The Basic Index of Gender Inequality: Getting Real About Gender Inequality

This is the last of my posts on David Geary’s takedown of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index.  My previous two are here and here.

Geary is an academic and therefore writes diplomatically.  Still, he leaves little doubt about the fact that the GGGI is more agitprop than scrupulous analysis of gender differences.

Measures such as the GGGI are based on an implicit assumption that women and men have the same preferences in life, but this is a faulty assumption, at least when it comes to the economic and political spheres of life emphasized by the GGGI. One result is that the GGGI will always indicate that women are disadvantaged and thus justify policies to rectify the associated mistreatment of women.

Not content to criticize the many flaws in the GGGI, Geary came up with his own index with which to compare the sexes, which he calls the Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI).  Unlike the GGGI, its purpose is to compare the outcomes of the sexes on certain indices of well-being.  And unlike the GGGI, Geary’s BIGI is balanced.  It reports when and where men do less well than women and when and where women do less well than men.  In short, he’s honest about reporting the facts.

The BIGI considers three areas of human well-being – longevity, education and life satisfaction, and distributes them on a graph.  The higher on the graph, the more developed the nation in question; left of the center line indicates anti-male inequality and to the right, anti-female inequality.  The closer to that line, the closer the nation is to gender equality. The points on the graph are color-coded for each of the three areas mentioned above.

Unsurprisingly, the BIGI reveals a world of gender inequality quite unlike that peddled by the WEF.  For example, among countries whose development rate is “Low,” women lag behind men in education and the opposite is true among countries rated “High” or “Very High.”  In all the countries included in the BIGI, men’s lifespans are shorter than women’s.  As to “Life Satisfaction,” men invariably lag behind women, although there seem to be only six countries for which those data were available.

Still, that’s a salient point, particularly regarding Australia.  Recall that the Sydney Morning Herald, in response to the latest Global Gender Gap Report, excoriated the state of gender equality in the Land Down Under as “shameful” and claimed that there, women are “actively marginalised and held back.”  The basis for that assertion is that, in the GGGR, Australia ranks 70th in the world in women’s “economic participation and opportunity,” despite women’s educational achievements being tied for first in the world.  How Australian women ranking first in the world in education constitutes active marginalization, the Herald doesn’t explain.  Nor does it explain why, after such success in school, women don’t have greater impact on the economy.  It simply assumes oppression to be the cause.

Needless to say, that’s so much nonsense, as Geary points out.  The simple fact is that, in most developed countries and certainly in Australia, women and girls are in no way “actively marginalised and held back.”  Quite the contrary.  In every area in which the WEF, the Herald and sundry gender feminists claim that oppression is to blame for women’s unequal outcomes, there’s a far, far simpler explanation. Plus, that explanation is not only simple, it’s backed by a small avalanche of scientific findings.  Geary:

The sex differences in economic and political engagement are a modern-day reflection of this more fundamental sex difference in the motivation to achieve status and resource control.  In every culture in which it has been studied and across historical periods, higher status conferred (and still confers) more reproductive gains to men than to women, and in many contexts influences which men reproduce and which do not… 

To expect that men’s and women’s outcomes must, absent oppression, be the same is arrant nonsense.  As Geary points out, they probably never will be.  Homo sapiens evolved with generally differing and complementary roles for men and women that are reflected in the preferences expressed by the sexes today.  The freest women in the world still opt for lesser roles in the workplace and electoral politics, and greater ones in the family.  Plus, as Harvard sociologist Alexandra Killewald has shown, the single greatest predictor of divorce for men is the loss of a job, i.e., the greatest blow to their “status and resource control.” 

Political participation?  The largest and best study of women’s involvement as candidates for elective office, Sex as a Political Variable, by Seltzer, Newman and Leighton found that female candidates in the U.S. are exactly as likely as their male counterparts to win.  The reason there are fewer women holding office is that fewer of them run, exactly as women’s preferences elucidated by Geary, Catherine Hakim and others predict. 

Earnings?  Women tend to earn less than men because they tend to work fewer hours and opt for lower-paying jobs.  That was the finding of the U.S. Labor Department in its 2006 analysis of the literature on sex differences in earnings.  More recent data reveal that the college majors that lead to the best-paying careers are overwhelmingly dominated by men, despite their being only 43% of college enrollees.  Again, that reflects the higher value placed by men on “status and resource control” and the desire by women that they do so.

Which brings me to another salient point Geary makes. 

The GGGI does not include a measure of life satisfaction, but we did. This is because it is impossible to measure every aspect of life that might influence one’s wellbeing in one country or another, but overall life satisfaction will reflect the combination of disadvantages and advantages, whatever they might be, that people experience and are important to them.  So, the shameful and marginalizing treatment of Australian women should result in a substantive gender gap in life satisfaction, favoring Australian men. There is typically a small gap in Australia, but contrary to what we might expect based on GGGI scores, it favors women. It seems that the lower overall participation of Australian women relative to men in the economy and in politics is not undermining their satisfaction in life.

Yes, if Australian women are truly marginalized, that would surely be reflected in their sense of satisfaction about their lives.  But it’s not.  As in the U.S. their lower earnings and lower likelihood of seeking elective office reflect, not oppression, but their own preferences, freely expressed.  And people who are free to create their lives as they see fit tend not to be dissatisfied with those lives.  That’s bad news to the Herald and gender feminists, but it’s good news to Australian women.

I am reliably informed that Geary’s BIGI is still in its formative stages and will be refined in the near future.  I look forward to seeing it as it develops.  It offers a real idea of how the sexes compare on a range of outcomes and that should allow us to develop not only sensible understandings about gender inequality, but sensible public policies as well.

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