Gender devaluation, in one comparison

You can divide the reasons women earn less money than men do, on average, into three categories, in declining order or importance:

  1. Working fewer years, weeks, and hours
  2. Working in different occupations
  3. Being paid less in the same occupations

The first has to do with families and children. That has a large voluntary, or at least kind of voluntary, component (or it reflects hiring discrimination, which is hard to prove, prevent or punish under our legal regime). The third is illegal and sometimes actionable, as in the Lilly Ledbetter situation.

The second — occupational segregation — is a difficult hybrid. Segregation reflects both discrimination in hiring and promotions, and socialization-related choices, including in education. And it is wrapped up with divisions that may even be relatively harmless in a separate-but-equal kind of way — that is, not directly harmful, but contributing to the categorical divisions that make gender inequality more intractable. But the different pay in female- versus male-dominated occupations is a problem, well documented (see here and here) but virtually impossible to address under current law.

nurse-truck

Today’s example: nursing assistants versus light truck drivers

The government’s O*Net job classification system provides detailed descriptions of the qualifications, skills, and conditions of hundreds of occupations. The comparison between nursing assistants (1.5 million workers) and light truck or delivery services drivers (.9 million) is instructive for the question of gender composition. Using the 2009-2011 American Community Survey, I figure nursing assistants are 88% female, compared with 6% female for the light truck drivers. Here are some other facts:

  • The nursing assistants are better educated on average, with only 50% having no education beyond high school, compared with 67% of the light truck drivers.
  • But in terms of job skills, they are both in the O*Net “Job Zone Two,” with 3 months to 1 year of training “required by a typical worker to learn the techniques, acquire the information, and develop the facility needed for average performance in a specific job-worker situation.”
  • The O*Net reported median wage for 2012 was $11.74 for nursing assistants, compared with $14.13 for light truck drivers, so nursing assistants earn 83% of light truck drivers’ hourly earnings.

To make a stricter apples-to-apples comparison, I took those workers from the two occupations who fit these narrow criteria in 2009-2011:

  • Age 20-29
  • High school graduate with no further education
  • Employed 50-52 weeks in the previous year, with usual hours of exactly 40 per week
  • Never married, no children

This gave me 748 light truck drivers and 693 nursing assistants, with median annual earnings of $22,564 and $20,000, respectively — the light truck drivers earn 13% more. Why?

The typical argument for heavy truck drivers’ higher pay is that they spend a lot of time on the road away from home. But that’s not the case with the light truck drivers. They are more likely to work longer hours, but I restricted this comparison to 40-hour workers only. Here are comparisons of the O*Net database scores for abilities and conditions of the two jobs. For each I calculated score differences, so the qualities with bars above zero have higher scores for nursing assistants and those with bars below zero have higher scores for light truck drivers. See what you think (click to enlarge the figures). My comments are below.

abilities

context

You can stare at these lists and see which skills should be rewarded more, or which conditions compensated more. Or you could derive some formula based on the pay of the hundreds of occupations, to see which skills or conditions “the market” values more. But you will not be able to divine a fair market value for these differences that doesn’t have gender composition already baked into it. And “the market” doesn’t make this comparison directly, because nursing assistants and light truck drivers generally don’t work for the same employers or hire from the same labor pools. You might see reasons in these lists for why women choose one occupation and men choose the other, but I don’t see how that fairly leads to a pay difference.

The only solution I know of to the problem of unequal pay according to gender composition is government wage scales according to a “comparable worth” scheme (the subject of old books by Joan Acker and Paula England, but not high on the current political agenda). Under our current legal regime no one woman, or class of women, can successfully bring a suit to challenge this disparity.* That means occupational integration might be the best way to break this down.

*One exception to this is the public sector in Minnesota, in which local jurisdictions have their pay structures reviewed at regular intervals for evidence of gender bias, based on the required conditions and abilities of their jobs (as reported by me by Patricia Tanji of the Pay Equity Coalition of Minnesota).

20 Comments

Filed under Research reports

20 responses to “Gender devaluation, in one comparison

  1. Hmmm. You dismiss parenthood kind of lightly, as “kind of voluntary” but i fear for our future, just a little, if no women—or even no working women— volunteered to bear kids.

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  2. Ness Blackbird

    You’re assuming that there are no statistically significant aptitudes or tendencies towards particular occupations inherent in male or female genders. I don’t agree with that assumption. On the contrary, I would suspect that women — statistically speaking — have a greater aptitude for nursing type of work, and that a far greater proportion of men would be incapable of doing it adequately. Further, I would submit that light-truck driving is something that any idiot can do, and in my experience, it’s mostly done by idiots. (Like the guy who delivered our fridge today, and lost the cap to my vodka when I wasn’t looking.) So I think this particular discrepancy may really be more unfair than you’re suggesting.

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  3. KenKolb

    Nice post. I use this example in class all the time. Typically, students first jump on the essentialist bandwagon and try to create arguments about females’ innate nurturing skills vs the upper body strength of males. But as anyone who has ever cared for a physically incapacitated adult can tell you, nursing assistants do a lot of heavy lifting. Getting grandma out of bed can sometimes be more physically challenging than flipping a switch on a pallet loader.

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  4. Jeff Guinn

    “The second — occupational segregation — is a difficult hybrid. Segregation reflects both discrimination in hiring and promotions, and socialization-related choices, including in education. And it is wrapped up with divisions that may even be relatively harmless in a separate-but-equal kind of way — that is, not directly harmful, but contributing to the categorical divisions that make gender inequality more intractable. But the different pay in female- versus male-dominated occupations is a problem, well documented (see here and here) but virtually impossible to address under current law.”

    Considering all the anti-discrimination law in place, asserting that gender segregation reflects widespread discriminatory practices doesn’t sound plausible. In my occupation, airline pilot, which is 98.5% male, it doesn’t even begin to wash. And the fallback option, socialization, is scarcely any better, because it requires evolution to have stopped at the neckline.

    Which raises the question as to why different pay in gender segregated occupations is a problem in the first place. Women are free to become light truck drivers, and get a 13% pay raise. They don’t. Clearly, given that the segregation continues, but is not externally imposed, women choose occupations for other than remunerative reasons.

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  5. PSdan

    Hmmm. There have obviously been some difficulties with the ACA take over of the health care sector; it is not at all clear at this point that mandated fixes to health care aren’t actually worse than the original problems.

    Yet you are in favor of comparable worth, which would essentially be comprehensive, politically driven regulation of the whole labor market. Cra-cra, as my daughter would say. You have far too much confidence in big government.

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    • Jeff Guinn

      And far too much faith in the ability to meaningfully compare two completely different occupations. For instance, “Consequence of error” is roughly 12 units (of something) in favor of nursing assistants. That can’t possibly be true, because there is no task within the realm of nursing assistant that carries anywhere near the consequences of a vehicle accident.

      It would be a trivial matter to scan that list for similar bizarrely wrong, or even contradictory, job factors.

      Now think of comparing all occupations against all other occupations. After all, if day care workers are paid differently than nursing assistants, then we must resort to comparable worth, right?

      That’s the reason comparable worth is completely unworkable. To do it would require assessing the cross product of all occupations. There isn’t enough time left in the universe.

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      • Jeff,
        There is enough time in the universe and we are already doing this in Minnesota.

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        • Jeff Guinn

          No, there isn’t. Calculate the cross product of all the occupations there are, because any difference in salary between any two occupations that are otherwise comparable is, by the logic in this post, unjustifiable discrimination.

          If there are only 100 occupations, the cross product is 100^300-1. If my rough math is correct, if your computer makes 1,000,000 comparisons per second, then it will take something over 3^87 years.

          Maybe it would be more productive to wonder why, if nursing assistant and light truck driver are in fact (despite some very dubious parameters) “comparable”, women don’t simply become light truck drivers in order to make 13% more money.

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        • Jeff Guinn

          100^100-1

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  6. “Under our current legal regime no one woman, or class of women, can successfully bring a suit to challenge this disparity.” This is not true. In Minnesota there is statute and women in public sector employment can challenge disparities by filing a claim with the Department of Human Rights.

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  7. Just one among several things I could quibble with as part of the team who created and enforced the MN law which has been working well for 30 years: Many of the comments above don’t reflect understanding of well documented job evaluation systems such as Hay, which do indeed compare hundreds of jobs within companies in a way at least as objective as salary surveys. And re the implication that “working conditions” such as the (presumed) negatives for truck driving account for the pay difference: when applying a job evaluation system across all jobs in a particular company, one quickly realizes that (negative) “working conditions” will never be a big part of the overall score — because CEOs are relatively pampered, with people to wait on them, no heavy lifting, etc – and thus these systems allow only, I seem to recall, something like 5% of total value to come from this source. Just sayin’.

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    • Jeff Guinn

      And re the implication that “working conditions” such as the (presumed) negatives for truck driving account for the pay difference …

      The pivotal question is why, despite the 13% pay gap between jobs that are ostensibly comparable, more women aren’t light truck drivers.

      A generation ago, that could be put down to entrenched discrimination in many forms. I don’t think that explanation serves any longer, or at least serves much less with time.

      Yet the portion of women working as light truck drivers has scarcely budged over at least the last twenty years. In fact, this is true of a great many occupations.

      Something has to account for women preferring a comparable, yet lower paid, paid job; unless it is possible to identify explicit, non-merit, barriers to entry, then there must be something about truck driving that causes women to prefer nursing, despite making 13% less.

      … when applying a job evaluation system across all jobs in a particular company …

      But applying a job evaluation system across a company is a microscopic problem vs. doing so across an entire company. The math simply explodes when the number of occupations beyond a small number (presuming, of course, that one is applying comparability across all jobs, rather than simply and, IMHO illogically, picking specific female dominated occupations v. male dominated).

      That problem is fundamental, and inescapable.

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  8. I thought this article expressed the problem perfectly:

    http://cratesandribbons.com/2013/12/13/patriarchys-magic-trick-how-anything-perceived-as-womens-work-immediately-sheds-its-value/

    I have seen this problem first-hand working in the mental health field as both a clinician and a teacher. 90% of MA-level students in mental health fields in California are now female, and over 60% of PhD-level students in similar fields. At the same time, compensation for clinicians has plummeted, except for psychiatrists, who remain the one slice of the field that is still male-dominated.

    I have a terminal degree and the 100K of student loans to prove it, as well as 17 years experience in my field. I’m seeing job openings in the community that pay the same as my very first, fresh-out-of-school job in 2001 with far more responsibility. (And often they involve supervising post-graduate, pre-licensure interns who are WORKING FOR FREE in illegal “internships,” carrying the majority of the workload of the agency for the 2-5 years it takes them to earn their licensing hours.)

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    • Jeff Guinn

      Except that it doesn’t. It cites a fact nearly completely out of context, in an economy that is still disfigured by communism’s after effects. Certainly, if this phenomena was so common, it wouldn’t be necessary to go so far afield to find plenty of examples. That the author used that example is telling.

      I can’t help but note this: “The answer is crushingly, breathtakingly simple. In Russia, the majority of doctors are women. Here’s a quote from Carol Schmidt, a geriatric nurse practitioner who toured medical facilities in Moscow …”

      There are two ways to read “… geriatric nurse practitioner …”, both of which, in this case are true.

      The article was written in 1983.

      And it still leaves the most fundamental question unanswered: if different occupations are, indeed, comparable, why aren’t women following the money?

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  9. Pingback: [工作]兩性薪資差異——真的是不平等嗎? | SOCGANG

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