Sunday, July 11, 2010

On why women's salaries don't match men's when >$100K?

0. The New York Times Economix column is reporting on how Women Earn Less Than Men, Especially at the Top. Among other issues at hand regarding women and salary, the article states how, "at the top of the income scale, — jobs paying more than $100,000 — the salary gap between equally qualified men and women is still vast."

1. But to the specific issue at hand: why the break at the $100K mark? The author of the study himself suggests "that higher-paid jobs often have less concrete or quantifiable measures of productivity and duties," and that "perhaps men are subconsciously viewed as more competent than women, or are more adept at negotiating for raises." Of course these claims are a suggestion and a speculation, respectively; so, there's no weight of science, pro or con, operating in regards to such armchair sociology. I too would like to hazard a guess about the matter, but it's only that.

2. From an economic standpoint, I think there is some level of risk calculus occurring, somewhat tied to oft-stated intuitions about women's leaving and re-entering the workforce. This risk calculation is based on a subjective expectation about women and pregnancy, and I think it could be rationally motivated in terms of expectation over profit/loss when considering a pool of equally competent prospects for promotion under some circumstances.

2.1. The subjective expectation is easily captured by this question: What is the chance of the male prospects leaving (either temporarily or permanently) the position via pregnancy upon promotion versus the chance of the female prospects leaving (ditto) the position via pregnancy upon promotion? Obviously, it's essentially zero versus N, respectively; where N is greater than zero, no matter what the actual chances. So, from a strict, subjectively simple expectation of risk over profit/loss assessment, a promotion of a male from a prospect pool would be more reasonable than a promotion of a female--all other things being equal.

2.2. Granted, there's never a time where ALL other things are equal among prospects, but the subjective intuition of risk might be operating just often enough to skew promotions for higher salaried positions when, as the article states, job performance "quality measures are more subjective." After all, (a) I seem to recall that at about the 100K level, there is a slight difference in how people assess opportunity for money, and (b) I hear that for higher professional positions, it is much harder (in terms of time and money invested) to find adequate replacement of personnel with specific competencies (which is why their salaries are so high.)

3. Now, all this hardly precludes that other, outright irrational biases might also be affecting the promotion of women; but, I think the unfair leavening by nature (or by God, for you evangelicals out there) upon the woman for bearing and bringing a child to term is at play in the economics of rational risk assessment for promoting from a gender-differentiated pool of employees.

4. Well, there it is, my opinion on the matter. Yes, at the big-bucks level, women are still being treated unjustly. And, sadly, sometimes it's for irrational reasons. But now I've suggested what I take to be a rational calculus which puts not (just) the decision makers at blame, but the biology of human child-bearing itself. To be clear -- am I saying that the reason women don't get the higher paying jobs is because there is always the risk they might get pregnant? No, it's a bit more subtle than that. (i) Yes, there is a risk (given a large enough pool of applicants over time and over repeated promotions in the workforce). (ii) SOMETIMES this risk is perceived by those who promote. (iii) SOMETIMES this risk could be quantified in terms of profit/loss. (iv) Thus, such "SOMETIMES" instances are enough to skew salary differences over the 100K bracket, for reasons stated above. But, hey, at least women in liberal societies can expect to live longer!



[image] Kathryn Hopkins and Ruth Sunderland "Pregnant staff face new wave of bullying in recession" The Guardian (Aug. 9, 2009) { A very interesting article which seems to support the intutions I've noted above. }

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