January 15, 2007

The danger premium

In discussions on the wage gap (women, on average, make less than 75 cents for every dollar than men, on average, earn), one of the cards anti-feminists like to play is the `danger premium'. The idea is that, for whatever reason, women are less likely to take dangerous jobs; and because they are dangerous, these jobs pay more; hence, the wage gap can be explained by the danger premiums that men receive.

Let's grant the first premiss, and ignore the complete lack of analysis needed to reach the conclusion. Is the second premiss true? If you believe supply and demand curves model reality, then it has some intuitive force: in order to attract workers to these more dangerous jobs, you have to provide them with some incentive. On the other hand, if you're remotely familiar with reality, this is intuitively preposterous: obviously the unpleasant, dangerous work is done by the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, while the rich people have nice safe white collar jobs.

For more solid evidence, MSN (that great media critic of the socio-economic status quo) gives us this list of the eleven most life-threatening jobs: fishing workers, logging workers, aircraft pilots, iron and steel workers, refuse collectors, farmers, electrical line workers, truck drivers, `Miscellaneous agricultural workers', and construction workers. We also get fatality rates and average salary, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Take a moment to peruse the list.

Notice anything? The only category where the average salary is above $50k a year (roughly speaking, the bare minimum you need to live a comfortable middle-class life for a family of 4) are aircraft pilots and flight engineers, who are by far the most highly educated group in the list. The same goes for the other two lists in this article, of most injury-prone jobs and `Jobs That Could Make You Sick'. In fact, according to a chart produced by the Bureau in 1998 (and reproduced by Ampersand in his discussion of the danger premium as part of the wage gap series), the danger premium is not just the smallest of those investigated, but actually negative, while the corresponding knowledge premium is not just the highest of those investigated, but about three times the magnitude of the second highest. Dangerous jobs actually pay less, on average, not more. The danger premium hypothesis is not only wrong, but the exact opposite of reality.

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