Do women really want equality?

That is the hot-button topic the always astute Kay Hymowitz addresses in the first installment of what will be a regular Hymowitz’s column for Time magazine’s “Ideas” section.

Kay starts with the fall gender gap news: the Journal of the American Medical Association recently released a story showing that male doctors earn more than 25 percent more than female doctors. President Obama bestowed only 35 percent of cabinet level jobs on women. Eighty percent of local television and radio managers are men. Oh, and my own favorite stat: men still write 87 percent of Wikipedia entries.

This persists after decades of anti-discrimination laws and the promotion of diversity, Kay notes. But Kay says that the answer to the question of whether women want equality is still transparent: of course we do. Hymowitz being Hymowitz, however, this is followed up quickly with a counterintuitive insight:

[F]rom another perspective, the answer is anything but clear.  In fact, there’s good reason to think that women don’t want the sort of equality envisioned by government bureaucrats, academics, and many feminist advocates, one imagined strictly by the numbers with the goal of a 50-50 breakdown of men and women in C suites, law school dean offices, editorial boards, and computer science departments; equal earnings, equal work hours, equal assets, equal time changing diapers and doing the laundry.  

“A truly equal world,” Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In, which is still on the best seller lists months after its spring publication, “would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes.”  It’s a vision of progress that can only be calculated through the spreadsheets of labor economists, demographers, and activist groups.

It would be silly to deny that equality-by-the-numbers researchers can deliver figures that could alarm even an Ann Romney. …

But there is a problem with the gender-by-the-numbers approach:

…it presumes women want absolute parity in all things measurable, and that the average woman wants to work as many hours as the average man, that they want to be CEO’s, heads of state, surgeons and cabinet heads just as much as men do. But a consistent majority of women, including those working full time, say they would prefer to work part time or not at all; among men, the number is 19%.  And they’re not just talking; in actual practice, twenty seven percent of working women are on the job only part time, compared to 11 percent of men.

The Hymowitz piece is a bookend to the prominent liberal writer Hanna Rosin’s piece which we highlighted yesterday on Inkwell. Rosin acknowledged that women make different choices from those men make, but she called for more government programs to enable them to make choices more in line with those men make.