Monday, August 10, 2009

The minister for making things up

Why would a young woman become a feminist? For Anna Corbett it was one issue which jump-started her conversion:

My name is Anna, I’m 22 and I’m a feminist. Six months ago, if someone told me that I would write these words, and mean them, I would have laughed out loud. I believed that feminism was outdated; that it created more problems than it solved ...

All of this changed because of a chance event ... I was sat in one of the computer rooms of my university trying to find the motivation to start an essay. Next to the computers as usual were leaflets advertising various events, sports clubs and rooms for rent.

Procrastinating, I started to read through them and came across a small slip of paper from the woman’s committee. I wish I’d kept it. It was only a few short sentences on how careers traditionally considered men’s preserve, such as the police, were better paid than those traditionally followed by women, such as nursing. This, among numerous other issues, contributed to the pay gap between men and women. An idea swam through my mind that would characterise my next few months: I’d never thought about it like that before.

The message of that leaflet stayed in my head for far longer than the essay which I was writing. It began to nag at me ...

So it was the pay gap which brought Anna into the arms of feminism. This is a bit strange as the pay gap hardly exists for women of Anna's generation. This is from a report in the Melbourne Age:

According to research from the University of Canberra's National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, true pay parity is but a fraction of 1 per cent away for this current crop of twenty somethings.

A report to be released today shows that the pay gap that has persisted between men and women is now 0.6 per cent for gen Y women, compared with 3.5 per cent for gen X and 13 per cent for baby boomers.

The pay gap for young women in now 0.6 per cent. And notice the general trend. Before long it will clearly be men who will be paid less. Will Anna then switch to a support for men's rights?

So why would Anna think the issue sufficient to justify a commitment to feminism? Partly because older feminists greatly exaggerate the existing pay gap. For instance, in Britain the Labour Party deputy leader and Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman, claimed that women were paid 23% less than men. She received an official warning from the UK Statistics Authority for doing so.

The stated aim of the authority is "Building Trust in Statistics". Sir Michael Scholar wrote on behalf of the authority to Harriet Harman querying why a figure of 23% was used when the original research claimed half of this amount (12.8%). It seems that instead of comparing male full-time workers to female full-time workers, the earnings of all workers were compared. That is how the much higher pay gap figure was generated.

Nor did Harriet Harman take account of the fact that the original research did not compare like occupations nor length of service. It only measured in coarse terms the overall outcome. In other words, it's possible that men earnt 12.8% more because they had longer service, had applied for promotions and worked in more difficult or dangerous occupations.

But it gets much worse. Harriet Harman took little notice of Sir Michael Scholar's rebuke. Her office produced an official document, Shaping a Fairer Future, which did anything but promote trust in statistics. In the foreword to this document the following claim is made:

pay gaps are even greater for part-time workers (39.9 per cent)

This is more than an exaggeration, it's an outright fabrication. Sir Michael Scholar felt obliged to pick up his pen again and chide the Minister for, well, making things up. He made the following correction to the false statistic:

The casual reader would be surprised to learn then that median hourly earnings of women and of men (excluding overtime) are very close, with women’s median pay actually being slightly higher than men’s (by 3.4 per cent).

While the Foreword to Shaping the Future refers to 39.9 per cent as an estimate of the pay gap for part-time workers, it does not explain what this is a measure of. Looking at the numbers presented in the Authority M&A note, 39.9 per cent appears to be a measure of the difference between the median hourly earnings of part-time women compared with full-time men.

Let me put this plainly. Women who work part-time earn on average 3.4% more than men who work part-time (£7.52 compared to £7.26 per hour). So the pay gap actually favours female part-time workers. What Harriet Harman's office did was to compare female part-time workers with male full-time workers. Not surprisingly, male full-time earnings were considerably greater that female part-time earnings.

So young women like Anna Corbett are being misled into thinking that there is a large pay gap reflecting sexist discrimination. But the pay gap that does exist is small, is narrowing and reflects differences in work patterns between men and women.

Nor is a pay gap necessarily a bad thing for women. Many women want a male partner who earns either more or a similar amount to them. If men were to stop being ambitious and no longer chose well-paid rather than inherently satisfying careers, then women would find it much more difficult to partner.

It's also the case that it's often married women who encourage their husbands to work overtime or take promotions. That's because married women no longer see their husband's earnings as "male pay" that oppresses them, but as family income which supports them.

If men are motivated to be providers for their families, then there is likely to be some kind of a pay gap (at least in overall earnings). If such a pay gap disappeared entirely, it would reflect a loss of such a commitment by men. Would this really be in the long-term interests of women?


  1. She was already a feminist before the pamphlet. Otherwise, she would have realized that the pay given to men went to women via marriage.

    She would have been happy her future husband would be making enough money to support a family. Instead she focuses on atomized individuals who aren't cooperating or supporting one another.

  2. You missed the point of the paper. She didn't ecome a feminist because she read about the pay gap. She wrote a paper about becoming a feminist because she had one due as a class assignment. I am guessing Journalism degree. Journalism classes regularly ask students to make up stories. The ability to tell a good story is what the grade is based on. It doesn't matter that is was a lie or manufactured on the spot. There may not be a single thing true in that story.

    This is something we are seeing more of in American politics too. The democratic party has for decades been making up sob stories involving real people, "to put a human face on it". Most are found to be fabricated afterwards.

    I remember when Al Gore was running for President. His daughter told a stupid story about how he saved a pet guinia pig from drowning and gave it mouth to mouth resucitation. It had all the elements of a made-up story.

  3. I wonder how much the pay gap would be if the government didn't over pay traditional female jobs.

  4. The constant femninist harping on dwindling pay gaps between women and men ignores a rather large elephant in the room: women tend to control more of household spending than men. A study sponsored by Whartons called "men buy women shop" found that women do the vast majority of household spending:

    Women spend $4 trillion annually and account for 83% of U.S. consumer spending, which makes up two-thirds of the nation's gross national product, according to WomenCertified, a women's consumer advocacy and retail training organization headquartered in Hollywood, Fla., which also worked on the study.

    And not only do women tend to do more of the household spending, they also enjoy the experience:

    "Women tend to be more invested in the shopping experience on many dimensions," says Robert Price, chief marketing officer at CVS Caremark and a member of the Baker advisory board. "Men want to go to Sears, buy a specific tool and get out."

    As one female shopper between the ages of 18 and 35 told the researchers: "I love shopping. I love shopping even when I have a deadline. I just love shopping."

    Unlike men who generally can't wait to get out of the store:

    Compare that to this response from a male in the same age group who described how men approach retailing: "We're going to this store and we buy it and we leave because we want to do something else."

    Of course everyone has known this for as long as anyone can remember. It took a generation of feminist academics to "unknow" it.

  5. Oh yeah, and due to the fact that women tend to out-live their spouses, or take them to the cleaners in a divorce, they do tend to wind up owning a pretty fair whack of the financial legacy. A MassMutual Financial Group study concludes that:

    * Women will assume 90% of all assets.

    * Senior women are among the group of Americans aged 50 and older who control a household net worth of $19 trillion, own more than three-fourths of the nation's financial wealth and own 70% of all money market accounts and certificates of deposit assets.

    I dont begrudge the ladies their day in the sun once hubbie has shuffled off the stage. But can we please stop the pretence that women are being left high and dry by the "patriarchal economy"?

  6. She would have been happy her future husband would be making enough money to support a family.

    Maybe she isn't going to marry. Or if she is going to marry doesn't want to be dependent on her husband.

    Tradition recognises this desire in the form of, for instance, nunneries.

  7. I should have said that you make a very interesting point with this post Mark.