The rantings of a beautiful mind

On life, society, and computer technology.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I live in the Fortress of Solitude. I drive the Silver Beast. My obsession is justice. I used to be a Windows software developer. I retired in 2000 when my stock options helped me achieve financial security.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Men are Powerless

Net Worth Power

ITEM. The U.S. Census Bureau finds that women who are heads of households have a net worth that is 141 percent of the net worth of men who are heads of households.

(The value of the net worth statistic is that it allows us to see what he and she have left when their different liabilities are subtracted from the different assets. The women's average net worth is $13,885; the men's is $9,883. This is because although male heads of households have higher gross incomes and assets, they have much higher spending obligations. They are much more likely to support wives [or ex-wives] than wives are to support them and thus their income is divided among themselves, a wife, and children--not only for food and housing but for tuition, insurance, vacations. Divorces often mean the woman receives the home the man pays for and also gets custody of the children the man pays for. A woman's obligation to spend more time with the children leaves her earning less and the man earning more but paying out more.)

ITEM. Among the wealthiest 1.6 percent of the U.S. population (those with assets of $500,000 or more), women's net worth is more than men's.

How can so many of the wealthiest people be women when women hold none of the top corporate jobs? In part, by selecting the men who do and outliving them. And in part by having a greater spending power and lower spending power obligations...

The "Spending Obligation Gap"

In restaurants, men pay for women about ten times as frequently as women pay for men--the more expensive the restaurant, the more often the man pays. Women often say, "Well, men earn more." But when two women go to a restaurant, they don't assume that the woman who earns more will pay the bill. The expectation on men to spend more on women creates the "Spending Obligation Gap."

I got a sense of this "Spending Obligation Gap" as soon as I thought about my first date. As a teenager, I loved baby-sitting. (I genuinely loved kids, but it was also the only way I could get paid for raiding a refrigerator!) But then I got to the dating age. Alas, baby-sitting paid only fifty cents an hour. Lawn mowing, though, paid two dollars an hour. I hated lawn mowing. (I lived in New Jersey, where bugs, humidity, and noonday sun made mowing a lawn less pleasant than raiding a refrigerator.) But as soon as I started dating, I started mowing lawns.

For boys, lawn mowing is a metaphor for the way we soon learn to take jobs we like less because they pay more. Around junior year of high school, boys begin to repress their interest in foreign languages, literature, art history, sociology, and anthropology because they know an art history major will make less than an engineer. Partially as a result of his different spending expectation (the possibility he might have to support a woman but cannot expect a woman to support him), more than 85 percent of students who take engineering as a college major are men; more than 80 percent of the art history majors are women.

The difference in the earnings of the female art historian vs. the male engineer appears to be a measure of discrimination, when in fact both sexes knew ahead of time that engineering would pay more. In fact, the woman who enters engineering with the same lack of experience as the man averages $571 per year more than her male counterpart.

In brief, the spending obligation that leads a man to choose a career he likes less that pays more is a sign of powerlessness, not power. But when he takes that job, women often assume he will pay because "after all, he earns more." Thus both sexes' expectations reinforce his powerlessness.

- The Myth of Male Power, by Warren Farrell

Ain't that the truth!


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