The Maroon

Rejoinder to Yavneh-Klos on sexism, biology, free enterprise and the pay gap

Walter E. Block, Harold E. Wirth Eminent Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics

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I am delighted to engage with my friend and colleague Naomi Yavneh-Klos in a dialogue on the issue of sexism, biology, free enterprise and the pay gap.

First up in this particular batter’s box was this article of mine: Block, Walter. 2017. “Biology, not free enterprise, at fault for pay gap.” August 18, The Maroonhttps://www.loyolamaroon.com/10014469/oped/opinion-biology-not-free-enterprise-at-fault-for-pay-gap/.

Second in the batting order was this:

Yavneh-Klos, Naomi. 2017. “Response to Block’s ‘Biology, not free enterprise, at fault for pay gap.’” August 25, The Maroonhttps://www.loyolamaroon.com/10014544/oped/response-to-dr-blocks-biology-not-free-enterprise-at-fault-for-pay-gap/

Here is a short summary of my view: “There are two theories that attempt to explain this phenomenon. One, men and women exactly equal in all relevant respects; it is only socialization, culture, 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 as that while the aforementioned do play a role in these divergences, and, indeed, sometimes an important one, so, too does biology.” Which phenomenon is under discussion? The fact that men tend to specialize in occupations which require science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills while women do not. As it happens, my essay supported the second of these hypotheses.

Did my learned friend disagree with my contention? Superficially, it would appear that she did. After all, it would be unusual for a scholar to write a “response” to an article if there were no divergences in viewpoints. As well, she did state that my opinion “…ignores a key factor: the systemic oppression of women.” Further, she regards my analysis as “specious” since I “mistake the historic, systemic conceptions of what our physical abilities and limitations entail for a biological imperative of inequality.”

But a closer analysis shows that there is no real disagreement between the two of us. Rather, she is intent on demonstrating that there are other explanatory factors involved beside biology, but I never, ever, denied this. To repeat what I said: “The second possibility as that while the aforementioned (cultural, historical phenomena that my colleague cites) do play a role in these divergences, and, indeed, sometimes an important one, so, too does biology.” I was arguing that biology, too, plays a role. I specifically disavowed the notion that only biology could explain the phenomena under discussion, and never even came close to a consideration of which causal elements is more important. Yet, she could write, seemingly in criticism of my view that: “The historic lack of access to education for women, I would argue, is a far more important factor than biology in the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

How could a scholar of her accomplishments so completely misunderstand what I wrote, criticize me for it, when the facts are clear: we have no disagreement at all, at least not any that she mentions. That is, it is not at all the case that she countered my claim that biology, too, plays a role. Rather, she limited herself to demonstrating that there were other explanatory variables, something which I not only did not dispute, but actually mentioned myself. To repeat again: “…while the aforementioned do play a role in these divergences, and, indeed, sometimes an important one, so, too does biology.”

One possibility is that she simply did not read my essay, but judged it solely by its title: “Biology, not free enterprise, at fault for pay gap.” This title, I readily admit, does indeed sound, vaguely, as if I think that biology, and only biology, can account for these male-female divergences. However, as it happens, that was not the title I chose for my contribution to The Maroon. Rather, it was this: “Sexism and the Pay Gap.” Perhaps if my title had not been changed, and or Prof. Yavneh-Klos had more carefully read what I actually wrote, she would not have felt the need to criticize (“ignores a key factor,” “specious”) my essay. Nor do I think there is any “fault” involved. Men are on average heavier and taller than women, have greater physical strength, and, more of an interest in STEM. The reasons for this are complicated, but there is no “fault” for this in terms of denying access to women of educational benefits, certainly not in the last more than just a few decades. Certainly, free enterprise plays no role in this phenomenon.

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Rejoinder to Yavneh-Klos on sexism, biology, free enterprise and the pay gap