Bad Data Used To Justify Gender Pay Legislation


Rep. Kylie Oversen, in addition to representing a Grand Forks-area legislative district, is also a graduate of the University of North Dakota who is currently attending law school there. But after testimony in favor of her bill to address perceived inequities between the gender in terms of pay, UND may not want to acknowledge the affiliation. Because Rep. Oversen’s testimony was embarrassing.

“These discrepancies cannot be simply explained away by differentials in education, experience or performance,” she told the House Industry, Business and Labor committee referring to a “significant gap” between male and female pay in North Dakota. Her data supporting this contention?

A broad comparison of all full-time female workers to all full-time male workers:

The law school student referred to 2013 rankings by the National Women’s Law Center that showed full-time, year-round female workers in North Dakota made 70 percent of their male counterparts’ median earnings, compared with 78 percent nationally, for a rank of 47th among states based on U.S. Census data.

This is shoddy data, and unworthy of someone who lays claim to a college-level education. We can’t simply compare all men to all women in broad terms, because men and women tend to make different decisions in their lives the results of which show up in wage data.

apexamsFor instance, when we look at the differences between men and women when it comes to academic pursuits, we tend to see men choosing areas of study with higher pay and women choosing areas with lower pay. The data is reflected in gender breakdowns in advanced placement subject exams (see the full chart to the right).

If women are choosing areas of study that will result in lower-paying careers, whose fault is that? Should we force these young women to make difference choices? One could argue that we should do more to break down gender stereotypes in career fields (like the idea that computer nerds are boys), but that’s beside the point. Women are free to set their own paths of study, and the choices women are making tend to result in lower pay in the aggregate.

That’s not evidence of some patriarchal conspiracy to discriminate against women. That’s evidence of cause and effect.

And speaking of choices men and women make, how about this statistic: For every one female workplace death there are twelve male deaths.

That data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2012, and it’s actually increasing (a few years ago the ration was closer to 9 male deaths for every one female death).

What this tells us is that men are choosing jobs that are generally far more dangerous than those women choose. Since the possibility of injury and death is something that generally commands more pay, it’s to be expected that men would generally earn more for taking the risk.

Again, it’s about choices. Not discrimination, which demagogues like Rep. Oversen would have you believe.

Here’s another inconvenient fact for the narrative: 77 percent of human resources positions are held by women. Given that HR personnel are deeply involved in the areas of hiring, pay, promotion, and investigating workplace discrimination it’s a little hard to believe that all there’s an institutional bias against women…perpetrated by other women.

We can cite other differences between men and women too. Like the fact that women take about 50 percent more short-term sick leave than men. Women also take maternity leave, and while many workplaces offer men the option to stay home with a new baby, they take far less of that sort of leave. And that’s not likely to change until women having the babies is no longer a biological imperative.

None of this is intended as criticism of women. This does not illustrate that they are the weaker sex. A lot of the difference in sick leave between men and women is because women are more likely to stay at home with a sick child. I’d argue that women are probably less resistant to going to the doctor (I know this is true in my family).

And there’s nothing wrong with choosing a career path that pays less but is more personally satisfying. If French Literature is what makes you happy, and you’re willing to accept that such a course of study isn’t likely to pay off in terms of pay, more power to you.

Life isn’t merely the pursuit of career.

But let’s not concoct some conspiracy about gender discrimination because men and women make different decisions in their lives. That’s not fair to men or women.