Larry Summers' Views On Women Shouldn't Disqualify Him

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With Fed chair Ben Bernanke's term ending in January 2014, the race for his successor is on. One candidate is Harvard University economics professor Larry Summers, whose views on women should not disqualify him for the job.

Summers' resumé includes secretary of the Treasury, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, director of the White House National Economic Council, chief economist of the World Bank, and president of Harvard University. He has written hundreds of peer-reviewed articles on different aspects of economic policy, and is eminently qualified to step into Bernanke's shoes.

But feminists don't like Summers because in January 2005 he gave an off-the-record speech at meetings of the prestigious National Bureau of Economic Research suggesting that innate differences and family preferences might explain why fewer women succeed in math and science. Feminists prefer to believe that discrimination holds women back. As a result of the speech, Summers resigned as president of Harvard.

It would be sad if feminists derailed Summers' possible pick as Fed chair, because unwinding the Fed's accommodative monetary policy without plunging the country into inflation takes someone with unusual brainpower. Summers has plenty. But he is not a diplomat, and doesn't suffer fools gladly, so he has made enemies.

It may be politically incorrect to say so at a conference with female professors in attendance, but yes, there are innate biological differences between men and women. Not just the usual visible differences, but there's a substantial literature showing that men are concentrated at the ends of statistical distributions. We see more male Nobel prize winners, and more men in jail or on drugs.

It's common knowledge that males generally score higher on quantitative tests. The 2012 data from the College Board regarding SAT scores show boys averaged higher on the SAT math portion, scoring an average of 532 versus 499. Girls averaged higher on the writing portion, with a score of 494 compared to 481 for males.

A similar pattern was evident in Graduate Record Examinations score data for men and women. In 2012 men performed better on quantitative reasoning, with an average of 154 versus 149. Women scored better on writing.

These latest data fit in with a series of studies by the Educational Testing Service, which collects decades of data on male and female scores. ETS researchers Warren W. Willingham and Nancy Cole, in a book entitled Gender and Fair Assessment, published in 1997, found that girls had lower math and science scores than boys, especially at the highest fractions of the distribution.

Another ETS researcher, Richard J. Coley, produced similar results in a study entitled "Differences in the Gender Gap: Comparisons Across Racial/Ethnic Groups In Education and Work." Coley found that in each ethnic category, namely White, Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American, males scored higher on Advanced Placement Biology and Calculus, SAT math, and the quantitative section of the GRE.

In addition to persuasive research results, what is also clear is that irrespective of innate ability, top professorships in science and math require substantial commitment, and more women prefer flexible schedules to combine work with family.

Women aren't forced to devote time to families, and unmarried childless women's salaries often exceed men's. In a comparison of unmarried and childless men and women between the ages of 35 and 43, women earn more: 108 cents on a man's dollar.

Official labor statistics indicate a higher wage gap for women without any children than for women with children. Thus, mothers tend to have lower wages than women without children. Married women with children living with spouses earn less, about 77 percent of what men make, according to the latest volume of Highlights of Women's Earnings, released by the Labor Department in October 2012.

When women work full-time, they work fewer hours. Full-time men worked 8.5 hours daily in 2012, while full-time women worked an average of 7.9 hours. In addition, about 23 percent of women choose to work part-time.

In her book, What Children Need, Professor Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University writes that there is a positive correlation between the number of children and the pay gap. Her analysis of the importance of family status in determining the pay gap using cohorts from national longitudinal surveys found that mothers earned much less than non-mothers and men.

Consistent with her findings are those of Professors Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Professor Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago. In a 2010 study, they report that "three proximate factors account for the large and rising gender gap in earnings: differences in training prior to MBA graduation, differences in career interruptions, and differences in weekly hours. The greater career discontinuity and shorter work hours for female MBAs are largely associated with motherhood."

The home page of the Yale Law Women Web site, the site for female law students at Yale Law School, reads "Yale Law Women (YLW) is pleased to announce its eighth annual Top Ten Family Friendly Firms List. YLW congratulates these Top Ten Firms for their leadership in developing and implementing family friendly practices and policies."

Why aren't these Yale women going after the Top Ten firms in compensation? Friendly firm policies are those that allow children to be combined with a professional career, generally with fewer hours for women. Fewer hours means less pay. If some of the brightest young women in the country, those with the greatest earnings potential, are looking for family friendly firms, no one should be surprised that women earn less.

Larry Summers has many qualifications to be Fed chief. Feminists should not stand in his way simply because he told an uncomfortable truth. America needs some uncomfortable truths about monetary policy.

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is senior fellow and director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute. Follow her on Twitter: @FurchtgottRoth.   

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