Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Michael Levin, "The Earnings Gap and Family Choices"

An anti-feminist intellectual whom Susan Faludi profiles in her 1991 book Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women is Michael Levin. In this post, I will talk about a presentation that Michael Levin gave, which is in a 1984 book that Phyllis Schlafly edited: Equal Pay for UNequal Work: A Conference on Comparable Worth. It is entitled "The Earnings Gap and Family Choices".

In essence, many of Levin's arguments overlap with those of George Gilder, whose essays I discussed yesterday. Levin maintains that women are not paid as much as men because they gravitate towards jobs that pay less and do not spend as much time working as men do. Levin cites statistics, and he also refers to studies about the proficiencies of women as compared to the proficiencies of men (i.e., women are talented in performing repetitive tasks, according to certain neurologists). Levin made an argument that Gilder also made, which I forgot when I wrote my post on Gilder: that women are paid less than men because a large number of women are competing for certain jobs, with the result that companies do not have to pay much to attract women to those occupations. It's a matter of supply and demand, according to Levin! On a similar note, Levin attributes the increasing gap between male and female wages to the reality that, in the 1950's, women wanted jobs, and so companies paid more to attract them. In the 1980's, by contrast, women needed jobs, and so they were more at the mercy of the companies, which could pay them less.

Although Levin dismisses the view that wage disparity is a problem, saying that the wages of married women are being combined with the wages of their husbands, he does have a degree of compassion for the plight of employed women. He just thinks that the solution is lower taxes and reducing government spending, which can bring down inflation. Requiring businesses to provide day-care and to pay women more will contribute to inflation, in his eyes.

In a number of cases, I thought that Levin did well to cite statistics, as when he referred to a 1981 study by the Urban Institute comparing how many hours men and women work on the job. In one case, though, I thought that he should have cited a more appropriate statistic. Levin was arguing that women do not work as much as men because of their domestic responsibilities, and that single women, who do not have these responsibilities, do not experience as much of a wage gap with men. Levin then goes on to refer to the wage ratio in Canada between single women and men, which is 99.2%. In my opinion, he should have mentioned that ratio in America, not Canada. Whether or not Levin's argument would apply here in terms of statistics, I do not know, but I did learn from Susan Faludi's book that single mothers struggle economically.

On page 131, Levin states that "Women in every culture have been the ones responsible for childcare and allied domestic tasks, while men have pursued extrafamilial activities." Elsewhere in the presentation, however, I get the impression that he acknowledges exceptions to this generalization. He says on page 132: "Liberated female mammals, as heedless of their offspring as male animals tend to be and as feminists would like human females to be, went extinct a long time ago." Yet, in his mind (it seems), that set-up did exist at one point! On page 134, he states: "Left to their own devices, responding to the contingencies of the environment and the unalterable constraints of the human condition, men and women in modern technological society develop skills which tend to be exchangeable in a ratio of roughly 6:10. In other societies the ratio might be different." So there can be a degree of variety in how societies arrange their responsibilities. Overall, though, Levin appears to believe that traditional gender roles are logical, and perhaps even natural: women are nurturers who have children and bond with them, whereas men are strong and competitive and thus provide for their families. See here for my post on Rosemary Ruether's discussion of gender roles.

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