Megan McArdle on the Choices Women Make

Good article, as one expects from McArdle, even when you don’t always agree with her. Never having been to business school, nor any kind of school at Harvard, I can’t dispute anything she discusses here.

But on average, the women I talk to just aren’t nearly as willing to sacrifice close friendships, and family relationships, for the sake of their jobs.

We can say that they shouldn’t have to, of course, but the sad fact is that there are trade-offs in this world. In your 20s you can finesse them — work super hard and also have a roaring social life — because you have boundless energy and no one depending on you. This is the age at which young women write furious articles and Facebook posts denouncing anyone who suggests that women opt-out of high pressure jobs for any reason other than the rankest sexism.

As you age, your body refuses to cooperate with your plan to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and then hang out with friends. Your parents start to need you more, if only to lift heavy things. And of course, there are kids. You start having to make direct trade-offs, and then suddenly you look up and you haven’t seen your friends for two years and your mother is complaining that you never call. This is the age at which women write furious articles defending their decision to step back from a high-pressure job and/or demanding subsidized childcare, generous paid maternity leave and “family friendly policies,” a vague term that ultimately seems to mean that people who leave at five to pick up the kids should be entitled to the same opportunities and compensation as people who stay until 9 to finish the client presentation. These pleas usually end (or begin) by pointing to the family-friendly utopia of Northern Europe, except that women in Europe do less well at moving into high-test management positions. Whatever the government says, someone who takes several years off work is in fact less valuable to their company than someone who doesn’t.

It would be interesting to know where she got the statistic to back up the claim about women in Europe, but otherwise this rings true. And not because it gets men off the hook; real, actual sexism is still out there. But because it’s a simpler explanation than “systematic conspiracy of harassment.” I’ve been working for a long time, and the vast majority of my bosses have been women. Which is pretty well meaningless to me: the boss is the boss. But it can’t be heresy to point out that women differ from men, they tend to value different things, and this tends, in large groups, to lead to different choices and different results.

Now, if you accept that, that men just value “money” and “success” more than women do, one has to wonder: what’s the plan with all that money and success? What’s it for? Obviously, on some level we all — men and women — vie for status in the tribe. But when you hit that status, what’s next? The men McArdle writes of aren’t going to work from 7 to 11 for the rest of their lives, either. They’re eventually going to want a life, a wife, some kids. They’re just going to put if off later, because they can. Which is kind of a flimsy reason, and perhapss self-defeating. When you’re in your 20’s, and your life is chaos, anyway, kids can actually provide some kind of structure, because structure is what they require. Plus, you’ve got the energy to handle it. If a man waits until his late 30’s or beyond to settle down, he’s going to have a harder time adjusting to it not being about him all the time.

Or, maybe he’ll be ready for it. Trade-offs, trade-offs, trade-offs.

One thought on “Megan McArdle on the Choices Women Make

  1. Have you noticed that all these isms have something in common: they are a two sided sword. The goose and the gander, barbarians and familiars, its a tale as old as time. The joke is the politically correct vs human nature. Civil peoples acknowledge their faults and move on to the more important tasks of being human. The immature cry its not fair and try to make laws that are in truth unenefforceable and usually lead to disasterous results


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