Finding Happiness in a Man’s World: Women’s Definition of Success Might Be Different

Why are women more likely to work part-time, if given the choice?

Seventy-six percent of women in the Netherlands work part time. Only 25 percent of men work part time, even though the law protects their ability to do so.

By Liberty McArtor Published on October 11, 2017

It’s a man’s world, and women are unhappy in it. That’s according to psychologist and author Susan Pinker. Her essay on men and women’s differing definitions of success appeared in the Institute for Family Studies blog Tuesday. 

The essay draws on her 2008 book The Sexual Paradox. It is based on a contribution to a member of the European Parliament earlier this year. 

Men and women ought to have equal opportunities to follow their dreams. But often, Pinker argues, society pressures women to define their success by men’s standards. In a perfect world, women might measure their success in different ways.

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As an example, she points to the Netherlands. Thanks to a 2000 law, Dutch workers aren’t penalized for scaling back from full-time to part-time. Women especially take advantage of this. Seventy-six percent of women in the Netherlands work part time. And it’s not only because of their children; two-thirds of those women have none at home. Only 25 percent of men work part-time, even though the law protects their ability to do so. 

The result? The Netherlands is among the industrialized nations of the world where women report the most happiness. Children in the Netherlands are also among the most happy. 

Different Priorities

Why are women more likely to work part time, if given the choice? According to Pinker, it comes down to biological differences.

Women are more likely to prioritize relationships, as well as hobbies, than men. This makes sense. Women typically have a wider range of interests than men. They also tend to focus on bettering the community, while men zero in on personal achievement.

Pinker quotes experts Camilla Benbow, David Lubinski, and Harrison Kells. “Collectively, men were more focused on their personal advancement and on the creation of concrete products,” they write. Women, they say, are “more interested in keeping society vibrant and healthy.”

The careers men and women often choose reflect these differences. A study by Benbow, Lubinksi and Kells tracked intellectually gifted 13-year-olds who scored in the top 1 percentile in mathematical ability. Years later, more women chose careers in health, education, business, finance, medicine and law. Men were more likely to have chosen IT and STEM careers, or have ended up in CEO positions. 

“It is still taboo to express the idea that many women find happiness and fulfillment in ways that might diverge from the male norm.” β€” Susan Pinker

Pinker notes the modern push for women to fill STEM positions, contending this is proof that men’s choices are valued more than women’s.

The amount of time spent at one’s job also reveals differences. “Gifted men devoted 11 more hours to work per week, for the last 15 years than did women, even when both worked full time,” Pinker writes.

Further, 30 percent of women would rather work less than full time at their “ideal job.” Only 7 percent of men agree.

We Can’t Talk About This

Few people in advanced nations doubt women’s ability to succeed in whatever field of work they choose. Women continue to break glass ceilings in the corporate, political, entertainment, military and STEM worlds. And they should be congratulated. But as Pinker demonstrates, studies show us that, on average, a woman’s idea of success is more rounded than the traditional, male-made ideal.

Yes, women should be encouraged to become CEOs or work in Silicon Valley if that’s what they want. And if not? They shouldn’t be discouraged from opting to devote more time to family, volunteer work or lower-paying yet fulfilling jobs. But too often, they are.

They’re told they’re not reaching their full potential, not making a difference, not doing anything important because their paycheck is less than the average man’s. Or because they wanted to take a break from full time work to raise their children. Or because they don’t want to spend every waking hour at the office.

In fact, discussing this topic is “taboo,” Pinker says. Even more so than when she published The Sexual Paradox nine years ago.

Why? “Whether any differences between male and female behavior exist at all in nature has become a highly politicized topic.” Now, many argue “for complete gender fluidity.”

Feminists As Much As Misogynists

Pinker acknowledges that women have historically received the short end of the stick. That may be why people reject scientific studies revealing biological differences between the sexes, she says. They may be remembering past injustices. But “name-calling does not negate empirical findings that make us uncomfortable,” she writes.

And in the end, this refusal to face facts hurts women. It forces women to define their success and satisfaction by men’s standards, regardless of what nature has to say about it. In their pursuit of an sexually “equal” society, feminists do this as much as misogynists. They send the message that every woman must adopt a male mindset in order for her work to be valued equally. That isn’t liberation; it’s degradation.

“We will become a gender-neutral society β€” even if, paradoxically, the default is still assumed to be male for both sexes,” Pinker writes.

Is that really what women want? 

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  • Paul

    “As an example, she points to the Netherlands. Thanks to a 2000 law, Dutch workers aren’t penalized for scaling back from full-time to part-time. ”

    I’m left wondering what that actually means. I’m assuming it means people can’t get fired for deciding they will only work one day a week. Does that apply to their military, police and elected officials as well? Can the Prine Minister decide to only work 1 day a month? How about a soldier or a heart surgeon? Something tells me there’s far more details to this.

    • Liberty McArtor

      I’m not sure the exact details of the law. But I doubt it’s relevant to the main point: when given the option and freedom, women are more likely willingly work fewer hours at their official job than men. The example Pinker cites in her article is a woman exec-editor of a daily newspaper who only works 3 days a week. That’s because she set aside two days out of the week for family and hobbies, even though she had reached the top professional level in her field.

      Pinker also links to this article, which I think may explain the Dutch part time law. I haven’t read it myself yet: economist(dot)com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/05/economist-explains-12

      • Paul

        I know a whole lot of guys who would go part time given the ‘freedom’, but that freedom would mean walking away from their responsibilities. These guys are providers, their families depend on them. I also know women who provide financially for their families, and they would like the freedom to go part time as well but there’s those responsibilities again. That’s why I wonder about that law as well as the overal social framework in which it operates.

        Much of what socialism sells is the notion that people can be less responsible for themselves and families with the blessing of the govt. Work less or not at all, have 6 kids out of wedlock, no worries govt is there to ‘help’ you. But let’s never forget that ‘help’ is at the expense of the productive. At what cost to their neighbor do these people choose part time? I don’t care what their sex is, rather to what degree they are dependent on others because ultimately in most cases that is where they find that supposed ‘freedom’. If we measure ‘freedom’ by the extent to which we can pass off our responsibilities to others then we’re mocking the word.

        • Liberty McArtor

          The scientific findings Pinker talks about in her articles exist outside of the Netherlands. That was just one example of how women often opt to go part time more than men do, *when circumstances allow*, due to biological differences. It wasn’t a commentary on the pros and cons of the Dutch work system as a whole, which would be an entirely different conversation. The last thing I’d want to promote is a system that encourages people to shirk responsibility, or promote socialism! And this is not suggesting AT ALL that women are less likely to take responsibility or be providers for their family.

          I’m also the last person to confine individuals into boxes based on their sex. My husband and I both defy many “gender norms” because of our unique personalities. That doesn’t preclude me from recognizing general gender differences though, especially when based on science, which is what Pinker discusses in her article.

          The principle still holds: too often in America, women are pushed to define their success by historically male standards. This is why the gender wage gap so often bemoaned by modern feminism is largely a myth. Sometimes there is sexism, but a lot of it has to do with the careers women prefer, the hours they prefer to work when given the choice, and the amount of time they spend working on projects other than their paycheck earning job. It’s dishonest and unhealthy to demand that women run 50% of the world’s companies, etc., which is what many modern feminists consider “equality.” Please note, again, that many of the studies cited here and in Pinker’s article have nothing to do with the Netherlands; that was just one illustration of the argument. πŸ™‚

    • Andrew Mason

      Not that it’s a Dutch example but I’m aware of a case where a woman off on maternity leave applied for and got a managerial position. Before ending her maternity leavestarting her new role she applied to have the job split from full time to a shared role i.e. 2 people employed in a single full time position. She and another woman shared the role, but the staff underneath them found it didn’t work – not that their opinion was ever asked. It wasn’t exactly clear which days each woman worked – some days both were in, some days neither were, most days one or the other was there, and some days 1 was supposed to be there but didn’t seem to be. They split responsibilities too, but when staff needed to ask the manager something and asked the manager present they’d cop it in the neck if the other one had been checking her emails that day but not been kept in the loop.

      • Paul

        Sounds like a great way to lose to a more functional competitor.

        • Andrew Mason

          Government doesn’t need to worry about efficiency πŸ™‚

          • Paul

            Precisely. And the more the govt meddles with business the less efficient business gets.

  • Tim Pan

    May I suggest we all find happiness in God’s world.

  • James

    America’s Protestant Work Ethic considers women who are part-time workers and part-time mothers to be insufficiently dedicated to both.

    What women (and men) want is not relevant.

    • AndRebecca

      Well, hmm the Protestants who founded America had the Protestant Work Ethic and it had nothing to do with women working outside the home. If you look at the US census, the vast majority of women did not work outside the home until very recently when pressure was put on them by society to go out and get a job. The Protestant work ethic was about men working to support themselves, their families, and churches and people in need. William Perkins wrote a book “Treatise of the Vocations.” It is on the web in a modern English version and shortened to 50 pages. Perkins is one of many Protestants pastors who wrote about man’s need to work to support his family. One of the reasons Protestants made work and marriage very clear, was because of the mendicant monks in Europe at that time… No begging for a Christian man according to the Protestants. Women had plenty to do in the home doing everything from scratch and having children and other family members to take care of. Plus, women learned their husband’s job and would take over as head of the family when the husband died, at least in America. The husband was also expected to be responsible for the education of the children, if he had the means to do so. Quote: “Now the idle slothful person is a sea of corruption; and when he is most idle, Satan is least idle. For then he is most busy to draw the person to manifest sin…The idle brain or body is the workshop of the devil.” Ditto for idleness for women, but they worked in the home for the most part. We did have women all along working as teachers and writers and so forth. And, women have had opportunities for education for a longer time than we are led to believe today.

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