Men are not 'over', women are not discriminated against


In what seems to me slightly contradictory, two popular modern memes hold that, firstly, we are experiencing 'the end of men', who are steadily being eclipsed by women in many levels of academia, areas of the economy and so on; and secondly that women are discriminated against in the labour market, which is why they only earn around three quarters as much as men on average per hour. A 2013 paper by Kingsley Browne in the Boston University Law Review challenges both of these claims, arguing that the dominance women enjoy in many areas of society refutes the idea they are discriminated against, but their relative scarcity in other areas shows how men are still not 'over'. He explains this discrepancy between sectors to differences in preferences and characteristics between the sexes, differences he believes are biologically caused.

Common examples of perceived workplace inequality – the “glass ceiling,” the “gender gap” in compensation, and occupational segregation, among others – cannot be well understood if the explanation proffered for their existence is limited exclusively to social causes such as discrimination and sexist socialization.

Males and females have, on average, different sets of talents, tastes, and interests, which cause them to select somewhat different occupations and exhibit somewhat different workplace behaviors. Some of these sex differences have biological roots. Temperamental sex differences are found in competitiveness, dominance seeking, risk taking, and nurturance, with females tending to be more “person oriented” and males more “thing oriented.”

The sexes also differ in a variety of cognitive traits, including various spatial, verbal, mathematical, and mechanical abilities. Although social influences can be important, these social influences operate on (and were in fact created by) sexually dimorphic minds.

As I have written before, even if the very substantial work-related differences between men and women are socially constructed, satisfying their preferences as they are, rather than as an egalitarian might want them to be, makes men and women best off. I have also written how the gender wage gap isn't evidence for firm discrimination between the genders, because it is entirely explained by women's decisions (to take safer, more satisfying jobs, to work lower hours and to take substantial time out of the workforce).

He points out that women have recently come to dominate many high status fields and that most of the gender wage gap is between, not within, professions. Taken together, he argues there is no general 'glass ceiling', although of course there are many individual instances of discrimination.

In many respects, however, women have made breathtaking advances in the past several decades. Professions such as law and medicine are reaching parity among new entrants, and women represent over 60% of newly enrolled pharmacy students and over 75% of new veterinarians.

Even within fields in which men predominate generally, such as science, technology and engineering, there are interesting variations: women are underrepresented in metallurgical and mechanical engineering but much closer to parity in biomedicine and bioengineering.

And he gives strong evidence for differences between men and women in: competitiveness, which are not easily explained by 'stereotype threat' given that they start very early and only appear in specific sorts of high pressure competition; risk-taking (boys and men take more risk); interest in children (girls and women show more of it); spatial reasoning ability (men excel); verbal ability (women excel); and occupational interests.

Whether these are biological or social they massively affect the fields that women want to enter and the ones they can do well in. And this is OK! It makes people happier to do jobs (including work in the home) they want to do and jobs they are good at. It's OK for our labour markets to reflect this—it makes us better off overall.

There is no such thing as a gender pay gap

Actually, there is a gender pay gap, but the entirety of it is determined by 'legitimate' factors—things which make men's and women's labour different. As well as women having jobs they rate as more pleasant, and jobs that are objectively less risky, as well as doing more part-time work, women leave the labour market during crucial years, setting them substantially back in labour market terms. That is, the gap comes down to women's choices.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, since childcare seems to contribute to mothers' well-being and happiness, and looking after children is certainly not an unimportant task. But it implies that, whether or not society as a whole, through schools, culture, upbringing and so on, is the reason women do most of the labour in the home and in child rearing, firms are not discriminating against women.

Two new papers add to the formidable base of evidence for this conclusion. In "The Gender Pay Gap Across Countries: A Human Capital Approach", authors Solomon W. Polachek and Jun Xiang take a lifetime labour supply approach. They find that the wage gap increases with women's fertility, the size of the average age gap between men and women at marriage, and the top marginal tax rate, all things which affect women's total labour supply over their lives and at crucial points. (It decreases with the prevalence of collective bargaining).

An even more interesting approach came in "Fertility Effects on Female Labor Supply: IV Evidence from IVF Treatments" by Petter Lundborg, Erik Plug and Astrid Würtz Rasmussen. To abstract from the possibility that women who decide to have kids have systematically different characteristics affecting what kind of career they'd have, they look at those who try to have children via In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF):

This paper introduces a new IV strategy based on IVF induced fertility variation in childless  families to estimate the causal effect of having children on female labor supply using IVF  treated women in Denmark. Because observed chances of IVF success do not depend on labor market histories, IVF treatment success provides a plausible instrument for childbearing. Our IV estimates indicate that fertility effects are: (a) negative, large and long lasting; (b) much stronger at the extensive margin than at the intensive margin; and (c) similar for mothers, not treated with IVF, which suggests that IVF findings have a wider generalizability.

The results are pretty clear. Women are on a steady upward trajectory, likely in line with comparable men (as seen in previous studies). They then decide to take time out to have and raise children, and never make it back to their previous trend-line, perhaps moving to more flexible work or less demanding jobs. Even those who go back to similar careers are far behind in experience and have to catch up with movements they have missed.

So, while there might be such thing as a gender wage gap, the alternative is completely changing how children are raised in society, and while this would certainly have the potential to raise measured output, it may not necessarily raise total social welfare.