Rush Limbaugh has spent the last 20-plus years proving that he has nothing to say about women that isn't horrifically sexist and misogynistic -- his verbal assault on law student Sandra Fluke in February was just the most recent attack of many. Limbaugh continued this pattern this week by hyping a Daily Mail article claiming that a "controversial study" concluded that "the real reason women pursue careers is because they fear they are too unattractive to get married." But the Daily Mail's interpretation of the study is bogus.
The study (payment required) in question, published in the April 2 edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, was actually titled, "Sex Ratio and Women's Career Choice: Does a Scarcity of Men Lead Women to Choose Briefcase Over Baby?" The study found that in geographic regions of the U.S. with "a scarcity of men," women were more likely to "seek high-paying careers and to delay starting a family."
Here's the Daily Mail's interpretation of the study: "Do girls only want a career because they can't attract a man? Provocative study casts high fliers in a new light." The article under that headline went on:
Forget ambition, financial security and that first-class degree.
A controversial study has concluded that the real reason women pursue careers is because they fear they are too unattractive to get married.
The research team, made up of three women and two men, said that when men are thin on the ground, 'women are more likely to choose briefcase over baby'.
The article also said the study found that the "plainer a woman is," "the more she is driven to succeed in the workplace," and that "[c]entral" to the study's "argument was the idea that women have evolved to become homemakers and men, providers."
Of course, Limbaugh couldn't resist a story like that.
On his April 16 show, Limbaugh read extensively from the Daily Mail article, using it to back his "undeniable truth of life" "number 24": "Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of American life." He punctuated his reading with a few comments of his own, including, "So, are we to conclude, then, that the job market is the place unattractive women go to access men?" and "Is this the real reason liberal women insist on working?"
But none of this is quite what the study said. The authors wrote that "sex ratio affects women's family planning and career choices." They concluded, "Sex ratios involving a scarcity of men led women to seek lucrative careers because of the difficulty women have in finding an investing, long-term mate under such circumstances."
The study also didn't quite conclude that the "plainer a woman is," "the more she is driven to succeed in the workplace." One of the four experiments conducted did look at participants' "self-perceived mate value," in which they filled out a survey to indicate their self-perceived "desirability as a mate in the eyes of similar-aged, opposite-sex people." The experimenters concluded:
Although a scarcity of men did not alter the career aspirations of high mate-value women, it led low mate-value women to seek careers over family. Moreover, a scarcity of men led low mate-value women to be especially motivated to seek careers that offered financial rewards and higher pay, suggesting that sex ratio leads women to seek careers that enable them to support themselves financially. Viewed together, these findings indicate that the effect of sex ratio on women's career ambitions is driven by women who are lower in mate value. When there is a scarcity of men, such women are motivated to pursue high-paying careers.
And the "idea that women have evolved to become homemakers and men, providers" was not "[c]entral to" the study's argument, as the Daily Mail claimed. What the study actually asserted was that "historically," "men have typically contributed more economic resources to families" (citations removed):
Because human offspring require an immense amount of time, attention, and care over many years of development, humans have historically solved this challenge through pair-bonding processes such as marriage. Such pair bonds allow a couple to pool their time, energy, and resources to raise children successfully. However, because females are the only sex that can gestate offspring and provide early nutrition via lactation and nursing, there has been considerable division of labor by sex within human cultures historically. Whereas men have typically contributed more economic resources to families (e.g., money, hunted game), women have contributed more direct offspring care. This division of labor, with men contributing more economic resources and women contributing more direct childcare, conferred a survival advantage to most offspring.
Today, this historical division of labor by sex is only one of several options for women.