because they think that a woman in my profession will be more sympathetic to their situation, is only a very minor annoyance.

  161. “Compared to those, someone calling me a “gal” or (as happens remarkably often) telling me they want to hire me because they think that a woman in my profession will be more sympathetic to their situation, is only a very minor annoyance.”

    I am confused about what these examples are supposed to represent. Are these the worst forms of sexism that you ever have to face? If so, I hope you understand that you are very, very lucky, and that your experience is not typical of women in this world at all.

  162. I’m also confused about the claim that people no longer feel free to express sexist views. I mean, you’ve obviously seen the internet, right?

  163. @MikeTheRed:

    “The real solution isn’t to single out a specific class of employee and give them enhanced benefits (like more vacation or sick time), it’s to give EVERYONE more vacation and sick time.”

    I disagree, Mike. That still won’t solve the problem. Say you “level the playing field” and give everyone 15 sick days per year (on top of whatever vacation entitlement they have). So your workers who are parents are happy – they can hold their head up high as they use up all 15 days caring for themselves, their sick/injured children, their spouse, whatever. At the end of the year, if they’ve used all 15 sick days, nobody can critisize, because that’s a benefit they’re entitled to, right?

    But what about all your single and/or child-free employees? They get the same 15 sick days, right? OK, but a normal person doesn’t get sick for 15 days a year. So the single guy catches a couple of colds and misses 7 days of work. At the end of the year, he has 8 unused sick days.

    Tough break, right? But while the parent was at home watching Oprah/ESPN, bringing her sick kid the occassional popsicle, Tony The Single Guy was in the office covering for him/her. But since he doesn’t have any kids to get sick, that’s just tough cookies?

    At the end of the year, is the employer not allowed to consider that Tony was in the office for 8 days more than the parent?

    Sick days are supposed to be for if the EMPLOYEE gets sick. If you have a kid that gets sick, sorry, but it’s not fair to let you use sick days for that. Use your vacation days, take unpaid leave, whatever. But it’s unfair to penalize single/childfree individuals by saying “well, we gave you a month of sick leave, and you didn’t use it, but Betty has 8 kids and they all got sick this year. Nevertheless, you both get a 5% raise.”

    That’s garbage.

  164. @Kevin:

    “But while the parent was at home watching Oprah/ESPN, bringing her sick kid the occassional popsicle, Tony The Single Guy was in the office covering for him/her.”

    I can assure you that having a sick child (I’m talking infant/child here) entails far more work than “bringing them the occasional popsicle”. That is an ignorant and condescending comment.

  165. @Kevin Next up: It’s unfair to punish healthy people who never get sick at all! I know plenty of people who don’t use any sick days.

    Plus, it’s actually better for the work environment overall health to have more-than-sufficient sick days. Otherwise you get people coming in when they are sick and really should stay home – but can’t afford to take the time off – and spreading their germs around. Maybe Tony doesn’t use all his sick days because he doesn’t need to because George stayed home with his sick kids and didn’t bring their germs into the office. So Tony also wins by not feeling like crap.

    (Your logic only works if you actually think if being sick as being fun/a vacation.)

  166. “Are these the worst forms of sexism that you ever have to face?” Hardly. I entered the work force when newspapers still ran Help Wanted – Men and Help Wanted – Women columns. One of my earliest jobs was for a major national insurance company in which not one single woman supervised or was paid more than one single man in the entire company. I was a plaintiff in both the resulting lawsuits and several others. But those days are thankfully gone.

    Expressing sexist or racist views anonymously on the internet is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the natural outcome of Kristina’s view that expressing such views is “unacceptable,” such as academic and professional speech codes that can result in expulsion or loss of employment for expressing one’s thoughts to a person of a different race or sex. Especially when, as Kristina does, even something as innocuous as expressing surprise that a man would wish to take three months parenting leave is viewed as an assault on the man’s masculinity. She regards that as unacceptable sexist speech, when in fact it is a teachable moment.

  167. “Are these the worst forms of sexism that you ever have to face?”

    ^I phrased the question in the present tense for a reason.

  168. “One of my earliest jobs was for a major national insurance company in which not one single woman supervised or was paid more than one single man in the entire company. I was a plaintiff in both the resulting lawsuits and several others. But those days are thankfully gone.”

    Are they really? In my department at work, there are 13 men and 9 women, and I’m the only woman who outranks any of the men. (I don’t supervise anyone, but I do have a leadership role.) That’s not exactly a major insurance company’s worth of data, but it is very different than what you’d expect by random chance.

  169. Johanna, I missed the tense. I would say that, yes, at present the sexism I face is essentially trivial, especially relative to other societal challenges that are in my path. That may possibly be a function of being self-employed, but I work with many women in many different circumstances, and by and large they don’t seem to be experiencing anything more oppressive than that, either.

    If you truly believe that your current employment situation results from something other than random chance, why don’t you sue? Without knowing the ages, qualities, education, experience levels of your co-workers or your profession, or what you’re defining as random chance, I have no way to know whether you and your female co-workers are experiencing discrimination or something else, but you know those things.

    If what you mean, instead, is that it is always the result of sexism if there are any statistically measurable differences between men and women in the workplace, because absent sexism, men and women would make their life-choices exactly the same as each other, then we simply disagree on what constitutes sexism.

  170. Forget it, AnnJo. Johanna absolutely refuses to admit that the parenting/nurturing instinct is stronger in women (on average) than in men. Evolution-be-damned, she’s made up her mind, and that’s that.

  171. “If you truly believe that your current employment situation results from something other than random chance, why don’t you sue?”

    Sue whom? The main reason my employment situation is the way it is is that most of the high-level positions here require a physics PhD, and there aren’t a lot of women who have those. That’s not my employer’s fault, but it sure as heck is “somethong other than random chance.” And since it’s demonstrably not the case that women are innately less skilled or less interested in physics (at least not to the extent that would account for the entire gender gap), it’s a problem that needs to be solved, or at least undrestood.

    “we simply disagree on what constitutes sexism.”

    Gee, ya think?

  172. I am always a little wary of statements to the effect that such-and-such a state of affairs is “very different than what you’d expect by random chance”. In a department with 13 men and 9 women, if N leadership roles were allocated purely at random one would expect to find for successive values of N: 0.4, 0.8, 1.2, 1.6, 2.0, 2.4 and 2.8 women in a leadership role. To find only one such woman is not, therefore, very different at all from what you would expect by chance unless there are at least eight leadership roles among 22 people. In such a case, the department should probably reflect not merely on discrimination among genders but on discrimination in favour of chiefs and against Indians.

    Of course, the discrepancy between the number of men and the number of women with PhDs in physics is not very likely to be the result of random chance. Nor is there any evidence at all to support the notion that Johanna believes the parenting / nurturing instinct to be as strong or stronger in men than in women – I have no idea on what evidence Kevin bases this assertion.

    But even though it is the case that in general women have a stronger nurturing instinct than men – so what? In the early days of humanity such distinctions obviously determined the roles that the different genders played in society. In these days, however, there is no particular reason why (in the developed world at least) society should be ordered in accordance with instincts and behaviours that served their purpose millennia ago and are really not relevant to the present time. We don’t need to eat meat any more. And we don’t need to regard men as hunter-gatherers and women as machines for producing babies any more either.

  173. David, when the committee that decides how society should be ordered attains total control and jettisons instinctual drives as unneeded, we may well attain the statistical equality Johanna seems to yearn for.

    In the meantime, while society muddles along ordering itself based on people making their own choices, any sex differences that may exist in instinctual drives, no matter how obsolete, are necessarily going to have a statistical effect, aren’t they? And people will still eat meat just because they like it, even though they could subsist just fine on tofu and seitan.

  174. It’s demonstrably not the case that women are less interested in physics? I don’t buy that. Law, for instance, was just as male-dominated a field 40 years ago as physics, if not more so, while now I believe more than half of newly admitted lawyers are women. THAT demonstrates women are just as interested as men in the law as a career. If it’s true that such a change has not occurred in physics (and I’ll take your word for it), I would say that demonstrates that women in fact are less interested in physics than men, for whatever reason.

  175. AnnJo, if, as you acknowledge, you don’t know anything about the demographics of physicists and physics majors, could you possibly bring it to yourself to acknowledge that maybe I know what I’m talking about here, rather than reflexively contradicting me?

    In fact, there has been an increase over the past few decades in the proportion of women studying physics – but the numbers are still nowhere near 50/50. If the gender imbalance 40 years ago couldn’t be wholly explained by an inherent lack of interest of women in physics, why should we assume that today’s slightly smaller gender imbalance can? Shouldn’t we at least wait until the numbers have stopped moving?

    Also, the proportion of women in physics varies hugely between different countries. Is there such a big innate difference between women in the US and women in (for example) France, that would make one group inherently uninterested in physics and the other group less so?

    Finally, as I alluded in an earlier comment, undergraduate chemistry programs are close to 50% female (compared to 20-something percent for physics). Maybe it’s possible to explain how women could be inherently uninterested in physics but not in chemistry, but I don’t see how. Chemistry classes are just as quantitative as physics classes, and undergraduate chemistry labs are a lot more dangerous than undergraduate physics labs. (I will always remember doing the safety briefing for one of my college chemistry labs, and coming across a chemical with the warning “contact with skin may cause death.”) If men are naturally more inclined than women to do dangerous jobs, that makes the physics/chemistry difference all the more inexplicable.

  176. Johanna, I did not refer to an “inherent” lack of interest, but to a lack of interest “for whatever reason.” I have no problem acknowledging that some of those reasons might be cultural. Or they might be inherent/biological. I just don’t know, and since we can’t really conduct a strictly controlled experiment, I’m not sure we ever will.

    I may be misunderstanding you as you often misunderstand me, but you seemed to be saying that the mere fact of inequality of participation in the field demonstrates absolutely that the reason is sexism. I leave open the possibility that it is; do you leave open the possibility that it isn’t?

  177. If women are uninterested in physics for reasons that are cultural, but not inherent/biological, that means that somewhere along the line, we (society) are treating boys and girls differently in a way that has no rational basis. It’s not a single sexist thing done by a single sexist person whom you can then sue to make it all better, but it is sexism nonetheless.

    I do acknowledge the possibility that some of the differences we’ve been discussing may have inherent/biological causes rather than cultural/sexism-related ones. But that, to me, is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence, and isn’t worth being taken too seriously in the absence of such evidence.

    There are so many cases where a difference in men’s and women’s ability or behavior used to be attributed to inherent differences, but that explanation was eventually proven wrong. Cognitive scientists have been looking for innate differences between male and female brains, abilities, and personalities, and they haven’t really found very much. At the same time, various studies have found that the differences in how girls and boys are socialized run deeper than most of us can probably fully fathom.

  178. Johanna, what about the possibility that while there may be no inherent difference in intellectual capacity to do physics, there is an inherent difference to how men and women respond to reproduction, and that, as a result of THAT difference, men and women tend, on average, to structure their lives differently, with the result that women do physics less than men?

    I would agree with you that the claim that men and women are inherently different in their intellectual ability to do physics is an extraordinary one given what we know of the brain, and Laplace’s truism applies. But the claim that men and women respond differently to pregnancy, childbirth and parenting, given e different roles biology dictates and what we know of hormones, may not be such an extraordinary one.

  179. I am not sure there will ever exist a “committee that decides how society should be ordered”. I am not sure either that I would want to live in a society containing such a committee; fortunately, I am sufficiently old that the question will not arise.

    In the meantime, of course the evolutionary and social forces that have shaped today’s society will continue to shape tomorrow’s, however irrelevant and counter-productive they may have become. After all, sub specie aeternitatis it is only a moment ago that one small part of the animal kingdom acquired a consciousness of its place in the scheme of things. We do not yet know quite what to do with that knowledge, but to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, we will think of something.

    I confess to a sense of bewilderment when it comes to distinguishing among physics and chemistry in terms of being “dangerous jobs”. Compared to, say, fire fighters, what precisely is the proportion of undergraduate chemists killed in the active pursuit of their chosen profession? (Excessive alcohol consumption and a tendency towards uncontrolled experiments after taking examinations do not count as “active pursuit”.) The chief danger to a theoretical physicist, that of being justifiably murdered by the experimental physicists, is not negligible but is probably less than that faced by someone in an actually dangerous profession such as mining. But these are things that people do not know; they do not know, because they are not told.

  180. “Johanna, what about the possibility that while there may be no inherent difference in intellectual capacity to do physics, there is an inherent difference to how men and women respond to reproduction, and that, as a result of THAT difference, men and women tend, on average, to structure their lives differently, with the result that women do physics less than men?”

    What about it? It’s complete nonsense.

    Most of the gender gap in physics arises at the undergraduate level, if not before – so, by age 19 or 20 at the latest. Most women at that age (at least, most women I knew in college at that age) don’t have children yet, aren’t thinking about having children anytime soon, and may not even have decided whether they want to have children. The idea that something they’re not consciously thinking about at all could somehow govern their choice of a college major strikes me as incredibly bizarre.

    Plus, you’d still have to explain why “response to reproduction” isn’t driving women away from chemistry at the same rate as it drives them away from physics. A chemist’s life is structured pretty much the same as a physicist’s – it’s no easier to combine one than the other with pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting (based on the people I know who have done it).

  181. “Compared to, say, fire fighters, what precisely is the proportion of undergraduate chemists killed in the active pursuit of their chosen profession?”

    Precisely? I don’t know. But I’ve had several friends (and even more friends of friends) who have, while working in chemistry labs, injured themselves badly enough to have to go to the hospital.

    If you’re saying it doesn’t count as a danger unless you die from it, I’m not really sure what to tell you.

  182. I say only that in debates involving gender equality, a position frequently aired is that men do “dangerous jobs” (killing people who would otherwise kill them, putting out fires, working underground to extract valuable minerals, and the like) while women don’t.

    This position is [a] true and [b] relevant, but its relevance is somewhat obscured if it is held (ridiculously) that undergraduate chemistry is a counter-example of a perilous profession into which women willingly enter.

    After all, if you are a miner (which considerably more women than men aren’t) you can easily be killed or maimed for life by something other than your own stupidity. If you are an undergraduate chemist, whatever physical damage happens to you is more likely to be your own fault than force majeure (or so I conjecture – for aught I actually know, the insurance premiums on undergraduate chemists might be thousands of times the national average).

  183. @David

    “I say only that in debates involving gender equality, a position frequently aired is that men do “dangerous jobs” (killing people who would otherwise kill them, putting out fires, working underground to extract valuable minerals, and the like) while women don’t.”

    The problem is that the ‘men work more dangerous jobs’ is a derail – it’s used to try to ‘explain’ why men could be earning more than women, but ignores the fact that most of the time the salary comparisons are being used *within* a profession, so trying to claim that men work in more dangerous professions and thus deserve more is just trying to distract people from the issue.

    And then second, it’s also just kind of stupid in and of itself, because there really *isn’t* a direct correlation between how dangerous a job is and how much those that do that job earn across society at large, because lets face it, coal miners don’t actually make a lot of money and CEOs make a metric ton and which do you think has more danger?

    Sure, the statement that coal mining is more dangerous due to factors outside of the workers control than chemistry is quite possibly true, but considering someone with a degree in chemistry is probably going to make a lot more money in their life than a coal miner, it’s pretty much proving the opposite of the historic ‘men work in more dangerous jobs and thus get paid more’ meme.

  184. Oh, I agree entirely. But it was not I who advanced the thesis that undergraduate chemistry is a dangerous job. It is a more dangerous job than, say, librarianship, but to call it a “dangerous job” per se and thus to place it on a par with, say, soldiery seems to me unhelpful.

  185. All I’m saying is that undergraduate chemistry is more dangerous than undergraduate physics. And since undergraduate chemistry and undergraduate physics tend to attract much the same type of people (whereas all kinds of other factors might influence one’s choice between being a chemistry student and, say, a coal miner), you’d think that scientifically inclined young women would be flocking to physics and shunning chemistry (if in fact it’s true that women are disinclined to do dangerous jobs). But the opposite is what happens.

    But even if you want to discount the premise that chemistry is more dangerous than physics, all that means is that chemistry and physics ought to attract women in more or less equal numbers (or at least, in more or less the same proportion as they attract men). But they don’t. So there is still something strange going on.

  186. I agree entirely with this also. Quite what the strange thing is I do not know, since I am not a physicist or a chemist and have no grasp of what is involved in thinking about these subjects. I speculate that men and women may think about certain things in different ways – why, for example, are the world’s top chess players almost all men? But this is not an area on which I am qualified to comment at all.

  187. Except it very likely has nothing to do with men and women thinking about things in different ways and a lot to do with the atmosphere. Dismissing it as ‘men and women just think differently’ – particularly when there’s no evidence that they really do, and when Johanna’s already mentioned that it also varies by country – you could be asking:

    Are men and women *treated* differently in physics? Are women treated differently in undergrad chem classes than they are in undergrad physics classes? Are the same mentoring opportunities available? Are the same presentation/research opportunities available?

    Dismissing it as men and women are just different is sort of the lazy/easy/untrue way to not solve the problem.

    And it’s also one of those things where if people truly believe that women are simply less interested in [physics] than men, why are they so invested in saying that … because if it is true, than all of the work to be done to provide women with more opportunities will have no result (you can’t force somebody to be interested in what they don’t like) – but if it’s NOT true, the world becomes a better place for women who are interested in physics. And the world of physics gets more sharp, interested minds. So at worst case there’s no change and at the best case it’s win/win.

    So why the resistance? Why are people more invested in protecting the status quo than challenging it?

  188. If we’re going to offer speculation without evidence, here’s one that I thought of just now:

    Physics has the *reputation* of being the most difficult and most abstract/quantitative of all the sciences (even though, at the undergraduate level, that is really not true – some of the most abstract topics in physics, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, are also part of the undergraduate chemistry curriculum, for example).

    Where does that reputation come from? I think that in part, it comes from the USian secondary education system, in which physics is the last of the branches of science that students typically encounter. That, by itself, makes it seem the most difficult (stuff you learn in 11th grade is supposed to be harder than stuff you learn in 10th grade, right?), and also, high school physics curricula can afford to incorporate more math than high school chemistry curricula, since 11th graders have learned more math than 10th graders.

    That leaves a few questions: Where are girls/young women getting the idea that they’re not cut out for doing difficult/abstract/quantitative sciences? (A lot of places.) Is there any evidence that that idea is accurate? (Not much.) And what do we do about it? (It’s complicated.)

  189. One place girls and women may get the idea that physics is not for them is from the remnants of misguided effort made by women studies programs and various well-known feminists in the 1960zm 1970s and 1980s to idealize a view of women’s psychology as both inherently different from and superior to men’s. (It may continue today, I just don’t keep up on the literature anymore.) I remember in particular a lengthy newspaper article trying to explain why women were not pursuing careers in information technology. The gist of it was that women thought in “relational” “caring” ways as opposed to the rigid linear logic that prevailed in IT work. It was all hogwash, but the sources of this hogwash were professors at the Women Studies department of the nearby university. I remember it especially because I helped set up that department in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Various other influential feminists and psychologists, including Mary Daly, Carol Gilligan, Robin Morgan, and others, also maligned the supposedly “masculine” ways of thought.

    I have heard a few younger women (in their 20s and 30s) recite such views to explain their own educational choices, and the views seem to be a source of pride. When you look at the distribution of doctoral degrees and find that in fields like psychology, anthropology, and sociology the proportion of women is not only well over 50% but continuing to rise (72% in psychology), it may be that such views do influence educational choices.

  190. Well, the gender imbalance in physics existed long before Women’s Studies departments came along.

    Also, at the individual level, some people (men as well as women) probably really are better suited to psychology than to physics, and thank goodness for that. As much as I like physics, and as much as it benefits the world, we also have a need for people who can understand people, and who can do “caring” and “relational” things. I don’t fault them for taking pride in their career choices where they can find it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>