There was a debate recently between Channel 4 journalist Cathy Newman and notorious psychology professor (and lobster lover) Jordan Peterson, and the internet had a lot to say about it. Specifically, trolls crowed over the supposed irrationality of Cathy Newman – who was slanderous, and obnoxious to the reasonable, calm, and controlled Jordan Peterson. Peterson had heroically put up with terrible ‘so what you’re saying’ inferences that Newman made from his vague and ill-defined statements (he’s almost as heroic as that journalist who received death threats, you know her name, Cathy Newman?). But rather than critique Newman’s debating credentials, let’s analyse what Peterson said about the gender pay gap.
The central thrust of his argument is that the gender pay gap exists for “multiple reasons”, and that the “claim that the wage gap between men and women is only due to sex is wrong”, arguing that multi-varied analysis paints a more nuanced picture. He does admit to prejudice existing (which you’d think would undermine his argument), but crusades against the belief that it’s the major factor. Instead, Peterson mentions that age, occupation, and personality-type need to be considered. This is a standard retort whenever someone points out women make 77 cents to the dollar, exploiting the lack of nuance in that statement.
Peterson mentions that age, occupation, and personality-type need to be considered
In the broadest sense, Peterson has a point as when the pay gap is broken down into the explained and unexplained pay gap, the explained gap accounting for the multiple variants. What’s left is an unexplained pay gap, and there’s debate as to what factors drive this. Bias against women is one, but so is ethnicity, child-rearing, and unpaid labour. Men are said to simply choose to work longer hours, but this ignores the fact that women bear the brunt of unpaid labour, especially in familial care and housework – the scaffolding of an unconscious patriarchal mindset that enforces such gender roles.
When fictitious and identical resumes were sent out, women with a child had worse chances in getting a job, but men were more likely to get the job and receive a higher starting salary. This is not only attributable to women working reduced hours – both by choice or obligation, but also a “motherhood penalty” that childless women, and all men, don’t encounter.
The explained pay gap doesn’t eliminate sexist undertones. Peterson mentioned women choose lower paying careers, but gaps still exists within most industries, including 66% lower earnings for female financial specialists, and 71% smaller incomes for female doctors (when age, education, race and hours were controlled). Even within female dominated industries, women are paid less, and men disproportionately receive senior positions. And that’s not even broaching the influence of patriarchal expectations in career choices, or why those careers are paid less.
Men are said to simply choose to work longer hours, but this ignores the fact that women bear the brunt of unpaid labour, especially in familial care and housework
When looking at education, Chicago MBA graduates were analysed, and female MBA graduates began employment with a small wage gap that grew over time. Women are also less likely to graduate from STEM degree subjects and enter STEM fields which pay more, and have lower gender pay disparities. There’s also a disparity within age groups, which grows as people get older. By far the most damning studies showed that when identical resumes or performance reports, which differed only by gender, were given to employers/managers, female names were less likely to receive job offers, or equal salaries and bonuses.
The debate creates a smokescreen that misses the point – people that deny the gender pay gap rail against the unmeritocratic ‘equality of outcome’ mindset implied, as equal opportunity does exist as shown by gender discrimination being illegal. Women simply choose lower paying jobs, or to not get graduate degrees. But this is wrong. There isn’t equality of opportunity when identical resumes are less likely to receive a job offer due to their gender. Unfortunately, Peterson is wrong; even analysing multiple variables shows it’s still all about gender.