The Maroon

Opinion: Biology, not free enterprise, at fault for pay gap


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BY WALTER E. BLOCK

Here is a headline that recently appeared in the news: “More than 60 women consider suing Google, claiming sexism and a pay gap.”

Sexism in labor economics consists of discriminating against one gender or the other (virtually always the distaff side). The free enterprise system is commonly blamed for this. In my view, it is entirely innocent of this charge.

Why is it that women predominate in job categories such as nurses, beauticians, elementary school teachers, manicurists, receptionists, librarians, etc., while men do so as truck drivers, mechanics, construction workers, engineers, mathematicians and others?

There are two theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon. One is that men and women are exactly equal in all relevant respects; it is only socialization, culture and life experiences — in a word, the social environment — that separate the two sexes into these categories. Women are, in effect, “pushed” into taking on these employment slots, often against their will.

The second possibility is that while the aforementioned do play a role in these divergences, and indeed, sometimes an important one, so too does biology (Larry Summers, the former President of Harvard University lost his job over publicly contemplating this explanation; James Dalmore was recently fired from Google for voicing similar opinions). Also a part of this second hypothesis is that it is rare that anyone is “pushing” anyone around into taking the sorts of jobs they take against their will.

No short essay such as the present can hope to definitively answer this “nature versus nurture” controversy. However, let me make two points about it.

Merely discussing it is part and parcel of academic freedom. To fire a professor for doing so would be a blatant violation thereof. Second, it is readily admitted by all and sundry that many characteristics of people are indeed biological: height, weight, susceptibility to diseases (Tay-Sachs for Jews; sickle cell anemia for blacks), age of onset of puberty, short distance racing, long distance running, swimming ability, color of skin, etc. The brain, too, is part of the body. Would it not be amazing that biology played absolutely no role whatsoever in its formation, and thus in intellectual abilities of all sorts?

Why is it then that males vastly outnumber females in terms of prison population, homelessness and representation in mental institutions? Those who claim biology has no role in explaining such phenomena have a bit of explaining of their own to do. Similarly, males overshadow females in terms of grandmasters in chess, CEOs of large corporations, political leaders and Nobel Prize winners in such fields as medicine, chemistry, physics and economics and the Fields Medal in mathematics.

Biology and brain chemistry play no role whatsoever in these phenomenon? Not bloody likely.

Males and females are roughly equal when it comes to averages in terms of many of these characteristics. But, the former tend to have a much larger statistical variance in these regards. It is as if men are God’s, or nature’s, craps shoot, while women are God’s, or nature’s, insurance policy. More women than men cluster around the mean.

Writing computer code falls well within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields that require abilities several standard deviations above the mean. It should occasion no great surprise, then, that females should be greatly outnumbered by males in Silicon Valley.

Let us posit, arguendo, that females were as fully capable as males of writing computer code for such companies as Google, MicroSoft, IBM, Apple, Amazon, etc. But, due to sexism, they just were not being hired in proportion to their ability, and underpaid to boot on the rare occasions they were. This would constitute a golden opportunity for a new company, or, indeed, any of the already established ones, to scoop up these underpaid and underrepresented women, and earn great profits from so doing. The fact that this has not occurred, that females still constitute far less than 50 percent of professional nerds, is amply evidence of the fact that this just is not so.

The above analysis will be dismissed by feminists as “mansplaining.” That might well do in feminist “studies” courses, but should be dismissed as the ad hominem it is in all rational discourse.

 

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Since 1923 • For a greater Loyola
Opinion: Biology, not free enterprise, at fault for pay gap