NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 31, 2009

According to a White House salary report, the average female staffer earns $9,168 less than a male. This gap is a tad embarrassing for President Barack Obama and his progressive Democratic Party, which tends to argue it's nurture, not nature, that causes disparities, says Amity Shlaes, author of "The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression."

But maybe the White House didn't fail. Or maybe it should have done its personnel selection differently, with a ruler to measure the fourth digit of job candidates'  hand (the fourth finger tends to be longer than the index finger in those exposed to more levels of testosterone).  That at least would be the conclusion of researchers Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales of Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, respectively. Their latest finding: high-testosterone job candidates tend to seek out riskier, higher return work, while those with lower levels gravitate toward more stable, lower profile, lower-return employment.

This suggests a couple things, says Shlaes:

  • The first is that nurture may indeed matter; the fact that men's choices seemed less sensitive to testosterone exposure suggests that their identity as males, which their cultural and personal experience helps to shape, may have been a factor.
  • The second is that nature matters too and the finding that the timing of testosterone exposure, in addition to the level, can influence career choices.

What's the takeaway?  There are the flippant ones: women who long for high-test jobs might do better to go hunt for supplements that increase endogenous testosterone. They might start popping Estratest pills, a hormone therapy that includes testosterone, than making a donation in support of the Democrat-backed Employee Free Choice Act, says Shlaes.

There are also more general points: personal experience seems to matter for males. But political efforts to narrow the pay gap may sometimes be futile for females.  It all suggests a high-test review of assumptions about gender is in order, says Shlaes.

Source:  Amity Shlaes, "Fourth Finger May Show If You Have What It Takes," Bloomberg, August 24, 2009.

For text:


Browse more articles on Economic Issues