The Gender Pay Gap Myth Myth Myth Myth Myth Myth Myth…etc.

Female question mark

I’ve recently had a couple of discussions about this and I realised I didn’t really know the answer. It’s back in the news since the BBC recently announced only two of their 10 highest paid celebrities were women. Journalists at the Financial Times have threatened a strike over gender disparities in pay. And famously, Barack Obama said in his 2014 State Of The Union address that “the average full-time working woman earns just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns”.

As ever with statistics, a slew of people from economists, fact checkers, mens’ rights activists and even feminists called Obama out for being misleading. Their objection? Women are paid less because they do less well-paid jobs.

Essentially, if you have ten women, one of whom is a CEO on (£100 000 a year) and 9 of whom are cleaners (on £10 000 a year), the median annual income is £10 000 a year (NB: median not mean). If you have ten men, 6 of whom are CEOs and 4 of whom are cleaners, the median is £100 000. On these statistics, the gender pay gap is either 90% (meaning women earn 10 pence for every pound a man earns) or zero (within each job, men and women are paid equally).

So which is it?

Well, both and neither. The unadjusted statistic is the one generally used. If you walk away with the notion that two doctors, two managers, two veterinarians, two bin collectors or two television presenters would have significantly different earnings because one is a woman and one a man, that statistic alone doesn’t back that up.

So surely it is misleading?

Harvard prof. takes down gender wage gap myth” screams a Washington Examiner headline whilst a New York Times headline claims “Pay Gap Is Because of Gender, Not Jobs“. Hilariously, they both quote the same woman – Claudia Goldin, professor of economics at Harvard. She speaks for herself in this Freakonomics podcast and in her article How to Achieve Gender Equality.

Goldin argues it’s that women choose jobs with “temporal flexibility”. When one looks at industries such as medicine, finance and law where a high value is placed on working long hours, women earn significantly less than men. The case study she uses of pharmacy, where the industry has introduced more flexible working, sees barely any pay disparity at all.

She identifies four factors: women, men, children and organisations. Her argument is that increasing flexibility which solves the organisational problem will have the biggest effect. CEO of New America Anne-Marie Slaughter argues the problem is a masculinity dictating women should be primary caregivers. Susan Chira in NY Times goes further arguing masculinity prevents men from taking typically “female” jobs.

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, though controversial (I think wrongly so), argues that women themselves could do much to change their fate. And Goldin also makes the point that childcare is a cost not limited to the early years but right the way through school. I could go on.

The Gender Pay Gap isn’t a myth; it’s just not the problem one might think

My point is that often this debate boils down to whether or not employers are, all things considered, picking men over equally qualified women because they’re sexist. Some argue that they are; others argue it’s a myth. Lots of unproductive shouting ensues. Policy doesn’t change.

How much of the gender pay gap is down to discrimination is difficult to quantify. This oft-cited study by Corrine Moss-Racusin et al shows prospective employers would rate a laboratory manager more highly on the basis of their CV if they had a male-sounding name rather than a female-sounding one.

But so much of the gender pay cap is caused by other factors: why are women still the primary caregivers when evidence is scant they’re either more competent or willing? Why don’t women ask for pay rises? Why don’t men want to become nurses?

Until those questions are answered and the resulting problems solved, the gender pay gap, even unadjusted, is still a useful marker of sexism in the workplace.


Lib Dems vote to end religious selection in school admissions


  • Faith schools select on the basis of riches, not religion
  • They may discriminate against South Asians
  • Religious parents can send their kids to any school, non-religious parents can only send their kids to non-religious schools – this gives religious parents more choice and is illiberal
  • Most people oppose or don’t care about faith schools – it’s not clear how this will affect the Liberal Democrat vote


In case you didn’t believe me (you should – I was there), here’s the British Humanist Association (BHA) reporting on this. Liberal Democrat party policy is voted on by its members. Earlier today on the last day of our Spring Conference, we voted to:

“[ensure] that selection in admissions on the basis of religion or belief to state-funded schools is phased out over up to six years.

It was all a bit complicated but there were three options. Option A – see above; option B – allow religious selection but don’t hurt the poor or be racist; option C – option B but for 50% of admissions (aka option B-lite). (A gross oversimplification but it’ll do for now.)

Faith schools hurt the poor

Often this debate centres around whether children of different faiths and none should mix. Whilst important, my greater concern is that faith schools de facto select for richer children.

The Fair Admissions Campaign demonstrates this. The proportion of children at a school eligible for free school meals (FSM) is a proxy for affluence. More FSM-eligible kids means poorer pupils.

When compared to the local area, non-religious schools have 5% more FSM-eligible pupils than would be expected. Schools with 100% religious selection vary between 27.59-63.39% fewer FSM-eligible kids than expected given the make-up of their local area – pupils at faith schools have richer parents.

South Asians

On a side-note, the Accord Coalition looked at 4 religious schools and their proportions of South Asian pupils compared to the local areas. Most striking was Bury CofE: in an area with 1 in 5 South Asians, the school had none. It’s not definitive evidence but is concerning if people who are poor and look like me are discriminated against. More so, in a party which is too white and too middle-class.

Benevolent intention

Whilst there are exceptions, most faith schools are not doing this on purpose. They however have an issue – how do you tell if somebody’s religious?  Using the amount of donations is unethical (though it doesn’t stop some). So the next best thing is attendance at religious services.

If you are middle-class, it is easier for you to attend a religious service than if you are poor. A poor single mother may not have the option of turning to down a Sunday morning shift that a two-parent well-to-do family can. With any barrier to selection, richer and educated parents are better-equipped jumping through hoops.

With the best will in the world, even if it was the right thing to do, religious selection is impossible. A religious poor person without the time to attend church loses out to the rich person who knows how to fake it, and does so to get their child into the better-performing local faith school.

The bottom line: faith schools de facto select on how rich your parents are.

The false dichotomy of choice

This has been very difficult for many proponents of faith schools in the Liberal Democrats. For them, the ability to educate their child in a religion of their choosing was fundamental. Why should government impose a secular education on children against parents’ wishes?

Firstly, taking into account all of the above, it’s not clear poor religious parents have the same access to this choice as rich ones. Even if this weren’t true, the claim mischaracterises the debate.

If you are religious, you can send your child to religious or non-religious schools. If you are not religious, you can only send your child to non-religious schools. Children of non-religious parents have fewer choices than religious parents.

That one set of children has more choices because of their parents’ religion is illiberal.

The future for the Lib Dems and faith schools

Interestingly, an amendment which would have effectively abolished faith schools was voted against. Whilst I voted for it, it is worth noting that it would be incredibly difficult to implement, let alone sell to the public. A number of rural schools for instance are paid for and run by the Church of England where no alternative schools are available. The historical set up of British education means such a change would need more thought.

Further Liberal Democrats, particularly in Remain Con-Lib marginals at council level, will fear backlash amongst religious Tories who will bring this up – how do we square this circle?

Whilst this is certainly something that needs consideration, note that 58% of adults oppose faith schools v 30% who have “no objection” to their state-funding and only 8% saying they would choose a school because of a “faith tradition” or “transmission of belief about God”.

We have to be wary that when campaigning, we aren’t listening to vocal and well-to-do faith school supporting minority when the silent majority either oppose or don’t care about faith schools.

Ken Livingstone: not a racist but an idiot and maybe a bit racist

For anybody unaware, Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the Labour party. The Guardian timeline summarises the events leading up to this.

My Facebook feed has largely turned into Livingstone-bashing with some misunderstanding why mentioning a historically accurate fact is such a big deal. Like any good debater, I can split this into three main points, primarily using West Wing quotes.


  1. “I don’t care what it is, I care what it looks like.”
  2. The ‘technically not a racist’ defence
  3. “There are only a handful of anti-Semites”

OK. I used one West Wing quote.

Shut up.

1. “I don’t care what it is, I care what it looks like.”

'SlimCity - Managing Urbanization':

No doubt, praying for leniency as the party exercise Jew process

It’s both apt and unsurprising that when I looked up the exact wording of this quote from The West Wing, it’s said by CJ Cregg, the White House press secretary.

On Thursday 28th at 0850 in an interview with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London, Livingstone said:

“When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism.”

Feltz: What do you think over the top means? Over the top of what? [in reference to Naz Shah’s Facebook posts]

Livingstone: Basically to think of anti-Semitism and racism as exactly the same thing.”

He then followed this up with an interview on The Daily Politics where he said:

“I’m being questioned in an interview I answer the question. You’ve never known me not answer a question you’ve put to me.”

We know there was an agreement between Nazi Germany and some Jewish groups called the Haavara agreement. Let’s assume Ken’s description is accurate.

Let’s also ignore the fact I had no idea that Vanessa Feltz was still a broadcaster or that she was married to the singer on the 1999 single Turn Around by Phats & Small.

This still begs the question, why mention Hitler? (Livingstone’s comments, not Phats & Small who to my knowledge have never mentioned Hitler in relation to anti-Semitism in the Labour party.)

His response – that he was asked that question. Except the question he was asked was

Feltz: She [Shah] talked about relocating Israel to America. She talked about what Hitler did being legal. And she talked about the Jews rallying. And she used the words Jews, not Israelis or Israel. You didn’t find that to be anti-Semitic?”

There are a number of Naz Shah’s comments to which Feltz refers. Livingstone specifically picks out the Hitler comment and then goes on to talk about the Haavara agreement apropros of almost nothing.

Livingstone’s defence is that what he says was true. On mentioning Hitler supported Zionists, there are two possibilites:

  1. He did not realise it would have consequences.
  2. He realised it would have consequences.

Let’s examine scenario 1.

As Livingstone has said, he has spent 47 years in politics. If after 47 years you don’t know that defending the comment ‘what Hitler did was legal’ by arguing that it was technically true on the basis that ‘He [Hitler] was supporting Zionism’ is likely to get you in trouble with Jewish voters, you must be exceedingly stupid.

That it is historically accurate is neither here nor there.

It is accurate to say “there is a higher proportion of black men who commit crime than white men”.

Let’s say somebody asks: “what do you think the main causes of crime are?”
You respond: “there is a higher proportion of black men who commit crime than white men”

It’s likely you’ll get called a racist. It’s a non sequitur and in the context implies, though doesn’t technically state outright, that the problem is black men. The accusation of racism is not unjustified and we could all get round and through a liberal amount of metaphorical rocks at you. Liberal? Liberal? D’you get it? Eh? EH?

(On historical accuracy, I’m no historian. However, I understand arguing ‘Hitler supported Zionism’ is rather like arguing the National Front used the word ‘paki’ and argued for the forced deportation of South Asians in the 1970s because the NF were advocates for Pakistani sovereignty. Hitler would have happily seen Jews deported to Birmingham – he just wanted them out of the country and did not, to the best of my knowledge, support the creation of a Jewish state.)

2. The ‘technically not a racist’ defence

Let’s look at scenario 2. Indeed let’s look at worst-case scenario 2.

Ken Livingstone is an antisemite. He believes that Jews are genuinely ‘rallying’, should stop complaining about being racially abused and doesn’t think the Holocaust is relevant any more. Let’s assume he’s that bad a man. How would that look?

Now, he knows he can’t go on the radio and the TV and say ‘I hate Jews’. Not even the most ardent Livingstone supporter would advocate that unless they too were openly anti-Semitic.

What he can do however is go on the radio and say things that are arguably defensible. So he can say “well, I was just telling the truth”. And that the Labour party have suspended the handful of members who’ve made anti-Semitic comments.

The phrase ‘dog-whistle’ has come back into vogue and would be relevant here. Unwittingly or not, Livingstone’s comments are a dog-whistle to antisemites who believe that Jews simply don’t deserve to be in Israel at all. He’s Labour so the Labour party is for them.

In form

On 24th February 2006, he was suspended from mayoral office for referring to journalist Oliver Finegold as ‘like a concentration camp guard’.

In July 2005, he was pictured embracing Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has supported Palestinian suicide bombing and wife-beating (albeit lightly).

Whilst these aren’t recent instances, one would think a politician would be extra careful when talking about anti-Semitism. It suggests a general lack of sympathy and sensitivity for those who are victims of anti-Semitism.

So he’s a racist?

I suspect not. Though he doesn’t help his cause by claiming that anti-Semitism isn’t thing same as racism.

After some discussion with friends, the two possibilities I’ve come to are either that:

  1. He is surrounded by people where suggesting that Hitler supported Zionism would not be considered a controversial thing to say.
  2. Whilst he doesn’t actively hate Jews, he believes that the problems of anti-Semitism are overstated and given the relative affluence of the Jewish community, does not see it as a significant problem

Probably a little from column A, a little from column B.

3. “There are only a handful of anti-Semites”

Does the Labour party in general have a problem with anti-Semitism?

That’s really beyond me to say. Besides Livingstone, the 3.5/4 instances of anti-Semitism I’m aware of are:

Some argue that 5 antisemites in a party of 388407 members does not a problem of anti-Semitism make. Ken Livingstone is an idiot and should be ignored. Wes StreetingJohn Mann and other MPs are merely disgruntled Blairites using the row as a stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn.

This slightly misses the point. Individuals making anti-Semitic comments do not do so in a vacuum. To normalise these sentiments even if they are the most extreme exponents of them, it’s likely (but not certain) that others around them and within the party share similar views. Racists tend not to out themselves if their friends aren’t racist too.

In the New Statesman podcast, Helen Lewis points out that there’s a problem on the left of assuming that middle-class women can’t have problems because of their affluence. That attitude, she argues, is one that also pertains to anti-Semitism.

It’s not concrete evidence and Shami Chakrabati is a good person to lead Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism inquiry. To be honest, whether Labour had a problem with anti-Semitism is now moot; it does now.

“I don’t care what it is, I care what is looks like.”

For many Jewish voters, it will feel like Labour is a party with an anti-Semitism problem. Unless there are visible signs of change, many simply won’t vote for them.

PS: here’s a video of Diane Abbott not helping.