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Examining the claims about a gender paygap

paygapSome time ago I promised to post something on this issue - the claimed gap in pay between women and men. So, here is the promised article.The image heading the article is typical of the general claim made. Obviously most of the fuss is coming from the US - hence the currency - but a similar story of woe is articulated by UK feminists. Is it correct?

No. Even if we use the metric chosen by feminists - and that is a horrible and largely useless measure as I will explain soon - the figure for the UK is 9.4% (ie  $0.91). I don't have stats for the US - largely because I can't be bothered - my argument will be with reference to the UK and, therefore, supported with data from the UK.  The US situation is probably broadly similar, but there may be some significant differencesThe first thing to realise is that this measure doesn't compare like with like. It is the crudest and least informative measure possible. Basically you add up the earnings of all men, and all women. You divide to give an average for men and an average for women. You then compare to give the gap.  In stats this is a 'mean population' average (population refers to the group in question, not necessarily the population of the country).  Sometimes a slightly different measure is used (feminists tend to pick whichever one gives the largest gap) which is similar, but you take the earnings that is the mid-point for both men and women and compare those. (ie imagine arranging the men and women into two lines in order of earnings. You pick the man and woman in the middle of the line and compare). This is a measure called the 'median populationaverage'. 


Both of this figures are almost useless in this context and are certainly not going to give a balanced picture of any differences. Why? Because it takes no account of hours worked or the type and level of the job in question. Feminists who make this 'pay gap' argument usually like to include an implicit assumption that they are comparing like with like - that women doing job X get 70% of the pay of men doing job X - but this is not even possible to compare using this crude system.

If we assume the statistic is correct (and the UK equivalent figure is the one I gave above - 9.4%) then what does it actually tell us?  If women generally work less hours, for example, it might be that they are paid MORE than men (and before anyone scoffs, continue reading).  Alternatively, if women tend to choose jobs in the lower paid areas, that would also skew the comparison.  In fact both of these factors are in play.  Women DO work less hours, and women DO tend to choose lower paid jobs on average.* So the comparison is of almost no informational value - we need much better metrics to say anything sensible about the issue.

Fortunately, here in the UK we have the Office for National Statistics, who provide all manner of data, free of charge, to interested or concerned citizens such as myself.  If we stay with crude figures but just slightly LESS crude - use the hourly rate of pay - then we see something interesting....

paybyageWhilst there is an overall gap in favour of men, in the age-bands from 20 to 40,  WOMEN EARN MORE THAN MEN. What does this tell us?  I think it is obvious.  It tells us that the legislation which makes equal pay for equal jobs a legal requirement, and social attitudes, which largely favour the same, are taking a little time to work through, but are already producing the desired effects. The 16-17yr old gap is anomalous and I don't put much store in that. The older bands show men still earning significantly more, are largely, I suspect, because this is where the high-earning management staff are. We would expect to see parity at the lower-grade jobs first, because it takes up to 30 years to work-up to the most senior jobs in any company/organisation, so more time is needed for that metric to swing significantly.

I could, of course, say that we need action to address the growing pay gap between high earning females and downtrodden males in the 20-40 age bracket, but I am not as blinkered and as dogmatic as many feminists appear to be.  I would expect to see differences in pay of a few percent. Women DO tend to select jobs in caring, teaching and social work. These jobs are public sector and pay less (I speak as a teacher myself). If feminists propose (and some DO) that this is structural discrimination and needs to be 'torn down', then fine - let's see the proposals. They don't, of course, HAVE any serious proposals to address this, they just have their normal wailing sense of entitlement and unfairness which applies to everything and everyone they perceive. Such proposals as I have seen are basically supportive of a functional revolution

So does it matter that they distort the facts a little? Shouldn't we make allowances for the undoubted injustices of the past and cut them some slack?  NO.  Firstly this is not an isolated instance. Every statistic from feminists that I've examined is extremely dodgy. This goes for everything from rape instances to harassment prevalence, and on and on. The complete contempt this displays for honesty and integrity of scholarship is breathtaking. Far from being forgiven, academics making this sort of deceptive and dishonest assertion should face professional sanction and the general opprobrium of their fellows. They DO in every other academic discipline I can think of. Any physicist, sociologist or  engineer who made the sort of inaccurate assertions that pepper academic feminism would be out on their ear. They would certainly not get promoted and praised.

This, I think, goes to a central issue with modern feminism. .the fact that the general notion of a 'patriarchy' is taken to include both the source and the motivation for any evidence which contradicts feminist dogma. Given such a view, any critique is invalid because, by definition, it comes from enemies of feminism and is motivated by enmity to the feminist cause.  This cannot be effectively countered because feminists continue to dodge the central issue of a definition of patriarchy that stands-up to scrutiny (and which can, therefore, be refuted).  It also speaks to a general attitude which I find troubling - the notion that 'lived experience' trumps empirical data. It doesn't and never has. It leads to suggestions such as treating an allegation by a woman - be it of rape, or some lesser offence - sufficient to consider the offence committed until the alleged perpetrator can prove their innocence beyond doubt. Or treating the testimony of a 'survivor' as expert testimony simply because it comes from a victim. However well intentioned, this is the sort of dangerous nonsense that I cannot and will not support.What third-wave feminism is seeking to do is to replace existing understandings, based on empricism, with 'Critical theory' which is the general category to which feminist theory belongs. It is a postmodern notion, based in Marxism, which seeks to establish a critique of modern society using the traditional subjects grouped under 'social sciences' - geography, economics, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, and psychology. I would respectfully submit that anyone who wishes to build their world-view on this.....alternative.....is welcome to it. I hope the new theorists - Berlant, Butler, McClary, Mulvey - find great enlightenment in their post-structural wanderings. But COUNT ME OUT. I have a deep distrust of postmodernism and have witnessed at first hand the sort of meaningless claptrap that all too easily emerges. I don't wish to generalise and am not expert enough to judge, but I am not ready to submit myself to what I see as a jumble of Freudian psychanalytical reflection, postmodern ultra-relativism (where meaning itself is regarded as unstable), semiotics and hermeneutics, and I seriously worry that feminism, and other progressive philosophy/social forces would happily dilute the sciences with the terminology and subjectivity that this represents, potentially destroying the most productive and solidly based knowledge that we have at our disposal.
Noam Chomsky expresses my view on the matter:
Examining Feminist Claims
Cultural Appropriation Nonsense
 

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