Friday, October 14, 2005

Why Men Earn More

Warren Farrell’s Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap – and What Women Can Do About It is ingeniously packaged as a self-help book for women. Farrell’s main finding is that women make less than men because women trade work that pays less for lives that are more balanced, have more time for children, and last longer. Men – most especially married fathers -- work longer, harder, and in more difficult jobs even though that means they see less of their children and die younger. In fact, Farrell argues, when we really compare apples and apples, women earn at least the same as men, and probably more.

The pay gap could, in principle, disappear if tens of millions of women were willing to take rough jobs which required sacrificing their families. Since this is unlikely to happen short of a draconian command economy, the gap will remain. This gap in group earnings is not a bad thing if individual men and women are free to make other arrangements that serve their families as well.

Farrell offers 25 things that women could do to earn more money. For example, women could chose fields in the hard sciences as much as they did in the arts. Less educated women could earn more if they were as willing to work “in the heat and the sleet” as they are “indoors and neat.” Many women, of course, can and do choose such jobs. But it defies what we know about women and men in general to think that hundreds of millions of working men and women in this country would be equally likely to choose the same way.

The main point underlying all of the differences in work choices that Farrell cites is that parents arrange their lives to serve their kids. Women tend to arrange their work so they can be with their children more. Men tend to arrange their work so they can provide for their children (and wives) more. We know this because childless men and women tend to be nearly equal in their work, midway between the averages for mothers and fathers.

Ultimately, men as a group earn more because married fathers are more productive at work than any other group. Men earn more despite the fact that single, childless men earn less than most women.


Anonymous said...

Farrell is the mirror image of a feminist* who claims that the wage gap has nothing at all to do with different choices, and is entirely due to discrimination and sexism. Farrell claims that sexism and discrimination have nothing to do with it, and it's all choices.

Farrell's view is just as extreme - and just as false as the "choice has nothing to do with it" view. There's a lot of evidence of discrimination and sexism; and in his eagerness to attribute the wage gap to absolutely anything but sexism, Farrell made a lot of dubious or false claims. For instance, he attributes men's higher pay partly to more dangerious working conditions - but evidence doesn't support Farrell's belief.

The truth is in the middle: choice matters, but sexism and discrimination cause part of the pay gap as well.

*Not all feminists claim this, but I've run into a couple who do.

Gruntled said...

I agree that Farrell does not treat the effects of sexism and discrimination at all. This is partly a result of the self-help-for-women format of the book, though that itself may be a strategy to get around talking about discrimination.

I do quibble a bit with your disparagement of the danger premium. He is not really comparing dangerous jobs with safe jobs, but rather more and less dangerous specialties in the same firm. The specific example that he gives is the army, in which enlisted men are more likely to be in actual combat operations, and enlisted women in rear-area support roles. Within a firm, you are more likely to find a danger premium, even if in the entire market you are not.

Anonymous said...

I think that your logic doesn't make sense. If within firms, we are likely to find danger premiums, then danger premiums would show up in the entire market as well. The firms are all part of the larger market, after all. It's only if it's exceptional (that is, UNlikely) for individual firms to pay danger premiums that they wouldn't show up in the marketplace.

I can't really speak to the army example, except to say that the army is clearly not typical of how the job market in general works.

Gruntled said...

When you compare any jobs in the entire market -- coal miners vs. accountants, say -- then it is easy to find dangerous jobs which pay less, if we don't account for differences in the supply of qualified workers. Farrell argues that when we compare jobs at about the same level of training (coal miners vs. sales clerks), dangerous jobs pay more because the supply of people willing to do them is smaller. In those cases, comparing apples to apples, we would expect more men in the dangerous specialties.