Audi's Super Bowl Ad Is Obnoxious Virtue Signaling

I remember almost four years ago, I sat in a panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute about the gender pay gap. The panel was almost unanimous in saying that when factors, such as education level, specific degree obtained, hours worked per year, consecutive years worked and so on, are taken into account, the pay disparity (of somewhere around 80 cents on the dollar) between men and women virtually disappears.

Audi knows this. As a business, they are well familiar with the intricacies that go into determining one’s pay. They admitted as much in a response to a challenging reply to their own tweet about its gender pay gap-themed Super Bowl commercial.


Despite this first-hand knowledge of the real issues at hand, Audi chose to parrot the conventional wisdom — that the pay gap exists because men are valued more than women — instead of attempt bold action regarding the real reason. They chose virtue signaling instead of real change.

The lone dissenter in AEI’s panel pointed out that, while these factors did exist and largely explained the gender pay gap, the real issue is that these disparate factors exist in the first place. The implication, in other words, is that resolving the pay gap issue means dealing with the fact that women are less likely to follow higher-paying STEM career paths or negotiate as aggressively for salary increases.

I could go on, but this Forbes article on the issue addresses the complexities quite well.

The important point is that while sexism is quite possibly to blame for the gender wage gap, it is not in the sense that most people assume. An understanding of basic economics corrects this misconception: assuming that a man and a woman that are identical on paper are doing exactly the same job, but the woman can be paid only 80 percent what the man is paid, businesses can hire 5 women for the cost of 4 men or hire 4 women for 80 percent the cost of 4 men. We are to believe that in the aggregate, business managers don’t see this obvious advantage.

Certainly people will argue to what degree women behave differently than men with regards to education, career and domestic decisions due to gender-related social constructs and to what degree they do so due to inherent differences between men and women. That is a respectable debate to have that is not based on assuming that businesses are so sexist that they will forego a 25 percent productivity increase or a 20 percent cut in labor costs in order to hire a man over a woman.

Presumably, a significant degree of it is due to the first reason. If Audi wishes to make progress on systemic issues, they could have chosen to provide paternal leave to the same degree as they provide maternal leave or, if they do, highlight that commitment in the ad, thus taking the lead in an area that could change how likely women are to take extended leaves from work after childbirth in comparison to men — a reason why, especially in quickly changing environments such as tech heavy fields, women are often left behind.

I certainly do not argue that sexism doesn’t occur in hiring and pay. In fact, I’m sure it does. But I doubt it explains a significant part of the gender pay gap. It’s also difficult to prove when there are so many complexities involved. Reducing the preexisting disparities would go a long way towards providing a clear view into actual sexist business practices.

Ultimately, should I ever be blessed with a daughter, I, for one, will raise her to believe that she can be anything she wants to be and that God’s plan for her potential is not in anyway subject to what other individuals or society as a whole think it is. I will fight back against anything that tells her otherwise.

But I will also teach her economics, so that if they gender pay gap still exists when and if she embarks on a career, she will be able to surmise the correct reason for it.

It is a reason that, again, Audi understands. They just chose the easy path of looking virtuous over the difficult and complex one that could actually make a real difference.