The first time I heard “Women make 23% less than men for the same work.” I was furious. Are we really still so backwardly sexist it’s possible women make a quarter less earnings than men? Surely that can’t be it; we must have progressed in 40 years, right? Time to look at the data, and thank goodness other people have done this for me. However, can I trust them?
The National Organization for Women data says that “By comparing differences in annual earnings between men and women, we find that there is about a 23 cent difference per dollar according to the Census Bureau.”
Okay, but what does “by comparing” really mean? Does it mean you got a list of all men and all women in all professions and took an average of pay for each sex? That’s what it sounds like, and that’s at least what this study from the American Association of University Women did to arrive at their calculations for wage gap.
I Want More Data Than That
And there my statistician’s heart kicked in. If the world could be explained by something as simple as a percent difference calculation, by golly, I think we could work a lot more out. However, it’s not that simple. We’re not just men and women. We are men and women with law degrees and master’s degrees and different numbers of years of experience and different experiential talents. If you’re catching on, that’s quite a many variables I’m going to need you to account for and explain in your regression models before I believe your data.
Parents have to take the position that allows them flexibility.
Again, thankfully, I’m not the only one with such suspicions. Claudia Goldin, a Harvard professor wanted to know why this wage-gap was happening. To solve a problem, you need to understand it. I highly recommend the Freakonomics podcast “The True Story of the Gender Pay Gap” where she discusses all of the above with the highly entertaining Stephen Dubner. (Really, you should just be listening to Freakonomics all the time.)
Her best illustration is lawyers. A lawyer working as a corporate counsel for a company and a lawyer working in private practice are both classified as lawyers. But if you compare the earnings, the lawyer in corporate counsel makes less but corporate counsel works 9-5 and isn’t on call. Private practice, you’re at the whim of of you client.
Temporal Flexibility- What a Concept
Women more frequently choose to become corporate counsel, thus making less earnings for something Goldin titles “temporal flexibility”. How flexible is your time? Do you have to be on call 24/7? Can you appear at will when a client wants? Are you interchangeable with one of your coworkers?
I find the strength of Goldin’s claim in that she finds fields with high temporal flexibility don’t have this wage gap. This is a field where even if you aren’t on call 24/7, one of your peers who is exactly like you job performance-wise is. Ironically, my former potential career of Pharmacist fits this bill. Oh yeah, and single women? Single women are killing it. They actually make more than their male counterparts given the condition they are childless.
But for parents, they can’t go for the high earnings and sacrifice the flexibility. They will tell you, they can’t. Their child is sick. They don’t have a babysitter. They can’t show up for work at the drop of the hat. Even if they can go in, it will take time to get out of the house because of waiting on said babysitter, or finishing whatever activity they were doing, or showering the paint out of their hair, or putting the baby down for her nap first… They have to take the position that allows them flexibility.
And so the conclusion researchers come to is, women are voluntarily making these choices to better be able to care for their children. They would rather get paid less than be on call all the time. The article leaves me with a haunting shudder because they just leave it there. Women are making their own choices. That’s what we want. The end.
We have to find a way for people to have kids and work.
Nope. Not The End.
But why aren’t men making the same choices? Why aren’t they choosing jobs so they can be at home with their children? As Goldin found, men actually make more after they have children because of the increased pressure to provide for their family.
How can they work harder? Dollars to doughnuts, it’s because their wife is home caring for the kids or at least has chosen a career of more temporal flexibility in to support caregiving while Daddy goes out to make the big bucks.
The double standard still exists. Women are caregivers; men are providers. The wage gap will exist as long as this is true.
Since my life isn’t going to be that way, forgive me if I’m worried. I date anti-authoritarians and musicians, two populations I love for the ways they enrich my life through their feelings and thoughts. Not so much their wallets. I’ve always assumed I’d be the primary breadwinner given I’m an extremely competitive workaholic who gets bored when given free time (again, if you missed it, I’m using my free time to write a blog about data and statistics because this is what I like to do in my spare time. It is my enjoyable hobby).
In the future, if we have children, I worry about what happens. Will I demand my husband maintain a career of temporal flexibility? Management positions in my field absolutely require a 24/7 on call policy, and we are not so interchangeable. If it’s a night where I may have to go in immediately, but my husband needs to play a show, what do we do?
“You make sacrifices, Elise.” How about no. How about we build a better world instead.
Redefining economies can take a while. For now, can I just get some maternity leave?
Wisdom from the CEO
In 2013, I attended a Young Generation Nuclear conference and witnessed a panel discussion filled with CEOs from the major nuclear companies. When asked what was the biggest challenge facing the nuclear industry in the future, one of the CEOs responded, “We have to find a way for people to have kids and work.”
Not environmental regulation? Not public fear of the nuclear industry? Not the increasing cost of running nuclear plants versus the cheaper forms of alternative energy?
No, it was “Find a way for people to work and have kids.” He then reminded us what you’ve probably heard too. Women are overtaking men when it comes to obtaining college degrees. In time, you may not have a pool of qualified applicants willing to sacrifice their time for more pay when you pit it against their family life. It becomes even more true when you consider men are becoming more involved in family life. The number of stay-at-home dads has dramatically increased, and the general attitude is more accepting, even demanding, of men sharing the caregiver load.
In that case, what do you do? Very simply, you must change the way we do business. We must improve access to childcare. Then we need to build support networks for people who need childcare. Or, you can change the actual way business is done. In America, we’ve built an “I want it now” economy. I’ll pay you more if you do it right now. I’ll only go into business with you if you’re available to me when I want. I’m hopeful with the rise of millennials with their more leisurely attitudes towards work and career we’ll be more demanding about the division of work time and private time instead. Or technology may be able to assist us, offering way to access our employees even when we’re not physically around.
There are so many possibilities, what will work? Who knows. Redefining economies can take a while. For now, can I just get some maternity leave?