Book review: Why Men Earn More
Sunday 26th May, 2019 - 10 min read
This post is a work in progress.
It should go without saying that I’m against discrimination and judging an individual on factors that aren’t relevant to their job performance. We should judge people purely by their ability to perform the job they are hired to do.
Why Men Earn More is a book by Dr Warren Farrell, an author of seven books on men and women’s issues and a supporter and campaigner of the feminist movement in the 1970s. The book dives into the reasons why men (on average) earn more than women. Dr Farrell served on the New York City Board of the National Organization for Women and began researching the gender pay gap topic in part because he has two daughters and wanted to understand how they could earn equal pay as men and be successful in their future careers.
Dr Farrell was campaigning for the women’s rights movement, proudly donning a ‘59 cents’ badge to stand in unison with women who were earning 59 cents on the dollar compared to men. But he found some inconvenient flaws in his reasoning. If women really could be paid 59 cents on the dollar to do the same job as men, then why weren’t employers hiring entirely women?
Warren went on to investigate how this pay gap measure was calculated and dug deep into the data to really understand the differences between what each gender is paid. From this he published the book Why Men Earn More which enumerates 25 factors that result in men earning more.
As Warren says:
“All women’s issues are to some degree men’s issues and all men’s issues are to some degree women’s issues because when either sex wins unilaterally both sexes lose.”
So what are some of the 25 factors that result in men earning more?
Note that Farrell does not encourage nor discourage women from doing these 25 things: “Each of the 25 usually requires trading quality of life for money. I just want women and men to be aware of their options so they can craft a life rather than just accept what drops in their lap.”
Because of supply and demand, you’ll normally earn more by choosing a job that:
- Is a STEM subject than a social sciences (computer science vs. literature)
- Is hazardous (oil rig worker vs school teacher)
- Is an unpleasant environment (prison guard vs. receptionist)
- Doesn’t allow you to mentally check out at the end of the day (corporate attorney vs. librarian)
- Is less fulfilling (tax accountant vs. child care professional)
- Has higher financial and emotional risks (venture capitalist vs. supermarket cashier)
- Specialise in a subfield that meets these factors (surgeon vs. psychiatrist)
Working more hours, or less desirable hours, will normally earn you more:
- Working the worst shifts during the worst hours (Private practice medical doctor vs. HMO medical doctor)
- Work more hours
- Work more weeks during the year
- Don’t be absent from work
- Commute to jobs that are further away
- Be willing to relocate (executive establishing a foreign office vs. regional manager)
- Be willing to travel extensively on the job (travelling salesman vs. office worker)
- Require less security (commission vs. salaried employee)
As you can see, a lot of this comes from supply and demand. There’s a reason that it’s incredibly tough to become a musician or actor, and many professions that are overworked and underpaid, e.g. video game developers, are this way because they are so desirable that there is enough supply that these companies can pay these low salaries.
Supply and demand can explain disparities in pay. For example, professional male sports players often earn more than women, even if both of them compete in the highest national league and international teams. One reason can be demand. Far more people pay to attend the Manchester United men’s match than the ladies match or watch on TV, and therefore there’s a bigger pool of money from tickets and TV licensing agreements to pay these sportsplayers.
Productivity is another factor that can explain disparities in pay. Male tennis players are often paid more than women, but mens matches are best of 5 sets whereas women’s matches are best of 3 sets. As men are playing for longer - and the audience therefore gets more to watch - it makes sense to pay the male tennis players more.
One thing that I’ve come to realise is that it’s not necessarily in mens interest to value work to the extent that they do. Men are typically seen as bread winners, willing to sacrifice their own health and wellbeing for their family, focused on maximising salaries and not considering what they are sacrificing. Most CEOs are men, but it’s not obvious to me that many people should aspire to be a CEO. It’s an incredibly tough job, you can’t afford to have a day where you don’t perform, you need to be built like an ox to handle the mental and physical stress of the job, and you’re constantly having problem after problem thrust at you. It takes a certain kind of person, and yes they are compensated generously, but it’s not clear to me that it’s beneficial..
When Farrel was asked, “But apart from the 25 non-sexist reasons men earn more, isn’t sexism still a factor?” he responded with, “There are instances of discrimination against both women and men, but on average, no. If you knew you could hire a woman for less than an equivalent man, you’d hire women to get a price advantage over your competition. Do you think businesses so hate women that they hire more expensive men even though they’d lose so much money?” 
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