Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, April 28th, 2009.

National Fatality Equity Day

Note: this post includes a heavy dose of sarcasm. If you do not react well to sarcasm, please stop reading now.

In the U.S., women now make up 58% of all undergraduate students. At Florida Atlantic University, one of the largest public schools in the country, women made up 64% of the class of 2006, and were responsible for 75% of honors degrees and 79% of highest honors degrees. Other research has shown that women have higher GPAs than men.

There is only one logical conclusion to be drawn from these facts: men are being treated unfairly.

See, there’s a difference in outcomes between men and women, and one thing I’ve learned from being at a university long enough is that whenever there is a difference in outcomes between two groups of people, it must be because one group is being treated unfairly. The strange part of this is that another thing I’ve learned being at a university is that a faceless, omnipresent, oppressive white male power structure in this country is the cause of all unequal outcomes. That’s why I can’t understand this phenomenon. I’m not sure how or why they’ve done it, but those evil white males are behind their own inferior educational performance. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but it must be part of their diabolical master plan somehow. I have been an official member of the faceless, omnipresent, oppressive white male power structure since 1974, but I have missed the last few meetings, so I’m not caught up on the plans. I’ll have to read the minutes when I get a chance.

OK, let’s look at those numbers and see what we can infer from them. Perhaps women enroll in less challenging majors. That’s one possible explanation men like to imagine. Sorry, guys: research that controls for major choice finds that when you compare men and women in the same major, women tend to have better grades. Maybe women are smarter than men. The women in my classes seem to think that’s the answer. Or maybe women get special treatment from their professors, who are overwhelmingly male. Or maybe, just maybe, women work harder in school and take their education more seriously, while men tend to drink and party more. When I was co-coordinator of the Student Learning Center’s Economics Tutoring program at U.C. Berkeley, more than 2/3 of the students that came in for tutoring were women. Men tended to be more obstinant, perhaps more proud, and did not seek help nearly as often.

Any or all of the possible explanations offered above could factor into the GPA disparity. So to conclude that simply because the male GPA is lower than the female GPA, men are being treated unfairly, is a preposterous conclusion to make without further analysis. Yet that is exactly what is being done today by some women’s groups in the context of wage and income differences between men and women.

Today is National Pay Equity Day (NPED), and it is being celebrated by the Women’s Center here at SCSU. NPED is based on analysis that looks at the average annual earnings of full-time salaried employees, comparing men to women, and finds that the number for women is 78% of the number for men (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007). NPED is supposed to be the day at which a woman would start working in the year so that by the end of the year they have their 78% while men get their whole 100% because they have been working since January 1. Never mind the simple fact that 22% of the year would imply that NPED should start on March 21st, yet for some reason women have pushed it back to the end of April. I’m not sure if it’s because women never seem to be ready on time, or if it’s because they just have to be overly dramatic about everything.

This is from an e-mail sent out to the University community today from Emeritus Professor Dr. Lora Robinson:

On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, making it illegal for employers to pay men and women different wages for the same work. At that time, women earned only 59 cents for every dollar earned by men. Despite the passage of the EPA more than 45 years ago, the average woman now earns 78 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart. With Equal Pay Day on Tuesday, April 28, now is the perfect time to urge your senators to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182).

Notice the convenient switch here. The first sentence talks about making it illegal for employers to “pay men and women different wages for the same work.” Then in the third sentence, it says the average woman now earns 78 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart. That’s not comparing men and women doing “the same work” — that’s an average across all men and women, across all jobs. Those aren’t even remotely the same thing.

I’m not arguing with the 78% figure. That’s a fact. But it’s simply a statistic, with no explanation behind it whatsoever. Quoting that 78% and saying there’s a problem of unfairness is just as intellectually dishonest as it would be for me to quote the GPA difference and saying men are being treated unfairly in college. There are plenty of perfectly reasonable explanations for why some people earn higher income than others. One of them is “compensating differentials,” payments received for jobs that are dangerous or otherwise unsavory (think “Dirty Jobs”).

Men make up 94% of all workplace fatalities. Why isn’t there a National Fatality Equity Day? It would occur on December 9 each year. That would be the day that women started dying on jobs, while men have been dying all year long since January 1. There’s no NFED because men are willing to take riskier jobs than women, in industries like logging, mining and fishing, and they understand the gamble they are taking with their lives. Men trade that risk for higher pay and don’t seem to complain about unfairness when they are overrepresented in fatalities. That’s why there’s no National Fatality Equity Day. So why is it that when women make the opposite choice, trading lower pay for less risk, they complain about the unfairness of lower pay and have their own day to commemorate it?

Note: when I mentioned the disparity in workplace fatalities, the director of the Women’s Center at SCSU informed me that women really actually do want these risky jobs, but men shut them out. She suggested I rent the movie North Country to see more about this. Despite my huge, well-documented crush on Charlize Theron (I won’t see Monster because I don’t want that image in my head), this is not a convincing argument. I mean, if I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada, that’s all the proof I need that women are all rich Manhattan fashion moguls, right? Newsflash: one movie is not the equivalent of national economic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If women choose different occupations and earn different wages, is that discrimination? If women choose to become English professors while men choose to become Accounting professors, and Accounting professors make more money than English professors because they have better opportunities in the private sector, is that unfair treatment of women? It seems to me the Women’s Center at SCSU would think so. The truth is we need to know why women are in different sectors before we judge either the process or the outcome as unfair. If women choose to be English professors instead of Accounting professors because they like books more than ledgers, then that is their choice and the wage difference is the cause of their own actions, so cries of “unfair” ring hollow. If there is an evil male Accounting cabal keeping women out, because they’re going to make us use pink numbers for negative values instead of red numbers, then we can talk about discrimination and unfairness. But you can’t just observe differences in wages and conclude there is unfairness. If women choose to be in services instead of manufacturing because they like dealing with people more than machines, then that is their choice. But one should not expect equality of outcomes when the market values manufacturing and services differently. And even if outcomes are  not equal, inequality of outcomes does not necessitate that there is inequality of opportunity or an unfairness of process.

To study gender discrimination in labor markets properly, you have to first control for other economic factors that explain wage differences: relevant industry, experience, college degree, etc. And when you control for everything, research shows that the 78% number goes up to 95%. The study cited in the e-mail faculty received from the Women’s Center actually says this on page 18. Unfortunately, this very important fact doesn’t even make the 3-page Executive Summary of the report, which most people will probably read instead. It seems some women don’t want people to know that when you account for everything, the world is not as oppressive as they have been led to believe. And that’s why they still use the 78% number. (Note: I am aware there’s still a difference of 5%. Is that discrimination? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe women just don’t bargain enough for higher wages — as this study and others seem to suggest.)

I find it interesting that in other academic departments, when there are differences between people based on race or gender, we are told that we can’t just look at percentages. For example, if you look at incarceration rates by race and find one race represented disproportionately, you will likely be told that you cannot just use the incarceration rates — you have to account for institutional factors and a variety of other variables to explain away the simple percentages; the world is more complex, we are told, than just the simple percentage. And that is absolutely correct.  The same argument applies if you look at rates of out-of-wedlock birth, abortion, or any number of other things. Yet when doing precisely that kind of analysis weakens the argument the Women’s Center has about unfair treatment, they throw away all that complicated (and correct) analysis and resort to just quoting the simple 78% number. It’s intellectually dishonest — it’s eating your cake and having it too.

Speaking of cake, maybe you’ve been thinking: Dave, how is the Women’s Center celebrating this historic day in the fight for equality between men and women? Well, I’m glad you asked. They’re having a bake sale. That’s right, a bake sale. Men, throw out your antiquated stereotypes about women — they’re in the kitchen baking cookies! I think a more fitting way to stick it to the male power structure would be to get a spot on Atwood Mall grilling hot dogs. They could even cut them in half first…