Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Myth of a Male/Female Pay Gap

It’s a dogma among feminists and the politically correct: the notion that women make less money than men because of the evil effects of gender discrimination. The issue has recently been taken up by the American Association of University Women.

But that’s just not so. From columnist Steve Chapman:
Pay discrimination, says AAUW, is still “a serious problem for women in the work force.”

In reality, that’s not clear at all. What we know from an array of evidence, including this report, is that most if not all of the discrepancy can be traced to factors other than sexism.

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 fathers. 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.”

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.
The “pay gap” is yet another piece of Junk Social Science.

Undergraduates get a lot of that drilled into their heads, usually by ideological professors who have a political agenda and little respect for the complexity of human affairs.

Often, we find, the garbage has been doled out by faculty in humanities departments. They get taught garbage about (say) criminal justice not by criminologists but by English, Philosophy and History professors.

Today, for example, we took a survey in our class asking how many students had been told that the death penalty disproportionately falls on blacks.

Virtually the entire class raised their hands.

In reality, black offenders are less likely to be sentenced to death than whites, after one controls for other key factors such as (for example) whether a murderer killed multiple victims, or killed a stranger.

The reason for this is not that there is some sort of wacky affirmative action program for black murderers, but rather that there is a bias against black victims, and none whatsoever against black offenders.

Does that suggest racism in American society? It’s not so simple, since nobody knows for sure what the reason for this is. One theory is that black victims are concentrated in the central cities of metropolitan areas that have very high murder rates. Perhaps prosecutors in these jurisdictions are “swamped” and have to plea bargain murder cases, lacking the resources to prosecute all out.

Or perhaps blacks, a large proportion of juries in such jurisdictions, are less likely to sentence murderers to death.

(Blacks are split evenly on the death penalty, much less favorable than whites.)

Young people need to know: the conventional wisdom you get in the media and (too often) in college is Junk Social Science. It’s just not true.

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