The “Gender Pay Gap”: Part 1

“Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is 15.3%.”

This comes from the WGEA (Workplace Gender Equality Agency). This statistic is comparing men and women who work full-time. Such statistics are commonly brought up in the media and they are frequently accompanied by passionate cries for action to lessen the “gap” between the genders. Unfortunately, this reaction seems to be based on conclusions which are invalid, having been reached via sloppy thinking, economic fallacies or even blatant lies. But let’s do something unusual: break down the reality behind the so-called “gender pay gap” first, before we get allow ourselves to get worked up over it.

Firstly, the word “gap” is incorrect and misleading. A gap implies something you can fall into. But men and women who are employed full-time have a wide range of incomes with a substantial amount of overlap. It’s true that the average income of men is usually much higher than that of women but this is a difference in the averages, not a gap. The only gaps to be found are the logical ones in most discussions on this topic. A parallel example is the fact that men are taller than women (on average) and yet there is no gap between the shortest man and the tallest woman.

This may seem like nit-picking but precision is important when talking about serious topics. A gap arguably sounds more sinister than a difference and for people to take advantage of this is dishonest and manipulative. Incidentally, I would hazard a guess that the standard deviation for men’s incomes is larger than that for women (meaning men’s incomes are more widely spread compared to women’s) but I’ve never seen this aspect mentioned.

Here are two hardly surprising facts which seldom get brought up (they apply practically everywhere I’m aware of):

  1. More men are employed than women.
  2. Of working men and women, a higher proportion of men work full-time.

Only a completely inept patriarchy would arrange things this way (which makes me suspicious that such a thing even exists). But what do these facts tell us? Would it be valid for us to conclude that women are lazy and not pulling their weight in the workforce? Well, for whatever reason, these particular facts are consistently dismissed as being completely harmless and unworthy of discussion.

So let’s now focus on full-time workers, male vs. female. Apples and apples, right? Surely the only possible cause for any discrepancy would have to be bias and discrimination. Well, if you can only think of one possible explanation for a phenomenon, that doesn’t automatically mean that it must be the correct explanation (as hard as that may be to accept). Indeed, there are a number of benign factors which affect men’s and women’s incomes which are easy to think of (if you’re into that kind of thing). But first, I want to address a phrase which frequently arises in relation to gender pay differences:

“Men earn more than women for the same job.”

Now, I have a maths degree and those 4 little words on the end are not something that can be casually tossed in. They have to be earned (for lack of a better word). Taken literally, they make no sense – men and women are two large, heterogeneous groups with plenty of overlap but vastly different patterns of employment. What job exactly are we talking about? I’ve worked as a clown, DJ, teacher, musician, tutor and crewer (setting up and packing up for big entertainment gigs). None of these explicitly paid the sexes differently (although the demographics differed – crewing was very male-dominated). This can only mean that there must be other jobs which have an even bigger “gap”! Who works these mythological jobs where women are so blatantly down-trodden?

So let’s assume that when they say “for the same job”, they mean that they’ve taken the relevant factors into account. To get an idea of these factors, let’s explore some of the differences between men and women in terms of employment (focusing on full-time workers). These are critical things to take into consideration when trying to explain differences in total pay. Note that the sources I’ve quoted are quite arbitrary, but I believe these are generally undisputed trends which occur all over the world.

1) Men work more hours than women (resulting in higher earnings).

“…even among full-time workers (those usually working 35 hours or more per week), men worked longer than women—8.4 hours compared with 7.8 hours [per day].” (source)


2) Men and women specialise in different industries (which pay differently).

“Men dominate in construction and engineering, women in care and office jobs.” (source)

3) Men and women major in different subjects in higher education (which lead to different career opportunities).

Men dominate in computer science and engineering while women dominate in health professions, public administration, education and psychology. (source)

4) Women get pregnant more often than men.

4) Women take more time off work than men, affecting their accumulation of experience and hence their chances at getting higher positions.

By a margin of about 50% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1999. (source)

5) Women take more sick days than men.

“Women are almost 42% more likely to take sick days than men.” (source)

6) Men are more likely to die on the job (which goes a long way to explaining why life-expectancy is consistently higher for women).

“From 2011 through 2015, men accounted for 92.5% of all workplace deaths.” (source)

At the very least, any decent study needs to directly acknowledge these factors, then carefully measure and incorporate them into their results and conclusions. But surely the media would only report a finding if the study was sufficiently thorough, right? One can dream. I would check for yourself. Even after this, however, there may be yet other factors which affect men’s and women’s employment, some of which are harder to measure. Examples include personal preferences, proactivity in getting promotions, travelling or moving house for the sake of work opportunities and genetic differences between the sexes.

Let me emphasise something before going any further.

Statistical facts are not the same as value judgements, nor do they imply them.

Or as Ben Shapiro likes to say: “facts don’t care about your feelings”. For example, men are bigger and stronger than women (on average, with plenty of exceptions to the rule). But that statement in no way asserts that men are superior to women (no matter how many people may interpret it that way). So let’s bear in mind that none of these statistics I’ve brought up have anything to say about the inherent value of men or women. They are merely observations about patterns in human behaviour.

Regardless of the popularity of “equality” as a noble goal, men and women are factually not equal in terms of physical strength (as statistics groups). This lack of sameness almost definitely applies to many other areas including those which are harder to detect or measure. And there may be plenty where women are far superior to men (in that specific area) and vice-versa. We needn’t worry ourselves with fully understanding the details of all the differences (and similarities) between the sexes (and it may be impractical or impossible to achieve a satisfactory understanding anyway). But it’s wise to acknowledge that such differences may exist and affect outcomes in the real world.

The reality of the “gender pay gap” is that men really do earn more than women. There is such a thing as earning money and men earn more of it than women. And I don’t see any problem with this. If one person has more years of experience, works more hours and earned a degree in a field which helped them work in a high-paying industry, we should hardly be surprised or up-in-arms if they earn quite a bit more than someone without those same attributes (man or woman). I will look more at the terrifying specter of discrimination in Part 2.

Now maybe I conveniently left out the fact that women do a fair amount of “unpaid” work, like cooking, cleaning and caring for children. But to call it “unpaid” seems a bit rich when: “Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases.” (source) Where do women get this money from? That leaves 15% to be spent by men, a ratio of more than 5 to 1 in favour of women.

The statistics may vary but how can women spend more than men unless they’re getting the money from somewhere? Based on commonplace experience, is it more expensive for a man to have a girlfriend or a woman to have a boyfriend? Does anyone really think women’s standards of living are lower than men? Is it worth pointing out that more men are homeless than women? “In the sleeping rough category, women numbered 2,180 and men 4,633.” (source) If anything, a strong case can be made that being a housewife is quite a lucrative line of work indeed.

To be continued…


About karnok

A legendary ninja.
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