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When Women Win, Men Win, Too

Monday 08 August, 2016

by Nick Kristof (Oregon & Magdalen 1981)

When Women Win Kristof

WHEN a woman breaks a glass ceiling and becomes the presidential nominee of a major political party, what should men think?

Should men applaud that another barrier has fallen so that our world is more fair and equitable? Or should we fret that when women win, we lose — that soon we’ll have to give up grunting and football games for putting down toilet seats and talking about our “feelings”?

The Democratic National Convention this past week was one long celebration of XX chromosomes and the emancipation of women. A spine-tingling moment came when 102-year-old Geraldine “Jerry” Emmett, born before women could vote in federal elections, announced Arizona’s votes for Hillary Clinton — and then cried.

Yet Democratic strategists also worry, rightly I think, that the giddy enthusiasm for gender progress may turn off men. Already, Donald Trump has a huge lead among white men with no college degree, and that’s the reason the overall polls are close.

So let me try to make the case that when women win, we men win, too.

Put aside your feelings about Hillary Clinton: I understand that many Americans distrust her and would welcome a woman in the White House if it were someone else. But whatever one thinks of Clinton, her nomination is a milestone, and a lesson of history is that when women advance, humanity advances.

Grant Miller of Stanford University found that when states, one by one, gave women the right to vote at the local level in the 19th and early 20th centuries, politicians scrambled to find favor with female voters and allocated more funds to public health and child health. The upshot was that child mortality rates dropped sharply and 20,000 children’s lives were saved each year.

Many of those whose lives were saved were boys. Today, some are still alive, elderly men perhaps disgruntled by the cavalcade of women at the podium in Philadelphia. But they should remember that when women gained power at the voting booth, they used it to benefit boys as well as girls.

Another area where the shattering of glass ceilings by women seems to have benefited everyone is policing. Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia has found that in police departments that added more female officers, women in the area were more likely to report domestic violence, which prevented escalation.

A result was fewer domestic violence killings in those cities, particularly of men (often men who had battered their wives or girlfriends). Thus the forward-thinking decision to add female police officers ended up saving the lives of backward-thinking men who beat women.

Esther Duflo, an economist at M.I.T., tells me that discrimination seems to harm not only the direct victims, but all of society. Research suggests that’s partly because the groups that make the best decisions are not those with the highest-I.Q. members, but rather those that are more diverse in gender and in other ways. In one study of 12-member teams of students running businesses, teams that were all male or all female didn’t perform as well as those that were more evenly divided. The optimal mix was 55 percent female.

Women may improve decision-making partly because they rein in a male penchant for overconfidence and risk-taking. One study found that men trade stocks 45 percent more than women do, actually reducing their returns by 2.7 percentage points per year.

Other researchers found that the testosterone level in the saliva of male financial traders predicted profits earned that day, because risk-taking often earns more profits. But when things go bad, the result is a spectacular crash. I’ve noted that Lehman Brothers might have been better off with more female executives, but the optimal arrangement wouldn’t have been Lehman Sisters but rather Lehman Brothers and Sisters.

Higher education is another area where women have made huge inroads, despite early hostility from men.

“What is all this nonsense about admitting women to Princeton?” asked one Princeton alumnus in 1968. “A good old-fashioned whorehouse would be considerably more efficient, and much, much cheaper.” A forthcoming book on coeducation, “Keep the Damned Women Out,” by Nancy Weiss Malkiel, notes that the first female undergraduates at Princeton were derided as “critters.”

Yet empowering women as students and scholars elevated American higher education in ways that benefited almost everyone, and the women quickly proved that they were far from airheads: In 1975, just the third year Princeton officially graduated women, its No. 1 and No. 2 graduates were both female.

Scholars have also found that female-owned businesses (and companies abroad with more women on the boards) were less likely than male-owned businesses to lay off employees during the Great Recession. This hurt short-term profits but may have been worth it to sustain morale and retain talent. Some male chauvinists may have grumbled about female bosses, but those bosses may have been the reason they kept their jobs.

So to those men who worry about being hurt by the shards from one more shattered glass ceiling, I’d say: Not only is this inevitable, not only is it a matter of fairness, but the evidence is also overwhelming that when women gain power and a seat at the table, we men benefit as well. So let’s relax and join the celebration.

This piece was first published in the New York Times on 30 July, and permission has been granted to reproduce it here. Photo credit: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Nicholas Kristof (Oregon & Magdalen 1981) has been a columnist for The New York Times since 2001. He grew up on a farm in Oregon, graduated from Harvard, studied law at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and then studied Arabic in Cairo. He was a long time foreign correspondent for The New York Times and speaks Chinese, Japanese and other languages. Mr Kristof has won two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of Tiananmen Square and the genocide in Darfur, along with many humanitarian awards such as the Anne Frank Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Photo Credit: By Calebrw at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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