[Editor's Introduction Chris]: This is Part II of a two part series on the real reasons behind gender pay differences. In Part I, Rochelle laid out the problem of gender pay gap differences. She brought forward Warren Farrell's work on the subject and began a thorough criticism of his perspective. Part II offers an alternative view as to the reasons for the pay gap and what we can do about it. If you have not read Part I, please do so. The link is here.
What about power and pay?
So what kinds of factors do contribute to the increased pay certain fields have garnered? Mostly it seems to boil down to the evening out of power between owners and labourers. To wit, in the early 1900s loggers got paid the rough equivalent of minimum wage, as set by the logging outfit owner. Then, as tends to happen when power is hoarded into the hands of the few, a counterforce arose to provide ballast, in this case the labour movement. Labourers considered it unfair for industry captains to make huge amounts while labourers made next to nothing and some of the jobs they did for minimum wage had a life-expectancy of under two years. So they organized and fought to have some power to influence their rate of pay.
Here, the phenomenon of equipoise might better explain why there was such a wage imbalance. The man who would have owned the company would, according to research on equipoise, be biased towards himself in assessing his compensation (not unlike CEO’s and Company Directors, Senators, etc, today). And if workers don’t have the power to have input into setting the remuneration value, then the lack of equipoise goes unchecked. Back in those days, captains of industry reputedly hired men to kill the early labour organizers, possibly because as an Alpha the owner would not tolerate any infringement on what he egoistically saw as ‘his territory,’ and would literally fight to the death in face of challenge to autonomy of his power to set wages. (aside: The women suing for fair wages in the example Farrell gives at the beginning of his book could be understood this way also— she is challenging the CEO’s autonomous use of power over the workers. Hence democratization of power may be a way to reduce lawsuits against the misuse of autocratic power).
Labour Unions and Labour Standards came into being out of this turmoil as a counterforce to the concentration of power in the hands of the owner and not, as Farrell would have us believe, just because there was some inherently higher value to the work. If there were such inherent value, they would have been highly paid since the day the jobs were invented. Given that this is not the case, a better explanation to danger pay, rather than as something inherently of value, is that it rose up as a counter-force to the misuse of power and lack of equipoise in male business owners, as well as what was probably the cultural zeitgeist of that era to exploit immigrants (ie, less powerful members of society).
To emphasize the point: mining and logging are much less dangerous now than they were a hundred years ago, so by Farrell’s logic these jobs should get paid less now than they did then (adjusted for inflation, of course). With modern day advances in safer work practices and equipment, hence fewer injuries and fatalities in logging, fishing, mining and construction industries than there were 100 years ago, the wages earned if anything should be trending down relative to what they were in the past (adjusted relative to the era). But that isn’t the case, and in fact the opposite is true; the work that used to be far more dangerous was relatively speaking much, much lower paying back then than it is today. Farrell’s logic offers an insufficient explanation for how pay relative to danger has evolved. A better explanation is that the slow progress of Labour Unions and the worker’s safety movement gradually redressed the power imbalance between workers and company owners.
Gender and risk
A more useful way to look at physical risk in the workplace is why men take greater risks, and how we might leverage differences that women bring to risk assessment in order to make the workplace safer for men, if that’s what they actually want and are willing to help create. In my experience working with male fishermen for ten years, part of what they loved about the job was the element of physical danger. It made them feel invincible when they could survive a raging storm, or do some daring feat on the boat to save their gear or another guy.
The feeling of being a hero is part of the attraction of the work, and the risk is what makes it appealing— to risk and survive is quite a rush. This is something that Farrell doesn’t talk about, but it’s important. There is an inherent payoff in the work, it’s not as if the men are suffering all the time. They often develop a lethargy and lack of meaning when they don’t have a chance to take these kinds of risks. As described earlier, overconfidence in one’s capacities is a strongly gender linked trait, so men go into dangerous jobs thinking they won’t die (i.e. they actually are not all that realistic), whereas women, being more realistically confident, are more likely to avoid those jobs. Or, they might do them in a way that’s safer, and get fired or passed over for promotion because they won’t do it like men do, and maybe because they provide an unwelcome reality check that men in the grips of heroism are likely to deny in order to be able to take the risk. So another way to look at it, if we use Farrellian logic, is that women may be financially penalized for being more realistic about their mortality.
Another pertinent way we can assess the structural integrity of Farrell’s ‘death profession’ and ‘exposure’ arguments is to see if they explain pay differences in typically female work. Let’s take work that women have a long history of being paid for (and enslaved for, but that’s a topic for another essay), often called the ‘oldest profession,’ since there is a reasonable body of data to work with: sex work, or prostitution. This work leverages certain gender-related capacities, so is a fair comparison to typically male work roles that likewise leverage gender-related capacities. How do Farrell’s principles— that a higher death risk and also exposure to weather (such as the mine-worker and park ranger jobs that he gives as examples) result in higher pay— explain pay differences amongst women in the sex-work industry?
In their book SuperFreakonomics, authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner research economics in the sex-work industry. In the sex trade, survival sex-workers are the bottom of the barrel: they are the lowest paid and the highest exposure to risks. They have the highest death risk, since they usually can’t screen their clients beforehand, often work alone, have little support, and are often psychologically the most damaged and powerless in the industry, hence easy prey to men who are looking for prey. Along with the usual physical and psychological dangers that accompany this line of work there is also a high exposure risk, as Farrell defines it. They work outdoors, hence are exposed to conditions of extreme cold, heat, rain, sleet and snow - depending on their country - poor lighting, long shifts, high risk of sexual and physical assault, high financial risk of bad debt (i.e. customers dumping them off without paying them for services rendered), as well as disease— from the uncomfortable, like syphilis, to the fatal, like HIV/AIDS. Throw in the odd unwanted pregnancy, low social status, drug addiction, etc., and you have a job that easily compares with the physical discomforts and dangers of the occupations Farrell earmarks as deserving of danger pay for their physically risky nature (forgetting for now that for many men, they’d feel horrible if they didn’t get the opportunity to face and ‘conquer’ these challenges regularly).
High-class call girls, meanwhile, can pre-screen customers for safety, can work indoors in comfortable conditions, and sometimes don’t even have any of the risks (disease, pregnancy, etc.) that attend sexual intercourse, because their clients are more likely want to talk and not even have sex. Obviously, the one who should get paid more, according to Farrell’s principles of death risk and exposure, would seem to be the survival sex-worker. Meanwhile, the comfy, indoor, lower death and exposure risk call-girl should be paid less. Well, Farrell’s economic hypothesizing falls short here: the survival sex-worker is often paid as low as $5–10 for sex acts, whereas the call-girl would make a range of a hundred times that amount, sometimes with no sex act involved at all.
So what gives with the danger rationale that Farrell gives? Why doesn’t it explain the same danger pay factors for what we might call the most womanly of women’s work? Nor does it explain why certain dangerous mostly male jobs are still paid relatively little compared to less dangerous ones. A more robust explanation takes into account that there are multiple systemic implications, as well as distribution of power that influence pay rates. The construction of economic value has at least as much to do with where power lies and how it is used, as it does with the inherent value of the work, or with risks associated with it.
Very obvious reasons for the pay gap, and reconstruction ideas
What Farrell essentially says is that career success in the male way of doing it is the baseline, and his solution is to get women to conform to that way. A systems view might take the perspective of how we can balance the overall situation, and actually value the contributions women make and seek to explore and learn how society might be changed by the different ways women already participate in it, rather than simply subsume them into existing—and by many indications crumbling—structures. Riane Eisler’s Caring Economics and the social choice theory work of Nobel Prize winner for Economic Sciences Amartya Sen are but a few examples of actually restructuring economies, not just working existing ones to our own advantage.
And to back up a moment and tend to some blatantly obvious reasons for the pay gap that are worth putting on our map of understanding this phenomenon. One really simple answer to the question of why men earn more is because they ask for more money, and ask for it more often, than women do. This could partly be due to their lower equipoise on average relative to women— that is, that they do not see their own bias in how high they assess their capacities. Since they assess them higher, they might think they should be paid more, hence why they ask for higher wages. Another reason as author and business development coach Christopher Flett points out, and Farrell does too, is that women tend to pay employees ‘too much’, and don’t ask for as high wages as they could. Furthermore, in his book, What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business, Flett tells of his own typical experience in business development work: a man and a woman work the same job in nearly identical organizations. The man asks for raise from $50,000 to $97,000 and gets a raise to $67,000. The woman asks for raise from $50,000 to $57,000 (thinking about the whole, rather than just herself), and gets that.
In an article on equipoise – the ability to assess our own bias - by New York Times columnist David Brooks, he reports data that shows men tend to be less able to see their own bias in assessing their capacities. He cites, for example, that men drown twice as often as women because they over-estimate their swimming capacity. This likely plays out in how much the average man thinks he should get paid, and hence in the amount and frequency of raises they ask for, also.
A concrete example from my first season working as a deck-hand in commercial fishing. I had to respond to a prospective boss’s question of how much pay I expected. I thought I would go way out on a limb and ask for 50 cents a pound, which seemed outrageously high to me. Without saying anything about my pay expectation, I asked several male colleagues how much they would ask for if they were me? The unanimous response: “I wouldn’t do it for less than a dollar a pound”. I was stunned. Here I was with more qualifications than them (I had various first aid and life-saving certificates, as well as post-secondary education, experience and proven productivity) willing to do it for half what they expected and think that was a lot. Had I asked for fifty cents a pound, it is unlikely the skipper would have offered me more. As it is, with carefully masked incredulity I asked for a dollar a pound, and got it.
In their book Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, authors Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever show that 57% of men negotiate their salary when first hired compared to 7% of women. So a simple reason why men make more for doing the same work as women is that they ask for more. And they ask for it more often. This explanation probably has the most explanatory power with the least complexity. (Occam would love this I’m sure).
Hilary Lips has written succinctly about this in her article “Blaming Women’s Choices for the Gender Pay Gap” explaining that the data shows that women who work 60 + hours per week still made 82% of men’s median weekly earnings in 2006, the year after Farrell’s book Why Men Earn More was published. She also shows how when more women enter a field, the wages in that field subsequently drop. So Farrell’s suggestion that we go into certain fields would seem to be at best a short-lived gain. There are deeper systemic problems that would need attention so that every work domain women enter does not become yet another receding horizon of equality as pay drops with women’s increased contribution and participation in that field.
Inasmuch as he addresses this receding horizon in Chapter 13, “Two Nagging Questions,” Farrell paints it as a situation where men make a field better, and have high admission standards which are then lowered so women can enter the field, get paid less, and thus force men out of the field. So even though he admits that wages go down when women enter a typically male field, he still writes a whole book telling women to do just that, setting them on a collision course with a receding horizon. In doing this, he also contradicts two earlier assertions, one made in the chapter prior, in which he states that men are “generally more accepting of the marketplace determining value rather than their values dictating value” (p. 198). So if the marketplace will pay women less for therapy, then according to him men would be accepting of this. The second contradiction is that earlier he claims that women would increase their pay by understanding the principle that “People [i.e. men] who get higher pay above all, produce more.” (p. 115). Here again, he falls into his own trap— first he says it’s the high qualifications that earned a man more money, then he says it’s what’s produced.
As we’ve seen a woman can over five years, produce more income for a company, but still be paid less than a man who produces less income for the company over the same five-year span, simply because of the way productivity is determined and measured— i.e. in annual or quarterly performance. Clearly this isn’t an adequate apparatus to capture the bigger picture of productivity. At any rate, it seems that Farrell is blind to the way the economic world that was actively constructed by males ultimately shoots themselves in the foot by leaving themselves open to being replaced by a less expensive workforce in the form of women, workers in developing economies, etc. Despite this, Farrell suggests that women keep entering higher paying male-dominated fields. I suppose the end-point of that logic is that eventually, every field will be equally low paying from women entering it, and thus the gender pay gap will cease to exist. It’s not the most elegant solution, but I suppose it would theoretically eliminate the pay gap, though not according to the mechanisms Farrell posits.
The economic system is constructed to reward certain kinds of risk in certain contexts. Men are more likely to overestimate their abilities, they take more risks partly because they don’t see the risks. Women tend to be more security oriented and Fortune 500 companies with women in the c-suite tend to do better longer term than ones that don’t. It seems plausible this is because women generally have a stronger capacity to assess risk due to less overconfidence than their male counterparts. So for long-term survivability of an enterprise, women may have a gender advantage. Overconfidence as a strongly gender linked male trait (relative to women, I suppose) can lead to long-term insolvency, as the Wall Street melt-down suggests. As Chogyam Trungpa said: Be yourself, and the world will give you feedback. We could say, “Overestimate yourself, and reality will give you feedback.” Feedback like a global recession.
Farrell laments the tragic outcomes of men’s relatively higher risk-taking natures, but doesn’t make the connection that women’s relatively risk-averse predisposition is the source of a tension that might be more deeply engaged to inform and transform the work-place for both genders. Getting women to better adapt could be cheating both genders out of a whole new world of human flourishing. To allow women their gender bias towards better assessment of certain risks, and to allow the economic system to be altered by this, might actually be a boon to humanity, the economy, and even men’s lives. As Robert Kegan says about these kinds of conflicting tensions, “conflict is a threat to our pretense to wholeness”, and the ‘solution’ is to let it resolve us, not the other way round. So I reckon by that logic we’re better off to let differences in gender change the structure of society, rather than try to fit women into the system, which by several indications will need a significant upgrade anyways.
Farrell’s portrayal of the gender pay gap lacks adequate depth and breadth to result in solutions that really matter. It’s like solving the problem of not-enough-food-in-your-fridge by taking food from your cupboards in a putting it in the fridge. Sure, for a few days you have more food in the fridge, you still haven’t solved the problem of not-enough-food-in-the-house. If you understand there isn’t enough food because people come in and steal it at night, then your best response is to buy a lock for your front door. If it’s because your teenage sons are going through a growth spurt and inhaling the contents of your fridge in one sitting, then your best solution is to buy more food. If it’s because you haven’t the funds to buy more food, then your best solution might be to arrange funding, get another job, or plant a garden. Regardless of the solution, the point is that if you have an accurate enough explanation for why the situation is that way, then you’re better able to respond to it. And as demonstrated, Farrell’s explanation is too shallow and inaccurate for the solutions he offers to be more useful than shifting food from the cupboards to the fridge.
Farrell pays little to no attention to the construction of economics in relation to gender pay differences. Rather, he seems to use a less robust logic, wherein we don’t question why things are the way they are, or else we accept idiosyncratic explanations, such as his post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc reasoning. Essentially, Farrell’s logic is: “Follow the rules that go with roles that make more money, and you’ll win more, too!” Again, this is useful inasmuch as temporarily closes the gap, and also helps the world of work not have be altered by the differences women might bring to it.
However, if we don’t want to set women up on a new hamster wheel, we might want to look at more than how to improve the way they play the work-game, as Farrell offers. We can also and perhaps more importantly, engage equally in the construction of value in society, especially economic value. I’d rather put my energy into working out how women— and men for that matter— can more democratically participate in the construction of that value. This is a bigger project than just grooming women to play the game— that of successful worker— better. Constructing a better game is a more interesting proposition to me, and feels more worthy of my energies, not just as a woman, but as a human being.