Intriguing Theory on the Pay Gap

I’ve heard a number of solid hypotheses to explain the gendered pay gap: unpaid care work,[1][2] the motherhood penalty,[3] or just straight-up discrimination.[4] This one is new to me, though.

Sexual harassment is well documented across many fields but women who work in men-dominated occupations and industries experience higher rates (Fitzgerald et al. 1997; Gruber 1998; McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2012). The likelihood of harassment also increases with exposure to a wider range of employees (Chamberlain et al. 2008; De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999), and is higher among single women (De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999; Rosenberg, Perlstadt, and Phillips 1993), highly educated women (De Coster, Estes, and Mueller 1999), and women in positions of authority (Chamberlain et al. 2008; McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2012). Because sexual harassment forces some women out of jobs, it likely influences their career attainment (Blackstone, Uggen, and McLaughlin 2009; Lopez, Hodson, and Roscigno 2009). Numerous studies link voluntary and involuntary career interruptions to significant earnings losses (Brand 2015; Couch and Placzek 2010; Theunissen et al. 2011).[5]

I hope you see where they’re going with this. Sexual harassment causes women to switch jobs or leave the workforce, but pay is usually linked to how long you’ve stayed in your job. Professions where women dominate have less of a sexual harassment problem, but are also viewed as “feminized” and thus worth less.[6] Even within a profession approaching gender parity, like lawyers in the UK, women can be marginalized.

However, optimistic prognoses of gender emancipation are somewhat challenged when considering that the mass entry of women to this profession has been characterized by patterns of vertical stratification and horizontal segmentation (Hagan and Kay, 1995; Sommerlad, 2002; Stake et al., 2007). Women solicitors are more likely to be in subordinate salaried positions, to work part–time, to practise in less prestigious and remunerative firms and legal specialisms and, more generally, to attract lesser terms and conditions. There is a clear pattern of vertical stratification whereby a growing cohort of predominantly female subordinates are confined to ‘a (frequently transient) proletarian role’ (Sommerlad, 2002: 217) and deployed to support the earnings and privileges of a relatively prosperous and autonomous elite of predominately male partners. Women, despite representing a growing majority of salaried solicitors (over 55 per cent of associate and assistant solicitors) and new entries to the profession, still constitute less than a quarter (23.2 per cent) of partners and the average female solicitor enjoys markedly less than half the chances of a male colleague to progress to partnership (17.6 per cent of women solicitors are partners against 39.5 per cent of their male peers) (SRU, 2006c).[7]

So if women switch to a career where they’re less likely to face harassment, or even start off there, they’re paid less than men for the same amount of work. It’s a brilliant theory, and that paper does find evidence in support of it.

In bivariate analyses, women who experienced unwanted touching or multiple harassing behaviors in 2003 reported significantly greater financial stress in 2005 (t = –2.664, p ≤ .01). Some of this strain may be due to career disruption, as harassment targets were especially likely to change jobs. As shown in Figure 1, 79 percent of targets as compared to 54 percent of other working women started a new primary job in either 2004 or 2005 (χ2 = 9.53, p ≤ .01). […]
In Model 2 of Table 2, we test whether the increased financial stress reported by harassment targets can be attributed to their greater likelihood of changing jobs. Analyzing consecutive waves of YDS data, we can establish clear temporal order between sexual harassment (2003), job change (2004–2005), and financial stress (2005). In addition to having a strong direct effect on financial stress (β = .582, p ≤ .01), job change reduces the effect of harassment below standard significance levels. Following Baron and Kenny (1986), we calculate that 35 percent of the total effect of sexual harassment on financial stress is mediated through job change (…). Targets of sexual harassment were 6.5 times as likely as nontargets to change jobs in 2004–2005, net of the other variables in our model (…).[5]

They caution that their data source is from a single cohort, thus it may not generalize, but I think the theoretical axioms are strong enough that it probably will. A similar effect could be happening with non-binary and transgender/transsexual people, too.

It’s also worth underlining that it’s foolish to think the gendered pay gap has one and only one cause; an economy with millions or even billions of actors is a highly complex system, so it’s unlikely to have simple explanations for patterns on that scale. A combination of the above factors is likely driving the gendered pay gap, and we’ll need complex solutions to solve it.

[1] Ferrant, Gaëlle, Luca Maria Pesando, and Keiko Nowacka. Unpaid Care Work: The Missing Link in the Analysis of Gender Gaps in Labour Outcomes. OECD Development Centre Issues Paper, 2014.

[2] Budlender, Debbie. The Statistical Evidence on Care and Non-Care Work across Six Countries. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Geneva, 2008.

[3] Benard, Stephen, and Shelley J. Correll. “Normative Discrimination and the Motherhood Penalty.” Gender & Society 24, no. 5 (2010): 616–646.

[4] Murphy, Emily, and Daniel Oesch. “The Feminization of Occupations and Change in Wages: A Panel Analysis of Britain, Germany and Switzerland,” 2015.

[5] McLaughlin, Heather, Christopher Uggen, and Amy Blackstone. “The Economic and Career Effects of Sexual Harassment on Working Women.” Gender & Society 31, no. 3 (2017): 333–358.

[6] England, Paula, Michelle Budig, and Nancy Folbre. “Wages of Virtue: The Relative Pay of Care Work,” 2001.

[7] Sharon Bolton, and Daniel Muzio. “The Paradoxical Processes of Feminization in the Professions: The Case of Established, Aspiring and Semi-Professions.” Work, Employment and Society 22, no. 2 (June 1, 2008): 281–99.

The Spectre of Future Meltdowns

I’ve created and deleted drafts on this topic all weekend. All the metaphors I’ve tried to come up with are pretty inaccurate, or don’t add anything that others haven’t already said. So I’ll just do this the boring way.

Don’t let the cute logos fool you, both Spectre and Meltdown are about as serious as you can get in computer security. Both take advantage of the design of many high-end CPUs. In order to squeeze out as much efficiency as possible, nearly all CPUs from Intel allow the processor to reorder the instructions it executes and make guesses about certain values. Unfortunately, when the CPU is jumping ahead it relaxes some of its normal security checks; fortunately, if those guesses are wrong it undoes any changes and executes the right code. On the surface, that prevents any security issues.

But there are still fingerprints of what was executed left behind, hidden in places a programmer can’t directly access but which nonetheless have subtle effects on the behavior of the processor. A clever programmer can combine brute-force checking with probability to guess at the contents of what the processor executed then erased, allowing them to wiggle past security checks. The result is devastating, as it can reveal sensitive data like passwords or worse. These attacks also take place at the hardware level, which makes them incredibly difficult to fix; at one point, US-CERT’s primary recommendation was to replace your CPU, roughly equivalent to replacing a car’s engine. Ouch! Bruce Schneier has weighed in, which saves me from being doom-and-gloom for once.

The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years. […]

It shouldn’t be surprising that microprocessor designers have been building insecure hardware for 20 years. What’s surprising is that it took 20 years to discover it. In their rush to make computers faster, they weren’t thinking about security. They didn’t have the expertise to find these vulnerabilities. And those who did were too busy finding normal software vulnerabilities to examine microprocessors. Security researchers are starting to look more closely at these systems, so expect to hear about more vulnerabilities along these lines.

Spectre and Meltdown are pretty catastrophic vulnerabilities, but they only affect the confidentiality of data. Now that they — and the research into the Intel ME vulnerability — have shown researchers where to look, more is coming — and what they’ll find will be worse than either Spectre or Meltdown. There will be vulnerabilities that will allow attackers to manipulate or delete data across processes, potentially fatal in the computers controlling our cars or implanted medical devices. These will be similarly impossible to fix, and the only strategy will be to throw our devices away and buy new ones.

I got lucky. When I ran the Spectre demo code on my home computer, nothing happened; while many AMD CPUs are effected, they fare better than Intel’s. ARM CPUs, like those on your phone, are somewhere in between. Having said that, Schneier’s right: these bugs are a big deal, and are guaranteed to spur the development of nastier ones.

If you’d like info on both these bugs, Computerphile has a great semi-technical explanation and Jann Horn a super-technical one.

Kremlin Watch: Papadopoulos, Fusion GPS, and Fake Americans

The Last Jedi was excellent. My scribbled notes may turn into a blog post at some point, but until then I need another pick-me-up. And what better cheer is there than foreign governments messing with US politics, amirite?

Return Of The FBI

It looks like we’ve got our answer to why the FBI was looking into Trump, and it involves booze and Australians.

During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign. […]

The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.

Bravo on this one, New York Times. It also swats down the “coffee boy” line about Papadopoulos.

He was hardly central to the daily running of the Trump campaign, yet Mr. Papadopoulos continuously found ways to make himself useful to senior Trump advisers. In September 2016, with the United Nations General Assembly approaching and stories circulating that Mrs. Clinton was going to meet with Mr. Sisi, the Egyptian president, Mr. Papadopoulos sent a message to Stephen K. Bannon, the campaign’s chief executive, offering to broker a similar meeting for Mr. Trump.

After days of scheduling discussions, the meeting was set and Mr. Papadopoulos sent a list of talking points to Mr. Bannon, according to people familiar with those interactions. Asked about his contacts with Mr. Papadopoulos, Mr. Bannon declined to comment.

There’s also proposals to write “neutral” opinion pieces in favour of Trump, taking advantage of his access. Well worth the read.

Fusion GPS Strikes Back

The news about Papadopoulos also undercuts a Republican talking point: Fusion GPS’s “pee tape” dossier kicked off the FBI investigation, and since that was paid for by Democrats the FBI is now tainted with Democrat cooties. Or something like that, the argument’s never made much sense to me. Whatever the case, two of the people behind Fusion GPS are pushing back.

We walked investigators through our yearlong effort to decipher Mr. Trump’s complex business past, of which the Steele dossier is but one chapter. And we handed over our relevant bank records — while drawing the line at a fishing expedition for the records of companies we work for that have nothing to do with the Trump case.

Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right. It’s time to share what our company told investigators.

We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.

The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the president continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.

As if that wasn’t eyebrow raising enough, Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch tease some of that testimony.

We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals don’t seem to interest Congress.

There’s more, but you’ll have to click through for that.

Attack Of The Cloned Americans

On top of all that, Russia shows up in an unexpected place. The FCC, like a number of departments in the US government, request public input on big policy changes. The number of comments coming in about Net Neutrality broke records, and for poor reason.

A study has found more than 7.75 million comments were submitted from email domains attributed to, and they had nearly identical wording. The FCC says some of the nearly 23 million comments on Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to gut Obama-era rules were filed under the same name more than 90 times each.

And then there were the 444,938 from Russian email addresses, which also raised eyebrows, even though it’s unclear if they were from actual Russian citizens or computer bots originating in the U.S. or elsewhere.

The oddities in the FCC’s inbox have attracted scrutiny from New York’s attorney general and from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which has opened a probe. […. New York Attorney General Eric] Schneiderman said the FCC had not cooperated with his investigation.

Rachael Maddow, my source for this story and inspiration for this blog post, goes into detail about those shenanigans and similar ones afoot. It’s worth pointing out that this one may have nothing to do with the Kremlin; automated bots are common enough that their mere existence says little about their origins, and while the Russian emails are weird there were also a tonne from Germany. Still, it does fit in with Kremlin tactics.

The point of this new propaganda is not to persuade anyone, but to keep the viewer hooked and distracted—to disrupt Western narratives rather than provide a counternarrative. It is the perfect genre for conspiracy theories, which are all over Russian TV. When the Kremlin and its affiliated media outlets spat out outlandish stories about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July—reports that characterized the crash as everything from an assault by Ukrainian fighter jets following U.S. instructions, to an attempted NATO attack on Putin’s private jet—they were trying not so much to convince viewers of any one version of events, but rather to leave them confused, paranoid, and passive—living in a Kremlin-controlled virtual reality that can no longer be mediated or debated by any appeal to ‘truth.’

Their goal is to get “the West” to stop believing in democracy, and the day we stop believing democracy can work is the day we lose it.