Sunday, 8 March 2015

Women Earn Less Than Men: True or False?

I’ve heard this statement. I’ve repeated this statement. I’ve quoted people and newspaper articles which quantify this by saying women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. However, I’ve also heard dissenting voices, but since those voices seemed to coming from the Conservative camp, read Republican, read Tea Party, read crazy as in divorced from reality, I tended to dismiss them. Guess what? I myself have gotten so entrenched in my own beliefs, I’m not always listening. Then again, when you have somebody like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, Rick Perry or Rand Paul talking (I have quite a list, eh?), you tend to roll your eyes and look away.

I’m writing this article. I’m stating my opinion. However, I do try and substantiate what I’m saying with verifiable facts. In science, a theory must be reproducible if it is to be considered true. Independent scientists doing independent tests should be able to independently arrive at the same conclusions. But I have noted in public, in politics, in coffee shops, and even in the news, sometimes what we’re saying may not pass a rigorous test of verifiability. In fact, what we’re saying may be based on incomplete information, wrong information, a biased perspective, or an outright lie told by somebody we trust and with supposedly good intentions, we repeat what we know not realising we are helping to spread bad so-called common knowledge. And I would add here that even if you yourself decide to do some research to verify once and for all some point of debate, good luck. Even in today’s marvellous world of the Internet and Google searches, pinning something down to a conclusive truth can be very, very difficult if not impossible. In some areas of life, scientists have not done enough research or science just hasn’t yet gotten around to irrefutably solving that particular mystery. (Seriously, are quarks real or are you guys just making stuff up?)

The other week, I ran across the following article in Time Magazine. The fact it is in Time gives it credence, I think.

TIME Magazine - Sep 2/2014
5 Feminist Myths That Will Not Die by Christina Hoff Sommers

MYTH 1: Women are half the world’s population, working two-thirds of the world’s working hours, receiving 10% of the world’s income, owning less than 1% of the world’s property.

MYTH 2: Between 100,000 and 300,000 girls are pressed into sexual slavery each year in the United States.

MYTH 3: In the United States, 22%–35% of women who visit hospital emergency rooms do so because of domestic violence.

MYTH 4: One in five in college women will be sexually assaulted.

MYTH 5: Women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns—for doing the same work.

The above listing is merely a summary as the article has detailed explanations for each myth with links to supporting documentation. That, unto itself, gives me a good feeling this isn’t just somebody’s opinion, but somebody’s research. (FYI: In my previous writing, I already discovered Myth #2 is a factoid perpetuated by sex-negative, anti-porn groups promoting a traditional abstinence-only sex education, sex only in the context of marriage platform.)

But who’s the author?

Wikipedia: Christina Hoff Sommers
Christina Marie Hoff Sommers (b 1950) is an American author and former philosophy professor known for her writings about feminism in contemporary American culture. She coined the term "equity feminist" to denote her philosophy, which she contrasts with what she describes as "victim" or "gender feminism". ... [Sommers] earned a BA at New York University in 1971, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a PhD in philosophy from Brandeis University in 1979.

Okay, this is a smart woman. But, then I see she is affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute. What’s that?

Wikipedia: American Enterprise Institute
The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is a private, conservative,] not-for-profit institution (a "think tank") dedicated to research and education on issues of government, politics, economics and social welfare. ... Some AEI scholars are considered to be some of the leading architects of the second Bush administration's public policy.

Oh, oh. I see red flags up all over the place. Conservative? The Bush Administration? The people who spent $5 trillion to kill one man? Holy Hannah. This is the Rush Limbaugh end of the political spectrum and while somebody may be able to accuse me of being biased, I like to think it isn’t my opinion but rather Rush himself who opens his mouth and shows himself to be a raving lunatic. (Or Sarah, or Michele, or Rand, etc.)

However, I’m being closed minded about this. Let me explore.

Obama and the Democrats
On January 28, 2014, Obama gave the 2014 State of the Union Address in which he said:

Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. (CBS News)

In January 29, 2014, PolitiFact, a fact checking project of the Tampa Bay Times, published an analysis of Obama’s statement. This analysis echoed a similar investigation by FactCheck.Org done in 2012 calling a similar Obama statement used in a re-election campaign “Obama’s 77 cent exaggeration”. Using data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, a measurement of weekly earnings showed women got 82 cents and looking at hourly wages, it was 86 cents. Other factors explained more of the difference.

In reading over these articles and supporting documentation, what exactly is “the” conclusion?

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Fred works full-time as a labourer in a factory and makes $50,000 per year. Alice is a stay-at-home mom who works part-time as a clerk in a store and makes $15,000 per year.

Conclusion?

A woman makes 30 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Wait. What?

The president is relying on a simple calculation from the Census Bureau: a ratio of the difference between women’s median earnings and men’s median earnings. (The median is the middle value, with an equal number of full-time workers earning more and earning less.) That leaves a pay gap of 23 cents. (The Washington Post)

The above articles, PolitiFact, FactCheck, etc. point out that this talking point is not considering a number of important factors.

Women in general take time off for children.

The average woman has less work experience than the average man.

Women tend to seek jobs with more flexible hours but lower pay.

Women choose careers that tend to have lower pay.

BLS data (Bureau of Labor Statistics) show that women who do not get married have virtually no wage gap; they earn 96 cents for every dollar a man makes. (The Washington Post)

It’s important to note that the existence of a pay gap doesn’t necessarily mean that the gap is caused by individual employer-level discrimination. Rather, some portion is likely the result of broader demographic patterns.

For instance, men and women historically enter certain fields more than others -- a phenomenon known as "occupational segregation." Women more often choose to be receptionists, nurses and teachers, while men pursue paths as truck drivers, managers and computer software engineers, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. When data from all these fields is combined together, as in the Census and BLS studies, the gap is at least partially explained by the predominance of women in lower-paying fields, rather than women necessarily being paid less for the same job than men are.

In addition, women disproportionately obtain degrees that lead to lower-paying jobs than men, and they take more time off from work for pregnancy and child care, according to a 2009 analysis by the nonpartisan CONSAD Research Corp. in Pittsburgh. Despite the growth in fathers’ role in child care, the child-care burden shouldered by women tends to restrict their career options and hours worked. (PolitiFact)

A further read of the various articles point out that nobody is claiming there is no gender discrimination. No matter what method is used, there is always some pay gap between men and women and the possible conclusion is that there is (some) discrimination in the workplace. However, 77 cents is exaggerating the problem and ignoring many of the factors which explain such an overall difference.

Thoughts
What I took away from this study is that the question of a wage gap between men and women is not a simple issue. Throwing around a statistic may win you political points, but could very well lead to bad policy.

"We cannot properly address an issue if misinformation prevents us from properly assessing the issue."
-Irene Graham, writer, anti-censorship advocate (quoted in my blog: Pornography: Statistics Laundering)

If a gap exists because of family responsibilities as opposed to discrimination, how much would daycare recitify the problem?

If a gap exists because of unplanned families, how much would sex education help? (Or even abortions?)

If a gap exists because of a lack of access to higher education, how much would student support assist?

If a gap exists because women generally take lower paying work, how would a change in societal attitudes affect those choices? (What’s wrong with a female plumber?)

When I started this article, I expressed doubts about Christina Hoff Sommers because of her ties to the Conservative camp. Now that I’ve gone through the writings of PolitiFact, FactCheck,Org, and The Washington Post, I realise that Dr. Sommers has made some interesting points. Am I closer to "the truth" my air quotes?

The Pay Gap is Real
Pamela Coukos is a senior program adviser and expert on compensation issues at OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs), part of the U.S. Department of Labor responsible for ensuring that employers doing business with the Federal government comply with the laws and regulations requiring nondiscrimination. Her name is referenced by some of the above articles I’ve mentioned.

On June 7, 2012, The U.S. Department Labour Blog published her article “Myth Busting the Pay Gap” and on June 7, 2013, a follow up article “50 Down, 50 to Go? Myth Busting the Pay Gap Revisited”. If it isn’t obvious, Dr. Coukos is on the side of federeal government and argues that things are not as sunny and bright as Christina Hoff Sommers would have us believe.

Let me repeat something.

BLS data (Bureau of Labor Statistics) show that women who do not get married have virtually no wage gap; they earn 96 cents for every dollar a man makes. (The Washington Post)

So that means the remaining 4 cents could be due to discrimination. So far, nobody, it seems, has conclusively nailed down an explanation for that discrepancy, but we all have to admit that is a long way from a wage gap of 23 cents.

My Personal Experience
In the company where I've worked for the past 20 years, we have all been obliged to follow the letter of the law. Technically, there is no wage gap. But if you ask me if a manager hiring a new employee favours a man over a woman, I can't answer that with 100% certainty. But I do know the executive and the board of directors have discussed the issue about the lack of women higher up the ladder. The answer is simple: the number of women in these fields is few. The reason why we don't have more women at the top is because there are few women who apply for the job. That isn't discrimination; that's the completely different issue of what roles women have in our society from men. The highest paid employee on my team right now is a woman, but I admit, over the years, my team has been mostly made up of men simply because there were never many women in the field. This is changing.

Final Word
My head hurts. I've been up and down, back and forth, inundated with statistics, and overwhelmed with opinions, interpretations, and political ideologies. If there's a joke in all of this, it's that I'm white and I'm male, supposedly at the top of the heap in our society. (White male privilege) But, I'm a peace, love, and understanding type of guy and believe rather strongly in what's fair for all of us. However, while struggling to recognise things may not be fair, it seems to be a bigger struggle trying to figure out the root cause of unfairness so we can collectively address the issue. 77 cents is a succinct talking point and great at a political rally when you're trying to garner votes, but what the heck are you going to do about it? If you don't understand why something is happening, what do you do to stop it?

My conclusion is this. There is a gender wage gap. There is wage discrimination, some discrimination, but I do not know how much. I do know that there are other factors at play here which validly explain that wage gap. Recognising, understanding, and addressing those other factors are necessary in closing that gap.

In 1992, I moved into a new apartment and arranged with Bell Telephone to come in and hook up my service. I opened the door to the technician and found myself facing a woman. I had never seen a female technician before in my life. There was nothing wrong with it, but she was a bit of a unicorn. During World War II, while the men were off fighting, women everywhere took over jobs normally held by men. Women are just as capable as men. In fact, let's all admit right up front that women can do something a man can never do: have children. That simple difference may fundamentally explain a great deal of why our society is the way it is. I'm not saying it's right or wrong; I'm saying we need to keep that simple fact in mind when we analyse such issues.

We have a great deal to do to make this a better world. We suffer from sexism, racism, ageism, and a host of other social ills. But if we start from the point that we are all equal, we will all benefit and we will all have a better chance.


References

CONSAD Research Corp – Jan 1/2009
An Analysis of Reasons for the Disparity in Wages Between Men and Women (PDF)
During the past three decades, women have made notable gains in the workplace and in pay equity, including increased labor force participation, substantial gains in educational attainment, employment growth in higher paying occupations, and significant gains in real earnings. ... However, despite these gains the raw wage gap continues to be used in misleading ways to advance public policy agendas without fully explaining the reasons behind the gap. The purpose of this report is to identify the reasons that explain the wage gap in order to more fully inform policymakers and the public.

Wikipedia: Lies, damned lies, and statistics
"Lies, damned lies, and statistics" is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. It is also sometimes colloquially used to doubt statistics used to prove an opponent's point.

MarketWatch - Jul 26/2012
The gender wage gap is a myth by DianaFurchtgott-Roth
Myth 1: Women get less pay for equal work. The spurious assertion that women are paid 77 cents for a man’s wage dollar comes from comparing the earnings of all full-time men with those of all full-time women.

The comparison is bogus, for two reasons. First, it lumps together men and women who work different numbers of hours — any hours above 35 hours per week. On average, full-time women work fewer hours than full-time men, often because they prefer it.

When comparisons are made between men and women who work 40 hours per week, women make 87% of men’s earnings, according to the Labor Department. For men and women who work 30 to 34 hours a week, women make more, 109% of men’s earnings.

Second, the gap claim averages for each gender earnings from many and disparate vocations. For example, it averages women who work as social workers with men who work as investment bankers; female elementary school teachers with male engineers; and male loggers with female administrative assistants.

For their own reasons, many women enter so-called “helping professions,” such as nursing, teaching, elder care, health services, nutrition, social work. These occupations pay less than do some more dangerous and physically-demanding lines of work that attract more men — engineering, mining, operating construction machinery.

Myth busting: “Myth busting the pay gap”


The American Association of University Women (AAUW) - Spring 2015
The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap by Catherine Hill, Ph.D.
You’ve probably heard that men are paid more than women are paid over their lifetimes. But what does that mean? Are women paid less because they choose lower-paying jobs? Is it because more women work part time than men do? Or is it because women tend to be the primary caregivers for their children? AAUW’s The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap succinctly addresses these issues by going beyond the widely reported 78 percent statistic. The report explains the pay gap in the United States; how it affects women of all ages, races, and education levels; and what you can do to close it.

my blog: I'm a white man. How many advantages can one person have? - Aug 2/2014
Louis CK: "White people: we're going to pay hard for this shit. We're not going to just fall from number one to two; they're going to hold us down and fuck us in the ass forever. And we totally deserve it. But for now... Weeeeeee!"

2015-03-07

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