Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ending the gap debate?

From the Mail Online:

Men in their 20s no longer earn more than women, an official analysis of the 'pay gap' declared.

It found that the difference between the earnings of men and women twenty-somethings is 'non-existent'.

Women who choose to stay single are likely to earn more than single men throughout their lives, it said.

This has been known for some time. Women are not paid less than men until they have children and decide to scale back their work commitments. I've seen this many times at work myself: women with strong feminist beliefs who are very ambitious at work until a few years after the birth of their first child, at which point they change their life priorities.

The research findings prompted this comment:

Ruth Lea, adviser to the Arbuthnot Banking Group, said: 'It is a matter of choice. People earn the same until they get together, and then they make choices about work, family and lifestyle. That is what adults are expected to do - make decisions.

'I suspect that in reality the pay advantage lies with women and I think the whole pay gap debate should stop now.'

I doubt, though, that the debate will stop. In part, this is because there are many in the political class who believe that women are less autonomous than men, and are therefore unequal, and that careers are the way for women to get the same autonomy as men. People with this idea won't easily accept an arrangement in which men redouble their efforts at work to support their families, whilst women scale back to care for their young children.

This approach to equality is wrong on a number of grounds. First, it doesn't make much sense to think of the money earned by a husband as a "male" wage existing in competition with a "female" wage. Most of what the husband earns will go straight into family expenses - with much of it being spent by the wife. In reality, what husbands earn is a family wage, spent for the benefit of the family.

Second, it's debatable that careers provide a greater level of autonomy than spending time with family. The men in their 40s who finally do earn more on average than women have a great part of their time and energies committed to work duties. They don't get to choose to do whatever they want whenever they want; on the contrary, their lives are closely regulated by their work. Women too at this time of life are likely to be busy, but they do have a little more flexibility in choosing how to arrange their lives.

Even more importantly, why should autonomy be chosen as the overriding good? Why shouldn't people think it important to do what's best for their children and for their family?

There's one other possible objection to women choosing to scale back their work commitments: it means that the family is playing a significant role in how people organise their lives.

We can't assume that everyone in the political class approves of this. If your aim is to establish a system in which everyone is treated the same along universal, centralised, rational lines, then the continuing relevance of the family in providing support for women to care for their children won't be so easily accepted.

In other words, there is a conflict between those who envisage social organisation in terms of the client individual and the state, and those who accept the family as a natural, non-bureaucratic unit of society.


  1. Greetings Mark,

    I have been enjoying your blog for some time, but have never written in. The fact that young women earn slightly more is very bad. It means young men are being denied chances for starting a career, in favor of a woman who will eventually quit or reduce her work anyway. Not good in the long run for society, business, or families - especially those aiming to develop along traditional lines.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. If this so-called "wage gap" were to disappear, another statistic that would quantify some "advantange" that men have over women would be invented and trumpeted.

  3. 'I suspect that in reality the pay advantage lies with women and I think the whole pay gap debate should stop now.'

    Oh yes, we can stop talking about gender disadvantage when men are disadvantaged. Delightful.

  4. In reality the best way to investigate many of these issues is in terms of the Marxist concept of "class interest". If you choose to identify "class" correctly you can get some interesting results. I don't want to go into why is isn't really Marxist to look at things in this way but the basics are laid out in the excellent "Cultural Revolution, Culture War" by Sean Gabb of the Libertarian Alliance in the UK.

    The "political class" consists of the very loosely allied grouping of politicians, civil servants, academics and educators, members of the media, NGOs and others who gain power, prestige and influence as a result of an enlarged and interventionist state. They have a broadly shared set of liberal values and an implicit (and very rarely explicit) set of rules of conduct in terms of what can be said, questioned and ignored etc.

    These groups benefit from the use of the coercive power of the state to interfere with businesses and families to try to enforce their version of equality. Whether they believe in that version of equality or not.

    The inequality of women, in terms of both economics and autonomy has been one of their most powerful wedges in the creation of legislation to assume de-facto control of business hiring and promotion policies and many aspects of academic policy.

    No matter what the evidence, what is the likelihood that all these vested interests will suddenly say "Stick a fork in it - we're done" and decide to move on? More legislation to correct phony injustices, usually confirmed by bogus statistics, will continue to be passed and continue to do damage.

    Whilst I agree with Mark that there are many in the political class who do agree with the ideas of autonomy theory the vast majority will be essentially looking out for themselves when the topic is raised. They don't really believe it - they just go along with what is expected of them. This is one of liberal political class's greatest strengths. Even if you have the evidence and convince a number of individual members of the class that you are right, they'll probably still act in the interest of the class because they're acting in their own interests as well.

    I don't know how we get around this. It isn't clear to me that there is a way short of either revolution or waiting for a collapse and making sure that there is something of traditional culture left over to start again. Sean Gabb's book has a suggestion but it seems unlikely to happen.

    Articles like this are helpful to change opinions - but are usually drowned out in the swell of liberal propaganda.

    Sorry to ramble. Hope this has added something.


  5. Thanks for the comments.

    Peter B, your contribution doesn't read like a ramble. You touch on some important points.

    I differ slightly with you in that I think the balance is different: that there are many in the political class for whom the ideas themselves are important.

    Nonetheless I agree that there are also class interests involved. I've noticed myself that there are times when "ordinary" liberals seem unenthused about a particular proposal, but those at the top with power go ahead with it regardless.

    What to do about it? It's true that argument alone won't persuade those following class interests. But the purpose of this site isn't to make an immediate difference in this area. It's to encourage a subset of people, namely those with naturally conservative instincts, to follow a principled conservatism rather than some variant of liberalism.

    The scenario you yourself put forward is a not unlikely one: liberalism weakens from within so that a more vigorous alternative becomes possible.

  6. Mark,

    It would be interesting to propose a research on "Undesirable Work" Gap. I am sure men bear the burden of the most undesirable and dangerous work.

    But fembots and their male lap dogs seem to be trapped in their own world of "Feminist Wonderland"

  7. "They don't get to choose to do whatever they want whenever they want"

    Therein lies the crux of the problem in the theory: it expects no negative consequences. Every choice exists in a vacuum in this world view. Trade offs don't factor in. If a situation advantages men in one way over women, then that is it. The fact that those men often gave something important up doesn't matter. In fact it would make them happy - I've argued this with some of them. "Men have it too easy - it is good they would have to sacrifice." But part of the human condition is that we all have to sacrifice.

    Banu Prasad,
    I did see a statistic somewhere comparing on the job deaths for men vs women and men far out number the women. Also, there is no out cry about the shortage of male teachers or women garbage collectors, ditch diggers, sewer workers, coal miners. Men who spent 10 hours a day deep underground covered in carcinogens to provide a decent living to their wives and kids are still the 'oppressors.'

    I think this world view is a sickness caused by the anomie and isolation brought on by the radical secular nature of modern life. If a person won't actively find a satisfying spiritual angle to their existence, everything is based on material comfort which is only temporarily satisfying.

  8. Liesel,

    Just consider japan. There men have to go through a gruelling 80-hour week to feed their families.
    And you should not be surprised to notice a New york times columnist criticizing them for being selfish and career-oriented.

    In fact men's problems are deemed to be problems of society and are conveniently pushed under the sheet. A negligible female problem is blown out to be a grave threat to civilization