Are we witnessing “the end of men”?
...[W]omen have been the majority of college graduates for over two decades now, even as corporations and nonprofits have made diversity a guiding principle, introducing mentoring and networking programs for women and telling human-resources offices to make hiring and promoting women a priority. In corporate America, the two sexes move into entry-level jobs at a similar rate....A longitudinal study of Booth School of Business graduates at the University of Chicago found men and women launching careers in equal numbers and, if you take into account differences in their industries and subspecialties, earning about the same amount of money at the outset. Ten years later, though, barely half of the female grads—52 percent—were working full-time, compared with over 90 percent of the men.
...Why do ambitious, educated women moving into their mid-career years, usually in their thirties and early forties, slacken their work pace? The answer doesn’t take a scientist—male or female—to figure out. That’s typically the do-or-die moment for starting a family. Asked why they went part-time or left the labor force, the Booth women invariably cited family. As a number of studies have noted, academics usually get on the tenure track in their early thirties, just as female fertility is beginning to drop. To move to the next level—actually getting tenure—requires years of teaching, research, grant applications, committee meetings, and conferences abroad. No wonder female academics often make other career plans. Law professor Mary Ann Mason has studied these trends extensively and calculates that mothers in academia are 35 percent less likely to get on the tenure track than fathers are and twice as likely as academic dads to work in part-time or non-tenure-track teaching positions. As for women who do accept fast-track university jobs, about two-thirds never have children.
...Work/family academics and policy mavens have a list of family-friendly policy ideas that, they believe, would help women resolve the tension between parenthood and career, patch the leaky pipeline, and ease the gender gap in Alphaville. These include lengthy paid leave for new mothers and fathers—the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act mandates only unpaid leave and only for 12 weeks—universal child care, laws requiring work flexibility in hours and location, part-time jobs that include benefits, and regulated work hours. Such policies, especially paid maternity leave, are the norm in much of Europe. Work/family articles usually begin with some version of the sentence “The United States is the only country in the developed world with no paid maternity leave,” or, more dramatically, “America has the most hostile-to-family policy in the world.”
...Can such family-friendly policies admit more women to the executive suite? Not on the evidence. Consider two countries with some of the most highly touted family policies in the world, the kind that the work/family advocates are always calling for: France and Sweden...Yet the top of the private economy in both countries remains an alpha-male preserve. At none of the 40 big companies listed in France’s CAC 40 stock-market index does a woman sit in the CEO’s office. The Lawyer reports that more than half of the associates at large French law firms are female—yet women are still only half as likely as men to be partners. There are only ten female presidents at the country’s 87 universities. In Sweden, so few women are in the top ranks in the private sphere that labor economists have been scratching their heads.
The conclusion that a number of them have reached provides a textbook case of unintended consequences: the very family policies that make it easier for women to combine work and family discourage them from pursuing career Olympus. In a paper called “Is There a Glass Ceiling in Sweden?,” James Albrecht and colleagues speculate that the country’s maternal benefits are so generous that they “may discourage strong career commitment” by women. The paper also points out that Sweden’s liberal wage policies, elevating incomes at the bottom of society, make it prohibitively expensive for many ambitious mothers—and mothers still do most of the child care, even in Sweden—to hire outside help during hours when day-care centers are closed. In many countries, including the United States, professional-class dual-income families have become dependent on cheap immigrant labor to mind the kids and clean the house; researchers Patricia Cortés and José Tessada trace the increase in the work hours of highly educated American women to the 1990s, when immigration pushed down the cost of household services. The Swedish welfare state may reduce income inequality, but one consequence may be fewer women at the top.
Unintended consequences happen in America as well. One study of 70 top law firms by The Lawyer found that the most competitive, least family-friendly, “super-elite” firms had more female equity partners than did firms with heavily used family-friendly policies. “The results seem counterintuitive,” one commentator on the study wrote. “Who would guess that women would fare better on the equity barometer at firms where the odds of making partner are ridiculously slim for everyone? By the same token, wouldn’t you expect that at the less competitive, two-tier firms (especially those with well-established part-time or flexible policies), there’d be women equity partners popping out at every corner?”
This response fails to take into account how alphas make it. Take a long maternity leave and work part-time for a while, and you’ve seriously handicapped yourself if you hope to be chief someday. A 2007 McKinsey study concluded that what correlates with high levels of female leadership in a country’s economy isn’t the percentage of women in the labor force; it’s the percentage of a country’s total hours worked that women are on the job. If women work less—whether their countries require it or their companies allow it—their chances of becoming top dog plummet.
...Do we really need to regret that so few women want to live this way, treating a baby as a momentary interruption to an all-important job and keeping a foot on the career gas pedal after the kids come? Ever since they entered the labor market in large numbers, mothers have consistently shown a preference for shorter hours. In their thirties and forties, women with children are typically looking for ways to work less, not more. They’re twice as likely as men to work part-time, and surveys show that that’s the way they want it. Female physicians have been avoiding emergency-room medicine and flocking to dermatology and pediatrics, which bring fewer emergency calls and night hours. Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz have demonstrated that women’s preference for fewer and more flexible hours has transformed a number of professional occupations, including veterinary medicine, pharmacy work, and certain medical specialties. The group practices that have all but replaced lone practitioners in these fields allow women to limit their night and weekend hours, work three or four days a week, and avoid the headaches of ownership.
The rising generation of women doesn’t look likely to change any of this. One recent survey of students by four University of Wisconsin psychologists found that college women, as they planned their careers (and they did expect to work), were already thinking about cutting back hours when they had children. A recent Gallup poll showed that 44 percent of women wished that they didn’t work at all, compared with 22 percent of men.