Except that they’re all pimping the Big Lie by misusing statistics. If you take motherhood (and time away from work) by itself that doesn’t explain the Gender Gap. And if you take professional field by itself that doesn’t explain the Gender Gap. And if you take the fact that women work in vastly safer occupations by itself that won’t explain the Gender Gap, either. But if you take all those factors together (along with some others, like men working longer hours on the job)? Well, then you find that women make at least 93%-95% of what men make, according to statistical analysis by the CONSAD Research Corporation.
In other words, no substantive evidence for a Gender Gap! Christina Hoff Sommers has more. (And yes, as a progressive I’m deeply embarrassed by the fact that the fucking American Enterprise Institute has straighter talk about this issue than many of my progressive sisters.)
There’s a lot wrong with Ballgame’s argument — and not just his belief that an anti-feminist like him is in any meaningful sense a progressive.1
1) Typically, neither Robert or Ballgame mentioned that CONSAD used a radically different sample of workers than virtually all other wage gap studies. I don’t think either of them were being deliberately dishonest; rather, I suspect they both lack basic knowledge of what they’re talking about.
The standard wage gap figure only includes full-time, year-round workers,2 but CONSAD included part-time (and, I suspect, short-term) workers, which means it’s looking at a significantly different population. So Ballgame’s comparison of CONSAD’s results to a standard figure from Newsweek is apples and oranges — or, as Ballgame puts it, “misusing statistics.”
Why does this matter?
2) The single largest factor that CONSAD found “explained” the wage gap is the difference in hours worked. Since women are more likely to work part-time, and since CONSAD (unlike standard wage gap studies) included part-time workers in their sample, in effect CONSAD is comparing mostly female part-time workers to mostly male full-time workers. Then — what a surprise! — they determined that the difference in hours worked accounts for a huge portion of the wage gap they measured.
3) Ballgame’s argument is that CONSAD study shows that the wage gap is not caused by sexism — or at least, that no more than 5-7% of the wage gap is caused by sexism.
But that’s not a reasonable interpretation of CONSAD’s results.
First of all, there are important kinds of direct employer discrimination which CONSAD’s methods cannot measure or disprove. For example, some employers are more likely to hire women to lower-paid positions and men to higher-paid positions. (Empirical testing – by sending male and female testers to apply for the same jobs — has proven that this sort of sexist occupational sorting sometimes happens.)
This sort of occupational segregation leads to women’s average work experience not being as good as men’s — which CONSAD’s methodology would classify as an “explained” difference in wage gap that has nothing to do with discrimination. It would be more accurate to conclude that the differences in women’s and men’s resumes may be partly caused by employer discrimination, and CONSAD’s methods cannot account for this.
Similarly, if employers are less likely to promote women (all else held equal), that would contribute to women being paid less overall — but would CONSAD’s study would, again, consider that explained and therefore not discrimination.
4)3 For me, probably the most important kind of sexism going into the wage gap is the sexism of unquestioned assumptions; unquestioned assumptions about who does the housework, unquestioned assumptions about who does the child-rearing, unquestioned assumptions about innate ability, and most of all, unquestioned assumptions about how jobs are designed for people with wives at home.
I call this last factor the “Father Knows Best” economy; most jobs implicitly assume that workers have wives at home who are taking care of the kids and house, so that these responsibilities never need to be accommodated by employers. Maybe that assumption made sense half a century ago, but it doesn’t make sense now; and by continuing to implicitly make this assumption, our economy is making it unfairly difficult for caretakers (who are usually women) to have careers.
Ballgame’s big mistake is assuming that sexism in the wage gap (if it exists at all, which he denies) is entirely a matter of women being paid less than men for identical jobs. But most economists who study the wage gap believe that it’s caused, to a significant extent, by occupational segregation, which means women and men are sorted by the market into different jobs – and the women’s jobs, on average, pay less.
Arguments like Ballgame’s implicitly see the wage gap as all or nothing; either the wage gap is caused by employers hiring women at lower wages for the identical job, or else sexism and discrimination have nothing to do with the wage gap. But this is such a foolish and unsupportable model of how sexism works in the labor market, that there’s no reason at all to use it, unless one is either totally ignorant of real-world labor economics, or seeking a way to rationalize away sexism against women.
When discussing direct employer discrimination, it’s more realistic to discuss elements like selective hiring, training, promotion ladders, and other things that are a good deal more complex than CONSAD’s vision of the labor market allows for. Given two equally able applicants for a $40,000 job, one male, one female – which one will employers tend to prefer? Once hired, who is more likely to get mentored? Who is more likely to be given the assignments that lead to promotion? Who is more likely to be perceived as doing good work, all else held equal? And if these factors mean that women are rewarded less than men for identical labor market participation, to what degree does that reduce women’s incentive to participate equally in the labor market? All of these are ways that sex discrimination actually happens in the marketplace — and none of them are detectable by by CONSAD’s methods.
5) Ballgame claims that if women are paid “at least” 93-97% of what men are paid (as CONSAD’s biased study found), that means there’s “no substantive evidence” of a gender wage gap. Even if we accept CONSAD’s results — and we shouldn’t — I don’t believe for a moment that if one out of every twenty dollars Ballgame earned were withheld from him because of discrimination, Ballgame would consider that irrelevant.
6) Ballgame implies that “the Big Lie” is that studies that account for multiple factors (occupational difference, danger4, motherhood, experience, hours worked, etc) would not find a significant gender wage gap, and only studies that fail to control for multiple factors find a significant gender wage gap.
This is breathtakingly ignorant; if Ballgame knew the first thing about wage gap studies, or had bothered to do even ten minutes of research, he’d realize his argument is ridiculous.
I’ll list just a few of the many gender wage gap studies that disprove Ballgame’s “Big Lie”: Wood, Corcoran & Courant (1993), Journal of Labor Economics; Dey & Hill (April 2007), American Association of University Women Educational Foundation; “Women’s Earnings” (Oct 2003), United States General Accounting Office; Blau & Kahn (June 2006), Industrial and Labor Relations Review; Mandel & Semyonov (Dec 2005), American Sociological Review; Boraas & Rodgers (March 2003), Monthly Labor Review; Johnson & Solon (Dec 1986), American Economic Review; Mulligan & Rubinstein (August 2008), Quarterly Journal of Economics; Fields & Wolft (Oct 1995), Industrial and Labor Review.
7) Robert allows that in the 1980s, there was actual discrimination against women (unlike today). But conservatives and anti-feminists in the 1980s were making the same arguments denying discrimination that Robert and Ballgame make today, except that in the 1980s they would have said that discrimination existed in the 1960s (but not today). Twenty years from now, conservatives and anti-feminists like Robert and Ballgame will be saying that discrimination existed in the 2010s, but certainly not now in the 2030s.
- Imagine someone saying “I’m a progressive, I just think that big business is right about workplace economics, not labor unions” or “I’m a progressive, I just think that “The Bell Curve” has straighter talk about race than activists of color do.” [↩]
- For example, this page is currently the top google search result for “gender wage gap.” Note that all the graphs specifically look at “full time year round” workers. [↩]
- I recycled some of this from a post I wrote in 2005. [↩]
- Ballgame apparently doesn’t realize that if there is a danger pay premium, which there isn’t, then it would be included within occupational difference and thus accounting for it separately would be double-counting. [↩]