Busting Myths: Do Women Earn 23% Less Than Men For The Same Work?

Recently at the 2015 Oscars, Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech for best supporting actress to explain the need for “wage equality” for women. She based her speech off the entirely too often quoted statistic that women earn 77% as much as men for the same work. There’s a funny thing about statistics though, if you remove all the variables and qualifying information, you can make them say anything you want, even something that is patently false.

There are a wide variety of factors contributing to the perceived gap in pay between men and women, and it would be worthwhile to look at a few. The first one has to do with occupational choice. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

“Men are more likely to be lawyers, doctors and business executives, while women are more likely to be teachers, nurses and office clerks. This gender occupational segregation might be a primary factor behind the [gender] wage gap.”

While there’s nothing wrong with being a teacher, a nurse, or an office clerk (in fact these jobs are good, important, and helpful), the simple fact is that there are a great deal many more people qualified to work as a nurse or a school teacher than there are qualified to work as a doctor, a lawyer, or a high level executive. Given the higher demand relative to the available supply for these jobs, they tend to pay higher wages.

Another major factor contributing to the perceived gap in pay between men and women is the choices made by men and women when it comes to the option of payment either in cash, or in cash plus non-cash benefits. Research shows that women prefer a higher percentage of their compensation in non-cash benefits (like health insurance, paid parental-leave, etc.), which the people railing against a perceived gender wage gap totally ignore. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis explains:

“Some researchers believe that it is not enough to compare wages of similar men and women. They argue that total compensation (wages together with benefits) must be compared. Women of child-bearing age may prefer jobs with a lower wage but with employer-paid parental leave, sick leave and child care to jobs with a higher wage but without such benefits… Economists Eric Solberg and Teresa Laughlin applied an index of total compensation, which accounts for both wages and benefits, to analyze how these benefits would affect the gender gap. They found a gender gap in wages of approximately 13 percent. But when they considered total compensation, the gender gap dropped to 3.6 percent.”

From this we can gather that any measure of earnings that excludes fringe and other non-cash benefits will produce misleading results as to the existence of any sort of wage gap caused by gender discrimination.

So, we can see that two major factors in compensation are occupational choice and qualification, and additionally the choice in type of compensation. Another major factor in total compensation, (even in cases where men and women work in the same general occupation) is the total number of hours worked. For any variety of reasons, women tend to prefer more flexible hours, and tend to work shorter hours than men. Flexible hours are a wonderful thing, however they do come at an economic cost, since hours of work in most occupations will be more valuable to the employer if they are worked on a more consistent and linear basis. A bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush to most people, and so one can expect a higher rate of compensation if they are able to offer more labor, and more importantly, more consistent labor.

Ultimately the complaints of those rest not in economic statistics or an understanding of supply and demand, but rather in (whether consciously or not) Karl Marx’s labor theory of value. This heterodox theory has bled into the discussion of wages far too much, when the discussion should instead be focused on human choice. We all want what we want, when we want it. We all want to get what we want at the lowest cost possible for us, and we all make choices based off of our desires. Because of this truth, economic value is always ultimately subjective and dependent on personal preference of individuals. The economic value of work is always subjective, and dependent on a complex series of decisions of a larger mass of individuals, making it clear that myths such as “women earn 77% of the money men do for the same work” are silly, and not based in any honest economic analysis.

Once variables such as hours worked, occupational choice, and varying types of compensation are accounted for, there is no discernible gap in the wages which men and women earn for similar work. The difference in overall wages earned between men and women reflects a different series of choices and preferences when looking at each sex more broadly, and there is nothing wrong with people making these choices free of coercion. However, there is something very wrong with presenting half-truths and lies about complex economic issues, and there is something far worse in asking the state to fix the perceived problem with the use of violence. Trade is about using your given set of skills to improve your own station along with the station of others by means of free exchange, and when the state interferes, it ends up harming everyone, men and women alike.

Why A Curfew In Ferguson Is The Wrong Choice

Governor Jay Nixon has instituted a state of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri, and enacted a curfew between the hours of 12 and 5 am. This is completely unacceptable, and a furthering of the brutality which we have already seen since Mike Brown was killed last week. Recognizing that there has been looting, rioting and vandalism, these crimes are specific to those that have committed them, and if the state wants to punish them, they should not punish others as well. Not only this, but they have no right to constrain persons to specific locations without first getting a conviction.

If Governor Nixon is intent on punishing the looters, the vandals, and the rioters, so be it, but only through the appropriate means of due process of law. Innocence until proof of guilt is still a fundamental right, and that doesn’t change just because Governor Nixon and his subordinates have woefully and abusively mishandled this situation from the beginning. The rights of the people in Ferguson (both those who have committed crimes during the protests and those who have not) don’t cease to be because it’s a certain time of the day, nor because the situation is difficult for the state to handle. In the entire course of human ethics, ends have never been a justification for means, and that hasn’t changed over the course of this week.

Morality is not about producing the “best” result, it’s about doing the right thing. Using and initiating unlawful force isn’t okay in the interest in preventing other unlawful force, and that doesn’t change because the governor of some state signed a slip of paper. Enforcing a curfew under threat of violence, kidnapping, or fine is a claim to own the persons placed under the curfew, which the state has no right to. Just like any person anywhere else, the people in Ferguson have a right to their own persons and property, and have a right before the state to dispose of these things however they wish, at whatever hour they wish to. If Governor Nixon is interested in resolving the mess which his administration has both caused and made worse through their brutality, he’s welcome to do so, but not through further aggression.

Ferguson Shouldn’t Be About Race

A protestor throws a lit can of tear gas back at police in Ferguson, Missouri.

 To call the situation in Ferguson, Missouri over the last few days serious would be a gross understatement. There’s a lot going on, a good deal of misinformation, and an abundance of race related discussion. However, race should not be the issue here. The level of melanin in the skin of the victims or aggressors isn’t really all that relevant when it comes down to it. The real issue at hand is the use of force and the way in which the state aggressively expands its powers and takes away individual rights in the face of a potential crisis.

What do we know so far about this situation? First, we know that Mike Brown is dead at the hands of a member of the Ferguson, MO police department, shot and killed on Saturday. Whether the officer used lethal force justly or not is something we don’t know and won’t know for a while.

Second, we know that some of the residents of the town went out looting and rioting on Sunday, causing unnecessary damage to the property of persons who had nothing to do with the killing. We know that this is wrong.

Third, we know since then that there have been huge militarized police forces in the town. We know that these forces have refused people the right to peaceably assemble on a number of occasions. We know that they have repeatedly used tear gas on non-violent protestors, sometimes on people in their own yards. We know that they have used rubber bullets on other non-violent groups. We know that an LRAD sound cannon was used on a group of non-violent protestors. We know that the airspace has been restricted. Plain and simple, this is a de facto institution of martial law, accompanied by extreme and unnecessary violence to maintain it. We know that the police in the town have arrested members of the press, and fired tear gas on camera crews before dismantling their equipment.

This is not about race, it is about excessive and illegitimate use of force. No person who has not committed acts of aggression should be faced with any force, but this is what routinely happens.  No person should have their right to free speech limited by the state, members of the professional media or otherwise. No person should have tear gas fired at them in their own backyard (or anywhere else for that matter) when they have committed no violent crime.

This problem isn’t about race, it’s about the clear and present fact that the American state is completely out of control. The crisis in Ferguson not a glimpse into a potentially horrific future, it’s a current picture of state brutality and lawlessness. This is what happens when there is a monopoly on the legal use of force. If you give a group the right to use force to get what they want, turns out they’ll make use of it, even in situations in which they ought not to. After all, they’re human too, and just as subject to faults as the rest of mankind. It is clear that the tendencies of the organizers are not always good, nor are they often good. The situation in Ferguson may be deescalated soon, and we should certainly hope it is. Even so, we shouldn’t be quick to forget it. The police brutality in Ferguson is not about race, it’s about yet another abuse of power, and it has to stop.