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"8 Wage Gap Statistics To Shut Down Any Haters"

My wife teaches at a high school populated--both faculty and students--by a great many Liberals. (She would hasten to add that it is a very fine school staffed by many fine teachers who are also fine people and she greatly enjoys working there. Also, she is--sigh--mostly used to Liberal nonsense by now.) 

Recently, it has come to her attention that at least two of her colleagues--two of her more curious, open-minded colleagues it must be added--believe in the 20%-male-female-wage-gap-is-proof-awful-misogyny-is-holding-women-down story. (Even more distressing, perhaps, is that a great number of her female students seem to believe this as well.) When she mildly replied that it proves nothing of the sort her colleagues were shocked--shocked!--to find this out. But the wife of one of the said colleagues handed him "8 Wage Gap Statistics To Shut Down Any Haters" and said--I paraphrase--this fixes that!

No, it does not. It absolutely does not. I prepared a seven-page, single-spaced, document in reply. As a possible public service for readers who also need to answer such analyses, I'll post the first three pages here.

Start with yesterday’s “The Radicalism of ‘Equal Pay Day’”: short and simple. 

Two parts follow: a point-by-point series of brief replies followed by some stuff I accumulated for my lectures. (Which is a minimum of six years old, but I don’t imagine the elapsed time makes a difference to the substance.)

Part 1

  1. “The Gap Affects Nearly Every Field”. “The” gap encompasses wide variation in the gap across fields. Why?

In the source linked, women’s pay as a fraction of men’s overall is 81.9% (749/915). For “Medical scientists” it’s 93.5% (1169/1250), “Veterinarians” it’s 90.6% (1143/1261), but for “Physicians and surgeons” it’s 63.0% (1476/2343).

For “Elementary and middle school teachers” it’s 87.1% (981/1126), but rises for “Secondary school teacher” to 93.7% (1074/1146), and then, apparently inexplicably, falls for “Postsecondary teachers” to 85.0% (1152/1356). For “Postal service mail carriers” it’s 91.3% (931/1020), but for “Postal service clerks” it’s just 80.6% (805/999).

How does she account for these differences? More particularly, if the primary driver of the gap is our allegedly awful misogynist culture, provided the sample sizes are reasonably large, shouldn’t the gap be about the same across fields?

  1. “Education Doesn’t Fix the Problem”.

This is a fine example of an attack on a straw man. I don’t know of any reputable researcher who asserts that education is the only, or even the primary, cause for the gap. It’s one of many factors.

But perhaps more importantly, here’s a newsflash: not all four-year colleges are the same. Also, not all college majors are the same. And not all college graduates work at the same jobs or the same number of hours or have the same fringe benefits.

And by the way, part of the chart displayed under this point compares women’s and men’s average earnings who enrolled in “Private, non-profit” colleges. It shows a figure of 95.9% (46026.23/47980.83). What happened to the 18-point percentage gap?

  1. “More Education, Salary Still Lower’

See #2. But also consider this: she is here comparing a change over time to a point in time, “now” vs. “still face”. (“Women are now more likely to have college degrees than men, yet they still face a pay gap in every single education level . . .”) It’s generally more appropriate to compare a change over time to another change over time. Thus, it’s better here to ask whether as women have acquired more formal education has the gap closed? And the answer is “Yes!” The gap in the early 60s was about 40%.

(That’s easy for me to remember because I used to tell my students this: Leviticus 27:3-4, says “If your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels.” (Assigning a valuation for persons consecrated by a vow.) 30/50 = 60%! Some people asked: just coincidence??)

  1. “The Gap Persists Even in Female-Dominated Fields”

On first thought, part of the answer to #1 applies here. If the gap is caused by misogyny, why would we expect any different? Why should whether an occupation is female-dominated matter?

On second thought, this fact actually damages the author’s case. A important assumption often made for the discrimination explanation is that somehow, someway, women are denied entry to the higher paying fields. If there is a gap even in fields where this clearly isn’t true, where their “dominance” indicates they do enter, even that assumption is inadequate to maintain the explanation.

  1. “Even With Similar Jobs, There’s Still Lower Pay”.

This is, potentially, the best of the author’s eight points. But—I’m sorry—her two anecdotal examples don’t compare to several careful analyses done by economists that statistically control for—or attempt to control for—all the factors that need to be held constant for jobs to be “similar”. This work, a bit of which I’ll mention in Part 2 below, finds that after attempting to control for such factors the gap shrinks very significantly.

And, by the way, on this claim, “janitors, for example, earn wages 22 percent higher than those of maids and housekeepers. The former are typically men, while the latter are usually women”: has the author investigated the differences, if any, between “janitors” and “maids and housekeepers”? Are they, perhaps, related to the willingness and ability of women to be janitors? For example, do janitors have to do more lifting or moving of heavy objects? If there aren’t any substantial differences—possible, but why then are there separate categories?—why don’t female maids and housekeepers become janitors? 

As for the differences between primary schoolteachers and secondary ones, you can well address that. For one thing, as I used to discuss with our older daughter, drugs, gangs, and sex are mostly not yet issues for middle schoolers.

  1. “More Women Correlates To Lower Industry-Wide Pay”

Potentially the second-best of the author’s points. But the problem here is, before concluding anything, we should understand why there are “more women” in an industry. It’s not a fact of nature like the Rocky Mountains. Something, or several somethings, had to change to foster the greater proportion of women. Here are two hypotheticals to illustrate the point.

  1. Suppose an industry’s licensing or other barriers to entry decrease, barriers which more greatly affected women. (It could even be a breakup of the “old boys’ network”.) If more women enter, because it’s now easier to, and everything else stays constant, then the labor supply to that industry has increased and basic supply-and-demand predicts a fall in wages.
  2. Something that has been proposed to explain the deteriorating performance of K-12 schools from the 40s—60s period to today is the exit of more ambitious, educated women from teaching. That seems to be fact. Now suppose—hypothetically—that one response to that from schools has been to substitute quantity for quality. Increase the number of somewhat less effective teachers to compensate for the loss of the best teachers. (Teachers’ aides, anybody?) Other things equal, that would lower teachers’ wages even in the complete absence of misogyny.
  1. “It Gets Worse When You Factor In Race”.

This is an appeal to trendy intersectionality and is argument by distraction. It is irrelevant to the issue at hand.

  1. “Oh, And It Gets Worse With Age, Too”

Partly argument by distraction, but more importantly, once again it raises an interesting question that goes unanswered. When I taught the subject, the extant research found the same thing, that the gap increases between age 20 and age 40. But that research also reported that the gap decreased slightly between 40 and 50. I used to ask my MBAs: do we really think that men who disrespect women disrespect 40-year-old women more than 50-year-old women? It’s possible. With irrational discrimination anything is possible. But might there be something else important going on in women’s lives about age 40?

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