Opinion | Pay gaps have to do with more than just gender

By on April 17, 2018

About 37 years ago, economist Thomas Sowell did an hour long interview on William F Buckley’s “The Firing Line.” What is surprising is that many of the myths and falsehoods of the time are still being repeated to this day.

One of the most impervious was one put on display right here at Quinnipiac. It goes along the lines of this: women earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. This is evidence of discrimination on the basis of sex. In order to bring attention to this issue, there was a table in the Student Center on April 10. They were selling pizza, charging women one dollar, and men two. When people asked why there was a difference in cost, the “pay gap” was explained as the justification.

Even if such a pay gap existed, and women were paid less than men on the basis of sexual discrimination, the answer to that is not more sexual discrimination in the other direction. You do not balance out injustice to one group by committing injustice against another. All of it goes on the same side, and I do not think the people on that side are company reasonable people would want to keep.

But this is to assume too much. To say that men are earning 23 cents more per hour for the same work is wrong. It is not wrong in the sense that I disagree with it or that it is misleading. It is as wrong as saying that the Earth is flat. It flies in the face of all of the evidence. Even thirty seven years ago, it was still wrong.

To be clear, discrimination is real and does happen, and when it does it should be confronted and stopped. But if it can explain disparities between male and female earnings is a theory to be tested, not something to be assumed by the disparity existing. Disparities can exist for a wide variety of reasons.

For example, consider the class of 2013. That year, 140 women graduated for every man, and women earned more associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees than men, according to the Department of Education. If disparities indeed imply discrimination, what are we to make of that?

The reality is that disparities are perfectly natural and to be expected. Consider that among siblings, there are large disparities. For example, it has been consistently replicated that first born children have higher IQ’s than children born second. The same holds true with second born children compared to third born.

Other studies have shown first born children to be overrepresented in lawyers in the Boston area, and in Members of Congress. Of the 29 astronauts who took part in the Apollo program, 22 were either first born or only children. This is all to say, if people born to the same parents, in the same households, raised with the same educational and cultural standards do not have equal outcomes, why would we expect society at large to in the absences of discrimination?

Another problem is the assumption that people share the same goals. Men and women are not working exactly the same jobs in exactly the same proportions, nor do they want to. A meta analysis of the scientific literature by NYU professor Jonathan Haidt and Sean Stevens found “large” differences in interest and enjoyment between the sexes in math/science professions.

There is not a country in the world where women are the majority of garbage collectors, and not one where men are the majority of nurses. If these differences are socially constructed, biologically determined, or some combination of the two is up for debate. What is not up for debate is that they exist.

This is why the “77 cents on the dollar” figure is misleading, because it is not for the same jobs. It is not unjust that Katy Perry makes more for doing a concert than I do for bagging groceries at Walmart, because they are different jobs. This is why like must be compared with like when testing for discrimination.

“The main reason why women still get paid less on average than men is not that they are paid less for the same jobs but that they tend not to climb so far up the career ladder, or they choose lower-paid occupations, such as nursing and teaching,” according to The Economist.

Even in the same job, there are reasons for disparities that are not discrimination. A Bureau of Labor study from 2015 found that among full time workers, men worked an average of 8.2 hours and women worked an average of 7.8 hours per day. It would be fair to say that being paid more for working longer is not unjust.

This may seem trivial, but at the population level of the United States it adds up. When you take part time work into account, men work 42 more minutes per day on average. That’s an extra 14 hours every month.

Another factor is that women tend to take more time off to look after their families than men. This leads to something of a statistical anomaly; married men make more than unmarried men, but unmarried women make more than married women. Usually, the same factors cause similar results across groups (for example, college education increases average income across all ethnic groups), but not here.

Thus, if we want to compare like with like, you have to filter that out. And studies have done so: among full time workers ages 21-35 without children, the pay gap is less than three percent, and among full time workers of that same age group who live alone, there is no statistically significant pay gap. This is without taking into account various other factors that have already been touched on, such as differences in hours worked among full time workers and different occupations.

This is all long form to say; why men and women earn different amounts of money is a complicated issue that cannot simply be reduced to “discrimination.” There are a multitude of factors involved. To ignore all of them is to do everyone a disservice. It is not empowering to be told that no matter what you do, you will make a quarter less than your male counterparts for the same work, especially when it is demonstrably not true.

I walked up to the table at the student center and gave them a copy of Doctor Sowell’s “Economic Facts and Fallacies,” the third chapter of which is dedicated to explaining why the 77 cents on the dollar talking point is untrue.

I would be surprised if they read it and altered their opinions in the face of new evidence, but I’ve been surprised before.

Comments

About Stephan Kapustka