This weekend I heard a story from the BBC World Service on the issue of equal pay for women, particularly women in the industries of sports and entertainment.
The guests on the panel included Briana Scurry a former professional soccer player, Terry Lawler, Executive Director of New York Women in Film and Television, and labor market economist Andrew Chamberlain.
Ironically, the name of the show was “In the Balance,” but there was very little balance to the conversation. All of the guests believed that women were being paid unfairly and painted sports, entertainment, and the rest of the economy as sexist.
Dr. Chamberlain made several good points about the sports and entertainment industries, and how they differ from other industries (they are less competitive, they allow for audience preference to favor one sex over another), but he made the fatal mistake of citing the economy-wide wage gap statistic out of context. Like so many others, he used the Department of Labor’s statistic that shows women earning “77 cents on the dollar” compared to men without mentioning the many confounding variables (like profession, experience, hours, other benefits, etc.) that affect pay.
Perhaps the most insulting thing about this broadcast is that, in an effort to balance the discussion, the BBC invited their regular commentator and Irish comedian Colm O’Regan to play devil’s advocate and offer the other point of view (the view that sometimes there are legitimate reasons why women and men are paid differently). Presumably, this is not a perspective that Mr. O’Regan genuinely holds; he emphasized he was only offering the free-market view because he was asked.
Of all people to represent this point of view, the BBC chose a comedian, sending the message that it’s laughable that anyone would believe and say this stuff.
Next time the BBC has a conversation about this issue, I hope they give us a call at IWF. We have plenty of smart women who’d be happy to participate in a serious defense of free-market principles. Of course we all want women and men in all industries to be paid fairly, but audiences deserve a balanced debate about the state of pay equality today, how to measure it, and what can or should be done about it.