What Glass Ceiling?

… Ability and Motivation, not Opportunity, are What’s Unequal:
(c) 2015, Davd

 Two things especially, legitimately determine success: Ability and application [or in two syllables each, talent and hard work]. I don’t know anyone, literally not anyone, who seriously says either talent or hard work, should not be rewarded.

The “Glass Ceiling” concept, is a prettified claim that women who have the talent and do the hard work, don’t get to the top as often, as readily, as men who have the same talent and work equally hard. I haven’t believed that claim, because: My own grandmother succeeded as a Pentecostal preacher, and my mother hadn’t completed a Bachelor’s degree but got paid on the Master’s degree scale teaching in a vocational school. The CEO of General Motors is presently a woman, as is the German Chancellor who leads the European Union in confronting the Ukrainian predicament. The President of M.I.T was a woman the last time i looked. So there are women at the top, and there are women rewarded at least in proportion to their credentials.

There are more men at the top—why? More talent? Not on average, perhaps, but yes, at the top. More hard work? Same story: yes, when it comes to extreme effort on the job. We should keep in mind that the “Glass Ceiling” concept refers to the top positions, not to overall averages.

Men and women average about 100 in IQ. When i was a student, i was taught that this is deliberate: The psychometricians choose the questions and the scoring formulae, so that the sexes will average the same. It’s in variability that the sexes differ.

Pinker (2008: 13, citing Deary et al, 2003, and several other sources) summarizes this way:

Even though the two sexes are well matched in most areas, including intelligence, there are fewer women than men at the extreme ends of the normal distribution. Men are simply more variable. Their ‘means,’ or the average scores for the group, are roughly the same as those for women, but their individual scores are scattered more widely. So there are more very stupid men and more very smart men, more extremely lazy ones and more willing to kill themselves with work.

Groth (2012), and Baumeister (2011), whose book he reviews, concur. This is an aspect of human nature that has been “found” by psychological research, and replicated repeatedly. It can be treated as a fact of human nature.

It is to access to “the top” that the Glass Ceiling concept is addressed. The variability difference phenomenon indicates that at the top of the ability distribution, there are many more men than women. Ergo, if top success fairly rewards top ability—there should be many more men at the top…

… unless, of course, women work longer and harder.

In fact, Pinker reports, the reverse is true: It’s men who work longer and harder on average, at least among those of high ability. Her third chapter [pp. 62-91] contains several interview statements by educated women, that they were not disadvantaged and may have been advantaged. Again on pp. 92-97, she reports that women she interviewed got extra help to achieve senior management rank… but many chose to have more family time, … in particular, caring for ill or newborn, family members, rather than work as senior management are expected to do. On p. 124, she writes: “Even with the dramatic changes in customs, laws, and social expectations over the past four decades, there are aspects of women’s work preferences that are likely to stay the same—for example, a desire to stay in a position that accommodates family, or to find work that exploits a talent for connecting with people.”

Her sixth chapter [157-182] reports that the “glass ceiling” is more chosen than suffered. Women don’t like the single minded commitment that work at the top, requires.

On p. 159, she writes: “A study of Harvard law graduates found that women were more likely than men to be hired at elite firms, but ten years later only a quarter of the women had stayed on to become partners (meanwhile, half the men did.)” “Greedy” jobs, as she terms them, repel more women than men; while those who stay become machoid, hiding heart attacks and cancer diagnoses.

So fewer women are at the top in ability, and fewer are single-minded in application of their talents. The “top” jobs that the Glass Ceiling concept claims women are denied, call for—very high ability and single-minded application. More men have both, than women—many rather than a few more.

Rather than a glass ceiling, there are two sex differences, working to put far more men than women in “top jobs.” It is not against women, but in favour of extremely high ability and application, that the biases work, and they are biases built into competitive, capitalist society.

This blog could end there; but it’s worth mentioning a few more facts. One is boringly obvious: All men are mortal. (I believe all women are also; but a woman recently claimed otherwise*.) The fruits of success are things that, in an old phrase “you can’t take with you”. As one who believes that death is a transition rather than nothingness, i seek to live a good story, not pile up a huge fortune. A “Top Job” isn’t necessarily a best choice; the World’s values can be misguided—as i regard present-day misandry to be—so while i regard Einstein’s Top Job as basically good, despite later misuses of his findings by others; i haven’t much sympathy for those that get rich selling Junk Food.

Another “fact” is the tendency, emphasized by Pinker, for men to combine very high ability in one aspect of mental life, with handicaps—ability levels well below average—in others; while women are more likely to be high in all abilities, average in all, or low in all.

“On the one hand” such a combination of high and low abilities, leaves many men with clearer guidance as to what sort of work to do: Work your strength and not your weakness. In contrast, a woman with several strengths, must choose; while a man with one, has his path set clear before him.

“On the other hand”, a man with but one or two strengths loses less than a woman—or a man—with many, in taking up a “greedy job”. He has fewer ways to use his time “strongly”. Single-minded application comes more naturally to a man with few but great talents, than to a woman with many. Pinker didn’t seem to notice this particular cause-effect possibility.

(It’s worth mentioning, finally, that some men have multiple talents—a smaller fraction of all men, if Dre. Pinker has got these patterns right, than women with multiple talents are of all women, but still a large number of men. So it’s not a one-sex predicament. )

But these are asides—I hope they will be instructive asides for some readers—and the main point is about gender and opportunity. Women have not, on the best evidence i have lately seen, been held back, or down, from top jobs in law, business, or wherever. Many women have chosen to have more diverse, emotionally fuller lives. Many more men than women are to be found at the top of the ability distributions (and at the bottom, where few notice.) The glass ceiling belongs with the luminiferous ether (in which many physicists once believed, before living memory) and phlogiston, a similarly obsolete but once widely believed concept from chemistry—among theoretical concepts that proved needless: They neither have any necessary part in the cause-effect patterns behind reality; nor, it turns out, do they even exist.


Baumeister, 2011, Is There Anything Good About Men? New York: Oxford University Press.

Deary, Ian J. et al, 2003. “Population differences in IQ at age 11: The Scottish Mental Survey 1932. Intelligence 32. cited Pinker 2008:

Groth, Miles 2012. Review of Roy F. Baumeister, 2011, Is There Anything Good About Men? New York: Oxford University Press. New Male Studies v. 1 Issue 1: 116-120.

Nathanson, Paul, and Katherine K. Young, 2006. Legalizing Misandry: From Public Shame to Systemic Discrimination against Men Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Pinker, Susan, 2008. The Sexual Paradox: Extreme Men, Gifted Women and the Real Gender Gap. [no city listed in flyleaf] Random House of Canada; New York: Simon and Schuster.


* “we just let you think we are” she said over the telephone; i don’t know her name, but had business with the business where she works. Perhaps this was a joke, perhaps an expression of some Pagan religion of which i am relatively ignorant.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
This entry was posted in Davd, Gender Equality, Human Nature. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply