Warren Farrell first became suspicious about any links between income disparities between men and women, and discrimination, when it occurred to him that if you could pay women twenty percent less for doing the same job as men, then any company would be irrational to hire men. In a free market, having twenty percent lower labor costs would provide a significant competitive advantage. Since Warren Farrell can’t be the only person to have thought of this, he reasoned that there must be something misleading about pay disparity claims.
What he found was that the statistics frequently cited are not comparing men and women doing the same jobs with the same work experience and length of time at the job. Also, categories like ‘doctor’ include a range of specialties such as psychiatrists and surgeons. Men gravitate towards the higher earning specialties within occupations.
What happens is that men and women tend to make different career choices due to selective pressure from women. Most American women’s preference is to marry a man who earns more than them. This is for the straightforward reason that most American women who plan to marry and have children would prefer to work part-time or not at all in order to devote more time to their children when the children are young. Thus, if a man wishes to be loved by a woman and to be thought of as a desirable mate, he must concentrate on earning as much as possible in order to be seen as an attractive breadwinner. This means that women effectively pressure men to maximize their earning potential. In what seems to be pandering, both Republican and Democrat politicians comment on the wage gap, presumably to garner votes from women who make up the majority of voters.
Men tend to place looks at the top of their list for prospective partners. Thus, when it comes to work, more women have the freedom to focus on quality of life choices rather than sheer earning potential. This can be seen in their choice of majors. Eighty percent of art history majors are women and eighty-five percent of engineering majors are men, despite women knowing that their earning potential as an art history major is going to be significantly lower than engineers. Also, when women who work full-time get married, it is not unusual for them to quit their full-time job and find a part-time job or lower paying full-time job that they enjoy more.
Farrell points out that traditionally male occupations tend to pay more than traditionally female occupations for a number of reasons having to do with supply and demand. There are several characteristics of male-dominated jobs that are severely unappealing to most people. These include hard physical labor, working outdoors and being exposed to extremes of hot and cold, and rain, a significant chance of injury and/or death, and a good chance of not making it to retirement due to injury or death. Such occupations include coal miners, truckers, loggers, roofers, contractors, boilermakers, linesmen, garbage collectors, firefighters and police officers. Traditionally female jobs tend to have attractive characteristics. These include flexible hours, little job training, an indoor environment, a chance for reasonably pleasant social interaction and a short commute. Some examples are sales assistants, check-out assistants, waitresses, daycare workers and to a much lesser degree, nurses. Nursing involves some pretty unpleasant activities and a fair amount of physical effort, plus reasonably extensive training and they get correspondingly higher pay.
Farrell sees the male occupations as representing a mostly forgotten underclass of men whose lives are regarded as disposable. The average age of death of firefighters, I believe, is in their fifties due to heart attacks from their exertions which include carrying people out of burning buildings and smoke inhalation; the cumulative effects of which tend to produce things like cancer. The smoke from building materials are often extremely toxic and include gases like chlorine and phosgene – the latter having been used in chemical warfare in World War I.
I mentioned psychiatrists and surgeons earlier. Surgeons make some of the highest salaries in medicine. The unattractive aspects of being a surgeon include being on call, and thus, having unpredictable work hours. Surgeons, when actually performing surgery, have an unconscious patient with whom no emotionally rewarding interaction is possible. It is high stress, life or death. Most surgeons are men. Women dominate psychiatry which has regular hours, nine to five, and a chance to have some kind of emotional communion with one’s patient which may be more emotionally fulfilling then slicing body parts on an operating table. Farrell sees these differences as reflecting quality of life decisions on the part of women and an economic imperative directed at men.
Men are also more likely to accept jobs requiring long commutes and to relocate to parts of the country away from friends and family. They also tend to work longer hours than women. On average, full-time male workers work longer hours than full-time female workers. Farrell says that those extra few hours a week can make a big difference to income.
One of the main reasons women earn less than men is that they tend to interrupt their careers to look after children and are more likely to be part-time workers. Part-time work in the U.S. tends to lack what American call ‘benefits;’ namely, health insurance, pensions and paid vacations. Part-time work is also typically paid much worse, so that workers working twenty hours a week do not usually earn half what someone working forty hours a week earns, but much less. Men and women who take years out of their careers and then try to return to their careers tend to never make as much money as they would have if they worked consistently.
Farrell writes that the only way he could get published by a relatively prestigious academic press, Oxford University Press, was by having a feminist riposte tacked on at the end. He tries to imagine how feminists would react if a male rejoinder was demanded for every one of their books. The book was Does Feminism Discriminate Against Men? James Sterba takes the feminist role. Sterba’s argument, for the most part, annoyingly skirts the most irrefutable aspects of Farrell’s arguments, thus conceding little, and selects relatively minor points to challenge. One of Sterba’s strangest arguments comes in his response to why men earn more. He says that the solution to the wage gap is to make full-time employment compulsory for all and with a corresponding requirement that all children be placed in daycare, coming close to Plato’s reductio ad absurdum in The Republic when Plato has similar compulsory nurseries so that children will be brought up anonymously by strangers in order to avoid unjust favoritism by parents for their own children.
Sterba’s cure seems worse than the disease. Over many years I have had just one student speak out in favor of Sterba’s suggestion. Her reasoning was that her parents live in Manhattan and the cost of living in Manhattan is so high that it is necessary for both parents to work full-time. For some incomprehensible reason this student seemed to think that this argument applied in full to every parent living in every part of the U.S. I couldn’t convince her otherwise.
Farrell’s position is that men and women should organize their lives according to their preferences as much as possible. It seems that more women are interested in taking a dominant role in childcare duties than men. Both spouses working part-time would not make much economic sense given the pay disparity between full-time and part-time work and both spouses working full-time leaves raising one’s child up mostly up to other people. This may be attractive for some or an economic necessity too. But, so long as couples are lucky enough to be able to select the living arrangements of their choosing, the ‘wage gap,’ will remain.