Economic Astronomy: Gender Gaps in Lifetime Earnings

There are two recent studies of gender disparities in science and technology (referred to by the faintly awful acronym “STEM”) getting a lot of play over the last few days. As is often the case with social-science results, the data they have aren’t quite the data you would really like to have, and I think it’s worth poking at them a little, not to deny the validity of the results, but to point out the inherent limitations of the process.

The first is a study of lifetime earnings in various fields that includes this graph showing that women with a Ph.D. earn about the same amount as men with a BA:

i-0c230c85999f45d40200d9badf8b18f6-lifetime_earnings.png

That’s pretty damning. But also a little deceptive, because this is a plot of “lifetime earnings,” which means that they are necessarily doing a social-science analogue of astronomy to make this graph.

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