September 22 2011
I spend a lot of time at IWF writing about how women's choices- rather than widespread discrimination - explain most disparities between men and women, namely the wage gap and the "shortage" of women in the sciences and politics.
In brief, men and women are different. So it should come as no surprise that they have different aptitudes and preferences - that they choose to major in different fields and pursue different careers. Some of the differences may be explained by biology and reflect innate talents. Still other choices may be a function of societal and cultural norms. Of course, it's often difficult to separate nature from nurture - it may be the case that individuals with an innate talent find they are persuaded by their environment toward areas of study or careers that utilize that ability.
But this may no longer simply be a "conservative" perspective. According to a new article in Scientific American by Ilan Shrira, visiting professor of psychology at the University of Florida, "men and women differ in how they categorize the world."
So what does this mean?
According to Shrira, "this offers a different perspective on why men are not just overrepresented in many leadership positions, but also usually aspire to these positions more strongly than women." In short, "men were more likely to see an object as fully belonging or not belonging to a category, while women more often judged that objects only partially belonged."
The research suggests this difference is not due to men "simply being more certain or women more uncertain" about their judgments. Rather the author argues it's a function of men and women seeing the world differently. The author explains:
In any case, men seem to be more comfortable in the black-and-white world of categorical thinking. This offers a different perspective on why men are not just overrepresented in many leadership positions, but also usually aspire to these positions more strongly than women. The prospect of making repeated categorical judgments may deter women from these positions more than, say, a lack of confidence, an aversion to hierarchies or competitive environments, discomfort working in a male-dominated field, or fear of discrimination.
I've written many times before that the shortage of women in certain professional areas is often framed as a problem, most likely a function of subtle (or not-so-subtle) discrimination. But now it looks like there's fresh research to suggest that the shortage of women holding public office, for instance, is not because women are not aggressive or can't compete in the political arena; it's simply a reminder that men and women are different.