Where are all the gaps going?

Get to Work author Linda Hirshman debunked the gender gap this morning on the Daily Beast, while Andrew Biggs did the same for the wage gap on the American Enterprise Institute blog.

I don’t know why, but somehow it surprised me that Hirshman, who has made no bones about her contempt for women who opt to be stay-at-home mothers, had taken on the gender gap, much beloved by feminists.

Nevertheless, in an article headlined “Why the Gender Gap Won’t Matter in this Election,” Hirshman recognizes something that many feminists prefer to overlook: just as women skew Democratic, men tend even more so to go Republican; the real gender gap is a male gender gap.

Hirshman writes:

You always know the Democrats are in big trouble when the media starts harping on the gender gap. This time it’s “gender gap near historic highs.” Repeat after me: so what? Even when that gap hit its historic high of 20 points, with Al Gore’s near miss in 2000, it didn’t actually put him in the White House. The discussion hit a low point when TV star Lena Dunham and a bunch of her math-challenged friends made a viral video this week off Lesley Gore’s pop classic “You Don’t Own Me” to convince women to support Obama. The video features a claim that “women were 60 percent of the voters” last time. If that were true, women might matter. But in fact women came in around 53 percent of voters in 2008. Maybe math is hard, but in elections, numbers matter.

Bulletin: Women don’t elect a president the guys don’t want. They simply don’t vote for the Democrat in high enough numbers to offset the testosterone tsunami for the GOP. …

In one of the latest big polls, Obama’s support among white women is down a couple of points since 2008, from 46 percent to 44 percent. But he’s down among white men by 9 percentage points, falling from 41 percent against John McCain to 32 percent against Mitt Romney. (A second, recent poll from AP denies any gap, but that appears to be a radical outlier at the moment.) It looks like a gender gap, all right, but not one that helps the president. Forget the ladies. If Obama can’t stanch the bleeding among white men, no Florence Nightingale is coming to bind up the wound.

Andrew Biggs, who has done iconoclastic work on compensation for teachers (they aren’t underpaid, after all) writes that the “gender pay gap is a media myth.” Biggs’ jumping off point is last week’s study released by the American Association of University Women saying that there is a gender pay gap.

In unveiling the study, the AAUP touted an 82 percent wage gap between what men and women earn the first year out of college. When, however, researchers factored in hours worked and kinds of job, they found the gap shrinks to 6.6 percent. In other words, gender discrimination is responsible for at most a 6.6 gender pay gap.

But Biggs took these figures to the next step:

But in preparing for an NPR program discussing the study, I ran some quick numbers using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. I limited myself to full-year private sector workers with a bachelors degree who were ages 21 to 26 in 2009-2010. Within this group I controlled for age, race, Hispanic and immigrant status, detailed geographic location, weekly work hours, college major and occupation. Controlling for college major accounts for the fact that men tend to choose majors that lead to higher earnings later in life. Controlling for occupation captures “compensating wage differentials” for positive or negative aspects of the job. For instance, dangerous or unpleasant jobs may pay more, while jobs offering flexible hours or more generous benefits might pay less. Including all these controls, the gender pay gap for young college grads drops to around 1 percent.

Even then, do my results mean that discrimination reduces pay by 1 percent? Hardly. It’s well known that women negotiate over pay less aggressively than men. Better negotiating tactics could easily generate a 1 percent pay difference. More broadly, the 1 percent figure denotes the unexplained pay difference – simply because the data we have can’t explain it doesn’t mean the difference is due to discrimination. Better data might explain even more of the difference. Moreover, even if discrimination exists – and it surely does, even if its overall effects aren’t huge – the cure of greater government control over the labor market might be worse than the disease.

The only reason the gender pay gap persists, Biggs writes, is that a superficial media takes it and runs with it.

Other essential reading on the AAUW study: commentaries by Christina Hoff Sommers, Sabrina Schaeffer, and Carrie Lukas.