Amazingly, Forbes has allowed itself to become the vehicle for some truly misleading claims by British writer Lauren Coulman (Forbes, 9/12/18). Her subject is the earnings gap between men and women. Unable to produce figures or facts indicating the gap’s being the result of anti-female discrimination, Coulman resorts to verbal legerdemain.
[A]ccording to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the earning gap between mothers and fathers widens over the first twenty years a mother returns to work, resulting in a 30% pay differential between similarly educated parents.
I suppose Coulman hoped readers wouldn’t click on her link, but I did. Did you think it was a link to a study conducted by the IFS? I did, but alas I was mistaken. It’s a link to a two-minute video describing some of the study’s findings. Unsurprisingly, given such a short time, the video doesn’t offer much information. But it does support Coulman’s claim, right? Wrong again.
The video establishes that, when women take time off work to have a child, the graph of their earnings growth fails to continue upward, or at least it’s a less steep upward progression. This of course is scarcely news. The IFS then asked why that’s the case.
It found that just under half of the reduced increase in wages is due to the woman’s having taken time off for the child and the loss of experience, seniority, etc. that entails. What’s more important is that they tend to work part-time.
Now, from what I could gather from the video, the IFS didn’t compare men’s and women’s aggregate earnings, but their hourly earnings. So the hourly earnings of part-time workers tend to rise less quickly than those of full-time workers. Mothers tend to work part time more than do fathers, so their earnings increase less rapidly. The IFS speculated as to why that is, but didn’t resolve the issue, at least not yet.
The answer to the question shouldn’t be terribly hard to find. Part-time workers are less important to employers because they have less connection to the company, less experience in their job, are more likely to quit, etc. Also, they’re more easily replaced due in part to the foregoing. So naturally, wage increases for part-time employees tend to lag those of full-time workers.
What’s most remarkable about the IFS video is that it nowhere attributes one whit of the earnings gap to anti-female discrimination. Indeed, the speaker on the video describes a number of possibilities that might explain the male-female earnings differential, but never mentions discrimination.
That of course is entirely at odds with Coulman’s thesis, leaving us to wonder why she linked to the video at all.
The root cause [of the gap]? Honestly, maternity discrimination, seen in the pay gap swinging into action for women around childbearing age.
Having cited a video that clearly explains the earnings gap and never speaks a word about discrimination, Coulman naturally concludes that discrimination must be the cause. Make sense? This is what people resort to when they have no evidence for the claims they wish to make. Oh, I know, they could alter their ideology to fit the facts instead of trying alter the facts to fit their ideology, but where’s the fun in that?
Coulman stumbles on.
Add to that the 77% of expecting or working mums who face prejudice in the workplace—opportunities for promotion removed, reductions in salary, being overlooked for pay rises and growth opportunities—and you have a situation where the simple fact of having a child erodes your earning potential and opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career.
Well, scarcely. The link she provides this time is to the Equality and Human Rights Commission of Great Britain. And friend, if anyone could locate anti-female discrimination anywhere, any time, the Commission could. It doesn’t.
Coulman claims that 77% of working mothers “face prejudice in the workplace.” The Commission article to which she links says no such thing. In fact it reports “77% of working mothers reporting potentially discriminatory or negative experiences…”
Oh. So there is in fact not a word in the piece stating 77% of mothers being discriminated against. The reality is that 77% of them say they’ve experienced discrimination or “negative experiences.” That’s a long, long way from actual discrimination.
Perhaps more telling is that fewer than 1% of them bothered to take their claims to an impartial tribunal for adjudication.
… less than 1% pursued a claim to the employment tribunal.
Those tribunals are of course the places in which we can learn whether claims of discrimination have merit or not. The simple fact is that we can’t know whether there’s much discrimination toward mothers because virtually none of them are willing to put their allegations to the test. Needless to say, that says a lot about their confidence in the merits of those allegations.
Mothers are indeed paid less than they would be if they didn’t stay home with the kids. Mothers tend strongly to want to have, as their primary “job,” the care and nurturing of their children. This is no surprise given the facts of human evolution. If there is discrimination lurking abroad in the land, by all means, we should stamp it out. But evidence thereof is sorely lacking and has been since the minute the “wage gap” was raised as an issue. Writers like Coulman, with their dicey “logic” and cooked-up conclusions do no favors either to their own movements or to the level of public discourse.