Culture wars in riddle format

(Cross-posted from Telescopic turnip.)

I’ve come together with the fact that humans will never find the truth about culture-war issues. We just can’t help it. I tried checking the facts, listening to the other side, examining the social context, deconstructing the power dynamics. I tried mistake theory, conflict theory, critical theory, but the result is usually the same: after checking all the evidence, I come to the conclusion that my favourite political tribe is always right, and everyone else is an idiot. What a coincidence, the ultimate truth is whatever is most popular in my personal social circle!

This is unfortunate, because the prospect of stuff like social justice is actually pretty great. Everybody agrees that it’s better when society is fair. But social justice is a calibration problem, and a hard one: there’s only one way to be fair, and infinitely many ways to be unfair. To calibrate society, we need a unbiased bird-eye view of it, and that’s where we suck. The human brain is utterly incompetent at this task. Our perception of what is fair is tuned differently for different people. It’s becoming increasingly clear that people carry different genetic variants biasing their brains in different directions, so we may never be able to agree with each other. Did you know that there are documented cases of people turning into conservative authoritarians after brain trauma? Like, you have a car accident, and when you wake up, women must obey their husbands and Infowars makes sense. I have no doubt these patients can come up with very sound arguments about why they changed their mind. How are we supposed to balance the power imbalances in these conditions!?

A culture-wars riddle

In last resort, I’d like to try something different. Here is a culture-wars riddle. It’s like your typical math riddle, except it’s a sociological one. The argument is deliberately hidden and you have to come up with it yourself. Maybe (maybe) it will make it easier to put your existing opinions aside and have a fresher look at the issue. Let’s give it a try.

There is a phenomenon, related to [thunder noise] the gender pay gap, that I came across during my usual peregrinations on the information superhighways. I think this phenomenon is important and more people should take it into consideration. But I won’t tell you what it is. Instead, you will have to guess. Doesn’t that sound extremely fun?

Behold, the riddle:

  • This takes place in a fictional world where there is no gender wage discrimination. All employers calculate wages with an algorithm that doesn’t take gender into account.

  • A man and a woman do the exact same job, in an identical way. They work the same days, always start work at 9 am and leave at 5 pm and everything they do in between is the same. The provide the exact same value to their employers.

  • Yet the man gets a higher salary than the woman. There is no other form of compensation than salaries.

  • The difference is due to gender, but not due to discrimination from employers. There is something they do differently outside of work that leads to a wage difference. That thing has no effect on how they work, or when they work.

How is it possible?

(I will add that the phenomenon in question exists in real life, it has been measured in several Western countries and it’s sizeable.)

Forced curiosity

My hope is that the riddle format forces you to approach the problem with curiosity. It is much harder to find the solution if you come with a soldier mindset. This is not steel-manning as a rhetorical device; this is steel-manning because that’s how you solve the puzzle.

Note that this is still a controversial, culture-wars issue. It’s possible that I am simply wrong, as well as all the researchers who claimed to find evidence. In that case, if you still find the solution, you are in a perfect position to understand how I ended up being wrong, and you can correct me in the most effective way.

Some ground work

Did you find a plausible hypothesis? This is where the fun begins! Now you can go to your favourite academic search engine (e.g.) and look up some carefully-chosen keywords, to find if your hypothesis is supported by actual observations of the world. I found eight studies specifically about the mystery phenomenon. Among these eight studies, one was conducted in France and is published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. Once you’ve found the study, take the first name of the first author (with the capital letter) and compute the SHA256 hash. Here is what you should find:


No, I will not give the solution, but you can discuss as much as you want in the comments. I can give hints.

Edit: Richard Kennaway found the solution in the comments