How much do innate differences account for differing outcomes? This is an uncomfortable question and even asking it is dangerous. Larry Summers lost his job at Harvard in part for stating a truth about how the distributions of men and women differ, with the male distribution having a much higher dispersal, i.e. the average is very similar but there are more men at the extreme genius level and more men among the abject failures.
Science has been unable to determine how much of this comes from biology and how much is from cultural reasons. What is not in dispute is that men and women – in the aggregate – make different choices that result in different outcomes. We stipulate that we should counter all forms of overt discrimination. We are talking about what would remain even if we were 100% successful, the differences based on innate characteristics or choices. If we could identify the sources of this, what should we do?
John Rawls, on whose theories are an important underpinning for current progressive ideas on justice, talked about the vail of ignorance. If you did not know what position you would have in society, what sort of society would you choose?
Let’s adapt Rawls’ formulation a little. If you knew nothing about what your position in society would be, would you choose to be male of female in America? Consider the following – the distribution of men and women is different. A male will have a better chance of being among the top individuals in professions, business and science. Good. But there are not many people who reach these heights. The top 1% is … 1%. A male also has a greater chance of being homeless, landing in jail, being a victim of violent crime, dying in an on the job incident and dying in general. Men don’t live as long. Recent research indicates that although females earn less on average than males, women control more than half of all the personal wealth in the U.S. Some of this is likely related to the living longer factor.
Anyway, if you were a non-designated individual in some ethereal plane, and given the choice of gender – with absolutely no other information about whether you would be born rich or poor, privileged or persecuted, lucky or cursed – which would you choose?