"For Love of Neighbor" is a new documentary film offering a hopeful vision for Christian engagement in politics. Click here to learn more.

The Choices We Make

According to a recent report by Kay Hymowitz, “women today are entering adulthood with more education, more achievements, more property, and, arguably, more money and ambition than their male counterparts.” Female achievement was bound to improve when technology and social norms allowed women out of the kitchen and into the classroom. But the fact that women are actually outpacing men in education and industry is historic. The evidence shows that not only is the average female pursuing more education, but she is getting higher marks. Hymowitz breaks down these statistics:

Boys have lower GPAs and lower grades in almost every subject, including math, despite their higher standardized testing scores. They are 58% of high school dropouts. In the mid 1970s about 28% of men had college degrees. Since then, that number has barely budged. Meanwhile, the percentage of women with a college degree increased from 18.6 to 34.2%. Women now earn 57% of college degrees; predictions have them at 60% in the near future.

There is a strong correlation between education and income. Which in this case means that women are earning more than their under-educated male counterparts. Time Magazine reported last year that the “median full-time salaries of young women are 8% higher than those of the guys in their peer group.” This fact made headlines and led people to wonder what the catch was. As it turns out, the only demographic group to which this definitively applies is “unmarried, childless women under 30 who live in cities”—a fact which has perpetuated concerns of gender-influenced income inequality. A few months ago these feminist fears were addressed in the Wall Street Journal by Carrie Lukas, the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum. She says:

The Department of Labor’s Time Use survey shows that full-time working women spend an average of 8.01 hours per day on the job, compared to 8.75 hours for full-time working men. One would expect that someone who works 9% more would also earn more. This one fact alone accounts for more than a third of the wage gap.

Choice of occupation also plays an important role in earnings. While feminists suggest that women are coerced into lower-paying job sectors, most women know that something else is often at work. Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility. Simply put, many women—not all, but enough to have a big impact on the statistics—are willing to trade higher pay for other desirable job characteristics.

Those who fight for women’s choices should respect the fact that those choices account for whatever income disparity is present. And as the evidence is beginning to reflect, sometimes these choices lead to an advantageous position for working women. The question sociologists are beginning to ask now is, as Ms. Hymowitz puts it, “what’s happening to the men?” One theory is that girls are better learners than boys and that the modern classroom environment caters more to the learning needs of the female students. Another is that “today’s labor market prizes female strengths more than male strengths.” These theories can be combined however as Harvard Economist Brian Jacob explains, because the “non-cognitive skills” that influence education also influence “employment, occupation choice, and a variety of other labor market outcomes.” Hymowitz offers a more “existential explanation” to the male problem.

The economic independence of women and the collapse of marriage norms have deprived men of the primary social role that incentivized their achievement… Boys today are growing up in a culture that, unlike any before in civilization, is agnostic about their future familial responsibilities… Sons grew up observing that men were of little consequence to family life, which in turn gave them less incentive to adapt to changes in the labor market or more generally to become reliably productive husbands and fathers.

This existential theory, stressing the loss of men’s primary social role, is impossible to prove with any certainty. But there is some evidence that unmarried men are less motivated in the workplace. Married men work longer hours, earn more, and get more promotions than single men, including those who are fathers; indeed, their earnings rise after they marry.

Men must choose whether or not to be responsible for the lives of others. Just as with the choices women make, this decision affects their success in education and career. If the evidence and process of time continue to prove that it is indeed a person’s choices that determine their success, whether they be male or female, then we all have something for which to be grateful. This is a reality towards which humanity has long been striving. It is an opportunity for political opportunists to stop blaming other people and for us take responsibility for our own lives and future successes.