• Why closing the “gender pay gap” is pernicious misogyny

    Attempting to close the gender pay gap in census-reported pay is the single most aggressively patriarchical, male-normative, and society-harming idea bandied about today. To be clear: I am deadly serious about this. This is not a joke or “troll”. I know that you don’t believe me. I have to prove it.

    Common ground. I need to start a discussion on such a serious, contentious topic by identifying common goals and ideas that I share with those I don’t agree with about the gender pay gap.

    1. In the US we really do have entrenched sexist attitudes that have harmful effects, including major economic effects. We need to address these directly and immediately.
    2. The reason to engage with this topic is to help eventually improve the success and happiness of human beings.
    3. If you think I sound crazy or “MRA”, bear in mind that on this issue I am essentially in full agreement with card-carrying feminists like Hanna Rosin and Christina Sommers. This doesn’t make anything I say correct, but I hope it shows that there is growing agreement that crosses political and tribal lines.
    4. At the end of this, I will explain why I’d like to see the raw gap shrink. This may sound contradictory to the headline. But the means are critical. My rendition is 180 degrees opposite to those I am dissenting against.

    The claim [1][2][3]: According to census data in which no factors relevant to salary have been considered, women earn 80-ish cents on the dollar for every dollar a man makes. When you control for the relevant features as President Obama’s Labor Department did in 2009, the gap diminishes to 5-7%. It is yet highly debated what may account for the remaining disparity.

    A “gap” caused by sexism as been known as a myth for many years, even as incompetent media and politicians repeat it ad nausea. This writing is not about exposing the gap as a myth; The myth has been debunked by The Atlantic, Forbes,  feminists like Christina Hoff Sommers (see video below) and Slate’s Hanna Rosin, who wrote, You know that “women make 77 cents to every man’s dollar” line you’ve heard a hundred times? It’s not true.

    The retort [1][2][3][4] to the correction that the gap is a myth: Even if the raw gap is caused by women’s choices, this is only because society coerces or conditions women’s behavior, or else because motherhood is unduly economically penalized. For example,  the Institute for Women’s Policy Research wrote, Women’s “choices” are not necessarily choices. Catherine Pearson argued on HuffPo,

    Sure, many women choose to stay home or cut back their hours after having children. But many others don’t opt out. They’re forced out because they cannot afford child care, or find a full-time job that affords them any kind of flexibility. . . . research has shown that even when women enter traditionally “male” fields, they make less.

    To show how this retort is incorrect, I will contextualize the metric of salary comparison and then discuss the severe costs of high pay that we should not wish upon women… or men.

    1.  Salary worship is male-normative.

    Many things make a job or profession desirable, profitable, or life-enhancing. One of these is how much cash you are given per unit time. But these also factor in:

    • Comfort: Must you work outside in the cold or heat or rain? or in a climate-controlled office?
    • Proximity and travel: Are you forced to regularly travel far from your home and family?
    • Risk: How likely is it you’ll be injured, killed, laid off, or fired?
    • Non-cash salary benefits: insurance, flex time, days off, contractual job security, discounts or coupons for goods or services.

    These can’t all be maximized in the positive. One must generally be traded-off for another. If you want to hire people to work your fishing boat that is often far from home and has one fo the highest injury and fatality rates of any profession, you have to pay people more than those who do a similar job close to shore in calmer waters. If you offer great insurance benefits to your employees, you can’t also use that money as part of their salaries. You have finite money to use to compensate your workers.

    Men tend to value raw salary above all others compared to women (though everyone sees value in all of these) [1] [2] [3] [4]. Men do this even when it’s a stupid idea. It’s one of the ways men compete with each other. If we compared the value of one job to another with all pluses and minuses considered, not just cash dispensed per unit time, we’d arrive at the real total value of a job. Instead, we ignore everything other than the one thing the thing men care about. We ignore the rest as if only male-typical preferences are important.

    This is doubly foolish when we realize that salary maximization probably doesn’t maximize anyone’s contentment, quality, or success in life. It must be said, in fact, chasing raw dollars is often as abjectly stupid as it is male-normative. We shouldn’t judge anyone’s job or career solely on this basis. When we judge women this way, we’re indulging in some deep and malicious patriarchy-padding.

    2. Chasing dollars is harmful and stupid.

    There’s nothing wrong with wanting better pay, especially when other forms of remuneration aren’t common in your area. But chasing it at the expense of everything else in the list from #1? That’s just a bad idea. As a person or as a society. Let’s consider risk vs. reward. In general, economic gambits that have higher payouts are riskier: Investing in a start-up instead of a blue chip stock. Play the stock market instead of buying government bonds. Betting on the long-shot instead of the favorite sports team or horse or whatever. The most extreme form of high risk/high reward is playing the Powerball lottery.

    The lottery

    One or a very small number of people may win enormously, many millions of dollars, but millions of people lose. Almost everyone loses. In considering if playing the lottery is a good idea, we have to consider the losers and the costs they pay… not just the winners. The conclusion here is obvious: it’s a financially foolish choice to play the lottery (though it may be done for amusement). Yet, when we compare salary outcomes between men and women, we ignore the men who lose and are hidden in the gross averages.

    The high costs of competition

    Many young men want to be sports stars and make millions of dollars. They dedicate their scholastic career, and, often, their health, toward this goal. Almost none of them make it to professional sports. Even most of those who do wind up worse off after leaving them. 80% of retired NFL players go broke.

    When you say that you’d like women athletes to get the same pay system as men, this is the same as saying, “I’d like 99% of women who do this to be chewed-up and spit out so that a handful can be super-wealthy superstars.” Because that is how that system of competition and pay fundamentally works. Why would you want this for women?
    We could mandate post-professional savings, medical benefits, fairer contracts, etc.., And if we did that, know what would happen to gross pay? It would mathematically be required to decline, all else the same.  In other words… it’d look more like the jobs women actually (wisely) tend to prefer.

    I’ve used sports as an example, but this interplay of competition, risk, and reward works the same in many careers. For every man that becomes a CEO, thousands become homeless (about 70-75% of homeless are men), broke, or imprisoned. Most people who start their own business, legal or medical practice fail; a few become very wealthy. Without changing the basic system, wanting equal numbers of women CEOs logically entails “many thousands more women should be homeless, broke, and in prison”. When you bet or compete high, you can lose big. How big?


    Another reason we can be sure society does not reward high risk-taking, is that nobody is happier being dead. 100% of those who died in work accidents in Iceland between 2003 and 2008 were men. Across Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, 1157 men died and 85 women died. To ask that women be equally represented in those jobs, and get paid for the risk they entail, is the same as saying 536 women alive right now ought to be dead. Are you sure that this would be progress?

    The declining pay gap

    We can start to see why the pay gap has declined over the last century, and why it probably varies by nation and state. As a civilization, we have put the brakes on how much risk we let people take in occupational settings. We outlawed child labor and instituted safety regulations. We’ve made businesses responsible for the safety of their workers and patrons. We have social security, Medicare, Medicaid and now the Affordable Care Act. All of these things mitigate or reduce risk and because they aren’t free, they reduce gross salaries. This is why the tax burden is very low in the United States, but social safety nets are also very weak; the opposite is true in Sweden. Take a look at the pay gap by state among US states (source)

    The pay gap is lowest in states that have the most regulation and social safety nets for everyone. It is highest where men can bet their life, and lose. Many men who lose have no salary to bring down the average.  I do not wish this tragic, backward state to become as common for women as it is for men.

    3. Infantilizing women and denying agency.

    I hope I have shown that women often “make less” because they’re making more sensible choices. They manage risk better and elect for better conditions, where possible. They avoid fool’s bets that injure, kill, disemploy or make many men homeless. Still, many believe women must be coaxed and cajoled into preferring the “right” jobs that pay more. They must be conditioned, educated, inspired, or prompted. Fortunately, this is as incorrect as it is subliminally misogynistic.

    Women took over several fields, such as teaching and much of psychology and anthropology, the moment that basic social barriers were removed. They didn’t need coaxing or special awareness programs. The first generation faced far more severe sexism, harassment, and assault. And yet, that never stopped them. They took over anyway. The lesson to be taken is not that women are delicate flowers who must be paternalistically prodded into wanting the right things. It’s that they know what they want, and own sufficient agency to go after it in spite of major obstacles.

    Our obligation is to remove all undue obstacles and, for fuck’s sake, respect the indomitable spirit of women by not suggesting they’re children in need of constant supervision. Also, we ought to start respecting the stereotypically feminine wisdom that gambling our lives and happiness for a slim chance at a few more dollars is a stupid idea.


    As I mentioned in the preamble, I would like to see the pay gap shrink. Not by women making more, but by men making less. More specifically, to reduce the variance in pay outcomes. To reduce within-gender wealth inequality. This means fewer homeless and imprisoned men and fewer male billionaires. It also means the average salary declines (as the average safety and security increases). We will never reach gender parity, because we can never eliminate risk from jobs and men will continue to tend to prefer riskier jobs. But we can get closer to parity and reduce more of the risk.

    Child care and parental leave

    I favor increasing maternity and paternity leave and subsidizing costs of child care in order to permit more women to have more career flexibility. We have regressive attitudes toward working mothers and professionals who choose to have children. This harms and unduly limits the professional options of working mothers or would-be working mothers. There is much improvement to be made here, however it is not a cause of the 70-80% pay gap.

    Category: skepticismsocial justice

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is a bioanthropology graduate student at UCLA, cofounder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.
    • Karmakin

      I’ve been arguing that frame for a while, to be honest. I agree with you, there’s something extremely male-normative about the nature of the wage gap discussion, and it’s something I’m not in favor of at all, either for the gender aspects of it…but also because I think we’re moving towards less and less conventional work in our society and economy. Leaning into a buzz-chipper, basically.

    • Many of the problems of the aggregate pay gap can be avoided by looking at the problem on a smaller scale, one career field at a time.


      This approach isn’t perfect, of course, since there can be huge variation in pay and gender by subspecialty (e.g. neurosurgeon vs. family medicine doc) and those variations themselves may be driven by gender variation in personal qualities such as risk aversion.

      • Clare45

        Exactly Damion. Women in medicine for example tend to prefer family practice or the specialties that do not involve so much on-call or night duties, which are usually the higher paying jobs. Also as physicians are generally paid “fee for service”, the more hours they work, the more they get paid. Women also like the security of working in salaried clinic positions- always lower paid, but there are often built in benefits and they do not have the extra responsibility or stress of hiring staff and running the office.

        • Quite, right. There’s a lot to be said about how the preferences differ. I didn’t want to write a monograph on how the genders stereotypically differ in their occupational preferences.
          One point I might’ve added is that people ought to make the choice that makes them happiest as an individual, regardless of whether it conforms to some sociocultural concept of “best” jobs, such as raw salary. It’s insane and backwards to say to a woman, “want the thing we say is valuable, not the thing that makes you happiest, dummy!” But this is unwittingly done every year now around this time.

      • This doesn’t change the objection that many have, though. They just reply that women are socialized, penalized, etc.., away from variations that pay better.. that the “gender variation” is a cultural construct or coercive sexist attitudes.

        This is why I think it is important to point out that their choices may be as or more sensible/beneficial/sage once all relevant pros/cons are considered. They may happen to be pursuing other virtues or using a different decision rubric.. but still a damn good one. When we act like there are no other possible merits to a job but raw $$$, we’re unfairly and foolishly calling women who know better imbeciles or children.

        • Clare45

          Worse still, I would hate to be one of those women who got a better job or a promotion simply to fill a required quota of women ( as in the present Canadian Trudeau government) I would never know if I got the job on merit or just because I was a woman.

        • As we speak, my wife is transitioning from an urgent care setting (grueling 12-hour shifts, countless walk-ins) to a family practice setting with more traditional office hours and appointments. Essentially, she is taking a bit of salary cut in order to spend more evenings with her family—and I’m truly grateful for that. With that being said, it is much easier for statisticians to obtain and aggregate salary data than it is to measure work/life balance issues such as soccer practices/games missed. Feminist activists do focus tightly on that one metric when attempting to measure workplace inequality, but it is not as if there are loads of other ones on offer.

          • Feminist activists do focus tightly on that one metric when attempting to measure workplace inequality, but it is not as if there are loads of other ones on offer.

            1. It doesn’t measure inequality and it never did.. and there was never any reason to think that it could, because it breaks rule #1 of all statistical group comparisons: apples to apples. This is why it is generally lay people, and then ideologically-driven academics who make the error. It’s an incredibly silly, obvious sort of error to any trained researcher.

            2. It might be hard to measure work-life balance, but it’s easy to compare pay in a relatively fair manner, and many papers have done so. Had that been done in the first place, none of this discussion would be necessary. Considering this myth is repeated long after numerous debunkings.. it’s harder and harder to see it as honest error rather than deliberate, self-interested politicing with falsehoods. You can’t fix dishonesty with methodological convenience.

            3. “It’s hard” isn’t an excuse for deceit, irresponsibility, or incompetence.

    • Anon

      “This means fewer homeless and imprisoned men and fewer male
      billionaires. It also means the average salary declines (as the average
      safety and security increases).”

      It means less experimentation, innovation and invention. It means less adaptability in times of extremis. It means greater regulatory burden and the economic friction that results. It is not a simple benefit, but a trade-off.

      Greater awareness of the risks involved in various areas, such that people are less likely to be lured into taking a risk they did not understand, is certainly desirable. However, you’ve painted an incredibly lop-sided picture of the result of suppressing the ability to choose risk.

      • I agree, there are trade-offs to be made. You can’t maximize everything, that’s a fact of reality that we must simply accept.
        re: lopsided picture
        You might have a point here. I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that (for example) a higher pay/lower benefits job is a worse one to take. Maybe you happen to be somebody particularly good at securing your own insurance or investing your money well, so that you come out ahead when you have more control. Sure.

        I’ve deliberately highlighted downsides because currently there is zero discussion or regard for them, when we talk about salary and gender. Personally, I’ve taken a lot of risks my entire life. I understand the ups and downs. But we never discuss the downs, in this conversation and we need to.

        • Anon

          Understood. I still think an explicit nod to the fact that it is a trade-off is important (and would substantially improve the article), even while placing that emphasis. It is far too easy for most people to fall into binary judgements, and thus it is worthwhile to guard against this where possible.

          “Maybe you happen to be somebody particularly good at securing your own insurance or investing your money well”

          I am better at stockpiling money than most, but definitely not better at securing my own future (currently unemployed, unless you count slowly liquidating your vehicle through ride-share as employment).

    • Ted

      There are some interesting ideas here, but some of the points seem silly. For example, it’s a huge (and, in the absence of compelling evidence, incredible) leap from the stats on male vs female homelessness, incarceration, and CEO representation to the conclusion that increased CEO representation *causes* increased homelessness and incarceration.

      • I simply a bit for brevity’s sake. But it really does work like that. Look at CEOs of large companies (that weren’t handed them as legacies). These are people that take serious risks in one or more ways. Bill Gates took crazy risks. This is from wikipedia,

        After reading the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics that demonstrated the Altair 8800, Gates contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), the creators of the new microcomputer, to inform them that he and others were working on a BASIC interpreter for the platform. In reality, Gates and Allen did not have an Altair and had not written code for it; they merely wanted to gauge MITS’s interest. MITS president Ed Roberts agreed to meet them for a demo, and over the course of a few weeks they developed an Altair emulator that ran on a minicomputer, and then the BASIC interpreter.

        I mean, holy crap. A lot of people dropped out of college to try to start a business out of their garage like Bill Gates did. But most of them failed, and didn’t then have a degree or job skills to fall back on because they poured everything into a venture for years.

        Other CEOs are ruthless people who advanced themselves by hurting others; thwarting rivals or stealing their ideas. This can be a profitable game, but it’s also super risky. If you cross the wrong person, they might subsequently wind up in a position to knock you out. Or maybe you run afoul of the law and go to jail. The upper-level business world isn’t a pretty place. It’s littered with criminal and quasi-criminal cutthroat jerkbags. Aggression and risky choices make CEOs, and as a byproduct a high body count of losers.
        Many men who see the CEO lifestyle forego decent, safe jobs for high-risk, high-reward ones instead. In the book Freakonomics, they explain that this is why low-ranking drug dealers literally risk their lives daily.. even while making minimum wage. They think maybe they can become the high-ranking dealer. But you know what? Almost all of them wind up in jail or dead, instead.

        • Ted

          So the idea that trying to become a CEO generally requires risks that actually aren’t all that rational seems plausible, but I still think you’re overstating your case when you say that ‘wanting equal numbers of women CEOs logically entails “many thousands more women should be homeless, broke, and in prison”.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a significant number of people who went broke making a gambit for a position at the top of the corporate ladder, but I’m skeptical about the correlation you imply with homelessness and going to prison. I don’t deny that some very successful people got there by taking large risks. But if Bill Gates’ gambit, for example, had failed, I very much doubt he would have wound up on the street or in prison. Maybe he’d be broke now, but I find even that unlikely. I also don’t doubt that there’s plenty of arguably criminal activity engaged in for the sake of corporate advancement, but I’m skeptical that it entails a significant risk of jail time, given how infrequently white-collar crimes, and especially high-level ones, are prosecuted.

          • It isn’t that trait “possesses desire to be CEO” inexorably leads to either slim chance of success or else homelessness. It’s that all high stakes games have lots of losers and few winners, and the losers are not being counted in the numbers we talk about.

            This is also not how our society has to be, or any has to be, in principle. But if all you’re saying is “average pay of this group must match average pay of that group” then the former group must also pay all the costs and negatives inherent to that pay level. You can’t magically get all the good and none of the associated bad. Well, a part of the associated bad happens to (statistically) be negative life outcomes: divorce, poverty, premature death, incarceration.

    • ClaudeL

      Men chase high-paying jobs because that is one of the major criteria used by women for sexual selection. Just like song is a sexual selection criterion in birds, or battle prowess in ungulates.
      Saying it is ‘male-normitive’ completely ignores the reason(s) males do it.

      • Yes, I am largely ignoring that because it isn’t the focus or point of this writing.

        • ClaudeL

          I noticed. Your point appears to be asserting that women’s choices are ‘smarter’ and men’s choices are ‘stupid’.

          The simple fact is women, in general, are just not capable of performing the many jobs that men do which pay the most. And they’re certainly not interested.

          Ironically, when it comes to the reasons men make many of the choices they make and exhibit particular behavior, you’re guilty of doing the same thing your article condemns; denying the agency of women.

          • Your point appears to be asserting that women’s choices are ‘smarter’ and men’s choices are ‘stupid’.

            Then you’ve not understood me. Men might be making foolish gambits at times, and women might be foregoing excellent opportunities they’d be wise to pursue. I focus on how one kind of strategy might be harmful because it is considered inviolably “good” in the public discourse, and I am here addressing that. Is it OK with you, if I get to decide what to write about on my own blog?

            The simple fact is women, in general, are just not capable of performing the many jobs that men do which pay the most.

            Simple, yes, and wrong. Here are the 30 highest-paying professions according to Business Insider. Please tell me which of these require one to be a man:

            Anesthesiologist, surgeon, OBGYNs, orthodontist, general internist, general physician/surgeon, family and general practitioner, psychiatrist, chief executive, pediatrician, dentist, nurse anesthetists, petroleum engineers, prosthodontists, architectural and engineeering managers, podiatrist, marketing manager, natural science manager, computer and information systems manager, lawyer, pilot / flight engineer, financial manager, law professor, sales manager, compensation and benefits manager, pharmacist, physicist. http://www.businessinsider.com/top-paying-jobs-in-america-2015-9/#30-physicists-1

            I can’t make much sense of your last paragraph. Perhaps it contains a grammatical error.

            • Bora Bosna

              “Then you’ve not understood me.”

              How did he not understand you? You say it pretty explicitly that chasing money is stupid.

            • To the exclusion of all else? Yes, I think that it is. Do you disagree?

        • Bora Bosna

          But it is the most important point. You cannot ignore it “because it isn’t the focus or point of this writing”. Men and women do not make life choices in a vacuum. Everything we do is informed by sexual selection to significant degree.

          Moreover your article is misandric. It says men are stupid for their choices.

    • Bob

      Article makes some decent points, but leans far too heavily on social constructionism/engineering and is too at pains to ignore biology, that men and women are DIFFERENT and that’s actually fine.

      • I did not ignore biology, it just was not a focus here (for e.g., I wrote, “we can never eliminate risk from jobs and men will continue to tend to prefer riskier jobs.”) Which a social constructionist would never say, they’d say we should socialize men such that they have different preferences.

        There are real and immutable sex/gender differences in our species, as in most. However, this does not mean we can never meaningfully change our society to effect better outcomes. This is an observation well made by Steven Pinker’s book, The Better Angels of Our Nature that chronicles the dramatic decline in rates of violence that have happened in the last few centuries. This decline is too rapid to be attributed to evolutionary change. But we also don’t have to become naive “social constructionists” to explain it. Humans have a diverse set of motives and strategic modalities. One particular cultural setting can make it quite rational and self-serving to be a violent killer (say, the “wild west”). But another cultural setting makes it unrewarding and counter to your interests (e.g. most modern westernized nations).

        We can, and have, created good or less-bad outcomes by using the evolved psychological buttons and levers of motivation.

        • Bob

          It doesn’t matter if it’s a focus here or not, to ignore something so absolutely fundamental from every piece of reasoning detracts heavily from the points/arguments in the article.

          It’s like making conclusions about the climate in your greenhouse as a function of a few small heat lamps you’ve installed, while completely ignoring the sun.

          • It would be an error to ignore a piece critical to the puzzle. But you’ve not said how I ignored it, or how the alleged ignoring undermines my assertion(s). You’ll have to be more specific, it’s not clear what your argument here is.

    • jg29a

      To go into even more taboo territory: if we’re really ever going to greatly and permanently reduce irrational risk-taking, we’re going to need positive eugenics.

      • I don’t think we do. There’s a great difference between societies (or between a given society at one point in time, and much later) in this regard. This might be because people respond to stakes: what am I risking? If you expect a long, healthy life and decent career, you’re not as likely put it in jeopardy. Also, the meaning of “risky” might be culturally relative. Today, we consider it risky to do something that might jeopardize a job, even though there may be no fear of subsequently starving or becoming socially outcast. Probably almost nobody who lived before 5000 years would perceive that as “risky” because it doesn’t have a chance of resulting in injury, death, or social perdition.