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April 10, 2007

The Worldwide Wage Gap

Maybe I should cease being shocked by this sort of thing, but new data out of UNICEF shows that the gender gap in wages isn't much smaller in American than it is in the developing world.


We should be so proud. Indeed, what's remarkable about the wage gap is how near-constant it is across the world. You'd think the richer countries would have gotten fairly far in eliminating it, but you'd be wrong. In fact, last year saw a slight decline in the domestic wage gap, but the reason was that incomes for males had slipped, not that salaries for women had increased.

If you're interested in more on the causes, effects, and possible solutions to the male-female wage gap, you can't do better than Echidne's series on the subject.

April 10, 2007 | Permalink


Hmmm, the US has the highest fertility rate of any developed country, and the highest wage gap.

I checked the link you provided to the Echidne series and was disapointed. I did not find compelling rebuttals to "wingnut" (what a superb method for raising the level of discourse)arguments about the wage gap. For example:

In that model [that markets fight discrimination] nobody else discriminates against women, not coworkers, not consumers, only the owners or managers of firms. In that world everybody can spot, instantly, who is a productive worker. There are no information problems at all, no prejudice, no using the average characteristics of all women in place of the unknown true characteristics of the individual woman you consider hiring. And existing bigot firms don't have any way of stopping the entry of new brave nondiscriminators who would snap up all those underpaid women.

But why would this not be true for other forms of discrmination? Thomas Sowell notes that market forces did curb discrmination of Japanese migrant laborers in the early 20th century. At first Japanese laborers were given less pay than whites. But as it became clear that the Japanese worked harder, a bidding war ensued until Japanese were actually paid more (page 114,

I'm just scratching the surface here. There is - as always - plenty of room for rebuttals and counter-rebuttals.

Frankly, if the Echidine's series is the best that feminists have to offer, then they should cut their losses and retreat to more solid ground.

Posted by: Justin | Apr 10, 2007 1:09:50 PM

Doh! I did not format the link properly.

page 114 of Civil Rights by Thomas Sowell.

I'm just scratching the surface here. There is - as always - plenty of room for rebuttals and counter-rebuttals.

Frankly, if the Echidine's series is the best that feminists have to offer, then they should cut their losses and retreat to more solid ground.

Posted by: Justin | Apr 10, 2007 1:11:29 PM

My understanding is that Sowell looks at culture-based economic performance and concludes that discrimination is not a barrier to economic success. I am not persuaded that his argument is relevant here.

Posted by: fiat lux | Apr 10, 2007 1:51:18 PM

Echidine's explanation leaves out one of the biggest reasons women today get paid less than men for the same jobs.

Most women don't know how, or chose not to negotiate salary's and compensation. A great book called "Women Don't Ask," was written on this topic. Check out these stats on the website.


Here are a few of the highlights:

By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.

In one study, eight times as many men as women graduating with master's degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries.

The men who negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or about $4,000. In the same study, men's starting salaries were about $4,000 higher than the women's on average, suggesting that the gender gap between men and women might have been closed if more of the women had negotiated their starting salaries.

Posted by: Sarah | Apr 10, 2007 3:10:15 PM

As someone who has written on the gender pay gap elsewhere (and thus done a modicum of research) I'm sure that while Echidne and I would disagree on the details I found the two pieces of her exposition that I read to be reasonable. We'll, as I say, certainly differ on emphasis, but she mentions and deals with reasonably all of the major points as I'm aware of the. Time in the workforce, career breaks, part time working and so on.

Wingnut that I undoubtedly am (or despite perhaps) I have no doubt that there is indeed both direct and indirect discrimination against women in the labour market and that there should not be. I do rather worry about what the effects of eradicating that would be (rather than the incremental effect of the changes in the generations) but that's another matter.

I was pleasantly surprised (as I was when I first came across her work) to see that she is indeed reasonable in considering all of those issues.

One thing I've seen in the UK, and shouted about, has been that the Equal Opportunities Commission (an offical Govt group, not a special interest group hijacked by wingnuts) simply presented the wage gap as proof and evidence all and of itself. Without noting, as Echidne does, that much (some, most, to taste) is actually nothing to do with discrimination, but to do with the issues she discusses.

For example, there is a wage gap in the UK between public sector workers and private (the former get more on average per hour). Between full time and part time (the former get more per hour worked). And also between men and women (in the public sector, private, full time and part time, the former get more than women).

The EOC, and it turned up in a Guardian editorial only a few weeks ago, then mixed all these together, to give us a gender pay gap of up to 37%. By comparing part time women in the private sector to full time men in the public.

Now that is enough to get a wingnut angry at statistical manipulation.

Posted by: Tim Worstall | Apr 10, 2007 3:22:24 PM

The most interesting thing was that this was a worldwide phenomenon. That pretty much eliminates cultural differences, race, etc., and leaves only the fundamental differences between men and women that the feminists do not like to acknowlege. It's a two-edged sword for them. On one hand, they wish to point out this disparity to further their agenda of total equality, but by doing so, they expose this as a fundamental problem and not one that can be conveniently blamed on men and the 'patriarchy'.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 10, 2007 3:35:59 PM

Ezra Klein,
I just followed your link to this Echidne site and looked at it carefully. Did the slight overuse of "wingnut" ring any alarm bells at all as to its credibility? This one is going to haunt you if you had aspirations of being taken seriously.

Posted by: FoolsMate | Apr 10, 2007 5:05:10 PM

I think in the past there were a host of reasons for the wage gap -- professions off limits to women, the fact that unions tended to be strongest in heavy industry and construction where women were scarce, the overt assumption that paying a man more because he had a family to support was acceptable, the exploitation of women in women dominated professions, ie. nursing, teaching, and clerical/secreterial work.

I think many of these factors have faded fairly decisively. In some ways, unfortunately, they also reflect the weakening of men's bargaining position in old industries, so that progress for women may actually be a sign more of regression by certain classes of men.

Now it seems to me that the bulk of the gender gap in wages exists because of the disproportionate burden on women in terms of work time lost to child rearing and, to a lesser degree, other familial obligations such as caring for aging parents. The U.S. does almost nothing to facilitate mothers returning to/staying in the workforce. There is no mandated maternity or paternity leave, no subsidized child care, little mandated job security.

Women who choose to spend some portion of time away from the work force or to work a part time schedule for a while because of children will lose some amount of their earning power. If they stay away for years, the damage is usually permanent.

I would argue that we need the kind of policies that have been adopted in the scandanavian countries if we want to mitigate this impact on women, as well as society, which loses the productivity of many highly educated women in this fashion.

However, I am troubled by the degree to which I see extremely competent women acquiesce in the current system. I know a number of really well educated and capable women who have nonetheless accepted secondary status to husbands who don't do their fair share. Many women have internalized the cultural biases that dictate that this is their fate. I think this is a mistake -- both because it makes them extremely vulnerable from an economic perspective and it validates this inequality on the grounds of gender difference, which I feel is crap for the most part. As with many problems in America, people (in this case read women) take on problems in an individual way and attempt to construct solutions in the most satisfactory way they can, but the solutions are to some degree collective and societal. Until women demand political accomodation to being the child bearers, it will be impossible to erase this gap.

And yes by the way, I am married, have a kid, my wife has worked full time for our entire marriage except for three months of maternity leave, and I do at least an equal share of the housekeeping and child rearing while also working full time.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Apr 10, 2007 6:45:35 PM

The mere existence of a gender gap is insufficient to prove discrimination exists and these types of studies are highly misleading. There are other very plausible explanations for this gap, chief among them the possibility of selection bias arising from, in part, differences in the way men and women value compensation. One way is that women tend to value flexible work schedules and work conditions more than men, while men tend to more highly value monetary compensation above all. If one believes that men and women have different workplace preferences, the absence of a wage gap would surely be surprising.

Rather than studying men and women's wages in the aggregate, it would be much more useful to compare wages among men/women with the same job responsibilities, working the same number of hours, with the same education, same experience, same performance record, etc. You will then find this is much ado about nothing.

Posted by: FoolsMate | Apr 10, 2007 9:05:14 PM


It's not much ado about nothing. Because of the social pressures attached to child bearing and raising, women disprportionately sacrifice earning power. In the legal field for instance, female and male associates are paid the same wage. However, what percentage of women make partner at private firms? How many end up either leaving private practice or opting for part time work that is consderably less lucrative? This is true I believe in any number of fields where full time work without a break is the only accepted path to elite status.

I am very skeptical of arguments about behavior that derive from generalizations about people on such broad based criteria. There are 3 billion or so women in the world. Ditto men. Do you suppose that there is really some biological imperative that makes each behave in the same fashion? It is abusrd to suggest that the most salient characteristic that we have as people is gender. I have far more in common with my wife or my female lawyer colleagues that I do with a man from Saudi Arabia, Congo or Cambodia. We share a culture and a world view that would be completely alien to my brethren from those other parts of the world. It is this social aspect of people's lives and the behaviors that they assume that is far more defining than biology.

As I noted above, this country gives virtually no support to young families or people coping with elderly parents or children with illnesses, disabilities, etc. The burdens associated with this type of care giving fall disproportionately on women for cultural reasons. Some women are complicit in this phenomenon, but it does not mean it is biologically based.

The end result is a loss of earning power for women -- which in an era of 40-50% divorce rates is a bad bet for them.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut | Apr 10, 2007 10:29:03 PM

"Indeed, what's remarkable about the wage gap is how near-constant it is across the world."


Isn't it amazing how The Elders of Patriarchy meet in secret each year to coordinate the gap in every country?

Posted by: Steve Sailer | Apr 11, 2007 12:57:38 AM

Thursday nights around kitchen tables....this is the next subject right after they discuss secretly how to keep "ol' darkie" down.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 11, 2007 9:00:17 AM

Fred and Steve,

Yes, let's take a real problem, characterize it like it's a nutty conspiracy and poof -- no issue. Women just like earning less than men. What bullshit.

Try reading what I've written above as to why the gap exists and persists in the U.S., despite the fact that women now outstrip men in academic achievement by most measures. Note that the gap is substantially narrower in the Scandanavian countries where there are actual policies in place to mitigate against the effects of cultural biases. Then promptly ignore them and return to your self-satisfied, I am a great white hunter and the womens need me mindset.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Apr 11, 2007 9:47:44 AM

What they've got in Sweden is that you can't file taxes jointly with your spouse, so everybody is taxed on their individual earnings on a highly progressive scale. So, families don't have an incentive for the husband to be the big earner because the family just gets reamed by the tax man.

Posted by: Steve Sailer | Apr 11, 2007 10:21:12 AM

And the husband is inherently the big earner in the family why? The magic of the dangling gentialia?

The assumptions that frame your statement are interesting.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Apr 11, 2007 11:17:04 AM

Sweden also has free daycare, so many more women will continue to work, thus narrowing the wage gap. But this is not necessarily a "good" thing. Many couples actually agree about the wife being a stay-at-home mom, or at least that the wife should work part time or otherwise cut back on her career ambitions in order to do the bulk of the childrearing. They end out being forced to subsidize couples that both work. They lose income, and pay the day care bills for the working couple.

This leads into the mommy wars. For the most part the left wants to claim that there is no need to fight mommy wars - everyone should be free to choose as they want. But this is clearly not the case when people who do not use day care subsidize those who do.

Posted by: Justin | Apr 11, 2007 11:31:36 AM

is the paradise Mr. Nut points to:

2007 Local tax 31.55% + Municipal tax 20.78% + County Council tax 10.78%

Grand total 63.11%

And that's just the income tax. The additional VAT of 25% adds a little salsa to the equation. Do the math. This is the paradise that liberal socialists hold up as a model.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 11, 2007 11:36:07 AM

Yeah, Fred, it would be hell on earth to live in a place that has a 2.6% child poverty rate, an overall poverty rate of 6.4% (the U.S. by comparision 22.4% and 17% in those areas), a higher rate of employment, longer life expectancy, half the infant mortality rate, one-eighth the rate of people in prison, only 5% of people in low wage jobs compared to 20% in the U.S. What a terrible place to raise a child. See http://www.ccsd.ca/pubs/2002/olympic/indicators.htm


I think the free day care is a good thing if your a woman, or even, god forbid if you are man. For the reasons I've described above, I don't think the burdens of child rearing falling on women is simply the natural order of things, even if there are those who willingly buy into these assumptions.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Apr 11, 2007 12:10:52 PM

Justin, assuming that raising children is a largely uncompensated social good, why shouldn't we subsidize it?

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 11, 2007 12:12:29 PM


As a social conservative who is blithely unconcerned about overpopulation, I am all for subsidizing child rearing. I agree that children are a largely uncompensated social good.

But I am concerned when our child care subsidies discourage stay-at-home moms. If we are going to subsidize children, then lets have day care vouchers and let families with stay-at-home mom's collect the value of the voucher, tax-free. Then our funding is neutral towards family structure.

Posted by: Justin | Apr 11, 2007 12:55:07 PM

Erza - Women ALWAYS demand that a man make more money than they themselves do, that they be a provider etc. It is not fair, but that is what GIRLS demand. In a world where men and women earned the exact same no guy would ever get any action, as it is in a womans evolutionary nature to seek high-status guys. THINK!!!!

Posted by: adrian | Apr 11, 2007 1:34:36 PM

So, Justin, are we arguing social policy with an operation quiverfull advocate. Yikes -- keep 'em barefoot and pregnant -- it's a catchy slogan.

Posted by: Klein's Tiny Left Nut | Apr 11, 2007 1:35:18 PM

Justin, Your voucher proposal sounds interesting. I certainly agree that any scheme for child care should give equal weight to families that provide such care in the home. I believe that some continental European nations have had programs that addressed this, though I can't recall any specifics at the moment. Do we agree that there should be balance between those mothers who choose to work and those who choose to stay at home? Or do you think that such policy should be weighted to one outcome over the other?

Posted by: W.B. Reeves | Apr 11, 2007 1:38:02 PM

I am all for subsidizing child rearing...

They do a lot of child rearing in San Francisco. Does that count?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Apr 11, 2007 1:38:35 PM

They do a lot of child rearing in San Francisco. Does that count?

And you complain about gays being perverts? You're the one with the sickness, Fred.

Posted by: Sanpete | Apr 11, 2007 1:51:10 PM

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