Monday, May 11, 2015

Why Discrimination is Not always the Cause of Wage Disparity

Jumping to conclusions is something people do.  Let's take the case of wage disparity.  I have several acquaintances on social media who like to tout the difference in wage between men and women as an example of sexism and discrimination alive and well.  Now, with a new election coming up, both parties are touting their support for equal pay.  But discrimination is not the cause of wage disparity.  It's genetics.

The real difference between Men and Women:
I wish I didn't have to plant my face in my palm to explain how men and women are genetically different.  But they are.  They are not the same, they are not genetically equal.  For starters men are not as smart as women (okay, I don't have statistic on that, but hear me out.)  Women tend to be far more organized in their decision making.  My wife, for one, plans every trip we take, does our taxes, and generally puts my head back on when I leave it on the table.  Why then, you might be asking, do I make more money than she does.  the answer is: for exactly the same reason.  I am a man.  I  don't plan, I just jump at opportunities, which in turn leads me to more. I take risks.  For example, I turned down a perfectly good job once, just so I could ask for a better one.  The risk payed off and I got the better job.  I went back to school and made a lot less money, so that when I was done I could (potentially) make more.  Lets look at another example.  I recently sold my house.  The new buyers made several demands as they usually do.  I wanted to increase the sale price or agree to only part of the offer, but my wife suggested that we shouldn't, because she was afraid the sellers might back out.  I told her, "we'll find another seller." She wasn't having it, and we submitted to the demands.  If we had held out, we might have got a better deal and alternatively we might have lost the offer and still be holding the house.  But my rationale was take the risk and her's was to use caution.  This, I believe, is a fundamental difference in the decision making process of men and women. 

Men are more likely to be found dead at the bottom of a lake, stuck in a ravine, or frozen on the south pole.  Shouldn't women be asking for a more equal role in those activities as well.   Well no.  But the offshoot of this cock sure (get it) stupidity, is that sometimes the risks pay off and the man comes back a war hero, an explorer, or in the case of employment, holding a job that makes more money.  Lets be clear, the department of labor statistics that claim that women make 77% of what men make is based on the average wage that a woman earns compared to men, not the average salary earned by women and men doing the same job.  So despite the taglines, this does not equate to the same work for different pay; it is different work for different pay.  They go on to claim that occupation choice, working hours and family care giving are major contributors to these differences.  Not, discrimination, as many have stated.  Contributing factors, that relate to genetics, but are also hard held gender roles play their part in this disparity.  For example, in a Pew research study, women were more likely to turn down a promotion, quit a job and take time off to support a new child at home.  This of course, has something to do with a biological necessity of a women to stay at home with a newborn (which is rapidly fading with new technologies), but also other sex differences that influence the desire to care for children.  None of this is a hard and fast rule of course, but the law of averages do come into play and contribute significantly to the disparity in pay.

This does not mean that discrimination didn't play a role in wage disparity historically.  We know that across the world men have often held higher positions in government and business and women were systematically encouraged to stay in the home, leading to woman's suffrage and the feminist movements in the US and across the world.  In Iceland in 1975 90% of the women in the country went on strike, shutting down commerce in a protest for wage equality, for example.  Norway and Iceland are among the top in gender equality today with the US ranked at 20th according to a report from the World Economic Forum

Employers want the best employee at the lowest price.  If they think you are the best they will pay for it.  However, you have to ask.  One statistic says that 49% of job seekers don't  negotiate their offer.  And in a study at the University of Texas, students were asked to negotiate their own salary and women negotiated themselves an average of 7K less than men.  In his book 'Why Men Make More' Dr. William Farrell claims that choices led men to choose higher pay and women to choose better lives.  Men will work in dirtier, nastier, deadlier and more remote places than women, and employers are willing to pay more for that. 

My risk taking behavior is linked to my Y chromosome.  Studies have shown that ADHD and other psychiatric disorders are Y chromosome linked.  Criminologists have even found that a cohort of risk taking and violent criminals had an extra Y chromosome, and the mutation additionally leads to increased risk for autism, ADHD and emotional difficulties.  I'm not saying I have an extra copy, but just one is more then (most) women have and probably contributes to my willingness to take on more extreme (and consequently better paying) jobs than my wife.  

But let us be clear.  There is not one trait that is superior over the other.  Both risk and caution have played an important role in human survival.  The two parts of survival are stability and adaptation.  Caution breeds stability and risk breeds adaptation.  But it does have consequences when we look at earned wages.  The cautious individual (man or woman) may not risk their home, location, or nearness to family for a better paying gig.  In contrast the risk taker is more prone to these things, leading often to a higher wage, but more often to loss as well.    What the statistics don't tell us is that the trends are changing as well.  In 2000 women made only 73% of male earnings, today they are making 77%.  Which suggests that other factors contributing to wage equality are being removed from the game.  Perhaps understanding the genetic underpinnings of the difference will go some way to removing the rest. 

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