Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Measuring success

I’ve read a couple of blogs lately that are commenting on various outcome indicators for various large groups of people. I think a lot of things are actually getting conflated in these blogs. Because of the time necessary to to a properly through look at something like this I want to focus in on one tiny part of what is being addressed here. I want to look at male female wage gap and the implicit assumptions behind how that is being used as a proxy for success.
by Images_of_Money
When someone makes a choose with negative economic implications it can be both natural and correct for that choose to have negative economic impacts and for the choose to still be a good and right choice. If someone has left the workforce for several years it is natural that they do not get the promotions, raises, and enriching job experience they would have if they had been working, so there is nothing wrong with them having lower earning power then those who didn’t take a break. But if that break was to take care of a child or family member then that choice is morally admirable in part because it entails a real lose. It’s OK for business to offer better salaries to motivate people to move to take a job, or work long hours, or to be constantly on call. But it is also OK for some people to choose not to take those higher salaried, more demanding jobs. And that choice can be beneficial in building communities as people stay close to family, reserve time for their home life, and stay available for commitments to friends. It’s fine for job markets to reward more highly jobs that are less intrinsically desirable. And it is fine for some people to, instead of going for jobs with high pay, go for jobs that give them a sense of helping people or doing something valuable for their community, or are simply less physically demanding or emotionally stressful.
    And that is where the problem comes in. If you present the difference between the wages of women as a group and men as a group as evidence that women are not as successful as men then you you have denied the validity of any individual woman’s choice to value something other than money. If studies show, as I think they would, that women are disproportionately more likely to make choices that trade monetary advantages for some other type of good, then the logic of a drive to close the wage gap would say that we either need to force women to make different choices or we need distort monetary rewards so they don’t reflect good business decisions. The first of these options is morally repugnant and the second destroys motivation for economic activity.

*Note, I’m not skipping the other types discrimination mentioned in the referenced posts because I think they are analogous but because I think them totally different. They would need their own detailed analysis.

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