BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Cleavage Gaps, Wage Gaps, IQ Gaps- Is There a Connection?

Posted by ywmguest on April 13, 2009

We love our friends. YWM encourages you to submit your feminist rants. Today’s guest blogger is Astrid Pregel.

Not long ago I read about a women entrepreneur who had invented a shirt (not a blouse) for professional women that did not have that irritating gap between buttons that seems to be a distraction for many of our male colleagues.   Currently there is a spirited exchange of opinion about another gap; the gap in wages between men and women. But surely the two gaps are not related–or are they?

button_shirtThat both gaps are of global concern is not disputed; let’s leave the cleavage gap for the moment- most of us don’t need much clarification as to why this is a universal phenomenon. However, what does require reflection is the global wage gap – why so little change in over a decade? While there are fluctuations around the globe the average gender gap in wages seems glacially immobile.

In a now frequently cited speech on January 14, 2005, (the recently rehabilitated by the Obama administration) Larry Summers, then president of Harvard University, advanced three “broad hypotheses,” or gaps, to explain why few women were found in the science and math departments of prestigious universities.

1.  High-powered job hypothesis.  Summers suggested that “the most prestigious activities in our society expect of people who are going to rise to leadership positions in their forties, near total commitment to their work.”  In other words besides cleavage gaps, women also have dedication gaps.

2.  The different availability of aptitude at the high end.  Summers speculated that the gap in the SAT math scores between men and women resulted in two or more men for every woman in the candidate pool for these top positions. Besides cleavage and dedication gaps, according to Summers, women seem to have IQ gaps. He forgot to mention the controversy about whether IQ scores correlate to any kind of success, including amongst Harvard staff who Summers did not bother to consult before speaking.

3.  The different socialization and patterns of discrimination in selection of candidates. There are gaps resulting from bias, stereotypes or discrimination.  He concluded that there was little support for either of these explanations, commenting that “there is a tendency to attribute things to socialization that in fact are not attributable to socialization.” He forgot to cite any evidence about this lack of a gap.

These comments set off what has been called Le Affaire Larry or more graphically “The Perfect Shit Storm.”  The chronology of the aftermath to his comments reflects most of the themes in the current explanations for the global phenomena of men being paid more than women, sometimes, for the same job.  We’ve all heard the arguments. Women choose not to take the difficult jobs because they don’t want to sacrifice their lives to their work or they don’t have the genetic equipment to master challenging positions.  The question of socialization and discrimination seldom enter gap discussions.

It is a fact that women are clustered into traditional jobs around the globe. How did this happen? Was it a lack of ability to do anything else as Larry Summers hypothesized? Or was it perhaps a lack of motivation or dedication caused by a genetic allergy to work 60 hours a week? I doubt it.

How may women even know they have a choice?

pink-babyIf from the time you come home from the hospital in a pink blanket your entire society expects you to take on the care and nurturing roles in society, do you really know you have a choice?  Just because your IQ happens to be upwards of 145 and you are a female being, doesn’t mean you weren’t raised on dolls and have had endless positive reinforcement for displaying caring attitudes and nurturing behavior.  Does any one out there have a brother who was given an extra cuddle because he showed sweet compassion or shed tears of empathy when viewing other humans in need? I bet there won’t be a flood of responses.

Typically these discussions are approached as an intellectual smack down of man vs. women.  While this “contest” can be entertaining I feel that it often ends up in a media or academic food fight, which misses the real issue. How are we going to dig ourselves out of the deep economic hole that we are in?  In North America the biggest job losses are being experienced by men and it is entirely possible that in the next 18 months women will be 50% of the labor force. They are nearly there right now. With these dramatic job losses women’s incomes are more important than ever. Imagine how much better off the entire world would be if that 30% wage gap had been closed by now.

As women’s education levels increase dramatically in many places on the globe (Canadian women earn over 60% of undergraduate degrees, over 50% of masters and over 44% of doctorates) it is pretty obvious that if we don’t properly align our best educated human resources with our economic policies, growth will be sub optimal. Full stop! If we are going to extricate ourselves from the imbroglio we HAVE to engage all our resources in the economy.

It is the male half of the species that drove us to the point of economic crisis we face today. There is no arguing that barely a single skirt was shown on the front pages of our economic and financial journals. The word testosterone is showing up in an increasing number of articles that attempt to make sense of the implosion. Iceland has effectively banned men from the top positions of their banking system by putting women in charge of both of their large banks.  And there is a growing realization that the economic potential of women may well be the key to this recovery.

pcw2In introducing a film shown at the Davos World Economic Forum this year, the web page of PriceWaterhousCooper states:   “In addition to economic change, we are going through a period of huge social transformation, as we move into a future of labor shortages, skills gaps and a world in which the educational and economic empowerment of women will become even more significant.”

Mr. Summers certainly has retracted most of what he said. And rightly so. Let’s hope that as the Chief Economic Advisor to the Obama administration he takes the lessons he learned in the “Perfect Shit Storm” and applies to the mess he is facing now.

Certainly President Obama’s announcement that his good friend Valerie Jarrett will head a new White House Committee on Women and Girls augurs well for the possibility of change. The President told the story of watching his grandmother who was the first women vice president of a bank in Hawaii passed over for promotion by men less qualified than she was and vowed that this situation must change. He is right. This situation must change everywhere, not only in America.

Astrid Pregel is the President of Feminomics Inc. This article has been adapted from a previous post.

photo credit / photo credit / photo credit


7 Responses to “Cleavage Gaps, Wage Gaps, IQ Gaps- Is There a Connection?”

  1. A.Y. Siu said

    While I’m willing to concede that it’s theoretically possible that Larry Summers may have a leg to stand on, he doesn’t really back up any of his hypotheses with adequate testing.

    The truth is that unless you properly control for other variables, you can’t pinpoint one thing as the primary factor involved in a particular result. Since Summers hasn’t controlled for socialization, then he can’t rightly attribute the gender disparity in math and science to other factors.

    The only solution is to fight socialization to the core. Do everything you can (and I doubt Summers does) to encourage women in the math and sciences. Do everything you can to eradicate sexist attitudes or het-male-centric curriculum assignments. Only after you’ve done all that can you dismiss socialization.

    As for the wage gap, two things can be done about it, apart from just identifying it:

    1. As a society, we need to be a little less secretive about our salaries. Really? What’s to be ashamed of? If you make a little, that’s not shameful. If you make a lot, that’s also not shameful. But if you hide your salary, it’s more difficult for people to see and identify sexist trends in salaries. There is no accountability.

    2. We either need to stop a culture of “The more aggressive negotiators get pay raises or higher starting salaries” or we need to encourage more women to be aggressive in negotiating for those things. I’d vote for the former, but the latter may be easier to achieve.

  2. bikerbernie said

    There is no real wage gap in the USA.

    Read here :


    and here for the truth :



  3. Ross said

    I am a man-and I do think women have the right to wear what they want at the workplace, I do believe in equality between the sexes, but some women do use their sexuality to their advantage at work. some women deliberately dress sexy to distract men at work – they enjoy using that power they have and now that men are even afraid to stare or make any comment about it because of sexual harassment laws women nowadays are free to wear whatever they want in the office and that is why much more women now are showing more cleavage, tight blouses, push up bras – they are flaunting it – – what am I supposed to do when all around me are flashing cleavages, bouncing breasts, skimpy tops, I get horny, I cant help it, it arouses sexual thoughts in me and it distracts me from my work. I try hard not to stare because I know women would’t’t’t like that but its hard,- Ladies is this fair what you are doing to men? Tell me what you think

  4. Kimberly Bush said

    In the US, an amendment to the US Constitution was proposed quite some time ago called “The Equal Rights Amendment”. The way the laws are SUPPOSED to work in the US is that everything ‘flows’ from the Constitution.
    This proposed amendment has yet to be ratified by enough States for passage by the US Congress.
    When first proposed, the ‘social concern’ was that women would stop wearing any sort of restrictive undergarments. Now, we have a male complaining about push-up bras making his workday more difficult.
    Perhaps, someday, (I am only 46 and LIVE in HOPE FOR THE FUTURE), the US will actually start ACTING like a ‘world leader’
    Instead of just telling everyone one that we are, so that they agree, to shut us up.
    Before I come clean up YOUR house, I have my own to take care of, World.

  5. Ross said

    I used to work in this place where there was a woman with huge lovely breasts – who worked at the desk opposite me – sometimes she would thrust out her boobs in fullview of me when stretching herself- but i tried to keep my eyes on my work and not to be distracted – i felt embarrassed to oogle – i didnt have a problem with not staring

  6. […] 4. Cleavage Gaps, Wage Gaps, IQ Gaps- Is There a Connection? […]

  7. Well I’m teaching a class of adult students and one of the female students who has a beautiful figure and big gorgeous breasts comes into class wearing tight skimpy tops and tight pants which emphasize her breasts and her figure. She often asks me over to her desk with a question. And she gave me a present. She’s friendly to me and comes up to my desk to ask something . She must know that it really turns me on. Or is she just being friendly – I don’t know why she dresses like that in my class. I’ve been very helpful and nice to her with her English studies but I want to focus on her brains rather than her boobs but shes making it difficult for me to concentrate. Ladies what do you think?

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