Home > Uncategorized > Uber and the gender pay gap

Uber and the gender pay gap

from Lars Syll

uberUber has conducted a study of internal pay differentials between men and women, which they describe as “gender blind” … The study found a 7% pay gap in favor of men. They present their findings as proof that there are issues unrelated to gender that impact driver pay. They quantify the reasons for the gap as follows:

Where: 20% is due to where people choose to drive (routes/neighborhoods).

Experience: 30% is due to experience …

Speed: 50% was due to speed, they claim that men drive slightly faster, so complete more trips per hour …

The company’s reputation has been affected by its sexist and unprofessional corporate culture, and its continued lack of gender balance won’t help. Nor, I suspect, will its insistence, with research conducted by its own staff to prove it, that the pay gap is fair. This simply adds insult to obnoxiousness.

But then, why would we have expected any different? The Uber case study’s conclusions may actually be almost the opposite of what they were trying to prove. Rather than showing that the pay gap is a natural consequence of our gendered differences, they have actually shown that systems designed to insistently ignore differences tend to become normed to the preferences of those who create them.

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox

Spending a couple of hours going through a JEL survey of modern research on the gender wage gap, yours truly was struck almost immediately by how little that research really has accomplished in terms of explaining gender wage discrimination. With all the heavy regression and econometric alchemy used, wage discrimination is somehow more or less conjured away …

Trying to reduce the risk of having established only ‘spurious relations’ when dealing with observational data, statisticians and econometricians standardly add control variables. The hope is that one thereby will be able to make more reliable causal inferences. But if you do not manage to get hold of all potential confounding factors, the model risks producing estimates of the variable of interest that are even worse than models without any control variables at all. Conclusion: think twice before you simply include ‘control variables’ in your models!

That women are working in different areas than men, and have other educations than men, etc., etc., are not only the result of ‘free choices’ causing a gender wage gap, but actually to a large degree itself the consequence of discrimination.

The gender pay gap is a fact that, sad to say, to a non-negligible extent is the result of discrimination. And even though many women are not deliberately discriminated against, but rather ‘self-select’ (sic!) into lower-wage jobs, this in no way magically explains away the discrimination gap. As decades of socialization research has shown, women may be ‘structural’ victims of impersonal social mechanisms that in different ways aggrieve them.

  1. Jeff
    December 9, 2019 at 3:08 am

    “That women are working in different areas than men, and have other educations than men, etc., etc., are not only the result of ‘free choices’ causing a gender wage gap, but actually to a large degree itself the consequence of discrimination.”

    You lost me here. From the original report:

    “Where: 20% is due to where people choose to drive (routes/neighborhoods).

    Experience: 30% is due to experience …

    Speed: 50% was due to speed, they claim that men drive slightly faster, so complete more trips per hour …”

    If women drive in less profitable areas, have higher turn-around times, take slower routes, and drive slower, then who is doing the discrimination and what should be changed?

    • December 9, 2019 at 12:07 pm

      My remark on the discrimination was a general remark and NOT specifically about the Uber study.

  2. Patrick Newman
    December 9, 2019 at 11:20 am

    The real discrimination here is through the Uber system of the workers who feed its revenue streams with income well out of proportion to any uniqueness of the software.

  3. December 9, 2019 at 11:58 am

    Agreed the econometrics literature is telling us little. A fruitful avenue of research is data internal to organisations. There is some work in public sector organisations which I’m slowly getting through at the moment showing that the gender pay gap is mostly a gender promotions gap. Most studies show that the probability of being promoted favours men, but that there is little difference in the probability of being promoted, conditioned on applying for a position. That is, women are promoted less as they don’t apply, in large part due to work-life balance issues/ the burden of care. A recent ECB study here, shows after diversity policies were introduced men and women are now equally likely of being promoted, but Prob of women getting promoted after applying is significantly higher than for men. https://www.ecb.europa.eu/pub/pdf/scpwps/ecb.wp2265~ad73fb9a6b.en.pdf
    Irish academia review into gender equality in higher ed shows shows same prob of being promoted, conditional on applying. See pages 73-75: https://www.education.ie/en/Publications/Policy-Reports/gender-action-plan-2018-2020.pdf

    Not sure whether this carries over into private sector organisations. Experimental evidence for elite law firms shows that with identical cvs, with gender changed, women are less likely to be called to an interview. Follow up questions of partners showed women are a higher ‘flight risk’ – maternity leave etc – in a sector where hours are notoriously long. https://hbr.org/2016/12/research-how-subtle-class-cues-can-backfire-on-your-resume

    Though classic discrimination of course happens, I would say the issues are more institutional, rather than interpersonal. Media (and many academics) focuses on interpersonal discrimination as it’s much more consistent with neoliberalism, than, say, a radical upheaval of the workplace.

  4. Meta Capitalism
    December 9, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    Uber has no traction in Japan.

  5. Ken Zimmerman
    December 16, 2019 at 12:47 pm

    Gender is a cultural construction. In other words, it is created as part of the construction of a way of life for a specific society (politically and geographically bounded). But that does not mean, as some opposed to constructionism contend that it has no impact on peoples’ lives in the sense of being unreal or lacking substance. In fact, it, like all cultural constructs was invented for the purpose of providing a guide (stronger or weaker depending on the society) for peoples’ lives. In the case of gender, a guide for reproductive activities, play, social interaction, work, and of course dress and appearance. As statistics have borne out for the US and most other western nations gender is important for one’s work choices, pay, promotions, and overall social and political power. While one can oppose and work to change gender guidelines, one cannot avoid them by pretending they do not exist. But there are many examples of deliberate gender falsification in history. For example, over the last 25 years historians have revealed and written about hundreds of cases of women enlisting as men in both armies during the Civil War. Mostly serving out their full enlistment without being discovered. But in most circumstances, one is stuck with the gender role assigned to them.

    It’s difficult to provide single answers that “explain” the differences in gender roles across the western world, much less the entire world. Part of the problem is that gender arrangements tend to be dichotomous and hierarchical. Both are historical accidents going back to biological differences between the genders that could not be overcome with technology or social arrangements in earlier human societies. Males tend to hold the higher position because they were able to leave home to seek power and wealth while women were forced to care for children. Some anthropologists conjecture that envy is part of why men oppress women. In many early human communities women were dominant because it was they and they alone who could provide children for the community. Along about 15,000 years ago, its hypothesized men created mythologies (males stronger, females weaker, females could not defend the community, female brains underdeveloped) that supplanted women’s control. These are now solidly built into most societies in the world. Except what’s left of hunter-gatherer societies where about half are matriarchies. Some western nations (e.g., France, Germany) are also experimenting with the use of three or more rather than two genders to cure some of the discrimination. Other areas of focus today with gender discrimination are roles in marriage, division of labor in child rearing and household chores, and removing any inequalities of genders in the law.

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