Normally I get essentially zero feedback on my Canadian Atheist posts, beyond what appears in the comment threads. My e-mail address is right there on the Authors page, but for some reason my blogging has not resulted in a flood of earnest critiques, death threats, marriage proposals, and other natural responses to my scintillating and insightful commentary. However, alert reader Kayla Evans did send me a link to an “infographic” that she had helped design for a site called learnstuff.com, suggesting it might be grist for my creaky little mill (not in those exact words). The infographic has nothing in particular to do with either atheism or Canada, but such was my excitement at receiving e-mail that I couldn’t have cared less.
I won’t post the full infographic here, as it’s a towering monolith of attractively arranged words, numbers, and images, but the uppermost bit establishes the theme and is also representative of the overall style:
A preamble explains what the infographic is driving at:
Even with moves toward equalizing pay between men and women, men still make almost 20% more than women in nearly all industries. This is despite the fact that women receive the same education, with the same tuition price tags and levels of debt upon graduation. The only major differences are that there are more ladies in college and they have better average GPAs to boot. The benefits of paying women their fair share include increasing the GDP while reducing the poverty rates for families.
The infographic itself provides the detailed figures to back up this précis of the situation. We learn that “almost 20%” means 17.8%, and also that the gap in entry-level annual salaries is about $7,600. Apart from simply comparing wages, the infographic emphasizes the impact – or, rather, the lack thereof – of education. Women spend as much as men on university degrees, but make less on average than men with the same level of education. In fact, women with professional and doctoral degrees make less on average than men with master’s degrees. The wage gap is narrowing, but will take 38 years to disappear “at the current rate”.
It bears pointing out that the infographic is based on American data, but the average wage gap in Canada may be even higher – a Library of Parliament Research Publication from a couple of years ago states that average female earnings are only 71% of average male earnings, if one limits the comparison to “full-time, full-year” workers of both sexes.
Of course, the numbers depend on what you measure. The gap in median full-time, full-year earnings is smaller, with women earning 76% of what men do, and female hourly earnings are 85% of male ones. In unionized jobs, the figure rises to 94%. However, this seems to be one of those cases in which statistics cannot “prove anything and its opposite”. I suspect that one would have to torture the data pretty hard – practically waterboard them – to make female earnings rise to more than 100% of male earnings.
So a wage gap exists. The question of what to do about this is a little more ticklish, and necessarily involves a combination of objective analysis of the causes of the gap and subjective value judgements about how the results of the analysis should be acted upon. Nearly everyone in Canada would probably agree that the gap would be manifestly unfair if women were doing exactly the same work as men, with the same job titles and seniority and hours per week and so forth, but that simply isn’t the case. Some of the gap might be – probably is – due to straightforward discrimination against women, but some of it probably reflects different choices in life.
If the Library of Parliament can be believed, “[t]he wage gap is small or non-existent for never-married men and women”, suggesting that the real gap may involve some combination of how married men and women choose to balance career and family life or in how they are treated by employers. The latter factor seems much more clearly problematic than the former. Even to the extent that contrasting choices are the result of social pressures, recognizing the existence of those pressures is easier than coming up with plausible ways to modify them that aren’t flagrantly didactic, nanny-statish, patronizing, propagandistic and/or disrespectful of choices made by individuals.
For what it’s worth, I suspect that it will be most useful to look at the wage gap in a much finer-grained way that focuses on particular industries and even particular employers. The national average (or median, if one prefers!) wage gap must be the aggregate of many small-scale wage gaps that vary in size and are caused by different combinations of factors, some clearly discriminatory and some only arguably so. When discriminatory ones are identified, they can be removed or at least (as the University of British Columbia is attempting to do, in a seemingly thoughtful and fair-minded way) compensated for. A nicely done infographic about the overall situation in a given country is an excellent way to draw attention to the issue, but from an analytical perspective is just the starting point.