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Why wouldn't I only hire women then?
September 22, 2010 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I need some ammo to fight an oft heard political argument

and that argument is, "If women really made ~70 cents for every dollar a man made at the same job, then every business would just hire women because it would save money and would be better for the bottom line."

I'm a major liberal...but I just don't know how to respond to such a statement about income inequality between the sexes, because on its face, it seems to make sense. But I know it's wrong. Help me answer this...references a bonus
posted by teg4rvn to Work & Money (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
The dollar figure represents perceived value. Employers pay their workers what they think they're worth. In other words, the lower wages are a symptom of underlying sexism, which needs to be addressed.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 2:12 PM on September 22, 2010


Because initial hiring wages start close if not identical and 5, 10, 15 years down the line, the men have gotten more raises and possibly promotions into management while the women haven't.

Also: men would sue for hiring discrimination if a company attempted to do such a thing.
posted by yeloson at 2:15 PM on September 22, 2010


Employers discriminate not only in pay rates but also in hiring decisions. Discrimination is not rational or economically sound.
posted by The World Famous at 2:17 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't that argument a variation on begging the question? The claim is that there exists sexism—irrational prejudice and discrimination against women—in the labor market, such that an otherwise similarly situated and skilled woman gets paid 70 percent of a man's wage, even though she is worth the same, economically speaking. The argument you have a problem with assumes that a business hiring workers would act rationally. But the whole claim is that no, business decisionmakers do not act rationally because they are motivated (at least partly, or unconsciously, or structurally, etc.) by sexism. So the argument assumes away the point of contention instead of providing an actual counterargument.
posted by chinston at 2:19 PM on September 22, 2010


Actually, it's only half wrong. Women really do earn less on average than men, but it's not, generally speaking, because they're being paid 70% of the wage that a man in the same job at the same company is paid, which is what this oft-quoted statistic seems to imply. That kind of practice is illegal, and would be fairly easily found out. It's more to do with the fact that women make career choices less focussed on financial remuneration.

Women lawyers provide a good example - they earn less than men, and that has absolutely nothing to do with law firms hiring women and then paying them less than men. It has everything to do with the fact that to make a lot of money in law, you need to devote your life to your job. High-paid lawyers spend a huge amount of their lives working, and it's not easily compatible with family life. Women who want to have children - which is most women - tend to leave big-firm, big-money law for less lucrative careers in-house or in the public sector, where the pay is less but the hours are better. So when, 10 years into a law class's legal careers, the lawyers are surveyed, the women earn 70% of what the men are earning. That's not because they've been discriminated against, it's because they made career choices that valued family life over money. This nuance gets totally lost on feminist undergraduates, who are convinced that the male establishment plots against women and works to deny them equal pay. They don't.
posted by Dasein at 2:20 PM on September 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


From Wikipedia:
One study found that customers who viewed videos featuring a black male, a white female, or a white male actor playing the role of an employee helping a customer were 19% more satisfied with the white male employee's performance and also were more satisfied with the store's cleanliness and appearance. This despite that all three actors performed identically, read the same script, and were in the exact same location with identical camera angles and lighting. Moreover, 45 percent of the customers were women and 41 percent were non-white, indicating that even women and minority customers prefer white men.

In a second study, they found that white male doctors were rated as more approachable and competent than equally-well performing women or minority doctors. They interpret their findings to suggest that employers are willing to pay more for white male employees because employers are customer driven and customers are happier with white male employees.
The study in question.

The other major factor has to do with whether you control for education, years on the job, and so forth. If you do, much of the wage gap goes away. The problem is that real life doesn't control for such differences, and those differences are often created by discrimination against women (e.g., social norms that women should stay home with children, or shouldn't work, or should stick to "women's work," etc).
posted by jedicus at 2:20 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Have a citation. This is a pain, I know, but I am just unwilling to argue policy with people who don't start from the facts.

"Here are studies X, Y, and Z which support my initial facts. Just because you think the world looks flat does not mean it is so. I find those studies very persuasive, and if you do not, then you'd better have actual reasons for thinking so besides "I just don't want them to be true.""
posted by kavasa at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Among all the other incredibly accurate statements made thus far in this thread, consider this: In order for the proposed system to work, employers would have to be aware of the pay discrepancy between men and women and admit that it is gender-based.

On the other hand, that's an argument concerning privilege, and if the person in question is grasping at such tenuous straws to try to disprove the existence of sexism, they're probably not going to listen.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think your first thing to do is verify that women really do earn 70 cents on the dollar at the same job. It may not be true--I mean, the reason it makes sense on the face of it is that a rational employer who could save 30% of payroll costs by hiring only women would do so. Otherwise the answer is something like, "Well, that statistic simplifies a complex reality where women are, in the aggregate, in lower-paying positions even within the same industry because of various factors such as..."

I mean to say, based on my readings on this issue, that "earning 70% in the exact same job" is kind of a red herring.
posted by not that girl at 2:22 PM on September 22, 2010


but it's not, generally speaking, because they're being paid 70% of the wage that a man in the same job at the same company is paid, which is what this oft-quoted statistic seems to imply. That kind of practice is illegal, and would be fairly easily found out.

In my experience, equal pay act claims are very difficult to prove up.
posted by The World Famous at 2:25 PM on September 22, 2010


Not to mention the totally unfounded assumption built-in to that premise: that all hiring/business decisions are purely "business" decisions (hence the idea that if women are paid less smart businesses would be hiring more women). This may be an ideal to which many companies aspire, but the truth is that humans make these decisions and more often than not these humans tend to be men and these men tend to perceive women as less valuable than other men.

Pay disparity between men and women has nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with gender prejudice. It's also worth pointing out that payroll practices in general are pretty messed up. Why, for example, are most companies unwilling to publish salary information publicly? What do they have to hide?
posted by jnrussell at 2:25 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


My department chairman was known to be, well, not kind or fair to women, when hiring and promoting etc. But he told me that his attitude was based on his experience that too often women left a job (back then) to go with a husband when he went away for a new job; that women often dropped out of work to have a baby and then stay home for a time to care for the baby; and that women were a bit difficult at certain times duing the month. This of course was in the past, but my guess is that some of these issues still exist.
posted by Postroad at 2:26 PM on September 22, 2010


So when, 10 years into a law class's legal careers, the lawyers are surveyed, the women earn 70% of what the men are earning. That's not because they've been discriminated against, it's because they made career choices that valued family life over money. This nuance gets totally lost on feminist undergraduates, who are convinced that the male establishment plots against women and works to deny them equal pay. They don't.

You're right, of course. Instead, the male establishment simply works against mandatory paid maternity leave, dictates social norms that it's the mother that should stay home with the child rather than the father, and works against subsidies for childcare.

And since you brought up law specifically: The typical law school graduate finishes up at age 25-26. The typical partnership track is 7-8 years. So in order to make partner, a female attorney has to put off having children until age 32-34, which is much longer than a lot of women are willing to wait, especially given that birth defect rates start to increase at age 35. And that's a best-case scenario. For women who went to graduate school before law school or are non-traditional students the math is even worse.

And that's if she only wants to have one child. The effects of the interruptions in her career caused by having more than one child are even more devastating.

So the law firm world has maintained a partnership system that is structurally biased against women because it forces them to make an unfair choice between having a shot at partner and having a family.

You want evidence of structural bias? Look at the fact that women have been half of the law firm associates for decades yet are still only a small fraction of the law firm partners.
posted by jedicus at 2:29 PM on September 22, 2010 [16 favorites]


That's exactly what they do - hire women for low playing jobs and keep them there.

Remember that the figure you cite is an average. A woman in a minimum wage job makes the same as a man on a minimum wage job. What keeps the wage of the average woman low is the glass ceiling.

What you need is salary data divided into with the percentage of each quintile that is male and female. The department of labor probably has something.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:32 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Why do you know it's wrong? I mean, why do you know that women make so little? Here's a recent USA Today piece, and the news is good. Young women outearn men in the workplace.

I know its not what you want to hear, but this paper tries to quantify the non-wage compensation, such as health insurance. Ask yourself if how your statistic, presumably from BLS, quantifies fringe benefits like health insurance.
posted by pwnguin at 2:36 PM on September 22, 2010


Why do you know it's wrong? I mean, why do you know that women make so little? Here's a recent USA Today piece, and the news is good. Young women outearn men in the workplace.

That same article says the wage ratio still stands at 82.8%.

From a related article: "Women ages 22 to 30 with no husband and no kids earn a median $27,000 a year, 8% more than comparable men in the top 366 metropolitan areas, according to 2008 U.S. Census Bureau data crunched by the New York research firm Reach Advisors and released Wednesday."

But that almost proves the point: major causes of the disparity are the social norms that wives should defer to their husbands' careers and wives should stay home with children. Women who have neither children nor a husband are not dragged down by those forces and are able to out-earn men, which shouldn't be surprising given that, for example, women are more likely to go to college and less likely to commit crimes.

And great as it is that young women are accomplishing what they are, that does not speak to the state of things for middle aged and older women.
posted by jedicus at 2:43 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


To get at the illogical conclusion of the argument...it is like saying that if a man earning a salary of $100k/yr. in NYC, while supporting a family of four, would buy a house in Arkansas, he would be able to afford a larger space for his family and everybody would have their own room. But he doesn't do that, so it must be that he's not actually earning $100k/yr. There couldn't possibly be another reason he doesn't do this, right? Because not buying the house (or not hiring the women) would be an insane move, right? It assumes that the most important thing for the man - above all else - is a large home (for why else would he possibly earn money?). This is similar to the assumption that the most important thing for a business - above all else - is the cheapest labor possible.

The argument basically rejects the original proposition because a straight line can't be drawn between the main claim of that proposition and a seemingly logical (but narrow-view) extension of the proposition. The failure of the extension to be taken/done then becomes proof of the illegitimacy of the original proposition. It ignores any other possible factor as well.

I KNOW there's a word for this type of fallacy, but I don't know what it is. There's very likely a much better explanation of it as well.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:56 PM on September 22, 2010


Women lawyers provide a good example - they earn less than men, and that has absolutely nothing to do with law firms hiring women and then paying them less than men.

My personal experience is different.

It's important to note that for a lawyer, (female or otherwise) nothing will make you un-employable faster than suing your employer. You'd better have a rock-solid case that will generate an award so big you'll never have to work again (which is not easy) or you shut your mouth and suck it up. If you sue and lose, or win a small award, you're facing the rest of your life as a solo practitioner. I've seen it happen firsthand, and more than once, and so when I learned that I was billing more hours but earning less than an equally-experienced male colleague, I STFU-- because $15K less per year was not worth risking my career over.
posted by ambrosia at 2:57 PM on September 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


jedicus: "But that almost proves the point: major causes of the disparity are the social norms that wives should defer to their husbands' careers and wives should stay home with children."

And the study I linked to demonstrates that the motherhood gap can at least be partially attributed to health care perks. If, during open enrollment, you trade wages for health care for your family, then you show up in statistics as lower paid.
posted by pwnguin at 3:03 PM on September 22, 2010


I'm an economist. In my view, the argument is quite convincing, and should be countered only indirectly. It is well-known that women are paid less on average than men, and not only do firms want to make money, they are paranoid about gender discrimination lawsuits to the extent that some hire consulting companies to audit their hiring processes to make sure they're non-discriminatory.

I'm not convinced that there is widespread explicit discrimination against women, certainly not to the extent that would explain a 30% wage difference. What there may be are institutional/societal blocks to women getting interested in high-paying fields and being able to manage child care (which almost always falls disproportionately to the mother) and excelling in that field. Girls are less likely to study science and math than boys; these lead to the best jobs. Having a baby requires months or years away from your job in the prime of your career, and mothers of older kids returning to the work force face age discrimination. Maternity leave policies are designed with profits in mind (as they should be), not the career of the woman. Women may not invest in getting an advanced degree if they expect to leave the workforce to provide child care in the near future. Sure, explicit discrimination may be in the mix, but I (and economists generally) think it's a small overall effect.

Women thrive in academia; maternity leave policies there are quite generous (extra years for tenure, semesters off), and the schedule is flexible enough to allow you to both work and take care of children. There's no pay differential I'm aware of, holding productivity and field of expertise constant. I hesitate to suggest making the real world more like academia, but this and getting girls interested in rigorous fields seem the most important to me.
posted by deadweightloss at 3:07 PM on September 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Wasn't there a discussion on MetaFilter about a study or article that showed that the pay gap widens as men and women move higher up the hierarchy?

That makes sense to me, because many low-wage workers are paid according to a company policy rather than their perceived value. Negotiating a salary or wage is something that tends to come up when you're more advanced in your career, and that's when unconscious bias can play a large part.

It would also partly explain why the wage gap is lower for younger women, because these women are likelier to be in these lower-paying jobs. (Women being expected to shoulder more family responsibilities and the workplace being unforgiving of those responsibilities is obviously a huge factor.)

Did anyone bookmark this? It was a while ago.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:24 PM on September 22, 2010


"it seems to make sense. But I know it's wrong."

I'm curious -- on what basis do you "know" it's wrong?

Let's think about it in terms of a scenario where it is perfectly *legitimate* to discriminate on the basis of price.

You own an orchard. Your competitor owns an orchard. You both need apple pickers. You have two groups of people looking for work: College students, and experienced attorneys. They'll both do the same work, but the college students will do it for $7/hr, while the attorneys will do it for $10/hr.

So instead of talking about Men vs. Women, it's the Lawyers vs. the College Kids. In this scenario you and your competitor are perfectly able to discriminate -- each group is an even mix of sexes, races, orientations, etc.

The other orchard owner is a Harvard Law grad, so he exercises his right to discriminate and hires mostly lawyers.

What do you do? You hire the college kids, and *clean your competitor's clock* because you are getting the same work done for a much lower price.

This analogy suggests that the argument you "know is wrong" is in fact correct: If business were able to hire equally competent women at 70 percent of what men would ask for, they would indeed hire women as much as possible.

(To take it one step further -- this increased demand for female labor would just cause the price of that labor to go up, until very quickly the whole question would be moot.)

Hope this helps!

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 3:25 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Isn't this like arguing, "Designer jeans can't possibly be overvalued, because if cheaper ones were just as good, consumers would buy those"? (Basically, what chinston said.)

Although it is somewhat true, only on a whole-field basis. Once a field starts to become more female, its pay and prestige decrease. I've heard this about secretaries, doctors in Russia and a few other professions.
posted by transona5 at 3:32 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


For a nifty refutation of the idea that hiring managers are little economic robots driven only by rational decision-making, you can't get much better than the experience of orchestras when they instituted blind auditions. (This is a pretty widely-known and widely-accepted study, by the way.) What these economists found was that once orchestras began holding blind auditions--so they didn't know whether a man or a woman was playing the instrument--the number of women that who advanced to the next round increased by 50 percent. The final effect was to sharply increase the number of women hired.

By simplistic economic logic, one would argue that there's no reason for orchestras to discriminate against women when the auditions were not blind; in fact, they could hire women of equivalent skill more cheaply (because there was less demand for their service in other sexist orchestras) and they'd be much better off, so they should actually prefer women. And yet, real-world evidence shows that it didn't happen like that, and that unconscious biases shaped the perception of how "good" the applicant would be at their work.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:35 PM on September 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


transona5: "Isn't this like arguing, "Designer jeans can't possibly be overvalued, because if cheaper ones were just as good, consumers would buy those"? (Basically, what chinston said.)"

I'd like to claim that employees aren't a status good, and that employers hire to capture productivity not brand name. And as I've pointed out, there's two different arguments against the point. The first is the productivity one, that you're trying to frame it as, that markets pay people what they're worth, so women earning less is evidence for women producing less.

The other argument, that I've tried to remind people about, is measurement error. It's difficult to measure total compensation. How much is free onsite daycare worth? How about access to a collegiate library? This argument puts forth that markets pay people what they're worth, so the missing 30 percent is evidence that unmeasured fringe benefits are worth 30 percent of wages to women.
posted by pwnguin at 3:50 PM on September 22, 2010


iminurmefi -

That's a great study, and shouldn't be discounted. However, it does raise some questions. For example:

(1) If the industry was sexist, why did at least some orchestras switch to blind auditions?

(2) Why didn't some of the failed (but presumably superior) female musicians band together and start their own orchestra, one presumably offering superior musicianship to the irrationally discriminating one? After all, once you have the talent assembled, the industry does not come with insurmountable barriers to entry: People create orchestras all the time. Note that I don't pretend to know the answer to this -- it's just a fascinating question.

(3) It could be that the orchestra directors were not *irrationally* discriminating. It may be (or they just may have believed) that audience members, visually, prefer male musicians, and were thus very rationally taking into account the (real or perceived) preferences of their audience. Just pointing out that if this were the case, they would indeed be acting as "little economic robots driven by rational decision-making."

(4) Ultimately, what was the impact on market competitiveness of the orchestras involved? Did the "blind" ones in fact benefit economically?

Again, great link; lots to think about.

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 3:54 PM on September 22, 2010


Pay disparity doesn't just mean that women get paid less than men for doing the same job. It also describes the fact that jobs which are more often held by women command lower salaries than similarly difficult jobs that tend to be held by men. When a job category is dominated by women it leads to the phenomenon called the Pink Ghetto.
posted by alms at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


(1) If the industry was sexist, why did at least some orchestras switch to blind auditions?

They were acknowledging their sexism and taking a measure plainly designed to combat it. If they weren't sexist, why would blind auditions be necessary?

(2) Why didn't some of the failed (but presumably superior) female musicians band together and start their own orchestra, one presumably offering superior musicianship to the irrationally discriminating one?

Because they didn't have the massive multi-million dollar endowment and hordes of benefactors and other resources necessary to start an orchestra and actually pay the musicians.

What you're suggesting is like saying "if General Motors discriminated against a bunch of women, why didn't those women just go out and start their own major automotive manufacturing, marketing, sales, and financing corporation?"

(3) It could be that the orchestra directors were not *irrationally* discriminating.

Ah, but were they *unlawfully* discriminating? Being a dude is not a BFOQ for an orchestra musician. It's not a strip club.
posted by The World Famous at 5:15 PM on September 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


The World Famous - Your points are well-taken; but these are just musings about the study.

1. I'm not sure what you mean about blind auditions being necessary. They aren't necessary in the sense that you can certainly have an orchestra without them. Necessary to have the best possible orchestra? That's possible, even likely. Or do you mean necessary to combat sexism?

2. This is precisely what I meant when I noted that my sense is that the "orchestra industry" has relatively low barriers to entry. Note that I did not say "no" barriers. To this layman with a lot of musician friends, it seems that, *once you have assembled the talent*, starting an orchestra is far easier than starting a "major automotive manufacturing corporation." Many -- most? -- orchestras have been started without "massive multi-million-dollar endowments and hordes of benefactors." But perhaps the barriers to entry are much higher than I realize.

3. You are speaking from emotion here. I was only making one, simple point: That if an orchestra director *believed* that his audience preferred male musicians, than the choice to hire male musicians would indeed be a *rational* choice. I did not say he would be correct. And in the bigger picture, this concern is not frivolous: An orchestra is not a strip club, but it is indeed an aesthetic endeavor, and its appeal to its audience ultimately rests on those grounds. Who am I to presume I know where other people's aesthetic priorities lie?

NB: I think blind auditions are an excellent idea.
posted by Alaska Jack at 5:51 PM on September 22, 2010


Maybe you could completely agree with them. The argument that women would be see higher participation in the workforce if they were in fact paid less doesn't exactly work if the number of working women is set to outstrip the number of working men in the very near future.

I'm no economist, but couldn't you say, "Yes, and that is exactly what's happening"?
posted by Willie0248 at 5:59 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. I'm not sure what you mean about blind auditions being necessary. They aren't necessary in the sense that you can certainly have an orchestra without them. Necessary to have the best possible orchestra? That's possible, even likely. Or do you mean necessary to combat sexism?

I mean to ask, rhetorically, whether there is any imaginable reason for them to have been held other than an attempt at impartiality.

To this layman with a lot of musician friends, it seems that, *once you have assembled the talent*, starting an orchestra is far easier than starting a "major automotive manufacturing corporation." Many -- most? -- orchestras have been started without "massive multi-million-dollar endowments and hordes of benefactors." But perhaps the barriers to entry are much higher than I realize.

While, technically and definitionally speaking, an orchestra is just a group of musicians, in order for those musicians to count their orchestra as a day job that actually pays them wages, there are substantial barriers to entry. Just as any three schlubs with guitars and drums can start a band, there are substantial barriers to entry if they wish to make it a realistic form of gainful employment.

You are speaking from emotion here.

I was making purely legal points, without emotion. Your argument was that the sex of the musicians might be a BFOQ for orchestras (a bona fide occupational qualification). In certan employment situations, such as strip clubs, courts have held that sex can be a BFOQ. Sex is not a BFOQ for orchestra musicians, as a matter of law.
posted by The World Famous at 6:03 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Because the comparison isn't job for job. It is a comparison of the average wage of men versus the average wage of women. Which encompasses a tremendous number of other variables that it is practically criminal for the media to keep tromping that one out, over and over again.

Averages of populations can't predict anything.

Like how the average number of kids is 2.5, yet there aren't any families with 2.5 kids.

(PS to all the undergrads out there: societal norms can't be dictated, they can only be willingly followed. If mom doesn't want to stay home with baby, she is free to leave. Nobody is stopping her, except the cries of the child.)
posted by gjc at 6:37 PM on September 22, 2010


PS to all the undergrads out there: societal norms can't be dictated, they can only be willingly followed. If mom doesn't want to stay home with baby, she is free to leave. Nobody is stopping her, except the cries of the child.

Right, so she's free to leave...except for the whole criminal child endangerment/neglect thing. No, the mother is often at the father's mercy: if he won't give up his job to stay with the child, then she's out of luck. I suppose she could divorce him, but he probably makes more money, and a single mother is even less likely to be able to afford the childcare necessary for her to return to work.

Society dictates that the woman will stay home because society doesn't provide adequate maternity leave, subsidized childcare, or parent-friendly work policies. Society dictates it because the woman often makes less than the man, so the rational thing is for her to stay home while he remains the breadwinner. Those are dictates outside of an individual's control, not 'willingly followed.'
posted by jedicus at 8:20 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because the comparison isn't job for job. It is a comparison of the average wage of men versus the average wage of women. Which encompasses a tremendous number of other variables that it is practically criminal for the media to keep tromping that one out, over and over again.

It's a perfectly meaningful statistic. In a perfectly just world, men and women would make almost exactly the same on average because the distribution of jobs between men and women would be almost exactly the same. There are few jobs for which sex and genetics are strong determiners, and they aren't the high-paying ones (e.g., doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, bankers, managers, politicians, actors, etc). There's no real reason why men and women shouldn't, on average, be making the same because, on average, they should be doing the same jobs.

The pay disparity reflects at least two things: actual discrimination against women, whether conscious or unconscious, (e.g., customers rating women less highly, people not caring about women's professional sports, etc) and structural discrimination against women (e.g., social norms that women are bad at math or shouldn't strive to be professionals or should stay home with children, etc).
posted by jedicus at 8:26 AM on September 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here is a fairly thorough breakdown of the argument and a solid refutation.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 3:21 PM on September 23, 2010


I should clarify -- the Slate link is a breakdown of the argument that there isn't any evidence of systematic wage discrimination against women and a solid refutation of that. The thought experiment, sorry, I mean the "thought" experiment, isn't addressed.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 6:38 PM on September 23, 2010


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