Wednesday, September 08, 2010

There's New Evidence That Employers Do NOT Discriminate Against Single, Childless Women. But Do They Then Discriminate Against Mothers?

A recent CD post highlighted the new "reverse gender gap," based on a recent study that found evidence that young women's median full-time salaries are 8% higher than those of their male counterparts.

Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, writes in Slate.com that "young women are earning more than young men because young women are acquiring more skills than the men are."  That makes perfect sense, as Heather explains further: 

"Among women aged 22 to 30, a third (34 percent) have some college education and a third (35 percent) have a college degree or more. Among men in that age group, less than a third (30 percent) spent some time in college, and just over a quarter (28 percent) have a college degree. If one group (women) has more workers with more education, then they should out-earn the other group. That's what the Reach Advisors study shows—that because there are more young women with college degrees, women now out-earn young men."

In other words, Boushey agrees that labor markets are generally efficient, wages are based on experience and skills, employers pay single, childless women more than single men on average because women have superior skills and education, and there is NO gender discrimination. Agreed. After all, if there were discrimination against women in the labor market, then we would expect to find equal pay for childless, single workers under 30, even though young women are now better educated on average than young men. But we find exactly the opposite - women make more than men on average, because of their superior educational credentials. Conclusion: no gender discrimination.

But gender activists like Ms. Boushey find that conclusion unacceptable - there has to be some kind of gender discrimination; if not against single women, then against some other group of women, and Ms. Bousey easily identifies that other group: mothers.  So at the same time that Ms. Boushey apparently agrees that there is no discrimination against single, childless women, there apparently is discrimination against married women with children. According to Boushey, "Research has shown that discrimination against mothers remains widespread."

But that conclusion is inconsistent.  How could wages for single women be determined competitively by market forces, free of gender discrimination, but wages for married women with children be distorted by discrimination?  Stated differently, is it realistic to assume that employers are gender-neutral when it comes to single workers, but they turn into gender-discriminators if some of those single females get married and have children?  

A more consistent position would be to assume that either employers discriminate against women or they do not.  If they don't discriminate against childless, single women (which is supported by recent evidence), then they probably don't discriminate against married women with children.  If they do discriminate against women, then they would discriminate against all women, regardless of marital and motherhood status. 

If married women with children make less than: a) married men with children, or b) single, childless women, then perhaps it's because married women with children work fewer hours than their married male counterparts and single female counterparts, elect not to work overtime or accept out-of-town assignments that require travel, elect not to apply for promotions that require additional responsibilities and increased hours, etc.  In other words, when a decision involves more work and greater pay, or less work and lower pay, it's perfectly plausible that married women with children voluntarily accept the lower-paying options. 

Bottom Line:  The fact that single, childless women earn more than their male counterparts due to having greater educational qualifications demonstrates the reality that labor markets are efficient and that wages are based on the value an employee creates for the employer.  The fact that married women with children earn less than married men with children or single, childless workers of either sex doesn't necessarily prove gender discrimination.  It might just prove that married women with children don't create as much value for employers as married or single men, or single women.      

Update: From a comment by Milton Recht, "Women represent about half of the 130-135 million workers in the US. Given the large size of the US workforce, for there to be any measurable wage discrimination in average salaries, there has to be millions of women who are underpaid and who have the legal right to file discrimination charges against their employers. Where are the numerous lawsuits and Department of Labor complaints? Who are the employers who are discriminating against women?  If there is truly gender wage discrimination in the U.S., the organizations (MP: Like the Center for American Progress) should name the employers responsible (MP: And bring legal action)."

If Boushey is confident of "widespread" discrimination against mothers, that should mean huge opportunities for "widespread" legal action against hundreds, if not thousands, of employers across the U.S. Why doesn't the Center for American Progress, or the AAUW, or one of the dozens of other women's advocacy groups, start filing complaints and legal action on behalf of the thousands or millions of mothers who are alleged victims of discrimination?

11 Comments:

At 9/08/2010 8:55 PM, Blogger Milton Recht said...

Women represent about half of the 130-135 million workers in the US. Given the large size of the US workforce, for there to be any measurable wage discrimination in average salaries, there has to be millions of women who are underpaid and who have the legal right to file discrimination charges against their employers. Where are the numerous lawsuits and Department of Labor complaints? Who are the employers who are discriminating against women?

Gender wage discrimination is only found when male and female employees are grouped by criteria across different employers, such as in the AAUW study cited by Heather Boushey.

How does one control, if one can at all, for different aspects of jobs across different employers? Different employers provide varying amounts of vacation and sick days, carryovers and buyouts for vacation and sick days as for teachers, employee costs of medical benefits, business travel time -- days on the road away from home, risk of injury, reimbursement of employee expenses, frequency of deadlines and need to work late and on weekends, etc.

Gender discrimination wage studies do not find salary discrimination in individual employers. Within companies, employees in a job category are homogenous. They get the same value of benefits and risks. They get the same medical benefits, the same number of sick and vacation days, the same travel obligations, the same frequency of deadlines and need to work late, the same job injury risk, etc.

These gender wage studies just show that male and female employees put values on the differing aspects of jobs in different industries and at different employers. The wage discrepancies in the studies are reflections of the studies' inabilities to quantify all the relevant value aspects of a job.

Within employers, when male-female workers are homogeneous and have similar skills and employee traits, there is no wage discrimination. Only across employers and industries, when male female workers place different priorities on different job characteristics, do any of these studies find a wage difference.

The AAUW study states:

"Women are more likely than men to work in the nonprofit and local government sectors, where wages are typically lower than those in the for-profit and federal government sectors."

The study does not adjust for any benefit differences between private sector and public or non-profit jobs. For example, public sector jobs have pensions and other benefits that are more generous and valuable than private sector jobs, that one can be fired only for cause from the public sector, or that deadlines and travel are rare in public sector and non-profit jobs, etc. The AAUW does not adjust pay for any of these and other job characteristics.

If there is truly gender wage discrimination in the US, the organizations should name the employers responsible.

 
At 9/08/2010 9:38 PM, Blogger Cori said...

I am a college student and I know many young men my age who do not attend college or have attended very little college because they get involved with the rest of their life. They find a job or they find a girl and want to get married so they can support themselves and they do not really think that a college degree will really help them in the future, especially when they already have a job.

 
At 9/08/2010 10:59 PM, Blogger Whiskey Jim said...

Having hired hundreds of people in the last 20 years, I must honestly admit to discrimination (anonymously of course).

Given the choice between a recent university graduate and a single mother working her way through community college, I almost always chose the mother.

She may not have the education, but most of the efficiency is gained on the job anyway. And she has very large advantages; she obviously knows how to work, and is significantly more mature.

Graduating students who have never worked except for some 'internship' has retarded our young adult's maturation. They are still teenagers at 23.

But that's just my anecdotal opinion.

 
At 9/08/2010 11:20 PM, Blogger sethstorm said...

A lot of do-nothing degrees though.

 
At 9/09/2010 12:15 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Personally I'm quite skeptical of anyone claiming to be from a Podesta sponsored anything and putting out something they think is credible...

 
At 9/09/2010 3:10 AM, Blogger Jet Beagle said...

Anyone who has worked in large corporate headquarters should know why many women with chidren - on average - earn less than men with children. A significant percentage of mothers take themselves out of the workforce for several years or more in order to raise children.

I have personally known a dozen or more talented professional women, on track for excellent careers, who stepped off the fast track and raise children. Several had MBA's from prestigious business schools - Wharton, Northwestern, and Indiana - and had already been given significant responsibility. Though most of these women eventually returned to corporate jobs, only a couple ever recovered their place on the fast track.

I have observed many cases of professional women who did not opt for the mommy track after childbirth. These women were generally able to achieve the same level of success as their male counterparts.

Corporations place a high premium on commitment. Enlightened organizations attempt to encourage their leaders to balance work and home lives. But stepping away from the job for a few years demonstrates neither commitment nor balance.

 
At 9/09/2010 9:01 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

i have to wonder if ms bouchey felt the same way about market efficiency and skills when young men were our earning young women.

somehow, i doubt it.

 
At 9/09/2010 11:35 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Wal-Mart suit shows glass ceiling still an issue
February 8, 2007

Wal-Mart hasn't been found guilty of sex discrimination – and it may never be, in part because class-action cases on this issue are often settled out of court.

Women face a significant gap with men in promotion opportunities, according to research published last year by Cornell University economists Francine Blau and Jed DeVaro.

Their data covered 3,500 employers in four US cities. The study found that 10.6 percent of men had received promotions during a four-year period versus 7.6 percent of women – a gap of 3 percentage points.

Even after sifting out a range of possible explanations, including education, skills, and seniority, that gap narrowed a bit, but the promotion rate remained 2.2 percentage points apart.

Interestingly, this study, which drew on survey data from the 1990s, found no solid evidence that those women who were promoted got smaller pay raises than men.

 
At 9/09/2010 5:42 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"Wal-Mart suit shows glass ceiling still an issue"

Did you mean "Wal-Mart suit shows 'glass ceiling' still a viable basis for frivolous lawsuits"?

 
At 9/09/2010 6:20 PM, Blogger randian said...

The fact that single, childless women earn more than their male counterparts due to having greater educational qualifications demonstrates the reality that labor markets are efficient and that wages are based on the value an employee creates for the employer

Not quite. First of all, such studies don't account for the value of the degree; they treat a women's studies BA and a computer science or architecture BS as equivalent.

Second, in areas like software engineering where everybody is pretty much equivalently educated (BS in computer science) women get paid more on average, even though Masters and PhD degrees in CS are relatively rare in general and doubly rare if held by a woman.

Even after sifting out a range of possible explanations, including education, skills, and seniority, that gap narrowed a bit, but the promotion rate remained 2.2 percentage points apart.

What about the most important explanation, time on the job? I bet they missed that one.

If one group (women) has more workers with more education, then they should out-earn the other group.

Should they? Saying they should is an echo of the "comparable worth" idea so beloved of feminists, because it ignores both acquired knowledge and experience.

 
At 9/10/2010 3:28 AM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

Randian, the short answer is the model controls for "tenure" and "performance."

It's possible, managers are "too nice" evaluating female workers or expect more from male workers.

 

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