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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 29, 2000. All rights reserved.

Peter Singer on Women in the Boardroom


Don’t attribute the glass ceiling to discrimination,

says Peter Singer, the Princeton University professor of bioethics

who has attracted all kinds of controversy about nearly every other

area of bioethics, and now he is airing views on the sex prejudice

in the boardroom. He will read and sign his new book "A Darwinian

Left, Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation (to be published by Yale

University Press) at the Princeton U-Store, 36 University Place, on

Thursday, April 6, at 6:30 p.m. The event is free; call 609-921-8500.

"We cannot use the fact that there is a disproportionately large

number of men in high status positions in business or politics as

a reason for concluding that there has been discrimination against

women," writes Singer in his examination of Darwin’s theory of


"If Darwinian thinking tells us that we have been too ready to

assume a fundamental difference in kind between human beings and nonhuman

animals, it could also tell us that we are too ready to assume that

all human beings are the same in all important respects. While Darwinian

thought has no impact on the priority we give to equality as a moral

or political ideal, it gives us grounds for believing that since men

and women play different roles in reproduction, they may also differ

in their inclinations or temperaments, in ways that best promote the

reproductive prospects of each sex.

"Since women are limited in the number of children they can have,

they are likely to be selective in their choice of mate. Men, on the

other hand, are limited in the number of children they can have only

by the number of women they can have sex with. If achieving high status

increases access to women, then we can expect men to have a stronger

drive for status than women.

"For example, the fact that there are fewer women chief executives

of major corporations than men may be due to men being more willing

to subordinate their personal lives and other interests to their career

goals, and biological differences between men and women may be a factor

in that greater readiness to sacrifice everything for the sake of

getting to the top.

Not only does Singer flout standard claims about sex discrimination,

he also questions many of the values of a capitalistic society. "We

live in a competitive society that values consumption and relates

status to media interest," he writes. "In such a society there

is little connection between status and the benefits one brings to


"Can we strengthen concern for others by shifting ideas of status

away from conspicuous consumption, in a more socially desirable direction?

In `The Winner-Take-All-Society,’ Robert Frank and Philip Cook argue

that a tax on spending — payable through our tax returns rather

than as part of the price we pay when we buy — would have a significant

positive impact in changing the habits of the high-fliers. Whether

or not they are right, this idea, and others in the same arena, are

ripe for further investigation."

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