Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My thoughts on Miss Utah

I know it's a popular pastime to make fun of the pageant contestants' responses to the questions they're posed, and it's really hard not to make fun when this is the quality of the responses:

Nathan was in the car with me when I was listening to the Kidd Kraddick in the morning show, and they played the above clip in preparation to discuss this year's Miss USA competition.  Nathan and I were laughing so hard at it that I had to skip back (was listening to a recording via their app) and listen to it again.

Then they discussed Miss Utah from this past weekend's pageant, who was asked, "A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men.  What does this say about society?"

Upon hearing the question, before even listening to the contestant's answer, I took the opportunity to have a discussion with Nathan on critical thinking and correlation not equalling causation and so forth, and paused the app.

I asked his opinion, guided him a bit, and then expounded on my own thoughts on the topic.

I told Nathan that even if we assumed the facts in the question ARE true, they're not necessarily related or relevant.  It's not surprising that in families WITH children, 40% have women as the primary earners.  I wouldn't be surprised with nearly that many have women as the ONLY earners, between single mothers, stay-at-home dads (by choice) and unemployed (not by choice) dads, not to mention dual-income parents where the mom just happens to make more than the dad.

That said, it's also not surprising that men make more than women, but they don't actually quote any specific studies or statistics, so it's hard to know exactly what they're getting at.  Look, I'm one of the first to agree that pay between the sexes is disparate and unfair, but there are SO many legitimate and semi-legitimate reasons for pay inequality that a truly scientific study would need to control for, that there are actually very few scientific studies on this topic.

If I poll 10 NFL, NBA, and MLB players to ask their annual take-home pay, and 10 kindergarten teachers, nurses, and stay-at-home moms, I will likely discover that men make WAY more than women, on average.  Now, there are all sorts of problems with the way society values certain jobs over others, and the way certain jobs attract certain sexes in unequal ratios, but that's not really what a study about pay differences between the sexes should be about, so you would need to poll people with otherwise similar jobs/careers/positions.

Then there's the fact that women bear the brunt of time lost from the career track due to having children.  Even if they immediately go back to work, and even if they have the most egalitarian relationship ever, that's six weeks or so per baby that they miss of work.  But most families aren't purely egalitarian when it comes to childcare issues, sick kids, and especially if the mom breastfeeds/pumps.  So that's more time away from the office for mom than for dad.  Not to mention that many moms take longer than the minimum time off, and sometimes stay out of the career track until their youngest goes back to school.  It's great to have that choice, and it's not fair to compare the salary of a man who's been working non-stop from age 22 to 42 to a woman who worked from 22 to 30, then took 8 years off to have two kids and see them off to kindergarten, and then worked four more years until age 42.  They both started their careers 20 years ago, but one of them has worked 20 years, and the other only 12.

So any study about pay between the sexes not only needs to control for the job being done, but the years of ACTUAL experience in the job.  Very few successfully do that, but I do believe that they show that men still make more, and I'm sure it's true, and it's definitely a problem.

But it's somewhat less of an issue than a lot of people think, and it also has absolutely nothing to do with 40% of families with children having women as the primary earners.

So, what if I had to answer the question posed to Miss Utah: "A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men.  What does this say about society?"  I suppose my first response would be to say that society doesn't understand that those have nothing to do with each other, and most of society doesn't understand research and statistics, either.

Here's Miss Utah's response:

Yeah, "create education better" isn't the most eloquent phrase ever, but she got a dumb question to begin with.  I say we give her a little more slack than people seem to be doing.