Why the U.S. Economy Is Biased Against Men

By Marty Nemko

That women earn 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man is a popular refrain. But look closer. Prejudice against guys in the economy is real and widespread.

[Update: Also see the response column, Why the Economy Is Not Biased Against Men]

615 man recession bias.jpg

Reuters

You've just landed on Planet Zuto.

The Intergalactic Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (IEEOC) has sent you to determine whether Zuto's economy is fair to its two sexes: vozems and zems. Your boss suggests you'll probably find sexism against the vozems.

But your first discovery is that 60 vozems graduate from college for every 40 zems. You discover clues as to why. Despite the under-representation of zems, many scholarships are set aside for vozems, few for zems. The curriculum accentuates vozems' accomplishments, zems' failings. Student groups are funded to encourage vozems, for example, Future BusinessVozems, far fewer for zems.

You beam your first report back to the IEEOC: Zuto U's appear to be sexist against zems, not vozems.

Next, you examine the Zuto Bureau of Labor Statistics and find that the unemployment rate for vozems is 20% lower than for zems. You are shocked to discover that rather than trying to help zems land work, the government deliberately exacerbates zems' deficit: vozem-owned businesses get special preferences in landing government contracts and taxpayer-backed small-business loans are set aside for vozems.

You beam back your next report to the IEEOC: More signs of sexism against zems. Your boss responds, "But vozems earn 77 zits for every 100 zems earn!"

***

Unless you really are from Planet Zuto, you know that the preceding was about men and women. Indeed, every statement made about Zuto is true of the U.S. And so are these.

The 77-cents-on-the-dollars statistic is calculated in a way that is biased against men. For example, while among all physicians, men earn more than women, men are more likely to be in specialties requiring longer training, high-stress, and irregular hours, for example, surgery and cardiology. In contrast, women are more likely to be pediatricians. Despite that bias, across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men. More than 90 percent of workplace deaths, military deaths, and severe workplace injuries (e.g., amputations, black lung disease) occur to men. Such dangerous work justify higher pay for men.

Visit American workplaces, especially major corporations, and you'll find that anti-men practices are not only tolerated but routinely imposed by employers. Women but not men are encouraged to form committees and caucuses to advance their sex's causes in the workplace, often at men's expense. Examples:

• Mentor programs for women only

• Special training for women only

• Fast-track-to-executive position for women only

In honest conversation, most people will agree that, on average, men are more often willing to do the things it takes to get promoted, for example, to make time to take advanced technical courses by forgoing recreation such as sports or shopping. Men are more likely to be willing to move to a God-forsaken place (Montgomery, Alabama, anyone?) for a promotion, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to work longer hours.

Most people will also agree that, on average, women are more eager to have children and to be deeply involving in their upbringing. So women's committees and caucuses, with the help of outside advocacy groups with close ties to the media such as Catalyst, NOW, and AAUW, have pressured workplaces to institute programs for employees' children, for example:

• On-site child care, which diverts money from all employees' salaries and/or raises company products' prices, which ultimately costs jobs.

• Formal or informal policies that allow parents to leave work early, for example, to attend their kid's soccer game, leaving non-parents of both sexes to pick up the slack. And those non-parents, especially men, dare not raise a peep of objection lest they be dubbed sexist, which can hurt their career.

• Women's advocacy groups also were successful in pressuring the government to create The Family and Medical Leave Act*, which allows employees to--usually with minimal verification of need--take up to 12 weeks every year(!) to care for a relative, with a guarantee that their job will be held for them until they choose to return. (Women take the majority of FMLA days.) Now those advocacy groups are pressuring employers to make FMLA days-off paid days.

• For parents (again, disproportionately women) who wish to take years off to raise their offspring, many corporations have established on-ramps to help them get their career back despite having lost their technical and Rolodex's currency, and now often being less committed to work than are their non-parent coworkers.

GIRLS RULE

The workplace cultural practices more often preferred by men have largely been replaced by approaches more often preferred by women. Individual initiative is now usually deemed inferior to teamwork, competition often replaced by collaboration, "push through to get the job done" with "process feelings," decision-making by leader with decision-making by committee. Men are more likely than women to throw all of themselves into work than to demand worklife balance, for which they are often dubbed with pathologizing monikers such as "workaholic" and "unable to relax" rather than "heroic" for being so contributory, even if it costs them their life. Men die 5.2 years earlier than women, a major cause being stress-related illnesses such as heart attack and stroke.

True, the occasional old boy still unfairly promotes a man over a woman, but despite unemployment being higher for men than women, today, "Sisters help Sisters" is not denigrated let alone sued as sexist, but encouraged. For example, Madeleine Albright said, "I have always said, there is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." And such statements have broad impact. For example, Google that quote and you'll see 43,000 references to it.

Men's efforts to organize into groups have largely been ridiculed, for example, portraying men's groups as troglodytes tromping into the woods to beat tom-toms. And men's organizations have been pressured to admit women, for example, the service clubs: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions. Further limiting men's ability to organize, men's groups don't get the enormous free advertising the media gives to women's groups.

Making it more likely that the next generation of men will do poorly compared with women, the aforementioned women's advocacy groups plus others such as Girls Inc. and Soropotimists, have instituted Take your Daughter to Work Day in many more workplaces than Take your Son and Daughter to Work Day. A Google search is not comprehensive here, but it gives you a good indication of cultural emphasis: "Take Your Daughter to Work Day" revealed 570,000 links. A search on "Take Your Daughter and Son to Work Day" yielded only 14,000, and "Take your Son and Daughter to Work Day," 6,000.

The media influences how men and women are treated, and how boys perceive themselves relative to girls. Whether in commercials, sitcoms, or movies, even in non-fictional media, men are disproportionately characterized as sleazebags or doofuses shown the way by wise women. Don't believe it? Just turn on your TV. And have you not seen "Girls Rule" tee shirts? How do you think that makes boys feel?

When I started as a career counselor 25 years ago, my male and female clients seemed equally optimistic about their future. Now, the females mostly feel that their world is their oyster and the males more often feel depressed and/or angry. As you know, so many young men are often back living with their parents, often stoned and/or playing shoot-em-up video games, while the young women are launching their career.

Yet ironically, America is making yet more efforts to exacerbate the anti-male sexism in our economy. Last year, President Obama created a well-funded Council on Women and Girls but rejected one on men and boys. Here is that rejected proposal. (Bias alert: I am a member of the commission that created that proposal.) And in Obama's April 6, 2012 speech at the White House Forum on Women and the Economy, he reiterated that he wants to focus yet more on women: "(I) look forward to continuing the important work we are doing to promote the interests of women." After all, women earn 77 cents on the dollar.

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*Updated: This originally read "Family and Marriage Leave Act."

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This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/why-the-us-economy-is-biased-against-men/256023/