My kinda academic

Especially since she\’s at the alma mater:

Catherine Hakim, a sociologist at the London School of Economics, said women have the freedom to make lifestyle choices about their work and private lives, and that tougher equality laws will not open any more doors for female workers.

She said the pay gap has fallen to just 10 per cent on the Government’s preferred measure and that it is a “waste of time” fretting about such a small difference.

She also warned that women who combine top executive roles with a family rarely have more than one child – and struggle to spend much time with them.

In a 12,000-word report to be published next month, Dr Hakim described new government policies to promote equality as “pointless” and based on “feminist myths”.

Anyway, so I went looking to see if I could find the report but I couldn\’t, not out yet.

But I did find some commentary on another report about said report:

She is right when she suggests that legislation is at this point very limiting: to a great extent, we have more or less all the legislation we can ask for in the issue of equal pay. There is only so far that legislating something makes it somehow more real. Except she conveniently disregards the biggest aspect of equal pay legislation that desperately needs amending.

The country with the lowest difference between how much men and women earn in Europe is Sweden. Interestingly enough, it is also one of the only European countries that provides the same amount of paid maternity as paternity leave. Men and women are not only welcome to share the childcaring duties, they are encouraged to do so by law (it is impossible for one of the partners to take it all, which is the case in other countries). The result is not only is it culturally more accepted that both partners look after the child equally, but an employer is not going to avoid hiring a woman \’of a certain age\’ in case she leaves to have children, because the man is equally likely to do so. Which in itself is a very strong argument: although we would like for businesses to be fair, realistically small businesses often cannot afford to hire a woman who is going to take full maternity leave a year after joining. Sweden\’s laws by-pass this issue.

This is, as we know, a fairly usual demand these days in the UK. That maternity leave should become, to some extent, parental leave and that this will help to reduce the effect of maternity leave on the pay gap.

Which of course it could do. It\’s long been noted that longer maternity leave contributes to a larger gender pay gap, certainly, and if this becomes parental leave then we would expect the careers and thus earnings of (some) men to be equally impacted and thus for the gender pay gap to fall.

However, the sole fact that this supposition is based upon is that Sweden has the lowest gender pay gap in Europe. Which simply isn\’t true, not even for a moment. The figures are here.

Now be careful about these numbers because they mix and match part time and full time workers (ie, they are measuring the gap in exactly the way our own ONS tells us not to) but they are at least consistent across all countries.

The Swedish pay gap is 17.1%……and a quick play with the calculator tells me that the average is in fact 16.9%. Quite how an above average gender pay gap can be taken as being the lowest in Europe I\’m not sure.

Well, actually, I am sure. It\’s one of these numbers that has simply been repeated so often that it\’s now ingrained in the conversation on the matter. And the reason it\’s been repeated so often? Well, Sweden does many of the things which we would recommend be done and thus they must have solved the problem, right? This is hardly uncommon: defenders of the NHS continually tell us that it\’s the envy of the world for it works as said defenders of the NHS would desire a health care system to work. They never actually benchmark the performance of the NHS against the health care systems of other countries: it\’s working how I want it to work, why would I sully my mind with evidence about its efficiency? (Note, they\’re very keen on benchmarking the equality of the NHS, much less so on efficiency.)

Similarly reductions in heart attacks after the smoking ban: it\’s convenient for certain people to believe that the ban reduced heart attacks so they do, whatever the evidence. On a larger scale, the Webbs, Shaws and Durantys on Russia in the 20s and 30s. Since the Soviet Union was following the policies they approved of there was no desire to find, understand or believe the evidence that the plans they approved of did not produce the outcome they desired (yes, I think they were misguided, not evil).

Now as the EU itself points out these cross country comparisons are less of a guide than we might think for there\’s all sorts of confounding factors. In Italy, for example, it\’s usual that only those married women who are in one of the professions goes out to work. So there\’s very little low skill (and thus low paid) female labour in the economy. And for both Sweden and the UK the high proportion of part time work (recall, our figures are mixing part and full time here) among married women will expand the gender pay gap.

Indeed, while I\’ve not seen it calculated, I\’d advance the proposition that we can explain much of the difference between the Swedish and UK gender pay gaps through the differences in part time work. Partly that there are more female part time workers in the UK (thus expanding said gap) and partly because, at least I think I\’m right in saying, the gap between part time wages and full time wages for both sexes in the UK is larger than that in Sweden.

But back to the main point. We see this any number of times: there\’s some number, some fact, some statistic, which is bandied about as proving this that or the other. And it\’s all too often true that the original fact, that fact which is used to bolster the argument for a particular course of action, is simply nonsense.

No, it\’s not just the left guilty of this either. Pat Buchanan points out that the US grew really fast when it had really high tariffs. And it\’s true, it did. But this does not lead to the conclusion that therefore the US should have really high tariffs in order to increase growth. For it\’s also true that the US was, at the same time that it had high tariffs, the largest free trade economy in the world purely by having free trade internally.

Or, in short, as Keynes said, when the facts change I change my mind. But if no one\’s actually looking at the facts, how can minds be changed?

7 thoughts on “My kinda academic”

  1. I’m glad you mentioned that this was a general human problem. I’ve noticed in recent years a tendency for people who’ve put forward an idea and had it comprehensively trashed to respond by talking about the scientific literature on close-mindedness, as if it only applied to their critics and never to them.

  2. Sweden does the Socialist thing and levels everyone down.

    Men more employable than Women? Answer: Make them less so until they are equally employable as Women.

    This makes the entire workforce less employable which, in my book, means it pushes down national competitiveness and therefore wealth. Of course, this can be balanced by larger numbers of workers to choose from, but then again you need all the inefficiencies of childcare to counterbalance that back in the other direction.

    Childcare can make sense for high earners, but for people on average wages, I need to be convinced it is not more heat than light.

  3. I rememer reading somewhere of a king whose court philosophers spent their time arguing why a dead fish weighed less than a live one.

    Without actually checking whether it was so.

  4. I heard her on the Today show at about 8.50 . She was up against someone from the “charity” Working Families, who she managed to trip into contradicting herself, saying of one set of government statistics she disagreed with “Well we need to be very careful, given that it is the government who put together these figures” and of another she agreed with “Well, I think we can trust these figures, they are from the government…”

  5. “This makes the entire workforce less employable”

    To which Swedish industry responded by automation, eliminating jobs wherever possible (jobs being a cost, of course).

  6. “Similarly reductions in heart attacks after the smoking ban: it’s convenient for certain people to believe that the ban reduced heart attacks so they do, whatever the evidence.” This seems to me to be a rather bad example; there is in fact very considerable evidence from research in a number of countries that smoking bans are associated with a decline in the incidence of heart attacks. (For an overview see, for example, the 2009 report by the US Institute of Medicine.) Though not exactly endorsed by the tobacco companies, the evidence is not disputed by them. So who exactly is “refusing to sully their minds with the evidence” in this instance?

    Tim adds: Try this:

    http://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/2010/12/hows-that-scottish-heart-miracle-going.html

    Evidence, eh?

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