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Biology at Work

Rethinking Sexual Equality

Kingsley R. Browne

Publication Year: 2002

Does biology help explain why women, on average, earn less money than men? Is there any evolutionary basis for the scarcity of female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies? According to Kingsley Browne, the answer may be yes.

Biology at Work brings an evolutionary perspective to bear on issues of women in the workplace: the "glass ceiling," the "gender gap" in pay, sexual harassment, and occupational segregation. While acknowledging the role of discrimination and sexist socialization, Browne suggests that until we factor real biological differences between men and women into the equation, the explanation remains incomplete.

Browne looks at behavioral differences between men and women as products of different evolutionary pressures facing them throughout human history. Womens biological investment in their offspring has led them to be on average more nurturing and risk averse, and to value relationships over competition. Men have been biologically rewarded, over human history, for displays of strength and skill, risk taking, and status acquisition. These behavioral differences have numerous workplace consequences. Not surprisingly, sex differences in the drive for status lead to sex differences in the achievement of status.

Browne argues that decision makers should recognize that policies based on the assumption of a single androgynous human nature are unlikely to be successful. Simply removing barriers to inequality will not achieve equality, as women and men typically value different things in the workplace and will make different workplace choices based on their different preferences.

Rather than simply putting forward the "nature" side of the debate, Browne suggests that dichotomies such as nature/nurture have impeded our understanding of the origins of human behavior. Through evolutionary biology we can understand not only how natural selection has created predispositions toward certain types of behavior but also how the social environment interacts with these predispositions to produce observed behavioral patterns.


Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Every scholar must acknowledge that his contribution to the literature, however modest, is necessarily dependent upon the work of many others. Especially is this so in a work such as this, which does not convey any original research findings but rather seeks to synthesize findings of others from disparate disciplines....

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Chapter 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-10

In the 1985 movie based upon H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, the hero, Allen Quatermain, encounters an African tribe that has adopted the unusual cultural practice of living upside down.1 They court upside down; they fight upside down; they even do laundry upside down. “Unhappy with the world the way it is,” we are...

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Part I: How the Sexes Differ

Workplace differences can be understood only against the backdrop of the important psychological differences between males and females. Males and females exhibit average differences in temperament, with males tending to be more aggressive and competitive on a host of measures and tending to engage in more dominance-seeking and risk-taking activity and females tending...

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Chapter 2: Sex Differences in Temperament

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pp. 13-24

Suppose you were a visitor to a previously unknown society and you gave members of that society a test requiring them to identify the sex described by a series of adjectives. One sex is described as sentimental, submissive, superstitious, affectionate, dreamy, sensitive, attractive, dependent, emotional, fearful, softhearted, and weak; the other is described as adventurous,...

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Chapter 3: Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities

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pp. 25-32

The sexes differ not only in their temperaments but also in their cognitive abilities.1 Certain commonly accepted generalizations about the sexes are not correct, however, or at least must be substantially qualified. Although it is often said that men are better at spatial and mathematical tasks and women...

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Part II: Women in the Workplace

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pp. 33-34

The means by which any animal “makes a living” is intimately related to the animal’s physical and psychological makeup. If the physical and psychological makeup of a species varies substantially by sex, we would expect that males and females may make their livings in a somewhat different manner. The culturally...

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Chapter 4: Once One Breaks the Glass Ceiling, Does It Still Exist?

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pp. 35-49

The term glass ceiling is a metaphor intended to describe invisible barriers to women’s achievement of the highest corporate levels. It is a clever metaphor because it combines an incontestable empirical observation—the underrepresentation of women at the highest corporate levels in comparison with their overall representation in the labor force—with an assumption about...

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Chapter 5: Occupational Segregation: Why Do Men Still Predominate in Scientific and Blue-Collar Jobs?

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pp. 50-67

Despite women’s entry into, and even their predominance in, many fields, others—especially scientific and blue-collar occupations—seem resistant to integration. These occupations are often labeled “traditionally male” or “nontraditional,” but it is misleading to distinguish these occupations from the...

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Chapter 6: The Gender Gap in Compensation

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pp. 68-90

The term gender gap in compensation is a shorthand phrase describing the fact that full-time female employees on average earn less than full-time male employees. The most commonly reported value for the “gender gap” is the female-to-male annual earnings ratio, which in 1999 was approximately 0.72, indicating...

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Part III: The Proximate and Ultimate Origins of Sex Differences

The sex differences in workplace outcomes described in part II follow in large part from the sex differences in temperament and cognition described in part I. Before embarking on a discussion of the policy implications of these differences, it is useful to consider just where these differences come from....

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Chapter 7: Why Socialization Is an Inadequate Explanation

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pp. 93-107

The familiar story that many of us grew up with is that the sex differences that we observe are purely social creations. Society, it is said, causes these differences by treating functionally identical individuals differently. Men are competitive, acquisitive risk takers, and women are cooperative, risk-averse...

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Chapter 8: Hormones: The Proximate Cause of Physical and Psychological Sexual Dimorphism

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pp. 108-116

The biological argument for psychological sex differences requires us to start at the very beginning and examine what it is exactly that makes a male and a female. The process of sexual differentiation is complex and affects not only the body of the developing human but also its brain....

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Chapter 9: Evolutionary Theory and the Ultimate Cause of Biological Sex Differences

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pp. 117-129

The place of humans in the animal kingdom is well established, and our firm rooting in the animal kingdom should make it apparent that our species has been shaped by the same forces that shaped our primate relatives. Despite the...

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Part IV: Public Policy and Sex Differences in Workplace Outcomes

Having examined the reasons for the glass ceiling, the gender gap, and occupational segregation, as well as evolved sex differences that contribute to these phenomena, we are now in a better position to consider whether policy intervention is appropriate, and, if so, what form it should take. The threshold inquiry,...

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Chapter 10: Difference or Disadvantage?

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pp. 133-141

Are the glass ceiling, the gender gap, and occupational segregation simply facts of the workplace, or are they problems that require some correction? Most workplace literature assumes that they are problems, often without being very...

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Chapter 11: A Thumb on the Scales

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pp. 142-165

Many employment practices or policy initiatives are aimed at achieving a work force in which women are represented and compensated in a statistically equal way. These include affirmative action to increase the number of women in highranking and nontraditional positions, efforts to attract women to scientific and...

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Chapter 12: Mitigating Work/Family Conflict

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pp. 166-187

Many students of the workplace believe that the primary impediment to full workplace equality for women is not discrimination by employers but rather the division of labor at home. Time spent on housework and child care is time that cannot be spent in the labor market. Recommended solutions to the...

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Part V: Sex and the Workplace: Sexuality and Sexual Harassment

The discussion has so far focused predominantly on the effects of individual differences in temperament, ability, and interests on sex differences in workplace outcomes. Beyond sex differences in such attributes, however, is the irreducible fact of sex differences in sexuality, differences that affect the way...

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Chapter 13: Sexual Harassment

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pp. 191-214

One of the inevitable results of sexual integration of the work force has been an expansion of opportunities for sexual interaction and, as a result, sexual conflict. The same conflicting reproductive interests of individual men and women that lead to tensions outside the workplace often lead to even greater...

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Chapter 14: Conclusion

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pp. 215-217

The evidence and arguments put forward in this book will be troubling to many. Some may believe that invocation of biology is implicitly (or perhaps even explicitly) a defense of the status quo—a paean to the virtue of existing arrangements or at least a testament to their inevitability. The defense, however...


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pp. 219-231


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pp. 233-267


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pp. 269-282

About the Author

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pp. 283

E-ISBN-13: 9780813542478
E-ISBN-10: 0813542472
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813530536

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2002