Gender Equality and Life Choices

Article excerpt

Margot Wallstrom ("A Womanly Virtue," Spring 2010) helpfully calls our attention to the horrific lives of women in much of the underdeveloped world. But her understanding of gender equality in the developed world is problematic.

Wallstrom says that if women constitute half the electorate, "the logical conclusion" is that women should have "half of the elected seats." But women do not run for office as often as men do. They do not seek to make partner in law firms as often. Nor do they seek to be presidents of large firms as often. There are many reasons for this. But the most important is that women, on average, have different preferences than men do.

Catherine Hakim's work shows that most married women in the developed world want their husbands to be the principal providers while they take the lead on the home front. A 2007 Pew Foundation study finds that only 21 percent of US women with children under 16 say that full time work is the ideal situation for them while 72 percent of men say so.

Hakim's scholarship and other research focusing on our best educated youth show the same patterns. Camille Benbow and David Lubinski study our brightest young people and follow them over decades. At age 13, mathematically gifted girls have more social interests than do mathematically gifted boys, and they plan to devote less time to their vocations in the future. When they are in their 30s, the mathematically gifted women, now with advanced degrees in hand, report stronger desires to spend more time with family and significantly weaker desires for long hours at work than their male peers. For example, when asked how many hours a week they would want to spend at work if they had their ideal job, 28 percent of these women say less than a standard 40 hours a week, which is significantly less than the hours required for a demanding job. Only 5 percent of men give this answer. Bright women act on their desires. For example, a 2000 survey of female Harvard MBAs from the classes of 1981, 1986, and 1991 found that only 38 percent were working full time. …

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