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"The Pay Gap" Is Really A Data Gap
I suspected this as I heard all the howls of commentators on TV about how women are getting screwed in the paycheck department. I remember a talk I heard by Steven Pinker at an evolutionary psych conference about how women tend to go into social work and lower-paid professions, and if we're going to have affirmative action to bring women into engineering, should we also try to force men to go into "listening professions" and such that they're generally not as interested or equipped for? (And no, this isn't to say that men can't be shrinks or women can't be engineers -- and it is to say that Summers shouldn't have been fired.)

A digression into the truth about Summers' speech by Steven Pinker over at The New Republic:

Summers's critics have repeatedly mangled his suggestion that innate differences might be one cause of gender disparities (a suggestion that he drew partly from a literature review in my book, The Blank Slate) into the claim that they must be the only cause. And they have converted his suggestion that the statistical distributions of men's and women's abilities are not identical to the claim that all men are talented and all women are not--as if someone heard that women typically live longer than men and concluded that every woman lives longer than every man. Just as depressing is an apparent unfamiliarity with the rationale behind political equality, as when [Nancy] Hopkins sarcastically remarked that, if Summers were right, Harvard should amend its admissions policy, presumably to accept fewer women. This is a classic confusion between the factual claim that men and women are not indistinguishable and the moral claim that we ought to judge people by their individual merits rather than the statistics of their group.

Perhaps relevant, perhaps not, in the hiring and pay dispute, is the fact that a lot of employers would probably rather hire a man than a woman who may get pregnant and leave. And then there's the fact that I think a lot of men take a more competitive approach to their careers -- perhaps because a career, not a guy's looks, is largely what determines whether he gets chicks, and what kind. I also take a competitive approach to my career, working seven days a week writing, because what I do is largely who I am, and it means a great deal to me. I find other women more likely to want children and families -- although, of course, not all. Or, if they don't want a family, many tend to put their relationship first and who they are second. (Incidentally, by not having my relationship be my whole life but yet very important to me, I think it's a lot happier than most people's.)

Back to the pay gap, luckily, there Steve Chapman over at Reason to take apart the data behind the whining:

On its face, the evidence in the AAUW study looks damning. "One year out of college," it says, "women working full-time earn only 80 percent as much as their male colleagues earn. Ten years after graduation, women fall farther behind, earning only 69 percent as much as men earn."

But read more, and you learn things that don't get much notice on Equal Pay Day. As the report acknowledges, women with college degrees tend to go into fields like education, psychology and the humanities, which typically pay less than the sectors preferred by men, such as engineering, math and business. They are also more likely than men to work for nonprofit groups and local governments, which do not offer salaries that Alex Rodriguez would envy.

As they get older, many women elect to work less so they can spend time with their children. A decade after graduation, 39 percent of women are out of the work force or working part time -- compared with only 3 percent of men. When these mothers return to full-time jobs, they naturally earn less than they would have if they had never left.

Even before they have kids, men and women often do different things that may affect earnings. A year out of college, notes AAUW, women in full-time jobs work an average of 42 hours a week, compared to 45 for men. Men are also far more likely to work more than 50 hours a week.

Buried in the report is a startling admission: "After accounting for all factors known to affect wages, about one-quarter of the gap remains unexplained and may be attributed to discrimination" (my emphasis). Another way to put it is that three-quarters of the gap clearly has innocent causes -- and that we actually don't know whether discrimination accounts for the rest.

I asked Harvard economist Claudia Goldin if there is sufficient evidence to conclude that women experience systematic pay discrimination. "No," she replied. There are certainly instances of discrimination, she says, but most of the gap is the result of different choices. Other hard-to-measure factors, Goldin thinks, largely account for the remaining gap -- "probably not all, but most of it."

The divergent career paths of men and women may reflect a basic unfairness in what's expected of them. It could be that a lot of mothers, if they had their way, would rather pursue careers but have to stay home with the kids because their husbands insist. Or it may be that for one reason or another, many mothers prefer to take on the lion's share of child-rearing. In any case, the pay disparity caused by these choices can't be blamed on piggish employers.

June O'Neill, an economist at Baruch College and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, has uncovered something that debunks the discrimination thesis. Take out the effects of marriage and child-rearing, and the difference between the genders suddenly vanishes. "For men and women who never marry and never have children, there is no earnings gap," she said in an interview.

That's a fact you won't hear from AAUW or the Democratic presidential candidates. The prevailing impulse on Equal Pay Day was to lament how far we are from the goal. The true revelation, though, is how close.

Posted by aalkon at May 1, 2007 9:04 AM


I have science degrees, and while I worked, earned very fair wages. When my middle child experienced developmental delays, we agreed that I should quit work and focus on her treatment. She has now progressed to the point that I can consider going back to work. I will never reach the earning level of those, male or female, that stayed working for those years. Some friends who were out of work due to injury/cancer/stroke are in the same position. Stuff happens. My daughter shows an amazing talent for math and engineering despite, or maybe because of her autism.

Posted by: Ruth at May 1, 2007 8:16 AM

A year out of college, notes AAUW, women in full-time jobs work an average of 42 hours a week, compared to 45 for men. Men are also far more likely to work more than 50 hours a week.

The second sentence pretty much follows from the first, or vice versa; it's not an additional data point. If men are more likely to work 50 hours (or any other arbitrary number) per week, their weekly average is obviously going to be higher.

Posted by: Rex Little at May 1, 2007 8:55 AM


I think that at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder the cleanliness of jobs can be a factor in wage differentials. That is, jobs that require roughly similar levels of knowledge and skill will see a pay differential based on the negatives of the job. ie. bad hours, hot/dirty conditions, or heavy manual labor. But those jobs pay better because fewer people in general are willing to do them and women in particular are under represented in those career fields. This can (I believe) explain much of the difference in pay differentials between men and women because even at the lowest pay levels women choose work that is paid less well.

Posted by: C Scott at May 1, 2007 11:58 AM

Summers' real sin, IMHO, was to piss off the faculty by not kowtowing to them. It is worth noting that he was very, very popular among undergraduate students. (It's impossible to speak of Harvard's graduate students in any sort of generalities - depending on which schools they are in, they have wildly different backgrounds and school experiences and are scattered around Cambridge, Allston and Boston.)

However, his firing did have one salutary effect for me - it totally killed any motivation I had to donate to my dear alma mater. (Despite the fact that I get calls with no messages, presumably from the H. College Fund, every night. I love caller ID.) So, there's money not given to a multi-billion-dollar institution that I can use for other purposes...

Posted by: marion at May 1, 2007 1:48 PM

I forget, and would rather hear it from you than Google: He wasn't actually fired, right? Wasnt it one of those spend more time with the family things?

Posted by: Crid at May 1, 2007 2:59 PM

Oh, he "resigned" as they always do. More accurate to say that he was forced out than he was fired.

From Summers' Wikipedia entry (the accuracy of which seems perfectly fine to me):

"While many in the media have focused upon the controversial statements made by Summers or his political disagreement with left-leaning members of the faculty, it is also possible that these factors merely provided a pretext for members of the faculty to express their dissatisfaction with other aspects of Summers' presidency. Besides the aforementioned controversies, which undoubtedly provided the proximate cause for Summers' resignation, other factors have been proposed as contributing to his critical loss of support among the majority of faculty members. The first is Summers' reputed leadership style, described by many as arrogant, blunt, and intolerant of dissenting opinions. Many faculty members claimed they felt intimidated into remaining silent when they disagreed with Summers."

AND (his real sin!):

"Another factor that has been proposed is a supposed substantive disagreement about the structure and philosophy of the undergraduate curriculum, amidst an intensive curricular review initiated during Summers' term. Summers proposed that more emphasis be put on undergraduate education and requested that professors actually teach their undergraduate classes, as opposed to conferring responsibility on teaching assistants."

You can see why the students loved him...and why the faculty did not. I find the whole thing about the faculty feeling oppressed to be very funny, because, if you've ever worked with a Harvard grad, you'll know that we tend to be somewhat...overbearing. It's not that we don't like opposing opinions - it's that we expect people to be as forceful as, say, Amy in making them. I am willing to bet the the idea that anyone felt "intimidated" into remaining silent never once crossed Summers' mind.

Posted by: marion at May 1, 2007 7:04 PM

At the time, someone congratulated Summers for moving Cornel West off of Havard's payroll and onto Yale's because West's tenure wasn't worth the trouble.

I've often thought of buying that CD, just because someone has to do it. If you listen to the samples on Amazon, these notes come to mind.

1. This shit is deeply embarrassing in a horndog middle-aged-man kind of way (i.e. "eyes on the thighs")

2. None of this precious verse stands up to Google. Britney's shabbiest rhyme from that year can choke a Firefox browser, but no one in the world's made room for West's sentiments on their web page.

Posted by: Crid at May 1, 2007 7:57 PM

"...if you've ever worked with a Harvard grad, you'll know that we tend to be somewhat...overbearing."

At least people who were at Harvard tend to mention the fact less frequently than those who went to Princeton. (Non scientific observation, natch - anyway, I tend to be more amused than otherwise!)

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at May 2, 2007 5:40 AM

Perhaps relevant, perhaps not, in the hiring and pay dispute, is the fact that a lot of employers would probably rather hire a man than a woman who may get pregnant and leave.

This may be true. In my 20 years of personal experiences in the engineering world working for mostly large companies, I have never ever seen that at work. If you're good, we'll hire you, and if you're a woman, even better.

Posted by: anon at May 2, 2007 11:14 AM

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