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Biology at Work

Biology at Work: Rethinking Sexual Equality

Kingsley R. Browne
Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Biology at Work
    Book Description:

    Does biology help explain why women, on average, earn less money than men? Is there any evolutionary basis for the scarcity of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies? According to Kingsley Browne, the answer may be yes.Biology at Work brings an evolutionary perspective to bear on issues of women in the workplace: the "glass ceiling," the "gender gap" in pay, sexual harassment, and occupational segregation. While acknowledging the role of discrimination and sexist socialization, Browne suggests that until we factor real biological differences between men and women into the equation, the explanation remains incomplete.Browne looks at behavioral differences between men and women as products of different evolutionary pressures facing them throughout human history. Womens biological investment in their offspring has led them to be on average more nurturing and risk averse, and to value relationships over competition. Men have been biologically rewarded, over human history, for displays of strength and skill, risk taking, and status acquisition. These behavioral differences have numerous workplace consequences. Not surprisingly, sex differences in the drive for status lead to sex differences in the achievement of status.Browne argues that decision makers should recognize that policies based on the assumption of a single androgynous human nature are unlikely to be successful. Simply removing barriers to inequality will not achieve equality, as women and men typically value different things in the workplace and will make different workplace choices based on their different preferences.Rather than simply putting forward the "nature" side of the debate, Browne suggests that dichotomies such as nature/nurture have impeded our understanding of the origins of human behavior. Through evolutionary biology we can understand not only how natural selection has created predispositions toward certain types of behavior but also how the social environment interacts with these predispositions to produce observed behavioral patterns.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4247-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the 1985 movie based upon H. Rider Haggard’sKing Solomon’s Mines,the hero, Allen Quatermain, encounters an African tribe that has adopted the unusual cultural practice of living upside down.¹ They court upside down; they fight upside down; they even do laundry upside down. “Unhappy with the world the way it is,” we are told, “they live upside down hoping to change it.” Despite their unusual mode of life, they seem an eminently happy and well-adjusted lot.

    Might there be—perhaps in still-remote parts of Africa or New Guinea—a group of real humans that has chosen to live...

  5. PART I How the Sexes Differ

    • [I Introduction]
      (pp. 11-12)

      Workplace differences can be understood only against the backdrop of the important psychological differences between males and females. Males and females exhibit average differences in temperament, with males tending to be more aggressive and competitive on a host of measures and tending to engage in more dominance-seeking and risk-taking activity and females tending toward a more nurturant and social orientation. The sexes also exhibit average differences in cognitive ability, with males having special strength in mathematical and spatial domains, and females excelling in verbal domains. The combination of sex differences in temperament and cognition, as we will see later in...

    • 2 Sex Differences in Temperament
      (pp. 13-24)

      Suppose you were a visitor to a previously unknown society and you gave members of that society a test requiring them to identify the sex described by a series of adjectives. One sex is described as sentimental, submissive, superstitious, affectionate, dreamy, sensitive, attractive, dependent, emotional, fearful, softhearted, and weak; the other is described as adventurous, dominant, forceful, independent, strong, aggressive, autocratic, daring, enterprising, robust, stern, active, courageous, progressive, rude, severe, unemotional, and wise. What is the likelihood that the members of this society will identify the former sex as male and the latter as female? A cross-cultural study of sex...

    • 3 Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities
      (pp. 25-32)

      The sexes differ not only in their temperaments but also in their cognitive abilities.¹ Certain commonly accepted generalizations about the sexes are not correct, however, or at least must be substantially qualified. Although it is often said that men are better at spatial and mathematical tasks and women are better at verbal tasks, the truth is more complex. Men are better at some spatial and mathematical tasks, while women are better at others, and no sex differences are found in others.² Similarly, women are better at some verbal tasks, while men are better at others, and for yet others there...

  6. PART II Women in the Workplace

    • [II Introduction]
      (pp. 33-34)

      The means by which any animal “makes a living” is intimately related to the animal’s physical and psychological makeup. If the physical and psychological makeup of a species varies substantially by sex, we would expect that males and females may make their livings in a somewhat different manner. The culturally universal division of labor by sex appears to be a manifestation of that principle.

      Even in today’s relatively egalitarian Western societies, men and women tend to seek different jobs, favor different occupational attributes, and sometimes even perform the same jobs in a somewhat different manner. Because workplace choices often influence...

    • 4 Once One Breaks the Glass Ceiling, Does It Still Exist?
      (pp. 35-49)

      The termglass ceilingis a metaphor intended to describe invisible barriers to women’s achievement of the highest corporate levels. It is a clever metaphor because it combines an incontestable empirical observation—the underrepresentation of women at the highest corporate levels in comparison with their overall representation in the labor force—with an assumption about its cause—powerful yet invisible forces that are holding women back and without which women would enjoy statistical parity with men at all hierarchical levels.

      The glass-ceiling metaphor has been rhetorically effective in focusing attention on actions by employers and society and away from women...

    • 5 Occupational Segregation: Why Do Men Still Predominate in Scientific and Blue-Collar Jobs?
      (pp. 50-67)

      Despite women’s entry into, and even their predominance in, many fields, others—especially scientific and blue-collar occupations—seem resistant to integration. These occupations are often labeled “traditionally male” or “nontraditional,” but it is misleading to distinguish these occupations from the many in which women have become more fully assimilated on the basis of their being “traditionally male.” The term “traditionally male” actually means “persistently male,” since almost all occupations not specifically reserved for women were “traditionally” filled mostly by men. What distinguishes physicists and carpenters from real-estate agents and lawyers is not the traditional sex distribution of those occupations but...

    • 6 The Gender Gap in Compensation
      (pp. 68-90)

      The termgender gap in compensationis a shorthand phrase describing the fact that full-time female employees on average earn less than full-time male employees. The most commonly reported value for the “gender gap” is the female-to-male annual earnings ratio, which in 1999 was approximately 0.72, indicating that the average full-time female worker earned seventy-two cents for every dollar earned by a male. If weekly or hourly earnings are measured, however, the disparities are smaller, reflecting the fact that women work slightly fewer weeks per year and fewer hours per week. Thus, in 1999, the weekly earnings ratio was 0.76,...

  7. PART III The Proximate and Ultimate Origins of Sex Differences

    • [III Introduction]
      (pp. 91-92)

      The sex differences in workplace outcomes described in part II follow in large part from the sex differences in temperament and cognition described in part I. Before embarking on a discussion of the policy implications of these differences, it is useful to consider just where these differences come from.

      Despite fairly broad agreement on the existence of some sex differences, there is a decided lack of consensus about their causes. More sociologically minded commentators tend to view the sexes as largely equivalent and see sex differences as products of differential conditioning. Those with a more biological orientation tend to doubt...

    • 7 Why Socialization Is an Inadequate Explanation
      (pp. 93-107)

      The familiar story that many of us grew up with is that the sex differences that we observe are purely social creations. Society, it is said, causes these differences by treating functionally identical individuals differently. Men are competitive, acquisitive risk takers, and women are cooperative, risk-averse nurturers because they learned these traits as little boys and girls and have been reinforced in them ever since. Boys are good at math because they are expected to be, and girls are bad at it for the same reason. These arguments have been difficult to refute in the way they are often framed,...

    • 8 Hormones: The Proximate Cause of Physical and Psychological Sexual Dimorphism
      (pp. 108-116)

      The biological argument for psychological sex differences requires us to start at the very beginning and examine what it is exactly that makes a male and a female. The process of sexual differentiation is complex and affects not only the body of the developing human but also its brain.

      For the first two months or so after conception, the process of growth and development is quite similar for embryos with XX (female) and XY (male) chromosomal complements.¹ The primordial genital tract of both sexes is undifferentiated. If the embryo is XY, differentiation in the male direction is initiated by a...

    • 9 Evolutionary Theory and the Ultimate Cause of Biological Sex Differences
      (pp. 117-130)

      The place of humans in the animal kingdom is well established, and our firm rooting in the animal kingdom should make it apparent that our species has been shaped by the same forces that shaped our primate relatives. Despite the popular tendency to envision a clear break between animals and humans—with animal behavior being viewed as largely fixed by biology and human behavior viewed as largely independent of it—many students of behavior now reject that sharp dichotomy, believing animal behavior to be more environmentally sensitive and human behavior more biologically influenced than previously assumed.¹ This learning has so...

  8. PART IV Public Policy and Sex Differences in Workplace Outcomes

    • 10 Difference or Disadvantage?
      (pp. 133-141)

      Are the glass ceiling, the gender gap, and occupational segregation simply facts of the workplace, or are they problems that require some correction? Most workplace literature assumes that they are problems, often without being very explicit about why. Discrimination is invoked as an explanation so frequently that it is not clear whether it is the outcomes that are viewed as unacceptable or the processes presumed to be responsible. Thus, we must decide with some specificity what the problem is, and only if we identify one, is corrective action appropriate.

      The first question is whether the differences that we see are...

    • 11 A Thumb on the Scales: Changing the Rules to Improve the Numbers
      (pp. 142-165)

      Many employment practices or policy initiatives are aimed at achieving a work force in which women are represented and compensated in a statistically equal way. These include affirmative action to increase the number of women in highranking and nontraditional positions, efforts to attract women to scientific and blue-collar occupations, and comparable-worth requirements to attempt to equalize male and female compensation.

      It is often not clear whether advocates are concerned with the process by which the results are presumed to have occurred or simply the results themselves. The rhetoric behind most of the initiatives described in this chapter often includes a...

    • 12 Mitigating Work/Family Conflict
      (pp. 166-188)

      Many students of the workplace believe that the primary impediment to full workplace equality for women is not discrimination by employers but rather the division of labor at home. Time spent on housework and child care is time that cannot be spent in the labor market. Recommended solutions to the work/family conflict are of three major kinds. First, husbands should pick up their fair share, equalizing the domestic burden. Second, employment rules should be modified to reduce the penalty on women who cut back on their workplace commitment, such as imposing maximum-hours limitations or requiring employers to provide more and...

  9. PART V Sex and the Workplace:: Sexuality and Sexual Harassment

    • 13 Sexual Harassment
      (pp. 191-214)

      One of the inevitable results of sexual integration of the work force has been an expansion of opportunities for sexual interaction and, as a result, sexual conflict. The same conflicting reproductive interests of individual men and women that lead to tensions outside the workplace often lead to even greater tensions within the workplace. Much of this sexual conflict plays itself out as “sexual harassment.”

      “Sexual harassment” is a label attached to such a broad variety of conduct that the label has substantially diminished in meaning. Among the actions that courts have said may constitute sexual harassment are such disparate actions...

    • 14 Conclusion
      (pp. 215-218)

      The evidence and arguments put forward in this book will be troubling to many. Some may believe that invocation of biology is implicitly (or perhaps even explicitly) a defense of the status quo—a paean to the virtue of existing arrangements or at least a testament to their inevitability. The defense, however, is more limited. It is that many of the workplace patterns that are laid at the foot of nefarious causes such as discrimination by employers or sexist socialization have causes that are less invidious and less attributable to an anti-female ideology than is commonly recognized.

      A consensus about...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 219-232)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 233-268)
  12. Index
    (pp. 269-282)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-283)