Does Woman’s “Choice” Include Low Pay?

An interesting article by John Tozzi of Businessweek, based off a report from TriNet, was published a couple months ago, showing salary gaps in the technology sector between male and female workers in metropolitan areas of New York City and San Francisco. What was particularly noteworthy was they found that in the San Francisco metropolitan area, where software development reigns, pay gaps between the sexes for programmers are quite large relative to those in New York, while in New York, a metropolitan area of relatively high executive-level worker concentration, pay gaps between the sexes for executives are quite large relative to those in San Francisco.Tozzi explained that median salaries for women in executive roles are 9 percent less than for men in the Bay Area. Meanwhile, in New York, female executives earn nearly one-third less than their male counter-parts. Female programmers in New York see a reversed trend; the median salary for them is 10 percent less than for men, while it is 20 percent in San Francisco.TriNet also added Los Angeles in its pool of data, which, although not mentioned in either the Businessweek article or the TriNet report, seems to be a city of lower concentrations of both tech executives and programmers relative to San Francisco and New York. In Los Angeles, median pay gaps for both vocations yield 20 percent lower earnings for women than men.

The original purpose of this post was to point out the significance of the new data in potentially finding a link between absolute advantage of particular metropolitan area in a given sector and the size of the pay gap between women and men working in those sectors. However, in doing supplemental research on the matter, I found a precariously high number of articles and blog posts suggesting that the existence of pay disparities between men and women is merely mythological. I temporarily lost all motivation in further examination of the TriNet report and instead decided to write about the absurdity of claiming, with irresponsibly emphatic discourse, that the answer to the problem is simply that there is no problem.

The quantity of articles suggesting the non-existence of vocational gender inequality in America is quite perplexing, but what is most surprising (okay maybe it’s not surprising at all given the publications from which most of these articles come) is that the arguments used aren’t even logically valid; they’re not even worthy of the term ‘specious.’ Steve Tobak of FOXBusiness in his article titled ‘The Gender Pay Gap is a Myth‘ wrote (conceitedly as its own paragraph, mind you), “The gender pay gap is not a result of discrimination, coercion, or anything like that. To put it simply, it’s a matter of women’s choices.” As a male FOXBusiness writer and Silicon Valley- based strategy consultant, I’m sure he’s an expert on the choices of women.

He quotes a passage from the forward of “an in-depth, 93-page U.S. Department of Labor Study” (I’m assuming the terms ‘in-depth’ and ’93-pages’ are used in effort to prevent his readers from reading it themselves) which says, “the differences in compensation of men and women are the result of multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers.”

Let me first say that the 93 page study to which he is referring was not written by the U.S. Department of Labor, but by CONSAD Research Corporation, who prepared it for the Department of Labor in 2009—the forward of the report was written by the Department of Labor. I’d also like to mention that he cites nothing beyond the forward of the report, so I wonder what was the true significance of pointing out its 93 in-depth pages. Second, Tobak leaves out from the passage the beginning of the paragraph which begins, “Although additional research in this area is clearly needed…” So when he says that “the facts are clear” in his article, it is odd that the Department of Labor writers to which he refers suggest something quite different. Third, the report’s adjusted wage gap is between 4.8 and 7.1, which is by no means the same as no wage gap, so, unless they are referring to statistical significance, I don’t understand the Department of Labor’s confidence in saying “there may be nothing to correct.” At least they use the term “may” often in the forward to the report, unlike Tobak who talks about the nonexistence of the wage gap as something factual. The CONSAD report focuses on wage disparities between men and women of the same exact profession and of equal academic and employment experience rather than the simply comparing the salary amounts between men and women. And this is where Tobak gets all of his ammo (water) for his myth-busting machine-gun (a baby blue water gun).

Tobak’s argument is primarily regarding the idea that “men choose higher-paying fields and occupations.” He cites a White House report in 2009 which found that only 7 percent of female professionals were employed in the relatively high paying computer and engineering fields, compared with 38 percent of male professionals. He adds, “Professional women, on the other hand, were far more likely to choose careers in lower paying fields such as education and health care.” Notice that the White House report mentions nothing about choices, while Tobak declares that lower paying fields of work are for what women generally yearn. Is the fact that men have all the higher paying positions an answer to the problem? If I wasn’t too lazy to look up the word “no” in 10 languages, I would do so and I would write them all here in succession. If one is to believe that a society which initially prohibited women from voting might also have a bias toward paying women lower wages, then one ought to also believe that it could have a bias toward hiring men for certain positions instead of women, regardless of the choices of the female applicants.

Contrary to CONSAD’s report, the BLS reported in 2012 (three years after the CONSAD report) that full-time female wage and salary workers earn about 81 percent of what men earn. Elementary and middle-school teachers earn about 18 percent less than men in the same position, while female post-secondary teachers earn over 22 percent less than men. In fact, they found that overall, for full-time education, training, and library occupations, females earned about 25 percent less than men. While female pharmacists earned 99.6 percent of what male pharmacists earned, female physical therapists earned about 13 percent less than men, and female surgeons earned 32 percent less than male surgeons. So it appears that even the lower paying fields of education and health care, which Tobak suggests are what women choose, still have pretty high wage gaps.

“Even within the same field or category, men are more likely than women to pursue areas of specialization with higher levels of stress.” Again, the fact that more men have more stressful, specialized jobs (for the record, I don’t believe the part regarding stress is even anecdotally true) does not mean that this is what women have chosen.

Fewer women choosing to work higher-paying jobs or not having adequate levels of experience to earn the same amount as men in equivalent fields, in my opinion, is not an answer to the problem of wage disparities, but, rather, it’s a different subdivision of the same broader problem, because I refuse to believe in the idea that the reason women do not make up a high percentage of CEOs in the United States is simply because they do not choose to do so. What Tobak and the authors of the Department of Labor’s forward to the CONSAD report are doing is trivializing something that is far from trivial. Even if CONSAD is right and the wage gap is as low as 4.9-7.1 percent (and based off the BLS report I am not inclined to believe it is), that’s still a gap, and in my opinion it’s still significant. So to say that a 7.1 percent wage gap “should not be used as with the basis to justify corrective action” is awfully offensive to the progress that has been made with gender equality in the United States.

(via The New School Economic Review,


Categories: Lady Business, Poverty and Inequality, Technology

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