Bryan Caplan  

Male Variance and the Remnants of the Gender Gap

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Manning Up's Kay Hymowitz writes the target essay for this month's Cato Unbound.  In the first reaction essay, Jessica Bennett highlights the ways men remain more successful than women:
[W]omen will still make up just a third of business-school students and barely a quarter of law firm partners... Women still have trouble penetrating the highest rungs of the corporate world: they are also just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, less than a quarter of politicians, and just 22 percent of the leadership positions in journalism.
It's easy to see why elite women find this inequality nettlesome.  But isn't the obvious explanation just that men have higher variance in general?  This is easiest to prove for cognitive ability - see Garett Jones' review of the evidence.  But it also seems very plausible for interests and obsessiveness.  Anyone can start a blog, but men are much more likely to do so.  The reason, I'll warrant, is that the male distribution of ego has a right tail that stretches far into the horizon.

If you resist this story, I've got a question: Why are men so over-represented at the bottom of the status distribution as well as the top?  See the homeless, janitors, and conscripted infantry in war zones.

Admittedly, variance can only take you so far.  If women's mean success keeps rising relative to men's, they'll lose their positions at the top and redouble their positions at the bottom.  But does this really have to happen before we give patriarchy a funeral?


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The author at Evolving Economics in a related article titled The gender gap writes:
    This month’s Cato Unbound has another interesting subject, this time on the decline of men. In the lead essay, Kay Hymowitz runs through the mass of ways men are starting to fall behind women. Many of the statistics were a surprise to me. Take th... [Tracked on August 11, 2011 7:08 PM]
COMMENTS (13 to date)
Evan writes:
Admittedly, variance can only take you so far. If women's mean success keeps rising relative to men's, they'll lose their positions at the top and redouble their positions at the bottom. But does this really have to happen before we give patriarchy a funeral?
I think that the patriarchy can definitely be given a funeral in the sense that our society is no longer male-dominated. But there are still a lot of sexist expectations for both men and women that need to be stopped (for example, as you've pointed out before, men who complain are regarded as weak, while women who complain aren't).

I think the primary reason patriarchy is still considered a problem is the phenomenon Kling called Folk Marxism. There are people, mainly those "second wave feminist types" who see women as the oppressed and men as the oppressors, and anything that raises the status of one relative to the other is automatically right. That leads to them thinking that any difference in pay distribution between men and women is wrong, no matter what causes it.

That's not to say men can't be Folk Marxist of course, there's a whole community of Folk Marxist conservative misogynistic pickup artists who cast men (or so called "beta males" more specifically) as the oppressed class and women as the oppressors and they are every bit as vile and disgusting as the "feminists" who say that all men are rapists. I think Folk Marxism in general just leads to ugly beliefs since you see everyone in a different group from you as an enemy instead of a potential friend or trading partner.

Feminism needs to go back to its roots and be about individual equality for women, and throw the Folk Marxists out the window.

Sonic Charmer writes:

But isn't the obvious explanation just that men have higher variance in general?

No. That may be a factor, but the obvious explanation is some combination of

1. Women want to do these things (e.g., 'go to business school') at a lesser rate than men do. (Of course to accept this as an explanation, it's necessary to accept the possibility that 'women' and 'men' as groups can want different things)

2. Women (some important proportion of than anyway) bear babies and men don't, meaning they will tend to have N-month gaps in their careers, and N-month gaps in one's career are not conducive to things like 'becoming a CEO', regardless of what sex you are.

Duncan Earley writes:

I think its the fact that only women can give birth in combination with the fact than men currently earn more on average.

Kids obviously take a lot of time to care for and when a couple is choosing the primary care giver (who will HAVE to work less in some way) they are more likely to choose the one with the lowest earning potential. Plus the women already needs to have at least a few months off.

No point in studying to be a lawyer if you are only going to be doing it for a few years before you have a couple of kids.

Thanatos Savehn writes:

The problem is that everyone is counting noses where the best and the brightest used to go. Once upon a time many of them went into medicine. Now, with schools like Brown looking for empathy rather than a bent for solving medical problems and with the medical profession rapidly being reduced to relatively low status (think of the glorified nurses who make up most of the NHS), maybe it's the case that those guys are looking elsewhere.

Similarly, big legacy corporations are run mainly with the goal of preserving good will and capital. They're no place for a young man lookin' to light out for the territories. They're for would-be mandarins.

Thus, many of the old measures of male success may no longer be valid.

tommy writes:

Bryan

I appreciate you blogging on the sensitive issues. As any man that has gone through a divorce will tell you - the bias is reversed and there is definately a bias against men 'on average', perhaps to compensate for the general belief that men cause women economic harm. One thing that is striking is that the law entitles a divorced woman to be supported by their ex-husbands in the lifestyle the woman was accustomed to. The man is usually put in a position of being FAR below that lifestyle that he also had become accustomed to. These contracts are essentially lifetimes of wage enslavement. Power overall is balanced more than anytime in history between the genders, except for the points already made due to biology disadvanting a woman near childbirth.

PrometheeFeu writes:

I think there is a self-reinforcing pattern of women being in "woman-jobs". Many of my women friends complain that while growing up, they were rarely exposed to female role models in roles that are traditionally male. (For the obvious reason that those roles are traditionally male) If modeling is an important part of learning as many psychologists believe, it seems likely that women would be "taught" to self-select away from traditionally male occupations.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Evan: I think the crazy "second-wave feminists" are probably a very vocal minority. Most feminists I know (arguably a self-selected sample) simply believe that women get the short end of the stick for historical reasons and just want to achieve individual equality. Now many of them are willing to use legislation for that, but it's not because of a particular hatred for men, they just tend to be liberals who believe in the state's power to do good.

Gian writes:

Patriarchy does not mean male-domination but it means the Rule of Fathers.

8 writes:

We've been here before, at the peak of the Roman Empire. Feminism is a luxury good created by a society on the brink of decline.

GU writes:
"[W]omen will still make up just a third of business-school students and barely a quarter of law firm partners... Women still have trouble penetrating the highest rungs of the corporate world: they are also just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, less than a quarter of politicians, and just 22 percent of the leadership positions in journalism."

In other words, few women want to trade their free time for more money. I don't blame them. B-schoolers, law partners, CEOs, etc. work very long hours, often doing tedious, unsatisfying work. Politicians seem to me to have a more pleasurable job, but you need a very specific type of personality to thrive as one, and I suspect this personality is far more common in the male sex. The journalism stat is surprising to me, but I know nothing of the profession. Perhaps working one's way up in journalism is just as tedious and stressful as in law and business?

On a related note, see here for a hilariously frank dismissal of feminist concerns by Judge Posner.

GU writes:

BTW, Posner starts around the 23:00 minute mark.

john malpas writes:

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Jonathan writes:

Subtle Things That Hold Women Back is an interesting look at how womens' distrust of men reduces mentorship between the two, which would primarily benefit women. By increasing the cost for men to be mentors to women, women get less access to the current, successful leaders in the field (startups in the article).

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