Whilst we don't have our own Ragnar Bengtsson in Ireland, we do have The Equality Authority: an organisation that keeps publishing studies which keep showing there isn't actually much inequality about (of the man-made variety - emphasis on 'man'). Their latest contribution to the burgeoning body of evidence why we don't need The Equality Authority is a report they commissioned by the ESRI on The Gender Wage Gap in Ireland: Evidence from the National Employment Survey 2003.
The obvious intention of the study was to identify what part of the gap between men and women's pay is due to sex discrimination plain and simple. Except it isn't simple - not least because differences in pay are due to many, many factors - as made clear in the ESRI report. But if you torture a data set long enough it will confess to anything, and so the ESRI finds that:
... the overall wage gap in 2003 was almost 22 per cent. On average men have more years of work experience than women and - among the factors identified here - this is the single biggest contributor to the pay gap. Nevertheless differential experience only accounts for a 3.1 per cent pay gap, or just over 14 per cent of the total. Many other factors - such as a higher incidence of supervisory roles, longer tenure and higher trade union membership among men and a higher incidence of part-time work among women - also widen the gap. The combined effects of broad occupational and sectoral gender segregation contribute 2.8 per cent, accounting for 13 per cent of the overall wage gap. ... Finally, a gap of 7.8 per cent - one third of the total - cannot be attributed to any of the factors included in the analysis.So that's it: troglodyte employers discriminate against their female employees by underpaying them by 7.8% simply because they are women? Well no: the ESRI are at pains to point out that not all of this 7.8% should be attributed to malicious discrimination - it's just that the data couldn't explain that part of the difference between men and women's wages using the information available. As the authors note on page 39:
Not all wage determining characteristics that vary by gender will be observed by the researcher and this may result in at least some over-estimation of the proportion of the gap often attributed to discrimination. For instance, unobservable differences between males and females in areas such as motivation or commitment to work will impact wage levels. If we accept that, on average, females’ preferences towards the home will result in a lower general career attachment, then failure to observe such preferences may lead to an under-estimate of the explained component and an over-estimate of the discrimination component of the gender wage gap.In other words: 'we don't know'. Which is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to reach: human society is a richly complex phenomenon and cannot usually be reduced to simple econometric analyses.
However, one dissapointment I had with the study was that there was no analysis of wage differences by age. Age is actually left out of the econometric equations (though not age of children). I suspect that a comparison of wages/salaries by age would show no significant gender differences - and possibly even a higher average wage for females than males - among those in their twenties and working full time. As we are reminded every year: girls do better than boys at exams - so the growing number of jobs demanding qualifications should be to the advantage of female employees. And our increasingly credentialist society is indeed better suited to women than men in that regard.
None of this is explored in the report unfortunately, nor is there any acknowledgement of the small matter that 2003 was six years and a global economic crash ago. The latter very much to the detriment of men rather than women in the workforce: the number of males signing on the Live Register rose by 183,000 between August 2003 and August 2009; the number of females rose by some 72,000.
The lack of any definitive evidence for sex discrimination in the workforce doesn't unfortunately stop the authors from reaching conclusions about policies to make the problem go away. They conclude that:
These findings suggest that policies to reduce the gender wage gap could be most effective if they serve to increase continuity in women’s employment. These include parental and maternal leave and childcare provision, as well as employment practices designed to reconcile family and working life, although our findings in this study suggest that such policies would have to be carefully designed.I'm glad they used the word 'careful'. Making it more expensive to employ women or men who have children (e.g.: via paid parental leave), and increasing taxes to pay for state-funded child care facilities just might not be a good idea at the moment. And we should be grateful they stopped short of calling for mandatory male breastfeeding.
But as always with studies by The Equality Authority we are left with the distinct impression that there's an ideological agenda behind the research rather than an evidence-based policy agenda. Especially when they report differences that are not supported by their own research. So what is their agenda? I reckon it's one of gender feminism: one which denies any differences between women and men and which seeks to use the instruments of the state to re-construct a new society very much to the detriment of men. And, paradoxically, an agenda that is leading to increasing unhappiness among women.
The McCarthy report proposed reducing the allocation to equality organisations by €1 million. Money well saved in my opinion.