Ministry of Silly Feminist Numbers

Commentary, Workplace, Martin Loney

Statistics Canada’s latest contribution to the gender wars was eagerly seized upon by feminists as further evidence of women’s inequality. The agency recently summarized findings from the latest Women in Canada report that shows that women with university degrees earned 30% less than men. Women with Grade 9 education earned only half the income of similarly educated men. Law professor Kathleen Lahey, one of Queen’s University’s many tenured feminists, protested on CBC Radio’s World at Six that in order to earn more than a man with Grade 9 education, women needed a post-secondary diploma.

These kinds of claims are central to arguments about labour market discrimination but while, superficially, Statistics Canada is comparing similarly qualified groups — men and women with university degrees in full-time, full-year employment — in fact the conclusion is profoundly misleading. Earnings are significantly influenced by age. Older workers, with more seniority, earn a premium. Average earnings for men 25-34 are $51,400; for those 45-54 they are $69,500. Women are a rapidly rising majority of university graduates, over 50% more likely to obtain post-secondary education than their male counterparts. Among

Solder workers with university degrees, men are a large majority, among younger workers the picture is reversed. In large measure these earnings differentials are driven not by gender but by age. Statistics Canada could have addressed this by age-standardizing earnings. This might not have met CBC’s news agenda but it would have shown little difference between earnings of contemporary male and female graduates. It would also have had the merit of depriving the grievance industry of yet another egregious comparison.

There is a long history of obfuscation in the claims of those who detect a pandemic of discrimination. This is also evident in the regular claims of race-based discrimination.

Visible minorities born in Canada outperform others born in Canada, most notably in accessing higher education, notwithstanding the supposed failings of the Euro-centric curriculum and the absence of appropriate role models in the schools. Labour market outcomes reflect the level of academic success yet Canada is burdened by a costly and intrusive preferential hiring regime, driven as in the case of gender by the meretricious use of statistics. The favoured approach is not only to ignore age differentials — visible minorities are younger — but also to discount educational and language differences, grouping together immigrants and the Canadian-born.

In Ontario the Rae government’s draconian employment-equity legislation was driven by such claims as the widely advertised report that visible minority women with a university degree earned a mere 56% of the income of similarly qualified white males. These were the infamously doubly-disadvantaged, burdened by both racial and gender discrimination. In reality, a group that was overwhelmingly younger, that included many recent immigrants, that was fluent in neither English nor French, and that lacked Canadian qualifications was being compared with older Canadian-educated degree holders. The disparity was then attributed to discrimination.

In the burgeoning fields of gender studies and social justice studies, such comparisons are the stock in trade of disciplines that, as Kathleen Lahey illustrates, are eagerly in search of the next inflammatory number. It is unfortunate that Statistics Canada should continue to prove such a generous source.

Martin Loney is the author of The Pursuit of Division: Race, Gender and Preferential Hiring in Canada, (McGillQueen’s).