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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Women And Intimidation: Perception or Fact? Looking At The Numbers

Behind the provocative headline lie some interesting federal government statistics that might warrant a rethinking of long-held assumptions about the workplace.

Sometimes the product of my deep-dive investigative fishing expeditions is the revelation of a shocking item buried in a government report. This is one example. Federal government data compiled from the last United States decennial census reveals that the lowest ratio of men to women, among counties with a population of 100,000 and without being skewed by women's colleges, are in none other than Manhattan (New York County) and The Bronx. Each borough has 88.3 men to 100 women.

The national average, incidentally, is 96.7. 

The Census data also breaks down the sex ratio (defined as the number of men for every 100 women) by age. The Y chromosome is dominant in utero, resulting in more male live births, but maleness is also a mortality risk. No matter what the age, more men than women die. And after about age 70, there is a sharp decrease in the number of men relative to women.

The result is that the sex ratio goes from being skewed against men (it is about 105 for those under age 20 or so) to about even for the twenty-somethings, to crossing below 100 in the early 30s age range. (See Tables 2 and 3 of the linked report.) 

Therefore, if some women are wondering why it's so difficult to find a good man -- or whatever they're saying these days -- the scientific explanation may not lie in psychology or values or bad luck. 

It may lie in two factors.

The first is a pure numbers game. There is an oversupply of women relative to men. 

The second is the result of discomfort with correctly perceiving the shifting balance in the sex ratio, which is quite skewed against men up to the college-age years, then evens out, but then gradually and relentlessly tips against women after the early thirties.

In essence, women grow up thinking they are outnumbered -- well, because it's true -- and being outnumbered can lead (warranted or not) to feeling intimidated...but then the numbers do change,

The problem is that the perception, mostly by women, does not change.

When you realize that women's outnumberedness and being intimidated actually underlies a lot of current public policy manifested in our workplace laws, inheritance laws (side note: Go visit any Surrogate's Court in New York) and a myriad of our laws, you might start to understand that this discomfort, and not any actual numerical disadvantage, drives a lot of public policy.

This discomfort -- which I compare to a pitcher who suddenly loses five miles an hour on his fastball, usually around age 34 -- has important policy implications.

It has become an article of faith, not to even be questioned, that education is skewed against girls, and henceforth special efforts must be made to make girls feel more "comfortable." This perception may have its genesis, not necessarily in the myth of male behavioral dominance, but in their numerical superiority through the educational years up to college age. 

But upon entering the workplace, which most people do in their twenties, the numerical dominance (as measured by the Census data, and not in any one particular work environment) just disappears. It is not there. The data confirm this.  Men simply...disappear, it seems.

More men die.

Perhaps the assumption that women need extra legal protections because they are dominated by men in the workforce is not merely grounded in perceptions of behavioral differences by "alpha males," but also in the historical perception that since boys outnumbered girls in elementary school, the workplace is similarly populated. 

The sex ratio statistics do not bear this out. 

Women may not be happy, or fulfilled, or as dominant (that is a matter of perception) as they wish, but the growing female numerical dominance from the years approaching middle age and onward may suggest that male dominance is more myth than reality.

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