Msnowe's Blog

Pretty Pretty Princely Princesses?

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on April 27, 2010

Can you be The Prince AND a Princess?

Here is a New York Times article that ran yesterday in the business section, entitled “Do Nice Gals Finish Last?” The article quickly covers many aspects of payment structures, mostly in terms of sex and relative pay. The most informative piece of the article is probably this link, which makes no assumptions as to why, but analyzes the salary data of 108 occupations and breaks down the divergence in earning power for men and women.

Because there are a fair few pages of notes and lots of charts and graphs to analyze, let’s just look at the highlights of the report:

  • Overall, the weekly median income for full-time male workers in 2009 was $819. For women, it was $657. This is a “gender” wage gap of 19.8%
  • Of the 108 occupations analyzed by gender, only 4 exist where women consistently earn more money than men (those are: “other life, physical, and social science technicians; bakers; teacher assistants; and dining room and cafeteria attendants and bartender helpers”).
  • Women earn less than men in all ten of the most common occupations held by women.
  • One of the largest gender pay gaps is for physicians and surgeons. Women in these positions earn, on average, 64% of their male peers.

This is just a sampling.  You can read on to see how deep the rabbit hole actually goes. There are many things m.snowe would like to draw your attention to in this article.

Before we get to the heavier lifting, just some light observations:

  • This article is written by a woman–a rather scholarly woman who has written many books on the intersection of gender and economics. One wonders if it would ever be written by a man.
  • The title of the article “Do Nice Gals Finish Last?” is a throwback to the staid phrase, “Do Nice Guys Finish Last?” But the original phrase is talking about finding a suitable mate, not finding salary parity among genders. Somehow, equal pay for women has to be equated to men finding a suitable sexual partner? Immediately, the social imperatives thrust upon both genders are driven to the fore, as if we could forget them for one second anyway.

So now, to the article.

First, Folbre explains that the theory of productivity and pay are not necessarily (or usually) linked for even the highest of earners in the US. Then she presents the evidence that men are still earning much more than women at the same jobs, at the same level of productivity. Then she asks the following questions:

–“Does the gender pay gap imply that women are less productive than men?”

–“Or do men reap rewards for characteristics that don’t actually increase their productive contribution?”

Since she’s already dispatched the first question by providing data on how productivity is not linked to pay, she quickly settles in to debating the second question for the rest of the article. The first important thing to remember is that this is not the only possible variable that allows men to “reap rewards” in the form of higher wages. It does not include all the other possible aspects of gender discrimination: basically anything you might find in an “old boys club” setting. But let’s disregard that for a moment.

–“Social scientists have long observed that a “Machiavellian personality” tends to enhance economic success.”

Folbre explains that what seems to be a majority of women lack this tendency towards Machiavellian business behavior, whereas more men have these personality traits. These traits include: aggressiveness, conscientiousness, and the propensity for lying, cheating and stealing. Here is the big finish:

–“One could argue that women who want to be nicer than men even if this proves costly shouldn’t complain about the gender pay gap. But one could also argue that pay differences among all individuals — as well as gaps between men and women — reflect differences in personality, preferences and principles as much as productivity.”

Folbre makes a key distinction about individual personalities, but it’s clear from the gender gap in salaries that women are somehow more prone to be “nice.” First, “being nice” is different from altruism. Second, women don’t necessarily “want” to be nice. This is a social and behavioral topic that we’ve all heard way too many times and shouldn’t have to be repeated. Women are told, from the moment of birth, to be docile, agreeable, non-confrontational, whether they like it or not. Stereotypes abound. We’re even still trying to separate out the gore, monsters, and explosions, and designate that only little boys have the right to call it their territory. Even if it was the case (which it is not) that women wanted to be “nicer” in all business situations, who is exactly at fault for that, when women were nurtured to be so?You teach a woman that she will be labeled as a heartless bitch if she veers off the path of least resistance, and then refuse to reward her equally when she plays by the rules? Sounds like the most evil form of discrimination there is–creating and nurturing in order to enslave.

And then, who is to say that the recognized “Machiavellian personality” is the best way to run businesses? Last time we checked, “lying, cheating and stealing” isn’t exactly the kind of behavior that finds itself on company mission statements. If anything, we should take some cues from the financial crisis of the past few years. One could be almost certain that the fat cats running those banks were The Princes Machiavelli would’ve been proud of.

So here’s two humble suggestions:

–Stop telling young girls to be docile and smile and nod as their brothers are allowed to throw punches.

–Reevaluate the way you evaluate business worth.

In the end, Folbre comes to a similar conclusion:

“A different question comes to my mind. Shouldn’t we try to reward nice behavior? We could start by making stronger efforts to penalize bullies and cheats.”

Further Reading:



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