Jordan Peterson on Gender Pay Gap

Jordan Peterson has had several viral clips of him discussing the gender pay or lack thereof. A couple of them, which we’ll discuss, may well seem to be contradictory while others, have some degree of speculation and opinion that are ferociously debated within the confines of academia. We’ll attempt to unpack his arguments about the gender pay gap, and the literature surrounding the gender pay gap all while attempting to keep a certain level of objectivity. We have no responsibility or desire to be an apologist for Jordan Peterson on any issue. However that does not mean we need unnecessarily vilify him. We’ll get to all of that but first, the gender pay gap in his own words.


Causal Role in Gender Pay Gap

Two arguments that Jordan puts on the table to explain the gender pay gap are as follows:

Women are more attracted to jobs that generally pay less than jobs that attract men (teachers vs engineers).

Women are generally more agreeable than men and therefore do not negotiate as aggressively, leading to lower paying wages for similar jobs.   

These arguments, in conjunction with the line about multi-variate analyses have shown the pay gap doesn’t exist, are seemingly contradictory, at least on the surface. If women do not try to negotiate for better pay aggressively, and are therefore not getting the pay they “deserve” then a gender pay gap exists. This would seem to refute his line that the multi-variate analyses have been clear in showing that the gender pay gap does not exist. However, that’s not exactly what he said and, as he never tires of telling us, he’s very (x3) careful with his words. Nevertheless, we’ll spend a disproportionate amount of this article will explain this single line: 

“I didn’t say the gender pay gap doesn’t exist. I said it doesn’t exist because of gender.”

Now he’s making both a statistical and conceptual point that might sound circular but it’s fundamental to understanding most social science claims. Essentially he is saying that if you took the average amount made by men and compared it to women, there would be a difference. However that doesn’t mean that the pay gap exists because of gender. By analogy, let’s say that  if you summed the average I.Q. score of Black Americans, it is lower (on average) than the average tested I.Q. of Asians. However that doesn’t mean that the average I.Q. of African Americans is lower because of skin color. In fact, if there’s one thing in the controversial intelligence debate we can rule out, it’s that the genes that give rise to skin color do not give rise to intelligence.

The Role of Agreeableness in the Gender Pay Gap

As a personality psychologist, Jordan Peterson is up on the literature surrounding The Big Five personality traits and his instantaneous command of the statistical distribution of agreeableness is, at the very least, very impressive. See below for a distribution chart comparing agreeableness scores of men compared to women.

Now it may seem small but the main thrust of Jordan’s argument is that part of what can explain the pay gap is that women are just high enough on agreeableness so that makes them less likely to negotiate agressively for higher pay. The fairly influential paper that established this was by Claudia Goldin and her cleverly titled paperOrchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians. 

In the paper, the researchers found that the best orchestras are those that are conducted with blind auditions. The beauty of the study is that many of the orchestra’s in the study either did not always utilize blind auditions in the past or were just transitioning to blind auditions. This allowed for many socioligical variables to be kept consistent. The researchers found that the number of people just showing up to the audition skyrocketed when switching to blind auditions. This shows that it’s not just agreeableness but also shyness that may be playing a role in the gender pay gap. 

**As always, should we become aware that Jordan has changed (or added to) his opinion or should new evidence be submitted that we have either misconstrued his opinion or failed to include important statements from him, we will 1) make the correction, 2) note the correction here, 3) issue a mea culpa that attempts to explain and improve on how we missed this. 

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