Right figure, wrong word

Le Parisien (a local daily paper) dated December 2, 1998 gives us the following headline : “earnings are 23 % higher in Paris than in the rest of France”. The formulation is deceptive ! Doesn’t this give the reader the impression that a same person, working in Paris, would be paid nearly a quarter more for the same job than if he worked elsewhere ? The article says nothing that contradicts that interpretation, perhaps because the writer himself does not master the subject.

If we take a closer look, however, we see that the mean income of Parisians is compared to that of “provincials”. What is compared is neither the same people nor the same jobs. Since Paris has a larger proportion of executives than the rest of France, even if those executives were paid the same salary everywhere, while workers and employees were also paid the same wages in both places, that alone would produce different means. Actually, we do not know (or at least, the article does not say) whether, all else being equal, Parisians are paid more, nor how much more. The figures given are accurate, but the meaning ascribed to them is not.

Furthermore, what is discussed here is “available income”, which is to say the total amount received through work, rentals and interest accrued as well as social benefits, retirement pensions, family allowances, etc., minus internal revenue payments for those who pay taxes. The term “earnings” is not very accurate either. 

René Padieu
April 1999

Penumbra, 2001 June