Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Fair Game

Here's an email from Elizabeth Warren that will not surprise: 

John,

When I started teaching elementary school after college, the public school district didn't hide the fact that it had two pay scales: one for men and one for women.

I can't believe we're still debating equal pay for equal work 40 years later.
She's right, of course. The disparity does persist, and it is unfair--it cannot be fully justified (though I think it can in part be justified) by factors that have nothing to do with gender.  It's another one of the facts of life I came up against in the City Room of the (notoriously liberal) Louisville Times back in the 60s.

I think I understood the unfairness to women in the regime as it subsisted.  But I was more alert to the unfairness to me. The boss would have said (I think perhaps he did say) that it was only right that he paid women less because they didn't have families to support. True as a matter of fact, but it also glosses over the point that I did have a family to support, and all this low-price scab labor was undercutting my paycheck.  I think the boss felt pleased with himself for providing jobs for women when they weren't all that common.  I don't think he minded pocketing the extra change that came from hiring (at my expense) on the cheap.

1 comment:

Larry, The Barefoot Bum said...

though I think it can in part be justified

I disagree. I think the pay gap is in part direct (controlling for other factors), but to say wage differentials are even in part justified, you would have to find that the other factors are not themselves the result of sex discrimination.

One might control for school performance (grades, coursework, awards, publications, quality of school, etc.) and find that x% of women's disparity in success in advancing in STEM fields was due to direct discrimination, but then you have to dig into those "controlled" factors to find out what the differences there are due to sex discrimination. For example, we might find that sex differences in math grades in high school and undergraduate school was due to sex discrimination there.

When we are talking about establishing differences between classes of human beings (which seem, quelle suprise, to usually be construed as inferiority), our null hypothesis should be that there are no differences, until evidence compels us to reject the null. I do not believe that we have anywhere nearly enough evidence to conclude that that women are substantively inferior... oops... different in capabilities than men.