Hormones, Genes and the Corner Office

From The New York Times:

THE SEXUAL PARADOX Men, Women, and the Real Gender Gap

Pinker by Susan Pinker.

Why do girls on average lead boys for all their years in the classroom, only to fall behind in the workplace? Do girls grow up and lose their edge, while boys mature and gain theirs?

Pinker, a psychologist and a columnist at The Globe and Mail in Canada, is careful to remind her readers that statistics say nothing about the choices women and men make individually. Nor does she entirely discount the effect of sex discrimination or culture in shaping women’s choices. But she thinks these forces play only a bit part. To support this, Pinker quotes a female Ivy League law professor: “I am very skeptical of the notion that society discourages talented women from becoming scientists,” the professor writes. “My experience, at least from the educational phase of my life, is that the very opposite is true.” If women aren’t racing to the upper echelons of science, government and the corporate world despite decades of efforts to woo them, Pinker argues, then it must be because they are wired to resist the demands at the top of those fields.

Thus, Pinker parks herself firmly among “difference” feminists. Women’s brains aren’t inferior, she argues, but they vary considerably from men’s, and this is the primary explanation for the workplace gender divide. Women care more about intrinsic rewards, they have broader interests, they are more service-oriented and they are better at gauging the effect they have on others. They are “wired for empathy.” These aren’t learned traits; they’re the result of genes and hormones. Beginning in utero, men are generally exposed to higher levels of testosterone, driving them to be more competitive, assertive, vengeful and daring. Women, meanwhile, get a regular dose of oxytocin, which helps them read people’s emotions, “the truest social enabler.” Then there’s prolactin, which, along with oxytocin, surges during pregnancy, breast-feeding and caretaking. Together, the hormones produce such a high that mother rats choose their newborns over cocaine.

More here.