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Gender pay gap

First, I need you to know that I'm on your side. I'm not bringing up these points to dismiss the gender wage gap, but to make sure people work towards a real solution. And I know none of this is new.

I hear it all the time: women earn 77% of what men do. It comes up in all kinds of feminist spaces. And it's true, as far as it goes: if you add up all men's wages and all women's wages and divide by the number of each, the men's average will be 23% higher (and the discrepancy get much larger if race is taken into account)..

But what to do about it? If we want to work to fix it (and we do!), we need to find out the cause. Is the cause simple sexism? The owners and bosses (usually male) are just paying women less for doing the same job? Can we just apply the equal pay act? Would that fix the problem?

Well, it's complicated.

The 77% figure is derived by including all jobs, from maid to CEO. Women make up a larger portion of the lower end, and men make up a larger portion of the higher end.

So the equal pay act, which factors in occupation, wouldn't address much of the discrepancy.

What about comparing apples to apples? Female HVAC technicians to male HVAC technicians and male accountants to female accountants, etc?

There is still a pay gap. It's smaller and depends on the industry, but it's there: somewhere in the 80s, percentage-wise. So would the equal pay act apply?

Well, it turns out that much (but not all) of the in-occupation gap can be explained by on-the-job experience. Men usually have more occupation-specific experience, and so get paid more.

When you factor in employee experience, the wage gap reduces again. It does not disappear (depending on the industry), though. But about ⅓ of the gap remains: about a 7% gap (again, depending on the industry). So aggressively applying the equal pay act would help, but only for that 7% (or so) percent [1].

Which is not nothing! But… it represents only ⅓ of the pay gap.


What is needed, instead of repeating the 77% statistic, is to figure out why women are less represented in the higher-paying occupations, and why they have less experience.

And I know none of this is new: I know countless people have stated this and have looked into the causes, but when I hear people talk about the 77% figure with no context, they make the cause seem to simple (sexist bosses!), and make it sound so simple to fix (just do equal pay!). But the problem isn't that simple, and the solution won't be either. And when "the opposition" hears "77%" they call bullshit, partially correctly, and continue to dismiss everything feminist.

But if we want to fix the problem of unequal treatment, and again, we really do, identifying the actual problems is the most important thing.


An example: recently there was a big kerfuffle in internal Facebook operations because a study was done that showed code changes by women were rejected more than code changes by men. Obvious sexism, right? But someone else re-analysed the data and found that if you took programmer experience into account, there was no difference in rejection rates. So the problem is not that sexist people are unfairly rejecting code changes from women more than men, the problem is that there are fewer senior women programmers (and fewer women programmers to start with).

The cause is very different, and therefore the solution must be too. I am not saying there is not sexism involved, there could be and probably is, but you'd be looking in the wrong place.


One reason often given for why women have less experience (on average) is that more women than men take off large amounts of time for major family matters, such as birth and staying home with kids. So if on average a woman takes a year or two off, this could explain the discrepancy, or a big part of it.

Of course, this does not mean it's totally voluntary and the system works! Women may "choose" to be the one to stay home for a year or two because the husband already has a higher-paying job. Or most workplaces only offer maternity leave and not paternity leave. Or, because of the dumb ways "masculinity" is measured, men may be less willing to sacrifice their careers or be seen in a "feminine" "caretaker" role. Or many other things. So we need to figure out the reason for these!

Also, historically, it was much more likely for the woman to get child custody in divorce situations. So there may be more single mothers than single fathers in certain professions.

Lots to look at in this area!


And we need to discover why women are underrepresented in higher-paying jobs. Some people claim it is purely biological: women seek out "caring" professions like teaching, child care, and nursing, and men seek out jobs like engineer, programmer, and boss/CEO.

Now, I'm not saying it's impossible that there's a biological component. I mean, there may be something to the fact that autism-spectrum disorder and ADHD are four times more common in boys, and men are overrepresented by a similar ratio in math, engineering, and programming. Those could be related. My friend's 8-year-old daughter has pretty severe ADHD, and she reminds me a great deal of myself at that age. I told my friend not to worry, because in 15 years her daughter is going to make a great programmer. (This is just a dumb hypothesis I have, and I've not researched it at all.)

Anyway, "biology" might account for part of it, but it's too easy an explanation, and almost unfalsifiable. Is there anything else more quantifiable going on?

Are women leaving certain fields because of women-hostile environments? Are teenagers steered (consciously or unconsciously) towards certain careers depending on their sex? Are kids encouraged (consciously or unconsciously) to explore different hobbies or take different classes (or discouraged)? Does society's differential treatment of boys and girls from birth have something to do with it? Or something else? Or all of them?


All of these are important, and are being researched (or already have been), but you'd not guess it from people repeating "77%!"with no context.

2017-05-25 #gender  
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