Politics & Policy

Now, a Masterpiece

From the March 28, 2005 issue of National Review.

Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap–And What Women Can Do About It, by Warren Farrell (Amacom, 288 pp., $23)

We’ve all seen the statistics that purport to show the raw deal women get in the workplace. But that raw deal simply doesn’t exist, writes Warren Farrell in this new book: It’s lifestyle choices, not gender identities, that determine salaries. If women choose more of the same professions as men, and follow similar career paths, they will earn salaries equal to those of their male counterparts.

Even within the limits imposed by their choices, women’s comparative wages have made great progress in recent years. According to a 2003 GAO report, women earn 80 cents for every dollar a man makes–a significant increase from the 59 cents women earned compared with a man’s dollar back in the 1970s. But Farrell, author of such previous bestsellers as Why Men Are the Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power, focuses on the bigger sociological picture–contending that women actually earn the same as men if they have equal experience and qualifications, and are doing a similar job in identical working conditions. In fact, he contends that–despite the numerous lawsuits launched by women every year against their employers–women are not being discriminated against in the workforce: They are being victimized not by their employers, but by their own bad professional choices.

Farrell’s extensive research is persuasive: Women generally earn less than men because they choose jobs that are more “fulfilling, flexible, and safe.” These jobs usually pay less. For example, the librarian with a graduate degree will earn less than a garbage collector who dropped out of high school. The same applies to the educated art historian working in a museum versus the uneducated coal miner working in a mine. The garbage collector and the coal miner get higher salaries because their work involves greater risk and less pleasant working conditions. Few workers are willing to accept the conditions in these blue-collar, male-oriented jobs–so employees willing to work in these fields are a more precious commodity than workers in lower-paying professions, including librarians and art historians.

Farrell suggests 25 ways women can level the salary playing field. Among his recommendations are that women choose careers in technology or science, work longer hours, accept more responsibilities, and take jobs that are more dangerous and in unpleasant environments. He notes, however, that these solutions–instead of empowering women–may leave them bereft of true power, which he defines as “control over one’s life.” He believes that “pay is about giving up power to get the power of pay,” and that by choosing to make more money, women limit their options. They forfeit the quality of life they enjoyed when they worked less and in better, non-stressful working environments. They risk relinquishing a profession they feel passionate about for one they dislike. They also will have less opportunity to have children, take maternity leave, or work flexible hours to take care of their children. If they do decide to have children and raise them, chances are they will lose their position and their high salary.

Farrell’s observations about women and the pay gap are bracing, but his proposed solutions are less than adequate for real-life situations. He suggests, for example, that a woman who wants children, or who already has them, should find a mate who is willing to stay home and be the primary caretaker. Such men, of course, are few and far between. And what about the single mother who can’t afford to relocate or work long hours since she must take care of her children? Or the woman who risks losing custody of her children if she pursues any of Farrell’s suggestions? Or the mother who is reentering the job market after a 15-year absence because she chose to raise her children? For them, Farrell has little helpful advice.

Farrell’s 25 solutions basically outline a philosophy of gender neutrality: To earn equal pay to a man, a woman must renounce the specifics of her sex. This is the ultimate goal of feminism, so we should not be surprised that Farrell is the only man to be elected three times to the board of directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW). His analysis reveals the fundamental contradictions at the heart of the modern feminist movement: Although appearing to champion the cause of women, Farrell finally sells them short by viewing them merely as units of production.

But he also lays bare the unpleasant truth about working women. For decades, feminists and Hollywood have perpetuated the myth that a woman can have it all–a successful, high-powered career, with time for a loving husband and children, all the while looking glamorous, sexy, and carefree. The reality, however, is that working women today are more stressed, overworked, and underappreciated than they were prior to the women’s liberation movement. Pursuing a career carries trade-offs and costs, which usually come at the expense of family and children. A similar dynamic holds true for women wishing to spend more time at home: The result will be less time and less productivity at the office. This book poignantly illustrates why feminism’s war on human nature is destined to fail: Instead of chasing the chimera of perfect wage parity between the sexes, women will continue to harbor the natural desire to be devoted mothers and wives.

Loredana Vuoto is a speechwriter to the assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The views expressed in this review are solely her own.

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