A Final Few Words

Due to some hurricane-related power problems, I’ll have to limit myself to just a few random comments.

Miedzian appears to believe that salaries should reflect some Platonic version of the importance, difficulty, and responsibility of a job. Sometimes they do, but not because a philosopher king got to determine things. It’s because of supply and demand. There are enough childcare workers available to keep salaries low; if there were not, workers would earn more. (Though let’s face it, if they did, fewer women would find it feasible to work outside the home.) I have no idea why parking lot attendants make what they do, but if parking lot owners could find capable men or women willing to work for less, they would hire them in a second.

To the question of research that purportedly proves gender discrimination: the studies in question do not stand up to a reasonably skeptical reading. The “statistical evidence” of discrimination by Wal-Mart does not consider hours, work experience, or other variables. The report originally referenced by Hess showing a substantial discrepancy in earnings between men and women straight out of business school was sponsored by Catalyst, an advocacy group for women in business. That fact by itself doesn’t disqualify its findings, but a close reading yields enough questions to do so. Why, for instance, does the study include subjects from Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada? The unexamined variables are immense. At any rate, the Catalyst study is at odds with this peer-reviewed Harvard and University of Chicago study.

Hess interprets my position as ”women choose and men follow,” or rather women make “individual choice” and men follow “cultural destiny.” This sets up an absolute distinction between individual agency and cultural influence that I don’t accept. Individual choice is always circumscribed by biology, by scarcity—and by culture. Hess herself seems to admit as much when she refers to “lowered cultural expectations” that make women avoid STEM fields. But if “lowered cultural expectations” make women choose to study education rather than physics—an open question from my perspective—then surely cultural expectations could make them choose to have children on their own—or not. Surely men too can face “lowered cultural expectations” as lovers, husbands, and fathers that influence their choices. This all means that women’s choices and men’s choices cannot easily be disentangled. Men choose in a way that affects women’s choices and vice versa. For the foreseeable future, at any rate, the sexes are interdependent.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Kay Hymowitz connects several worrisome trends: Men underperform women in high school and college. Men are going to college less altogether, even at many elite schools. Men are often less likely than similarly situated women to own a home. Men earn fewer graduate degrees and are underrepresented in the new, knowledge-based economy. Hymowitz suggests three possible causes for the decline of men: the decline of the industrial economy; girls’ superiority in the context of traditional educational methods; and a third, “existential reason” — men are increasingly deprived of marriage, and thus of a key motivator to male achievement. Public policy implications may vary depending on which cause one finds most important, but they might range from pedagogical reforms to government incentives for marriage and family.

Response Essays

  • Jessica Bennett characterizes the decline of men as both “exaggerated” and sometimes “plain wrong.” Women have made great strides, but the pay gap persists across occupations, even after controlling for children and education. The recent recession has been difficult for men, but at least they’ve bounced back in the recovery; women haven’t. Elaborate concern about masculinity at best hides enduring inequality—and at worst blames women for a lengthy set of non-problems.

  • Amanda Hess argues that not much has changed for men in recent years. Juvenile behavior among adult men is nothing new; it’s part and parcel of male privilege, and it has been that way for many years. Likewise with men who underachieve in school yet go on to high-status careers, owing mostly to their networking with other men. The reason for male dominance? The Old Boys’ Club, which has never truly left us.

  • Myriam Miedzian considers the 1960s, the era that formed the parents of many of today’s underperforming men. For a generation of women, second-wave feminism opened the job market, while the 1960s “do your own thing” ethos meant educational and career success. For the same generation of men, education and career meant conformity; “do your own thing” meant having fun. Miedzian points to a wide variety of other cultural trends in a far-reaching response, but ultimately concludes that we have failed men in two ways—by placing sports and conflict ahead of study and communication, at least for them; and by culturally shutting them off from traditionally female traits, like nurture and care, and the careers associated with these traits.