We are the 99%

April 15, 2011

More Clarity On An Issue Is Always Better

Let's get a few things established:
  • Gender discrimination is not a good thing.
  • It's just as bad as discrimination by race or religion or sexual orientation or nationality.
  • It should never be tolerated in a civilized society.
But the only way to counter gender based job discrimination is to face it clearly.

Unfortunately, this bubbled up in the P-G recently:
Equal pay laws do not guarantee pay equity. In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, women earned, on average, 59 cents for each dollar earned by men. In 2009, 46 years later -- roughly the span of an average work life -- women earned 77 cents for each dollar earned by men. At this rate of progress, female college graduates from the Class of 2011 won't see pay equity during their work lives; nor will any woman currently in the workplace. [Emphasis added.]
I've seen that pay inequity statistic a lot on the last few days - where does it come from?

According to this report from the American Association of University Women (the AAUW), it's the ratio of the median income earned by women to the median income earned by men.

In this context, "median" means the "middle amount." Imagine a room filled with a large number of people. The median height would be that height were half of the room is taller and half of the room is shorter. A country's median income would be that level where half of that nation's people earn more than that amount and half earn less.

It's not an unimportant statistic - the ratio means exactly what it says: the median income for women is between 3/4 and 4/5 the median income for men. But it's not an average.

Back to the P-G:
Equal pay is an issue of fundamental fairness and an affirmation of equal economic rights.
That is undoubtedly true but are we really talking "equal pay" here? The $.77 on the dollar meme only works if the employment distribution is exactly the same for men and women. The problem for the ratio and those using the ratio in this discussion is that it isn't.

The problem arises when we look to extrapolate from that ratio a generalization about the level of pay inequity in the country. For example, does it mean that we can assume that two employees (one male, one female) working the same job at the same company for the same amount of time can expect to see something close to that the same inequity. Sorry, but I don't think we can assume that. There's a world of difference between comparing large scale median incomes to comparing specific cases or even groups of similar cases.

That's not to say that there's no pay inequality - just that we can't use "$.77 on the dollar" to show it. Not without a lot of qualifiers. None of which we've seen recently.

On those qualifiers - it turns out that the education and employment choices men and women make have a lot more to do with the wage gap than does gender discrimination.

According to another report from the AAUW - a report called Behind the Pay Gap - there are many factors influencing employment and pay; what men and women choose to study in college, where they work after college and how they work when they get there. Take a look:
Behind the Pay Gap examines the gender pay gap for college graduates. One year out of college, 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. Controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors normally associated with pay, college-educated women still earn less than their male peers earn.

Individuals can, however, make choices that can greatly enhance their earnings potential. Choosing to attend college and completing a college degree have strong positive effects on earnings, although all college degrees do not have the same effect. The selectivity of the college attended and the choice of a major also affect later earnings. Many majors remain strongly dominated by one gender. Female students are concentrated in fields associated with lower earnings, such as education, health, and psychology. Male students dominate the higher-paying fields: engineering, mathematics, and physical sciences. Women and men who majored in “male-dominated” subjects earn more than do those who majored in “female dominated” or “mixed-gender” fields.
What choices are they talking about? And how does the picture change when they're taken into account? The AAUW points to these influences on the pay gap (these are their topic headings, by the way):
  • Women and men choose different majors.
  • Choice of major plays a significant role in future wages.
  • Women and men work in different occupations.
  • Men report working more hours than women report working.
  • Women are more likely than men to take time off to care for children.
  • Men report working more hours than women report working.
  • Women are more likely to use family leave, work part time, or leave the labor force for some period.
While all of these things skew the numbers downward for women's pay, none, it seems, have much to do with gender discrimination.

And the report goes on about the choices men and women make in education and employment:
If a woman and a man make the same choices, will they receive the same pay? The answer is no. The evidence shows that even when the “explanations” for the pay gap are included in a regression, they cannot fully explain the pay disparity. The regressions for earnings one year after college indicate that when all variables are included, about one quarter of the pay gap is attributable to gender. That is, after controlling for all the factors known to affect earnings, college-educated women earn about 5 percent less than college-educated men earn. [emphasis added.]
And from the Executive Summary:
The pay gap between female and male college graduates cannot be fully accounted for by factors known to affect wages, such as experience (including work hours), training, education, and personal characteristics. Gender pay discrimination can be overt or it can be subtle. It is difficult to document because someone’s gender is usually easily identified by name, voice, or appearance. The only way to discover discrimination is to eliminate the other possible explanations. In this analysis the portion of the pay gap that remains unexplained after all other factors are taken into account is 5 percent one year after graduation and 12 percent 10 years after graduation. [emphasis added.]
Assuming that "the portion of the pay gap that remains unexplained" is proof of gender discrimination, obviously 5 to 12 percent too damn much of a difference.

But it's also a far cry from 23%.

In order to counter it, we have to face gender discrimination clearly.

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