Does sexism pay? One study out this week says "yes," especially when the ones falling behind in the pay gap are so-called egalitarian men.
According to a report in the Washington Post, "Men with egalitarian attitudes about the role of women in society earn significantly less on average than men who hold more traditional views about women's place in the world..."
That's the bad news for us egalitarian types, of the male and female persuasion.
Over-testosteroned, burly, high-powered corporate men earn big money, and sensitive Birkenstocks with long hair and tattered jeans who treat their women as partners, rather than as servants, earn considerably less. At least that was my first reaction.
My next thought was, who cares? And why would anyone waste time and money to produce a study that, on one level at least, reinforces the obvious? Good ol' boys earn more money because they're, well, good ol' boys.
Then I took a step back and studied the study a bit more closely. Published in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, it is based on government data collected over a 25-year period. "Averaged over the quarter-century, salaries ranged from $34,725 for working men with traditional attitudes to $20,321 for working women with traditional attitudes. Working men with egalitarian attitudes made $22,795 on average, while working women with egalitarian attitudes made $21,373."
Remember Sen. William Proxmire and his Golden Fleece Awards? The Wisconsin Democrat made a career, and a colorful one at that, providing monthly examples of ridiculous government spending programs. Wouldn't this study have been supremely deserving of a Golden Fleece Award? Surely it would have if Uncle Sam funded it.
The authors of this study work at the University of Florida, and the Post piece does not explain whence it's funding came. One of the co-authors posited the study's main finding as: "It is the first time social scientists have produced evidence that large numbers of men might be victims of gender-related income disparities."
Quite frankly, there are too many variables in this study to come to much of any reliable or noteworthy conclusion, much less the one the authors proffer. Consider the ways in which the authors sorted participants as being traditional or nontraditional in their views of gender roles:
"To reveal their gender-role views, participants indicated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements such as: a woman's place is in the home; employment of wives leads to more juvenile delinquency; a man should be the achiever outside the home; and women are much happier if they stay home and take care of children."
The statement "employment of wives leads to more juvenile delinquency" is so outrageous that it might have prompted me to think the researchers were kidding by posing it.
Had I been a study participant, I could easily see myself smacking them back by "strongly agreeing" with the statement just to confuse them. If the authors' views of "traditional" Americans are that "women are much happier if they stay home and take care of children," they need to look up the difference between "traditional" and "atavist."
Allow me, dear reader, to step back for a moment and agree that perhaps one of the study's conclusions is correct: Egalitarian men face pay discrimination in the same way women, whether traditional or not, apparently face it. But perhaps that can be explained away because egalitarian men, like many of their egalitarian female counterparts, don't want to put in 80-hour weeks. Perhaps they, too, want time to fully participate in the rearing of their children? Heaven forefend: Could that explain the pay gap these authors claim to have found?
The Post story noted one sliver of hope in that regard. "Increasing numbers of Americans hold egalitarian views about the role of women in the workplace, and disparities in income might recede as egalitarian views become more prevalent."Or low-income men might take note of the study's findings and decide they'd better adopt "traditional" (to wit, caveman) attitudes if they want to earn a good living. Back to the future we go.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.