This morning I chose to exercise rather than sleep later. I chose to eat cereal for breakfast rather than eggs. These are pretty easy choices, but some choices are a little harder.
For instance, when I had my first daughter, I chose to leave my steady job on Capitol Hill in favor of less certain, but more flexible, independent work I could do from home. One friend of mine decided to stay home full-time as a mother after her first child was born, giving up her entire salary for her family. But, with the bad economy dragging on, she has gone back to work part-time. Other friends chose to keep full-time jobs and balance their work and family time in other ways. None of these choices came without tradeoffs, and no one decision will work for everyone.
But while choices are a sign of freedom, too many people today don’t understand that with freedom come costs. There’s an attitude in popular culture — and especially among most feminists on the left — that it’s unfair to expect people to accept responsibility for their choices. Especially women — that’s so passé.
The so-called wage gap is the prime example. The reality is that discrimination is not a significant reason why women earn less than men on average. Yes, there are bad employers out there who still might discriminate against women. But in the aggregate women are outperforming men in terms of college-graduation rates, advanced degrees, purchasing power, and even higher earnings in some areas.
So what, then, explains the difference in pay between men and women? It comes down to choices. Even Warren Farrell, who has served three times on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women, explains in his book Why Men Earn More that choices largely account for the differences in earnings between men and women.
While more women than men are earning bachelor’s degrees, for instance, women are choosing to major in less competitive disciplines. A study produced by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2009 considered what factors male and female students use to choose a major. While it’s hard to pinpoint just one reason for their decision, the author found that men and women alike made their choice based on potential outcomes. The difference is that female students on average cared more about “non-pecuniary” issues like parental approval and enjoyment of future work, while male students were concerned with just the opposite — “pecuniary” issues such as likelihood of finding a job, earning potential, and social status of future jobs.
Similarly, more than three-quarters of American teachers are women. So while nearly half the nation’s workforce is composed of women, many are choosing fields that are less lucrative than the ones many men are choosing.
Some of these differences may be explained by biology and may reflect innate aptitudes and preferences, while others may be a function of society and culture. Of course, nature and nurture can be difficult to separate — individuals with a natural talent may find they are driven by their environment toward disciplines that make use of that talent.
A recent Harvard economics study found that while women have made tremendous strides in terms of gaining access to careers in business — females now make up 40 percent of MBA classes nationwide — some of these careers are more challenging for women (and men) who want to have families.