Andy Bodle believes he’s uncovered the real cause of the gender pay gap.
Amanda and I had been dating for three months, and things were, I thought, going pretty well. The conversation and the copulation were well above par, and we’d sailed through the friends and family test. Then she dropped the bombshell: “I don’t think I can go out with someone who earns less than me.”
She was earning £46,000 ($70K) a year. I was on £44,000 ($67K).
Now, some of you will dispute whether this was her true reason. But even if you’re right, she didn’t just conjure it out of thin air. Money was clearly an issue for Amanda. And she’s not alone.
In 1994, David Buss and his team at the University of Texas surveyed 10,000 people across 37 cultures. They concluded that when it came to selecting a mate, women the world over attached much more importance than men to good financial prospects (as well as related factors such as ambition, industriousness and confidence). Countless studies have since replicated Buss’s findings. Indeed, it is one of the fundamental principles of evolutionary psychology that that in the dating market, women, on average, value status and wealth (that is, the ability to provide resources), while men value youth and looks (the ability to provide offspring).
(There’s a thorough, if slightly technical explanation of why this is the case here.)
(Plenty of female readers will be raising their hands at this point: “I don’t care about bank balances, and nor do any of my friends. We’re not shallow!” That’s as may be. All that you need to accept for the sake of this argument is that some women—it doesn’t have to be a high proportion—care more about the earning capacity of their partner than men do.)
You only have to look to the realm of fiction to see how widespread the fantasy is. Christian Grey, the hero of the most popular book of the year, is up to his nipple clamps in cash. Very few of Carrie and co’s boyfriends in “Sex and the City” were ever short of a dime. And “chick lit” novels (I’ve read dozens while researching my blog) are teeming with trustafarians, bankers, doctors and stinking rich pop stars.
Now think. How many times have you seen an old and unattractive but obviously affluent woman with a beautiful younger man? And how many straight male prostitutes are there in the world?
But aha, I hear you counter, even if the folding stuff is more important to women, the reasonis obvious. Women only value wealth because men control it. Once women have enough to support themselves, it will no longer be an issue.
If only ’twere that simple. A more recent American study found that women who earn more money than average paid more attention, not less, to the wealth of prospective partners. And Matt Ridley, in his excellent book on the evolution of sex, The Red Queen, cites a survey in which even prominent feminists said they wanted still more powerful men.
So what, you ask? What’s wrong with being a little bit old-fashioned in your choice of man? Well, there is one little thing.
The gender gap in earnings (in Brit-speak, the gender pay gap) is a problem that never seems to go away. Every year, it shrinks a little, but the fact remains that after 40 years of feminism and equal-rights legislation, UK women, on average, still earn 10% less than their male counterparts. (The figure in the US is 18%, but it’s measured using annual earnings rather than hourly ones, and more women work part-time.) The usual reasons cited are direct discrimination, the undervaluing of jobs traditionally regarded as “women’s work”, and attitudes to parental care.
Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that these factors are irrelevant. But I would propose a further cause: men want it more.
Recall my original argument. Now, picture for a moment a fantasy world where every woman gets what she wants. If every gal gets a guy who earns more than she does (or if even only a few do—as long as men have no preference), then men will, on average, earn more than women. Simple, inescapable maths.
Of course, wanting something doesn’t make it so. If it did, I wouldn’t be writing this; I’d be in the middle of a 40-year honeymoon in the Maldives with Jennifer Connelly. But in this case, wanting something does make it so—because men know what women want, and act on it.
Here’s one point that no one will dispute. Sex is an incredibly powerful motive for men. Generally, if there’s something a man can do to increase the quality (or quantity) of his prospective mates, he’ll do it. If he knows, for example, that a bit of extra cash will give him a leg up in his quest to get his leg over, he’ll go into that salary renegotiation like a rottweiler.
Meanwhile, money adds almost nothing to a woman’s mate value. In most studies, it doesn’t even feature in the list of qualities that men look for. In an otherwise even job market, then, men have one, vital extra incentive: lust. While women are going into job interviews thinking, “I deserve this. And I could do with the extra cash,” men are going into job interviews thinking, “I deserve this. I could do with the extra cash. And it’s going to get me laid more.”
One study that examined the job negotiations of graduating professional school students found that male students were eight times more likely to negotiate starting salaries and pay than female students. This huge difference in the willingness to sell oneself could account for the entire pay disparity all by itself. It could be down to nature—men, with their higher levels of testosterone, are generally more aggressive and less shy. It could be the way we bring our boys and girls up to think of themselves. But it could also be simple motivation.
The way I see it, complaining about pay inequality and wanting a rich boyfriend isn’t a million miles from driving to work and whining about the traffic; from buying cheap sneakers and campaigning against third world slave labour. You’re part of the problem. You’re a hypocrite. If we want true equality, then we all—women as well as men—have got to stop viewing men in their traditional role.
(If you need a spur to pack in your addiction, ladies, here’s another research statistic: the richer a man is, the more likely he is to cheat on you.)
Before the ravening hordes set upon me, I’d like to make it clear that I’m not saying this is necessarily so. It’s just a theory. And what are the horrific implications? That maybe, if women stop seeing men as protectors and providers and start seeing them as equals, it might bring us a step closer to actually being equal.
Now, excuse me while I get back to writing the hit screenplay that’s going to earn me a million and win the heart of Jennifer Connelly.
Image credit: dyobmit/Flickr