Women workers taken for a loop or four
Aug 26, 2019
I was drawn to the following chart in Business Insider because of the calendar metaphor. (The accompanying article is here.)
Sometimes, the calendar helps readers grasp concepts faster but I'm afraid the usage here slows us down.
The underlying data consist of just four numbers: the wage gaps between race and gender in the U.S., considered simply from an aggregate median personal income perspective. The analyst adopts the median annual salary of a white male worker as a baseline. Then, s/he imputes the number of extra days that others must work to attain the same level of income. For example, the median Asian female worker must work 64 extra days (at her daily salary level) to match the white guy's annual pay. Meanwhile, Hispanic female workers must work 324 days extra.
There are a host of reasons why the calendar metaphor backfired.
Firstly, it draws attention to an uncomfortable detail of the analysis - which papers over the fact that weekends or public holidays are counted as workdays. The coloring of the boxes compounds this issue. (And the designer also got confused and slipped up when applying the purple color for Hispanic women.)
Secondly, the calendar focuses on Year 2 while Year 1 lurks in the background - white men have to work to get that income (roughly $46,000 in 2017 according to the Census Bureau).
Thirdly, the calendar view exposes another sore point around the underlying analysis. In reality, the white male workers are continuing to earn wages during Year 2.
The realism of the calendar clashes with the hypothetical nature of the analysis.
One can just use a bar chart, comparing the number of extra days needed. The calendar design can be considered a set of overlapping bars, wrapped around the shape of a calendar.
The staid bars do not bring to life the extra toil - the message is that these women have to work harder to get the same amount of pay. This led me to a different metaphor - the white men got to the destination in a straight line but the women must go around loops (extra days) before reaching the same endpoint.
While the above is a rough sketch, I made sure that the total length of the lines including the loops roughly matches the total number of days the women needed to work to earn $46,000.
The above discussion focuses solely on the V(isual) corner of the Trifecta Checkup, but this data visualization is also interesting from the D(ata) perspective. Statisticians won't like such a simple analysis that ignores, among other things, the different mix of jobs and industries underlying these aggregate pay figures.
Now go to my other post on the sister (book) blog for a discussion of the underlying analysis.
I guess if you wanted to stick with the calendar metaphor, you could have taken the lowest paid segment (Hispanic women) and shown them working a full year. You could then show the higher paid segments working for only part of a year to earn the same wage. E.g. white males would only need to work 166 days of the year (and have the rest of the year off) to earn the same wage. Still doesn't get over some of the other concerns though.
Posted by: Steve MacKenzie | Aug 28, 2019 at 06:09 AM
I agree that this calendar view makes it a little difficult to take in.
I don't see the 'loop' concept as particularly clarifying.
This seems like another case where a simple bar chart would show the necessary comparison.
I have struggled to find a version of this that I made years ago (without success). I believe my main improvement that still used a calendar, but laid out horizontally, with one "bar" for each group, which made it essentially a unit bar chart.
Not sure how good that really was, but it was better than the original anyway.
Posted by: Jamie Briggs | Aug 28, 2019 at 02:33 PM
I read through the article posted on Business Insider and was amazed that they still publish intellectually dishonest articles like that. They compared entire populations of people without controlling for the type of work each person does and their personal interests, though they did mention time in the workforce just a little bit. They are comparing apples to oranges to pears to grapes to bananas. To compare apples to apples they would need to look at specific jobs, education level attained, place of education, time in the job/workforce, etc. They would need to compare people who have the same education level attained, working in the same part of the country, who graduated from the same schools with the same grades, who have worked at the same jobs in the same companies for the exact same amount of time.
Say we have two people, a European male and an Asian female, who have the exact same background I mentioned above. I bet they make the same amount of money.
Now let's compare a much older European male with a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT who has been in the workforce for 40+ years with a young 18 year old Honduran girl whose family brought her to the USA when she was 6 years old and she didn't graduate high school because she/her family didn't think it was important to get an education who works as a maid or waitress or something because that's all she is qualified to do. You can't really honestly compare these two people.
Now compare a male and female who are both European, 28 years old, and live/work in the same part of the country. The male didn't want to go to college, but wanted to be and electrician, went through an apprenticeship in four years and has been a fully licensed journeyman for six years and has paid off all the cost of his apprenticeship already, he fell in love and got married and had a baby and took a few weeks off around the birth of his baby but had to get back to work to pay for his new bundle of joy. The female went to college because she wanted to be in early childcare development, she actually graduated in four years and has been working as a kindergarten teacher for four years and is still trying to pay off her exorbitant student debt and she fell in love and got married and had a baby and took time off for a couple years to raise her baby. You can't honestly compare these two people.
Different interests and life choices make all the difference in the world.
Posted by: Kris Neuhalfen | Sep 08, 2019 at 09:55 PM