David Green

What should we make of the ethnic ‘pay gap’?

A protester at an equal pay demo (Getty images)

If one group earns more and enjoys better workplace success than another, does that mean the less successful group is being discriminated against? There might be individual examples of discrimination but I’m not convinced this is proof of institutional discrimination.

Take career success: the underlying assumption is that a given ethnic group will have all the qualities that make for success in occupations such as medicine, law, the civil service, and more. If we focus on one narrow criterion, university attendance, then in the absence of discrimination we should expect an equal proportion of whites and non-whites to go to university. Universities whose racial composition is not equal find themselves accused of institutional racism, structural racism and even racism pure and simple.

Thomas Sowell, a black American economist, has done more than anyone to show the flaws in this type of reasoning. Here are two striking examples from the many that he offers. He looks at the success of people who scored in the top one per cent in IQ tests, and he studies the achievements of first-born children compared with their later siblings. These results have been in the public domain for decades but are nonetheless disregarded by many campaigners.

Most people would predict that having an exceptionally high IQ would lead to occupational success. And yet a famous study by professor Terman of Stanford University, found that outcomes were extremely varied. His team followed a group of 730 American men who scored 140 or more in IQ tests and their life outcomes when they were aged 25 or more were examined in 1940.

Scoring in the top one per cent in intelligence tests would lead most people to expect that this group would all go to university and do well in their chosen career.

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