Thoughts on the Wage Gap, Work-Life Balance, Gender Differences, and Other ‘Wonderings’

Here is a video by John Green about the wage gap I posted on our Facebook page the other day.

And here is a video of Jordan Peterson talking about why there are not more women in high powered jobs. (I don’t like the title of the video, but I can ignore it and listen to the substance.)

I happen to agree with both of them (at least, to some extent or another). They are not inapposite of each other, since John Green acknowledges that there are non-discriminatory factors at play in the wage gap conundrum. And I tend to agree with all those non-discriminatory factors, which I think Jordan Peterson lays out rather well. Particularly as he relates them to the legal field.

But I don’t agree with him at the very end of the video when he says that the unfairness in the different genders–and men have unfair disadvantages, too, which I agree with– is *not* a consequence of the social structure. In fact, he says that to consider such differences and/or unfairness as a consequence of the social structure is “moronic.” And there we disagree.

Even if we start with the premise that men and women are different because of biology (which we are) and, therefore, believe that many of those differences are caused by nature (which I also think is true, to an extent) that does *not* mean our social structures, which are a causal effect of those natural differences, do not thereby *also cause* social constructions, or social structures, that are self-reinforcing and possibly discriminatory. I call “moronic” back on his pronouncement of the moronic.

But, I like Peterson’s premise: “It’s not a question of why aren’t there more women in positions of power; it’s why do any men want those positions?” And, of course, this has been one of Econ-Mom’s driving points throughout many our blog posts: absolutely no parent – men or women – should *want* to be away from their children 12+ hours per day. And yet, that is what many careers demand of people.

Parents – men and women – leave their fields/their careers/their jobs to be caretakers. Caretaking can come in the form of taking care of one’s spouse, one’s parents, and, most famously, one’s children. And caretaking is demanding: physically, emotionally, mentally, and in terms of time. It takes a lot of TIME to take care of people. And that is why trying to do both is so hard.

I’m 11 years into this parenting gig, and for slightly over half of that, I have been working full-time. And I still find it hard. It’s hard to be a good (present) parent and a good (present and fully functioning) employee because both want all of you. Or as much of you as they can take. And I don’t even have babies anymore!

I’m struggling at my job right now. I wonder how much of this is because I’m a parent, working at home, with 101 distractions on my plate at any given moment. Would I do better working in an office environment with fewer distractions (and no whining puppies around) where I can compartmentalize more? I also wonder, how much of it is aging and the loss of neuroplasticity? How much of it is that I just don’t LIKE my job? It’s hard to be good at something you are not particularly interested in. Can I force myself to become better at something I find so mind-numbingly boring? I wonder if I have ADD and am too easily distracted and bored. Have I had this my whole life? (I can relate to Penn Holderness in little too well, here, in both linked videos.) I wonder if I’ll ever find a career and a job that is fulfilling and rewarding, that I am good at, that makes me proud, and that pays me well. I wonder if I’ll ever make what a 15-year-post-JD “should” be making. I wonder if I’ve been on the wrong track for so long, if I’ll ever make up the “Mommy penalty” wage gap. I wonder if I can get a job that both pays well and only demands 40 hours per week. Does that job exist? (It seems to for my husband.) And I wonder if I can be a good parent and a good breadwinner at the same time. Do I have what it takes?

As you can see, I wonder a lot of things. Econ-Mom, do you wonder any of these things? Also, I know you think Jordan Peterson is a nut-job, so I’m really looking forward to your responsive comments. 🙂

Econ-Mom: I should really read some of Jordan Peterson’s work before I completely write him off, but here’s what set me off about him (and it honestly has nothing to do with gender issues, so slight tangent here). He was on Econtalk – one of my favorite podcasts – talking about his book “12 Rules for Life.” One of his “rules” for raising children was basically, “don’t let your children do things that make you not like them.” This is where he lost me. The man is supposedly a psychologist, so has he heard of autism? Has he ever interacted with an autistic child? To be blunt about it, most autistic children are not “likable” in the classical sense. They are less likely to make eye contact, smile, or notice when someone around them is upset. Not to mention, I would assume that giant meltdowns fall into JP’s bucket of “unlikable” behaviors. I don’t want to be like one of those activists that gets angry when the average person on the street, who has no lived experience with an issue, is not fully versed in said issue. But I guess I do expect better from a psychologist.

Anyway, regarding JP’s video that Law-Mom posted, I think Law-Mom pretty much nailed my thoughts here. He’s not wrong that many jobs out there are extremely demanding. But then he talks about these ‘amazing’ female attorneys who make partner at 30 and then drop out to have kids, and his response to that MASSIVE loss of talent is essentially to shrug and say, “well, that’s the natural order of things.” Um, I’m sorry, but no. And to say that women “don’t want” these jobs? It’s like a slap in the face.

I actually wanted an academic job. I didn’t want it badly enough to go into debt paying for round the clock nannies (because, honestly, that is what I would have had to do to be successful in that endeavor, given that my children didn’t sleep)! And, of course I also wanted to actually spend time with my children. (Well, I could have lived without the 3 AM wake-ups, perhaps, but the rest of the time was truly a blessing). So I didn’t want that career success enough to play the game the way it is set up now. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want it. For JP to just wave his hand and say, “women don’t want these jobs” is incredibly dismissive and rude.

I am grateful that economists have it better than many because we do have a lot of really solid non-academic options. These “industry jobs” tend to be high-paying (mine isn’t particularly, since I’m working at a non-profit, but it’s still decent) and they are intellectually stimulating and make good use of the skills we’ve learned in grad school. That being said, I do sympathize and identify with Law-Mom’s career questions. I had a day at work a few weeks ago where someone reviewed a Power Point presentation I created, and it came back to me with a zillion comments, ranging from actual substantive issues to “move this legend” or “change these colors.” I get that all jobs come with some of that, and I don’t want to sound like too much of a diva, but inside I was screaming “I have a PhD!! I could be working at a think tank right now!!”

So, Law-Mom I wish I had more answers to your questions about your career! I really hope you do find something better, even though a better job will probably be a tough transition. I’ve been working full-time for over 6 months, and my 4-year-old still asks me when I’m going to be “done” with my job, which is mildly heartbreaking. But I tell myself that my boys will be proud of me when they’re older – and for now I’ll try to keep them away from those JP videos! 🙂

Law-Mom: Here’s my only question, Econ-Mom. How do we re-structure work (and/or the social order) so that a parent (caregiver) who is not getting any sleep can have the job they want? For me, I honestly don’t think that was possible the first five years of parenting. Like you, I was not sleeping. I was so exhausted, every day felt like I had a bad case of insomnia and a head cold. The “brain fog” was so thick for so long, there is no way I could keep up the demanding work of litigation. I cannot work when I cannot think. And I cannot think when I am beyond exhausted.

Here’s what I’m getting at: I’m not 100% convinced that some jobs ARE compatible with parenting. Does that mean women cannot do them? Of course, not! But there is no way in hell anyone can do some of those jobs without full-time, round-the-clock nannies, as you point out. And, then the question is: Do women want that? You didn’t. I didn’t. And I think that is what JP is/was getting at in that video.

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