“Contemporary civil rights thinking sees discrimination as the cause of every disparity between groups,” an article in City Journal headlined “Women and the Family Track” begins.
The remedy proposed, Scott Yenor writes, is "cultural transformation" that eliminates “purported bias.”
This approach ignores different priorities between men and women, argues Yenor, to the disadvantage of women. As evidence, he cites two recent studies that reveal that many female professionals, unlike their male peers, would prefer to work part-time.
The first study cited is on women in the medical profession. According to a JAMA survey, a significantly larger percentage of women than men in the field work part-time:
The survey—focused on recently graduated, thirtysomething doctors—found that 23 percent of female physicians worked part-time, compared with 4 percent of male doctors. Among doctors with children, 31 percent of females and 5 percent of males worked part-time.
Even more tellingly, 64 percent of full-time female doctors have considered moving to part-time status, while only 21 percent of full-time male doctors have weighed the same option. Within six years of graduation, nearly three-quarters of female doctors work part-time or consider shorter hours, while only around 25 percent of male doctors contemplate part-time practice. Many female doctors, it turns out, prefer part-time hours, to balance work and family.
That this discrepancy could be the result of choices freely made seems to elude the authors of the study:
The study’s authors worry that female physicians’ part-time preferences will result in less pay and limited professional advancement. They suggest, then, that hospitals create “policies and a culture” that allow “both women and men to be both parents and physicians.”
Full-time, on-site daycare and greater flexibility, they contend, will help female physicians achieve a work/life balance. Changing the culture of discrimination and sexual harassment, moreover, would yield higher full-time rates for women.
The second study involves women lawyers:
In recent decades, research shows that full-time female attorneys—compared with men—earn less, work more, and express overall dissatisfaction with their jobs. But the new study, by a Vanderbilt law professor and student, also found that recent female graduates, unlike their older peers, are as happy as men with their jobs.
Yet a paradox emerges: young female attorneys leave the profession at higher rates. The American Bar Association has proposed affirmative action, loan forgiveness, sexual harassment training, and unconscious-bias classes to change this trend.
Taken together, these two studies make an interesting point:
Both studies reflect concern that females achieve work-life balance through part-time employment. The authors lament this choice, though it empowers women by permitting them more time to nurture young children. Contrary to the authors’ concerns, the problem isn’t what female doctors and lawyers want—part-time work—but how to deliver it. When freed from economic necessity, female doctors can enjoy a balanced life by choosing part-time work.
In fact, women are increasingly attracted to the medical field precisely because of this option. Part-time work allows them to grow professionally while also devoting time to their families. Female part-time attorneys, freed from law firm intrigue, can pursue their area of legal interest more readily.
The question of what women want has long plagued men. Perhaps we should just ask them. When we do, the preference of American female doctors for part-time work is consistent with data in other wealthy western countries. Most women with dependent children don’t want full-time work; nor do they want to grind out a path toward the upper reaches of corporate or political power.
It would be more productive to address the challenges presented by this reality than to focus on changing the culture when we don’t even know what changes are actually required.