Monday, September 22, 2008

The Gender Gap

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as I've been working a lot lately. The beginnings of school years often show pretty clearly how much or how little either one of us does around the house. When the work hours bleed into the home hours, there's a lot of stuff that doesn't get done. It's not like Mr. Geeky comes home at 5, picks up the paper and yells into the kitchen to ask what's for dinner. In fact, our post work hours are somewhat of a whirlwind of negotiating who's dealing with what kid. I do the cooking, and it's actually a refuge for me. The kids go off to their own corners and Mr. Geeky finishes up whatever he was working on when he had to leave to do the daycare pickup. After dinner, the kids and Mr. Geeky clean up. In theory, there's much more housework to be done, but neither of us does it, relegating most of it to the weekend. Instead, we either have work to do, or we choose to spend a couple of hours relaxing. God forbid we relax!

The thing I keep returning to, though, is that I do wish our house were more organized and that we weren't rushing around half the time to get enough laundry done or to sign papers or whatnot. The only way for this to happen in our current situation is for one or both of us to give up leisure. And that's just not going to happen. We both value that too much. After spending the weekend trying to catch up on such things, this article in IHE was just the thing I needed. I'm reading through the first part and the whole time I'm thinking, "It's because the guy doesn't do housework; that's why women leave these jobs." And then, they finally get to it.
While universities and other employers have some of the responsibility for helping women advance, so too may their spouses. Preston cited a survey of married male and female scientists (not married to one another) in which each were asked what share of household chores was performed by their spouses. The female scientists estimated that their spouses performed an average of 34.7 percent of chores, while the men estimated that their spouses perform 65.1 percent of chores. Even assuming equal levels of honesty (and some women in the audience had their doubts about the men), that’s a gap that would have a significant burden on the women not faced by the men. (And the gaps are larger for childcare responsibilities.)
I'd say in our situation that I'm doing 40-50% of the housework while Mr. Geeky does 20-30%, leaving a gap of at least 20% and up to 40%, which sounds about right to me. Childcare is another story. During the year, it's 50-50, in the summer, Mr. Geeky takes on most of it, so I have no complaints there. If I wanted to ramp up my career in any way, the house and possibly the kids would suffer unless Mr. Geeky stepped up to the plate. And he might, but he has his own demanding career; there's only so much he could do even if he wanted to. We already have household help. I suppose we could increase that. I think this somewhat accounts for the doctors not having as many problems balancing things. They can afford help. Your average academic can only afford so much.

Another area that I find interesting that explains the gap is the difference in competition between women and men. In a test to measure how competitive women and men are, researchers found that men are definitely more competitive.
Women are much more likely to prefer the non-competitive approach and men gravitate overwhelmingly to the competition. Women are more likely, some studies have found, to go for the competition if it is single-sex and they are competing against other women.

Niederle noted that there could be logic to these choices if men did better on the mazes, but they don’t. The gaps in risk-taking are as much from men who overestimate themselves and figure they will win (when they don’t necessarily stand a chance) as from women who could win, but avoid the competition.

Some fields are full of competition, academe being one of them. Locally, one is often competing for resources, which is sometimes based on one's success in "national" competitions for publication. What if one is just curious, interested in exploring different issues, sharing those explorations with students and, when appropriate, on a national stage via conferences and journals? Or what if one simply wants to read other people's explorations and teach? Academe seems to have become a one size fits all operation. The beginning of the article stressed that different women want different things in terms of balance. When an industry only has one path for success, that can severely limit who chooses to take that path.