Rhoads: The Science on Sex Differences and What It Means for Public Policy

April 17, 2017 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Continuing from yesterday’s post, Steven Rhoads pours on the information about the biology of sex roles and what that means for the choices men and women tend to make about paid work and childcare. Some of what he cites is relatively new science, some of it’s not. As I emphasized yesterday, the fact that people like Rhoads need to be educating the public on these matters only shows how far we’ve regressed as we blunder our way through a feminist wilderness. For millennia people have known that women are more inclined than men toward childcare and men toward providing for their families. This is not news even though the science backing up that age-old knowledge is.

But the simple truth is that we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that sex is entirely a social construct. That was absurd when it was first asserted and it’s absurd now. Kate Millett’s entire approach to biological sex differences was to note that, generally speaking, men are bigger and stronger than are women. Of course avoiding the known facts about the differences between the sexes was necessary to the rest of her thesis, but that only points up how misguided her thesis was. When you find yourself avoiding obvious facts that impinge on your narrative, the sensible thing to do is to seriously question your narrative. Millett chose instead to forge ahead.

So we need articles like Rhoads’s. People need to understand that women are biologically far more likely to choose childcare over paid work and men to do the opposite. Public policy should be informed by those obvious facts and not by an ill-considered belief that, if we just offer women greater privileges and accommodations, at some point they’ll start behaving like men. They won’t. Overwhelmingly, the reason men do more paid work than do women is that women prefer childcare to the corporate grind, so they tend to do less paid work. That explains the wage gap and the glass ceiling. It also explains why there are fewer women holding elective office.

Ignoring the stronger female inclination to nurture seems certain to thwart feminist efforts well beyond academia. Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In has spawned lasting initiatives meant to spur the progress of women to positions of power in major corporations. To the same end, late last year, 27 CEOs of major corporations joined a new organization that seeks “gender parity at the top of major companies by 2030.” 

Such efforts should benefit the many women, mothers included, who want full-time work and aim to rise to the top in their professions. Yet, as this essay will show, most women who have dependent children don’t want to work full-time, much less to put in the hours required of corporate titans. We should listen to these women, too.

Initiatives aimed at changing historic male and female parenting and work patterns are based on the view that these historic patterns are socially constructed. But pregnancy and childbirth are not gender-neutral activities. They are biologically constructed…

Women’s greater inclination to nurture infants and toddlers is also rooted in hormones and in brain structure. Women’s bodies have more receptors for the nurturing hormone oxytocin than men’s, especially in pregnancy and during breastfeeding. More recent imaging research shows that mothers’ brains change during pregnancy and after birth in ways that seem to increase their “emotional attachment to their babies.”

Oddly, Rhoads never mentions Dr. Catherine Hakim or her work on the preferences reported by women about how much to work and how much to do other things, like tending to their families. His work corroborates hers and that of countless other researchers who’ve made the unsurprising discovery that women with kids want to care for them, usually more than anything else.

But differences in the inclination to nurture can help us understand why women are more torn about work-family issues than men, and why mothers are much more attracted to part-time work than fathers. In a 2013 Pew poll on modern parenthood, mothers with children under 18 were far more likely than fathers to say that ideally, they would work part-time or not at all. In 2015, Gallup reported similar findings

Rhoads goes on to point out that women with higher educational attainment are more likely than others to earn less due to childcare duties. Why? Assortive mating. That is, highly educated women tend to marry highly educated men who tend to be good earners, allowing their wives to stay home with the kids.

Having said all that and provided his readers with some valuable information that runs counter to feminist orthodoxy, I find myself wanting to demand of Rhoads that he read his own article.

What might be done to help women in academia while enabling them to maintain the significant day-to-day time with their children many desire?

Yes, despite his obvious grasp of the science on men’s and women’s choices about work and family, Rhoads can’t seem to draw the equally obvious conclusions. He still believes that the very women he’s identified as being happier at home with the kids than at work need special programs and even non-gender-neutral changes to the law in order to push them further into the very paid work about which he’s accurately said they don’t want to do.

Here’s an idea. Let’s allow everyone to make their own free choices and live with the consequences. It is simply impossible to believe that the highly intelligent, highly educated women Rhoads cites don’t understand that taking years off work will affect their earnings and advancement potential. They understand the consequences of their actions and yet take them anyway. They do so because they want to. We know they want to because they tell social scientists they do. What is the problem with that? What is broken that needs fixing?

Disappointingly, Rhoads can’t manage to learn the clear lesson he himself is teaching.

Feminists of course have an answer for all of this – Patriarchy! Their default argument against pretty near all the science that refutes their shaky notions holds that sneaky and all-powerful men have convinced women to behave in ways that the women really don’t want. What women actually want is what feminists want them to want and when they fail to do so, feminists assure all and sundry that the women just don’t know what they’re doing.

That of course is so much nonsense in addition to being highly insulting to women. Women are no more in thrall to a patriarchy than the man in the moon. Like everyone else, they make their choices and generally deal with the consequences, whether good or ill.

Sensible public policy will leave them alone to continue doing just that. Men too. I firmly believe that we’re slowly getting to that point, feminism notwithstanding. When we do, we’ll have finally made it back to where we were 50 years or so ago. The detour has been a disaster.




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