The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Newspaper columnists don’t need facts!

Being, as I am, behind schedule with draft writing (anyone care to concoct some sources on APEC for me?), I don’t really have time to post anything comprehensive. But I will rant briefly about a ridiculous opinion piece by Bettina Arndt in today’s West Australian, reprinted from the Herald Sun.

The first sign of trouble is when she starts talking about the average earnings data from the Bureau of Statistics — specifically, about wage inequality by sex — and casts doubt over the figures. I have a degree in pure maths, and I’d dare not question ABS findings, least not without some awfully solid evidence. But of course, Arndt doesn’t need any qualifications to denounce the comparison data as “meaningless”.

Later, she makes the sharp-as-a-bowling-ball observation that women, as a group, spend fewer hours in paid work than men. She also enlightens us with the discovery that they tend not to go into technical or construction jobs. But apparently this is perfectly normal … it’s not like there are any social factors keeping women out of science and engineering or anything. No, really.

She offers barely half a dozen words each to mention “glass ceilings” and “second shifts”. And so she should — after all, it’s not like there’s very many women out there who have to work fewer hours because of an unequal distribution of household labour. And on that note, I suppose I shouldn’t call it household labour, because Aunt Bettina tells us that women have fewer work hours than men, full stop. I guess those women do it for cheap thrills, or something.

I really need to stop expecting any kind of insightfulness when I open that newspaper …

  1. Possibly because pure ain’t stats in any way, shape or form (except possibly for the occasional common symbol, such as a capital sigma for summation) *g*

  2. While you’re quite right, I claim that that still makes me better able to guess when to trust the ABS than the training of your average sex therapist / journalist / psychologist

  3. The accuracy of the Bureau of Statistics data is not being called into question, but the validity of it. It is simply not appropriate to take a national average to analyze the question of whether or not women are receiving equal pay for equal work.

    There are most certainly societal pressures that lead women down paths towards lower wages. The solution to this problem, however, is not blaming the wage gap on discrimination, but instead empowering women by educating them as to the affects of their career choices on their salary.

    Blaming the wage gap on outright discrimination is both statistically inaccurate, and ultimately damaging. Instead, education and empowerment should be emphasized.

    I have a full write-up on my thoughts at this address:

  4. Did you even read my original post?

    The post you linked to makes a strong argument, but it’s quite significantly different to what I’m talking about here. If you read what I wrote, you’ll note that at no point have I blamed discrimination in the sense of employers giving one person less money than another (which, by my reading, is the “discrimination” your post refers to). I have not mentioned “equal pay for equal work” at all — that’s enshrined in Australian law.

    I do blame social practices that encourage women to spend less of their time in wage-earning activities (which, IMHO, are discriminatory). You acknowledge that these are a problem, the article by Arndt denies that they’re a problem, and either way this has little to do with the accuracy of ABS data (which, by the way, is called into question by Arndt, at least by my reading). I also make in-passing mention of social factors keeping women out of engineering, law, and upper management (“glass ceilings”, as it were) which skew the male/female ratio in high-earning professions and bring down average earnings for women.

    I’m not sure what you mean by education … I find it awfully hard to believe that there are many women who fail to realise “oh, if I stay at home to look after children, I won’t earn any money!” Women need to be empowered to decide not to do this, yes — but they generally cannot make such a decision in the current social environment. For example, if (speaking in very general terms) husbands did a greater proportion of the work of looking after kids, women would be able to spend more time working and their average earnings would rise.

  5. “has little to do with the accuracy of ABS data”

    Again, I am not questioning the accuracy of the data, but the validity of it. It does not control for factors such as the conscious choice or preference to stay home that some women most assuredly make without the influence of discriminatory policy.

    “I also make in-passing mention of social factors keeping women out of engineering, law, and upper management (”glass ceilings”, as it were) which skew the male/female ratio in high-earning professions and bring down average earnings for women.”

    My point here is that the only thing keeping women out of these positions are their conscious choices. This is a large part due to their over-proportion of housework, but that does not change the fact that it is conscious choice. My point is, that if lower wages is a result of choice, than the word discrimination is a complete misnomer.

    As cited in my article, many women quite honestly prefer more time at home, less gruelling hours, and, at the end of the day, the ability to devote all of their time towards their children. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as long as it was not forced upon them. There is, in fact, a large societal benefit to having a stay-at-home parent to raise children.

    It is this propensity towards time off and shorter hours, and not societal discrimination, that leads to the “glass ceiling” effect. It is simply not economically feasible to promote somebody who quite honestly does not have the desire to take on a larger load.

    I am certain that their are specific instances of discrimination where a woman desperately wanted a promotion but did not achieve it due to discrimination. My point is that that sort of situation is the exception as opposed to the rule. Most of the time, women make life decisions that lessen the chances for them to gain promotions or positions in the hard sciences.

  6. Because you seem to be unable to respond to the actual arguments that I’m making, rather than the arguments that you have criticised in your blog post, let me make one thing abundantly clear.

    I agree with you that the reason (women’s-aggregate-earnings/number-of-women) is less than (men’s-aggregate-earnings/number-of-men) is that women make choices that cause them to earn less money. My last comment admits this, and my original post is entirely consistent with it. I hadn’t mentioned this explicitly because to just talk about choices is to miss my point.

    I disagree with you that we can simply accept these choices, because I do not believe (as you seem to) that they are free, fair, and unforced decisions. The bulk of husbands, to over-generalise again, do not do their fair share of housework, which forces women to pick up the slack, and therefore gives them less time to go out earning money. There are still large numbers of people who are socialised from a young age into thinking that engineering isn’t a womanly kind of thing to do. And so on.

    You admitted that this is the case in your first comment, when you said “There are most certainly societal pressures that lead women down paths towards lower wages”. (Arndt makes a similar admission: “Yes, these choices are constrained by their family responsibilities”). So there are societal factors that are acting as a cause of what you call “the glass ceiling effect” — and whether or not you call that “discrimination” is irrelevant. (I never used the term in this thread, except in response to you.)

    This isn’t the only confusing red herring that you’ve thrown. For instance your position on the validity or accuracy of ABS earnings data is also irrelevant — I argue that they highlight the problem I describe above (although they have no impact on the problem itself), and I criticise Bettina Arndt for rejecting them, but I make no comment on what you think of them. Your earlier comment talked about “equal pay for equal work”, which neither I nor Arndt are addressing. Your second comment mentions cases where people are refused promotion because they’re female, which I do not talk about at all.

    If you’re going to comment on my blog, please stay on topic and please try to stay internally consistent — if you accept that one of your arguments is flawed, then say so, or else don’t go changing it while pretending it’s the same argument. I don’t take lightly to trolls.

Care to leave a comment?