Oct 062014

“It is estimated that one in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there.” – Barack Obama, January 22, 2014

Wow, that sounds like a lot to me. Does it to you? I mean, really? Is it even that bad in a high-crime area of a big city in the middle of the night?


The first thing to know about this research is that the sample size leaves a lot to be desired. A total of two schools were studied to produce this statistic. That tells me that however useful the conclusions are, they are likely to be so primarily for those two campuses. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. How many should we look at to find out something meaningful? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure more than two.

The second thing to know about this research is that the definition of sexual assault is broad indeed. For example, “attempted” or “completed” assaults are included in this statistic. Now at first blush, that shouldn’t matter. Attempted rape or rape? Felony either way.

Ah, but see, here’s the thing. Many of those reported sexual assaults are rapes, but “sexual battery,” also included in the study as sexual assault, includes things like attempted-but-unwelcome kissing and touching.

So, for this study’s purposes, a woman who eludes a drunken frat boy’s clumsy attempted kiss is a sexual assault victim.

Trying to kiss a woman when she clearly doesn’t want you to is rude and boorish. So is “accidentally” pawing her rear end instead of gently grasping her waist when you’re dancing. But it’s ludicrous to call these things violent crimes. Frankly, I have trouble finding an innocuous motive for putting these in the same bucket as rape and sodomy.

Violence against women, sexual or otherwise, is a serious problem that deserves sustained attention. But let’s keep our eye on the ball.

 Posted by at 6:52 pm
Sep 292014

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.” – Barack Obama, January 28, 2014

Women make 77 cents for every dollar men make for the same work. This is particularly egregious discrimination that we ought to be past by now, don’t you think?



This statistic always gave me pause. For one thing, I couldn’t resolve it with what I knew personally about women’s salaries. Any visibility I ever had into such revealed that they were paid as I’d expect—as professionals, based on experience and ability. Yes, that’s anecdotal, but doesn’t it seem like I’d occasionally see evidence of such a gap?

What really made me doubt it was basic economics. Payroll is, by far, the biggest single entry in a business budget. Where are all of the all-female businesses? Any company that could realize a whopping 23% break on salaries simply by hiring all women would have done so long ago.

So where does the number come from?

This figure comes from adding up the salaries of all of the full-time jobs held by women, and dividing by the number of women; then adding up the salaries of all of the full-time jobs held by men, and dividing by the number of men. That’s it.

It does not control for job type, education, experience, or life choices. For example, women are much more likely than men to leave the workforce altogether for a period of several years to care for a child. Men are much more likely than women to hold high-risk, high-paying jobs, like offshore oil rig work or high-rise construction. These conditions, and many others like them, are not considered at all.

Here is an excellent Freakonomics discussion, including intensive research on the topic that tracks male and female University of Chicago MBAs from 1990 to 2006.

When you say women make 77 cents for every dollar men make, you are comparing the average salary of all full-time working women to the average salary of all full-time working men. There is nothing else in the equation. Adding “for the same work” to it is completely nonsensical.

(And actually,whatever the usefulness of the number, it’s 81 cents on the dollar now.)

When average pay is compared meaningfully—for men and women of like qualification in like jobs—the gap narrows considerably. (Oh, and guess what—sex-based discrimination when qualifications and jobs are substantially similar has been illegal for more than 50 years.)

Is the remaining gap being done to women, or by women? This Forbes piece cites UK research and determines that

“There’s no real discernible gender pay gap up to the age of 30. It is also true that the average age of a first pregnancy carried to term is a little over 30 years old these days. We know that there’s a fatherhood pay premium (fathers earn more than non-fathers), lesbians earn more than heterosexual women (all of these are averages, of course) and never married no children women in their 40s make more (fractionally, a percentage point or two more) than men of the same age. All of this is pointing us towards the idea that it’s the children that are causing that pay gap.”

I suspect that most women who leave the workforce to care for a child—or indeed, most couples who make that decision together—would call it a trade-off that’s worth it. That it contributes to a gender pay gap is therefore plausibly an indicator of empowerment of women, not discrimination against them.

“The point here is not that there is no wage inequality. But by focusing our outrage into a tidy, misleading statistic we’ve missed the actual challenges.” – Hanna Rosin

That’s exactly right. Whether these (much smaller) gaps that remain after ensuring a level field of comparison are “actual challenges” may be interesting and research-worthy, particularly if we are willing to genuinely consider the notion that discrimination is not a major factor.

However, whether because of ignorance, malice, or something else, no one claiming that women make 77% of what men do for the same work is telling you the truth.

 Posted by at 7:07 am
Sep 282014

I started a post last week that got much too long, and it occurred to me that it would make a good post series. Introducing Facts That Aren’t. Facts That Aren’t posts will examine assertions that “everyone” “knows,” that in fact have extremely limited or highly qualified truth values. Generally these “facts” are propagated by […]

 Posted by at 6:08 pm

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