The analysts looked at some numbers: Just how large is the gender wage gap?
Presumably, that’s an important question. It’s also a question where we the liberals may perhaps tend to play around with the basic statistics, engaging in conduct we used to condemn when done by The Other Tribe.
How large is the gender wage gap? We became intrigued by this question when Rachel Maddow seemed to con us liberals but good in April 2012.
Over a two-day period, Maddow went for the hat trick. Appearing on Meet the Press, she stated a familiar claim—women are paid 77 cents on the dollar, as compared to men, for “the same or equal work.”
That was step one in the hat trick. Steps two and three occurred the next night.
On Meet the Press, Maddow was challenged about the accuracy of this familiar claim. The next night, she said she had spent “a long time going through the Republican side of this argument today just trying to understand” the objection, but she had failed to do so.
That claim was quite hard to believe. We had googled the claim that same day. When we did, we found the objection explained, quite clearly and rather convincingly, in roughly two or three minutes.
Step three involved the slippery work of a tribal expert. On Maddow’s Monday night program, this expert said that Maddow’s claim had been wrong. But she said it in such a slippery, jargonized way that liberal viewers surely thought that she’d said exactly the opposite.
We liberals! We used to say that we were appalled when Hannity played these slippery games—about the amount of taxes paid by the rich, to cite one prime example. Increasingly, we liberals now seem inclined to play these games ourselves.
Did something of that sort occur in Thursday’s New York Times? We couldn’t help wondering as we read an op-ed column bearing this headline:
“Let’s Expose the Gender Pay Gap”
Let’s expose the gender pay gap? We think that’s a good idea!
That said, how big is the gender pay gap? The column’s author, Joanne Lipman, never used the familiar statistic in which women are said to be underpaid by 28 percent. Indeed, she never attempted to define the general size of the gender wage gap—at least not for this country.
Instead, Lipman started by offering these narrower formulations. Our analysts came to us with observations and complaints:
LIPMAN (8/13/15): More than a half-century after President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the gap between what men and women earn has defied every effort to close it. And it can’t be explained away as a statistical glitch, a function of women preferring lower-paying industries or choosing to take time off for kids.Is anything “wrong” with those statistics? Not necessarily, no. But here’s what the analysts told us:
Claudia Goldin, a labor economist at Harvard, has crunched the numbers and found that the gap persists for identical jobs, even after controlling for hours, education, race and age. Female doctors and surgeons, for example, earn 71 percent of what their male colleagues make, while female financial specialists are paid just 66 percent as much as comparable men. Other researchers have calculated that women one year out of college earn 6.6 percent less than men after controlling for occupation and hours, and that female M.B.A. graduates earn on average $4,600 less than their male classmates for their first jobs.
They started with the statistics from Goldin. At the link which Lipman offered, Goldin computes the size of the gender wage gap for 25 different professions, some of which have no gender wage gap at all.
Given those 25 different choices, Lipman specifically cited “financial specialists”—the profession where Goldin records the largest gender wage gap. She also cited “doctors and surgeons,” where Goldin records the third largest gap.
A person could regard this as cherry-picking, our analysts gravely said. Beyond that, they noted that all “physicians and surgeons” aren’t necessarily created equal.
Surgeons tend to earn more than family practitioners, the analysts said—and they said they’ve read that women are more likely than men to choose the latter specialty. Do Goldin’s data adjust for such choices? Frankly, we had no idea.
The analysts made other observations about Lipman’s statistical formulations. Is it true that “women one year out of college earn 6.6 percent less than men after controlling for occupation and hours?”
Let’s assume it is, they said—and let’s ignore the possible role of different niches within occupations. That 6.6 percent wage gap is nowhere near the 22-28 percent gap we liberals commonly cite, they felt compelled to observe.
Meanwhile, how about that $4600 salary shortfall for MBA graduates? Assuming all factors are equal, they angrily said, there shouldn’t be any shortfall at all.
But on an (imagined) average male salary of $50,000, that would be a 9.2 percent shortfall, they incontrovertibly noted. Again, they noted that this shortfall doesn’t come close to the 22-28 percent claim we liberals often advance.
(If new MBAs are paid more than that, the shortfall would be even less. Or so the analysts said.)
As noted, Lipman made no claim about the overall size of the gender wage gap in the United States. At one point, she did offer a claim about the overall size of the gap in Great Britain—and the analysts screamed about that:
LIPMAN: There is an antidote to the problem. Britain recently introduced a plan requiring companies with 250 employees or more to publicly report their own gender pay gap. It joins a handful of other countries, including Austria and Belgium, that have introduced similar rules...Are women unfairly denied promotions? That’s an important question. But in the course of that passage, Lipman claims that Great Britain has a “Britain-wide [gender pay] gap of more than 19 percent.”
Last year, the consulting firm Pricewaterhouse- Coopers voluntarily released its gender pay gap in Britain, one of five firms in the country, including AstraZeneca, to do so. Simply saying the number out loud “created much more momentum internally” to close it, Sarah Churchman, who runs the firm’s British diversity and inclusion efforts, told me.
PricewaterhouseCoopers’s analysis showed that most of its 15.1 percent pay disparity (compared with a Britain-wide gap of more than 19 percent) reflected a lack of women in senior jobs. So the firm focused on whether it was promoting fairly. In 2013, the grade just below partner was 30 percent female, yet only 16 percent of those promoted to partner were women. A year later, the percentage of women promoted to partner had more than doubled.
That sounds like a rather large gap. But how odd! When we clicked Lipman’s link, we found a BBC report which started like this, headline included:
BBC (11/19/14): Gender pay gap shrinks to record low, says ONSAs you may know, “£” is the British dollar sign. It’s just the way they write it!
The average full-time pay gap between men and women is at its narrowest since comparative records began in 1997, official figures show.
The difference stood at 9.4% in April compared with 10% a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, a gap of about £100 a week.
At any rate, Britain’s gender pay gap stands at 9.4 percent, according to Lipman’s link. (From the BBC report, it isn’t clear what kinds of statistical adjustments have produced that figure.)
Britain’s gender pay gap stands at 9.4 percent, according to Lipman’s own link. So where did her substantially larger “more than 19 percent” figure come from?
Alas! Deep in the BBC report, that’s the figure for the gap in incomes of all British workers, full-time and part-time workers alike. We’re going to guess that the larger gap reflects a larger percentage of women in part-time jobs.
In other words, to get that troubling larger figure, you pretty much have to throw away the basic adjustment for hours worked—an adjustment Lipman trumpeted all through the rest of her column. In the process, she threw away the 9.4 percent and brought home larger game.
How large is the gender wage gap? In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any such gap at all, the analysts angrily said.
Of course, in that same perfect world, they added, you wouldn’t have people like Hannity using misleading figures to distort the amount of taxes paid by the very rich. You also wouldn’t have people like us learning to play the same games!
Skillfully, we offered one additional point. You’d have big newspapers like the Times requiring more from contributors.
Presumably, the size of the gender pay gap actually matters. Why play around with the basic facts, as our own glorious tribe increasingly seems inclined to do in an array of such partisan matters?
We used to complain when Sean played slippery games. Increasingly, we almost think we see our tribe doing it too.
A final piteous note: “Do you think Rachel has figured these data out by now?”
That’s what one analyst sadly asked, just before falling asleep.