It’s almost as though there’s a causal link here…

Rosie the Riveter

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Benjamin Preiss reports that the gender pay gap has doubled over the last year — with women, as usual, coming off worst in most professions. Meanwhile a few weeks ago, Josephine Tovey and Amy McNeilage reported that in New South Wales girls have outperformed boys in maths for the first time— though for many years, girls have outperformed boys in every other HSC subject.

There is always much hand-wringing when the HSC results are released, about how and why our education system is failing our boys (and quite often the blame is assigned to female teachers — especially if you read the comments), but I would suggest that our boys aren’t being failed at all. Priess paraphrases Professor Anne Bardoel, saying that “the findings [about the gender pay gap] were surprising given that female students often outperformed their male peers,” but I don’t find this surprising at all. I would hypothesise, quite simply, that boys don’t work as hard at their schoolwork because they don’t have to. Because they are still, in the vast majority of professions going to earn more than their female classmates. Because if they enter into a female dominated profession, such as primary teaching, they are far more likely to be promoted above their female peers. Meanwhile, boys have many more options with respect to entering trades — particularly well-paid ones — in comparison with girls.

Really, is it any wonder that high school boys don’t do as well as high school girls? Why in the world would they need to, when it seems that the old adage that women and girls have to work twice as hard to be thought half as good still has a lot of truth to it.



Categories: economics, education, gender & feminism

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25 replies

  1. I watched the article about this on the 7.30 Report last night and was getting mightily pissed that the woman being interviewed (didn’t catch her name) was talking about all sorts of allegedly contributing factors and didn’t once mention the idea that women are paid less for the same work for being women. I mean it was graduates entering the same fields, the same levels, the same work, ferchrissakes, not a career-long thing with maternity leave and so on factored in. I just heard it as her really not wanting to use that nasty word misogyny.

  2. Thinking about boys not feeling the need to work so hard because they’re more confident of getting a reasonably well paid job, it strikes me that this is not something that anybody ever has to really voice, it’s just that girls are constantly being told how very hard they need to work to get ahead, and people just don’t even realise that they tend not be telling the boys the same thing, or at least not so often nor so vehemently.

  3. I would hypothesise, quite simply, that boys don’t work as hard at their schoolwork because they don’t have to. Because they are still, in the vast majority of professions going to earn more than their female classmates.

    It’s an interesting hypothesis – is there any data to back it up? Eg girls spending more time studying than boys etc? And if so do you see this appear in differences in results between single sex schools where boys and girls dont directly compete with each other vs co-ed ones? I’ve heard similar opinions in the past justifying it on the belief that girls on average mature emotionally sooner than boys (no I don’t know if there is any real evidence of this).
    The “work harder” theory fits with my experiences of uni engineering, but in a field where maybe 5-10% of students were women in the first place there was also likely a bit selection bias too (for example on average I think they were also a lot more competitive than the average male in the course)
    IIRC historically the spread of results of boys has been much larger than girls – more boys performing at the top end, but also more at the bottom end. If the top end has changed has the bottom also – eg has the relative differences in spread changed between the genders or have the averages changed?

  4. http://thedemothesis.tumblr.com/post/39407245655/mayra-quijotesca-badger-shenanigans
    A bit of trivia I just found on tumbler about Rosie the Riveter.

  5. Chris, there’s prolly shitloads of data to back up tigtog’s theory (note: not hypothesis) which I’m too lazy to look up (hey! it’s chrissmass for chrissake)- I suspect you only need to look at those data from … somewhere … about male v female starting salaries and lifetime earnings.
    I’m too polite to pry at work, but I’d be prepared to bet a month’s salary that most of the women where I work who have equivalent jobs / job titles to mine get paid considerably less, and my place of employment is actually pretty damned inclusive. (Granted, I reckon I’m overpaid, but, being a bloke, I’m entitled … )

  6. David – I’m not disputing that there is difference in salaries – I was talking about her theory that girls do better at school than boys because they work/study harder.

  7. Presumably with NAPLAN now they are accumulating some useful data on what gender differences there are in school performance and if its something that starts from an early age or not. For example IIRC there’s more boys in early primary years that end up having extra help but there’s also the theory that they get identified as having difficulty because they tend to be more disruptive to the classroom when they struggle academically.

  8. I wonder if male students also don’t work as hard at their school work because many of the non HSC/TEE subjects are more orientated towards male interests, so they have that to fall back onto? (Of course, this could just be my experience in the high schools in WA I was a student/ taught at). When I taught high school English I did get a lot of ‘I don’t have to do well in English, I’m going to be a rugby player/ mechanic/ plumber etc’ from the male students. While I did get that from some female students, it was far less than the male ones.

  9. I think those two things (wages and the need to work harder) are linked, Chris, which is the point Beppie was making. It’s often hard to see these things from an entitled position.

  10. I think the “male ability is more varied” is a bit of a distraction. We’re looking at mean wages here, and the floor effect (can’t earn less than zero) is going to be more than compensated by the no-ceiling effect (Bill Gates throws the whole mean out of whack). I’m aware the the actual studies use more reasonable statistics, but also that those don’t make it into the bought media.
    It continues to disappoint me both that: people treat even tiny infants very differently based on apparent gender; and people are so blind to the differences between even very young boys and girls. Yes, that’s seemingly contradictory. But if you’ve ever seen a large-ish kindergarten split kids up into activity groups based on child choice you’ll see the gender split in action. And if you’ve ever put blue on a female infant or pink on a male one you’ll see that difference. It disturbs me how we accept such radically different treatment of tiny babies, and I can’t help but think it has to have an effect.
    Basic: the more you talk to babies, the more you interact with them, the sooner they will talk back (on average). Unfortunate consequence of above: “female” infants get more talking, more interaction than “male” ones… and talk sooner. That head start persists. These days we don’t compensate by handicapping girls quite so much later on, and it’s starting to show.
    Untangling classroom behaviour is much more difficult. I started studying this at uni because it was interesting but quickly decided that teachers generally make poor lecturers and pay in the education system is a joke. So I made sure I passed my engineering courses.

  11. Actually one thing that might have a more subtle effect is the emphasis on female choice. Girls/women are constantly told that they can do anything, they can choose any choice, all the doors are open. Boys/men are told that it’s really, really important to have a career and make a decent amount of money. Just based purely on that, I would expect boys/men to earn more over their lifetimes.
    When you dig into the microeconomics of it, though, I wonder how strong the circularity is. Men want money more, so will put up with more shit, so will be more consistent employees, so get treated more favourably. Rinse and repeat.

  12. Men want money more, so will put up with more shit, so will be more consistent employees, so get treated more favourably. Rinse and repeat.

    Um, no. I don’t think you can claim that men put up with more shit, are more consistent employees and so get treated more favourably. There are plenty of reasons men get treated more favourably in some workplaces and putting up with shit and being consistent have nothing to do with it.

  13. Mindy, I just did claim that. Perhaps I could rephrase it as “men prioritise work over life more consistently than women do”, which I think is fairly obvious.

  14. I don’t think that is necessarily true either, but it is something that women are accused of often.

  15. It isn’t ‘fairly obvious’ to me, so perhaps you could produce some evidence quickly, or be silent?

  16. Hi Everyone,
    Sorry for not commenting until now — I was actually on holiday when I wrote this post, and tigtog kindly said she’d keep an eye on it for me until now. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments, however.
    Moz, I think it might help if you defined what you mean by “life”? From context, I think you mean “domestic life”, but I can’t be sure of that. If you do in fact mean domestic life, I think that highlights a problem with your earlier statement regarding girls being told that they can do anything: that is, girls and women all too often receive the message that IF they choose a career path, they will not meet their obligations to children and partners (or that they will miss opportunities to have one or both). (Just do a quick google for the terms “women children career”.) I certainly know that I received those messages an awful lot as a teenager in the 90s, and it seems to me that not much has changed in that respect.

  17. I dressed all my children in both blue and pink (and every colour in between) and I didn’t notice anything except that hot pink does not look good on a red-headed baby.

  18. Beppie, I was thinking of the famous “work-life balance”.
    I thought it was obvious in the sense that men are commonly accused of prioritising work over life, and there are even calls from some women for them to do so to a lesser extent. I suggest that the messages men get about non-standard career paths and choosing not to work are stronger and the social judgements are harsher. Look at the experiences of stay at home fathers for example.
    I realise you have an explicit double standard for comments, and I’m not comfortable with that, so I will leave it there.

    • Moz, if our (alleged) double standard is explicit, surely you could have linked to exactly where we lay it out?
      * * *
      Like many other sociocultural commentators, I loathe the phrase “work/life balance” because it implies that “work” is a separate reified entity completely distinct from “life”. “Life balance” or “work/family balance” or most accurately “work/family/leisure/interests balance” (clunky as that is) are better options.

  19. Agreed with Tigtog re: work/life balance, and the annoying way that the term only refers to paid work as “work”.
    The stigma against fathers staying at home with the kids is pretty much the flip side of the stigma against women with kids working full time; eradicating prejudice against both will result in more options for everyone, and in my view, would combat the gender disparities noted in my original post — women would not be viewed as less valuable employees, and therefore would not have to work harder to find a job for which they are paid less than their male peers.

  20. I think those two things (wages and the need to work harder) are linked, Chris, which is the point Beppie was making. It’s often hard to see these things from an entitled position.

    I wonder how much of that is a retrospective-influenced view of school though. Which is why I’d be interested in say survey stats of school children and if they show that girls study longer hours than boys. I can see potential salary issues perhaps having an influence in the later years of high school, but in primary school?
    tigtog – I think work/life phrase comes from the corporate side. So from the corporation point of view there is “work” (anything an employee does for them) and then there is “life” (anything else an employee does). Though even paid/unpaid work is not precise enough as people generally only talk about financial payments.
    Parents who look after their children often get paid in non monetary ways (better relationship with children, get first hand experiences of their child developing etc). And although its difficult to compare the two, the latter can be worth a lot more to a person in terms of actual happiness than a financial reward.

    It isn’t ‘fairly obvious’ to me, so perhaps you could produce some evidence quickly, or be silent?

    I have only my personal anecdotal experience which is that workplaces have been willing to be more accomodating towards mothers with allowing flexible working hours than fathers. In my case my wife at the time was just asked what hours she wanted to work, whereas mine took some negotiation with management. I don’t think it was an official policy, just a cultural expectation.

    The stigma against fathers staying at home with the kids is pretty much the flip side of the stigma against women with kids working full time; eradicating prejudice against both will result in more options for everyone, and in my view, would combat the gender disparities noted in my original post

    Yes! Which is one reason I like some of the European paid parental leave schemes where a significant portion of the leave can only be taken by the non primary carer (often the father) or it is lost. It normalises fathers taking on the primary carer role for at least some period of time. It also gets employers used to all employees taking a longer than usual break from the workplace.
    Even with a 4yo now when I’m out and about I still occassionally get asked where my daughter’s mother is as if as a father I’m incapable of looking after her myself (happened a lot more with a 2yo!).

  21. I work in the public sector and there’s definitely a trend for increasing numbers of men to take longish periods off, or work part time for family reasons. And we don’t get nearly as much surprise at Mr angharad being a SAHP now as we did when he started doing it, getting on for 12 years ago.
    But I’m still probably one of the few women in my office with children who doesn’t work part time.
    Getting back a bit more towards the original topic, it is my observation (based purely on anecdata) that young men are more likely to be unsure of their direction in late adolescence, and to have less clear ideas about what they want to do with their lives/careers. I wonder if this impacts on high school achievement?

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