Wednesday, May 16, 2007

All That Glitters - Members and guests attending the American Sociological Association's (ASA) 101st Annual Meeting in MontrĂ©al were able to sit in on a discussion of a paper entitled "Working for the Man: Management Characteristics and the Gender Wage Gap." Sociologists Philip N. Cohen of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Matt L. Huffman at the University of California – Irvine authored the paper, which was based on a review of 2000 Census data for 1.3 million American workers in approximately 30,000 jobs and 79 metropolitan areas. In the study's abstract, Cohen and Huffman observed, "wages are lower for everyone in jobs with female managers, but that the job composition penalty – the negative wage effect of female workers in a job – is reduced when women are the managers."

An August 13, 2006 Washington Post article related to the ASA study also noted, "women earn about 81 percent of what men make." According to the study, the disparity changes when women become senior managers with "female workers earn[ing] 91 percent of men's salaries." The Post article went on to report that "men who work for women managers seem to do slightly worse in income than men who work for men."

Cohen and Huffman said there are multiple possible explanations of why men seem to earn less money with female managers than with men. One possibility is that the gender gap in income is not just because women are underpaid, but because men are overpaid, and the slight decline in men's wages is bringing their salaries into line with actual productivity. But it is also possible that to get to gender equity, the extra money for women has to come from somewhere, and it partly comes from higher-paid men.
As evidenced by the work of Drs. Cohen and Huffman, the issue of "equal pay for equal work" has withstood the light of much scholarly research as well as the heat of debate between progressives who contend that gender based differences in pay are based almost solely upon gender bias and conservatives who argue that such differences are based upon other factors, such as hours worked by gender, the concentration of women in the public versus the private sector, and - as will be discussed below - acceptance and/or avoidance of risk as a condition of employment.

Since last year's ASA meeting, Dr. Cohen has been busy making the case for government intervention in addressing gender-based pay disparities, presumably to be accomplished through proposed legislation such as the "Paycheck Fairness Act" and the "Fair Pay Act." In recent testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Dr. Cohen proposed that by "improving pay equality between men and women," poverty, among other things could be ameliorated.
Because of lower earnings for women, single mothers are twice as likely to live below the federal poverty line as single fathers (36 percent versus 18 percent). Thus, there are 3.5 million single mother families in poverty. Even among single parents who work full-time and year-round – the comparison we commonly make to assess the gender wage gap – single mothers are more than twice as likely to be in poverty as single fathers (12.1 percent versus 5.7 percent).
With all due respect to Dr. Cohen's scholarship, the phenomenon of single mothers living in poverty can be explained by any number of factors other than pay for single moms vis-a-vis single dads. Certainly the number of children in a given household could determine whether the family will be above the poverty line, as could the circumstances by which a person became a single parent (i.e.: becoming a single parent through the death of a spouse as opposed to by way of a uncommitted or otherwise problematic relationship.) Similarly, in citing an analysis of data from the 2004 Current Population Survey, Dr. Cohen makes an error in logic in suggesting that labor "segregation" between women and men accounts for a significant portion of the wage gap.
How does segregation affect the pay gap? Consider this example. There 1.1 million nurse aides and 2.5 million truck drivers in this country. The nurse aides have more education on average, with 38 percent having at least some college training, compared with 29 percent of truck drivers. Both groups' average age is 43. Both do work that requires "medium" amounts of strength, and nursing aides require more on the job training to perform their duties (according to measures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). And yet, those nurse aides, 89 percent of whom are women, have median earnings of only $20,000 per year, just 57 percent of the median earnings of truck drivers – 97 percent of whom happen to be male. This example suggests that segregation is a major source of wage inequality.
What Dr. Cohen conveniently ignores is that fact that absolutely no de jure segregation of truck drivers, nurses aides or any other profession. If women wish to drive trucks, they are free to do so (as at least 3 percent of truck drivers are aware.) But beyond that point, if there is any gender-based "segregation" in employment, it is a self-segregation that comes about when potential employees consider the inherent risk of a job. (This self-selection bias often serves as a proxy for gender, as women are generally risk-averse when it comes to employment.)

If we examine the riskiest jobs based on number of fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for 2002 suggests that mining (23.5 deaths per worker), agriculture, forestry and fishing (22.7 deaths per worker), and construction (12.2 deaths per worker) constitute the three trade groupings with the greatest number of deaths per worker. By way of comparison, the average fatality rate for all private industry was 4.2 per 100,000. (I trust that the amply demonstrable supposition that these professions are predominantly male is beyond debate.) When NIOSH looked at fatalities by gender, men constituted 92.0 percent of those who suffered fatal injuries in 2002. Similarly, when NIOSH data for non-fatal occupational injuries is examined, males suffer 66.1 percent of non-fatal injuries (although women seem to suffer more anxiety, stress and neurotic disorders then men do.)

More to come...

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