[Paleopsych] NYT: At Lunch With Warren Farrell: Are Women Responsible for Their Own Low Pay?
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Business > Your Money > At Lunch With Warren
Farrell: Are Women Responsible for Their Own Low Pay?
February 27, 2005
By CLAUDIA H. DEUTSCH
DO you think that Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard's president, stirred
up a hornets' nest by suggesting that women's brains are not
genetically wired for math or science? Wait until you hear Warren
Farrell on the subject of women's pay.
Sure, Dr. Farrell accepts that women, as a group, are paid less than
men. But the way he sees it, using pay statistics to prove sex
discrimination is akin to using the horizon to prove that the world is
Women, he believes, methodically engineer their own paltry pay. They
choose psychically fulfilling jobs, like librarian or art historian,
that attract enough applicants for the law of supply and demand to
kick in and depress pay. They avoid well-paid but presumably risky
work - hence, the paucity of women flying planes. And they tend to put
in fewer hours than men - no small point, he says, because people who
work 44 hours a week make almost twice as much as those who work 34
and are more likely to be promoted.
In fact, Dr. Farrell points to subgroups - male and female college
professors who have never married, or men and women in part-time jobs
- in which women average higher pay than their male counterparts.
"Control for all these things, and the women make as much, or more,"
said Dr. Farrell, 61, whose new book on the shaky myths of pay
disparity, "Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap
- and What Women Can Do About It" (Amacom), arrived in bookstores in
January. "Let's face it: men do a lot of things in the workplace that
women just don't do."
Ready to brand him a sexist? Wait, there's more. Dr. Farrell says he
thinks that the whole debate over gender-linked skills is superfluous.
"Men may well be hard-wired to be better at math, and women to excel
at verbal skills, but so what?" he asked. He said the human ability to
adapt to circumstances and limitations was equally hard-wired, and
that fascination with a field could easily trump innate abilities.
It's pretty subversive stuff. But then, Dr. Farrell - the doctorate is
in political science, "but I walk and talk like a psychologist," he
said - is accustomed to flouting convention. In the early 1970's, when
the idea of equality for women still had novelty status, he served on
the board of the New York chapter of the National Organization for
Women. In 2003, by then living in San Diego, he unsuccessfully sought
the Democratic nomination for governor of California on a platform
promoting legislation to force courts to grant divorced fathers equal
time with their children. He has a lucrative business as an expert
witness in custody cases, and in speaking and consulting on fatherhood
issues. (He has no children, but he has served as a stepdad to
When a book tour took him to Manhattan recently, he had lunch with a
reporter at Eleven Madison Park, on Madison Avenue at East 24th
Street, to elaborate on why, as he phrases it, women should stop
trying to play off "victim power" and start wielding their true
"Companies like I.B.M. have offered women scholarships to study
engineering for years, and women engineers routinely get higher
starting salaries than men," he said.
Noting that his current and former wives, businesswomen both, make
more than he does, he added: "Men have not stacked the decks against
Even as a child, Warren Farrell had little patience for the gender
roles mandated by society. His family was conventional enough: a New
Jersey suburban home, three children (he was the oldest), an
accountant father who was definitely the primary earner.
But the young Warren refused to be pigeonholed by anyone's view of
proper behavior for a boy. In seventh grade, he entered - and won - a
beauty contest for boys. "I was elected class prince," he recalled
with a still-proud laugh. In eighth grade, he was tagged as a math
whiz, but he found math too boring to pursue. Although he was tall and
athletic, he hated fighting, so, of course, he attracted the taunting
of the local bullies in high school. He finally fought one. He won,
and the bully clique respected him after that.
"It made me sad - winning a wrestling match is such a stupid reason to
respect someone," he said.
Dr. Farrell always suspected that women tended to undermine
themselves. One day, while he was teaching urban politics at Rutgers,
he attended a convention at which one attendee, an attractive young
woman, wanted to make a point but was beset with stage fright. "I
encouraged her to speak up, and when she did, she blew everyone away,"
he said. She and Dr. Farrell soon married and, after she became a
well-known corporate executive, she offered to be primary breadwinner
while he pursued a doctorate in political science from New York
University. (He asked that her name be withheld to protect her
privacy.) He did his dissertation on the women's movement.
"My wife's income allowed me to do what I really loved," he said. "I
realized that women's liberation is men's liberation, too."
After they divorced - they remain friends, he said - Dr. Farrell moved
to San Diego, where he still lives. Ten years ago he met, and
eventually married, Liz Dowling, a California entrepreneur with two
daughters - Alex, now 17, and Erin, 18. Although he has written
extensively about issues like sexual harassment and fatherhood, he
says he is not spurred on by personal experiences. "I've always been
motivated to stop people from doing dysfunctional things," he said.
Which, of course, provided a nice segue into his thoughts on how women
can stop the self-sabotage that so often leads to low pay.
Refreshingly, he steered clear of advice about body language,
attitudes, dress and communication skills; women are already better at
all of those than men, he said. But he did offer other observations:
There can be good jobs in fields you think you hate. So what if you
are all thumbs. "A woman with organizing skills can run a construction
company without ever picking up a hammer and nail," Dr. Farrell said.
Do you like medicine, but can't stand blood? "Pharmacists can make as
much as doctors," he said, and can have more control over their lives.
Jobs that are hazardous for men can be pretty safe for women. Women in
the military are rarely sent to the front lines, Dr. Farrell said.
Studies have shown that women who are cabdrivers usually pull daytime
hours, female postal workers get safer routes, and male coal miners
try to keep their few female colleagues out of danger. "When women
need protection, men will compete to give it," he said.
Many jobs pay women more than men. Some of them - say, advertising
executive, speech pathologist or statistician - are in fields that
have long welcomed women. But many are jobs that many women
erroneously believe are closed to them, like tool-and- die makers,
funeral service workers, automotive mechanics, radiation therapists
and sales engineers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides pay
comparisons for many jobs.
A little extra training can yield a lot more money. Are you good with
numbers? "Financial analysts make a lot more than accountants," Dr.
Farrell said. Similarly, he notes, a nurse anesthetist makes twice as
much as a regular nurse.
The "line versus staff" rule applies to women, too. Men have long
realized that jobs in manufacturing and sales - line jobs in business
parlance - are better for their careers than staff support jobs in
human resources and public relations. "C.E.O.'s are selected from
among those assuming bottom-line responsibilities for a company," he
said, "so these fields pave the way for women who want to break
alleged glass ceilings."
It is O.K. to trade a fatter paycheck for more time with children and
hobbies. Just recognize that society did not force the choice on you.
"Feel powerful and happy that you have control over your own life,"
Dr. Farrell said. "It's better than feeling like an angry victim of
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