The gender pay gap ūüí©

There is a hospital crisis in many places in Europe and it’s quite bad in Ireland. It’s a complicated situation. In the midst of this, one of Dublin’s major hospitals decided they won’t pay interns overtime.

Some background. Interns work anywhere between an average of 45 and 80 hours per week in my experience. I assume the hospital will pay for the on-call time (i.e. scheduled overtime), but not overtime done on regular days.

A lot of people who follow my education platform are interested in medicine. I decided to ask a question:

gender gap medicine ireland

First, it doesn’t help the doctors’ wages that people who want to do medicine are ok with working for free.

More interestingly, I found that there was a big divide between men and women. There is an all out war at the moment on whether this gap is at least in part explained by the choices that women make (e.g. 1 vs 2).

In the sample, there were 241 women and 57 men. The sex of 7 voters was unknown.

Of the men who voted, 82.4% said no. Of the women, 69.7% said no.

Surely this is contributing to the gender pay gap?

Of the yes voters, 12.0% were male. Of the no voters, 21.9% were male.

gender pay gap in irish hospitals
The chi-square statistic is 3.7272. The p-value is .053534. This result is not significant at p < .05.

Why? Some theories. The ones that are highlighted are the ones I feel are more plausible.

  1. Women are more likely to agree to work for free
  2. Women value altruism more than men do (conflicting evidence on this, e.g. 1 vs 2 vs 3)
  3. Women value prestige more than men do (rebuttal: I think men tend to engage in costly signalling more than women)
  4. Women don’t have the foresight to understand what it is like to not get paid for work (rebuttal: I think this is subsumed by reason 6)
  5. Men perceive that they are valued by society based on their ability to earn, not based on their job title (rebuttal: men chase after medals and value the concept of fighting for their country. There is no major monetary reward for that. Similar to number 3)
  6. Women are more optimistic about being able to enact change should they themselves be in an unfavourable situation
  7. Women don’t intend to stay in medicine for the rest of their lives (rebuttal: that’s not impossible, but it doesn’t explain why they would go into at all)
  8. Women don’t see their job as their only income (similar to the above point)


  1. Self-selection: people who follow a service that helps to do especially well in school do not necessarily represent the general population
  2. This is a survey, hence the answers are more about one’s projections than actual behaviour
  3. Internalised gender roles: women are supposed to care more about helping others than money, therefore in a survey, they will answer “yes” (this is somewhat subsumed in reason 2)
  4. The sample in mostly women, so men’s answers have less statistical power
  5. The sample is small
  6. The voters lack context
  7. The way I phrased it may have put people off medicine, or indeed made them more righteous in voting yes.


Critical thinking or empathy?

Another thought experiment, inspired by a conversation with this blogger*.

If you had to live in a world where, compared to this one, people had

A. 50% more critical thinking and 50% less empathy

B. 50% more empathy and 50% less critical thinking,

which would you choose?

I would choose A. I sometimes find myself in situations where I can barely talk to people who others consider “aww, they’re so nice!”… Makes me feel like I am a cold b*tch, but it is because these people would choose to live in A.

In B, you side with the first person you meet.

Empathy, today, is being used as a word for kindness, but it isn’t. Kindness is an outcome. Neither is empathy conflict-aversion. Some have began talking about effective altruism as an upgraded version of empathy. Problem is that effective altruism is as close to empathy as effective evilness. Empathy is just the ability to understand the feelings of another person. It leads to a congruent emotional response.*

People assume that once one understand how someone feels, one will immediately want to side with them. That simply can’t be.

Spite is the ultimate proof of this: you need to understand your opponent very well in order to be spiteful. The most spiteful are the most empathetic, not the most psychopathic. Psychopathy isn’t necessarily evil and empathy isn’t necessarily good.

Who is the most caring person in your life? Have you ever seen them being spiteful to anyone you know?

A resident of B wants better outcomes for people they feel a kinship with. In other words, they feel spite for people they don’t feel close to – there is no other way in a zero sum short term scenario. They are the ultimate tribalists.

An empathetic person with deficient critical thinking can never agree to disagree.

Good critical thinking is not exactly a solution to a lack of empathy. It’s virtually impossible to become part of a tribe if you’re a deficient in empathy. Critical thinking also loses its potency if you can’t understand the other guy’s feelings. The decision making process is much slower in an unempathetic person. A lot of problems, in short.

Daniel Goleman talks about how members of the “dark triad” become great at social skills because they learn the stigmata of common emotions which is a legitimate way around it for unempathetic people.

It’s like hardcoding vs proper code. Empathy is hard code: quick, unconditional and generally correct.

I know some people who are almost 100% empathetic, but I’ve never met anyone who has 0% empathy, which makes me think empathy is an older, more important trait (quick decisions, Kahneman’s system one, etc)

Obviously, you would prefer to be optimally capable at empathy and critical thinking, but if you had to choose, which would you choose?

Some other places talking about empathy:

The Atlantic, Vice, The Guardian

* I made the point that non-religious people can be “religious” about certain things, e.g. politics, e.g. in WW2. He made the point that it’s down to a lack of critical thinking.

** George F.¬†¬†brought up the point that the definition of empathy is not only the understanding but the sharing of a feeling. I think that’s a step too far if taken literally. There is some intermediary step where a person can appreciate the feelings of another and either decide to take them as their own or else to revel in their misfortune. We don’t just literally take other people’s feelings as our own, we just get a good insight into them. The most empathetic of people would be rather harmful if they literally shared the feelings of someone in need of help.