Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Slate: Young Women Better Educated, Earning More than Young Men

This sign has been hanging on the wall in plain view for years - with so many more women than men getting a college education, it was bound to happen that they would eventually be earning more. That time has come.

Some feminists will likely be happy to see this, but others will worry that this will detract from the equal pay for equal work argument. In reality, there is always a huge downside to any inequality - women have felt it for decades, if not centuries.

Are Young Women Earning More Than Their Boyfriends?

Yes, but only because they're better educated.

Couple talking at a bar. Click image to expand.

The news last week was that if you're a young woman without children, you have a shot at making more money than your boyfriend. "Young, single, childless women out-earn male counterparts," says USA Today; "Workplace Salaries: At Last, Women on Top" says Time.

On the other hand, little has changed - men still earn more than their female coworkers for the same job, bringing the same education/experience to the workplace.

There are two ways to look at the gender pay gap. The first way is to ask whether equally skilled men and women in comparable jobs are paid the same. That's the way to gauge workplace fairness. Do women with similar credentials in similar jobs earn as much as the men they work with? It's in this context that the answer remains no.

How do we know that? To understand workplace fairness, economists analyze how much of the overall gender pay gap—women still earn 78 cents on the $1 of what men earn—can be explained by the characteristics of workers and the jobs they hold and how much cannot be explained by anything except the person's gender. In other words, they compare workers of the same educational attainment holding the same kinds of jobs—male college-educated electrical engineers and female college-educated electrical engineers. The American Association of University Women tackled the pay gap question this way and found that for college-educated women, the gap emerges as soon as they graduate. Their research shows that a woman earns 5 percent less the first year out of school than a man who goes to the same college, gets the same grades, has the same major, takes the same kind of job with similar workplace flexibility perks, and has the same personal characteristics, such as marital status, race, and number of children. Ten years later, even if she keeps working on par with the men around her—that is, continues to have the same level of on-the-job experience—the AAUW found that she'll earn 12 percent less.

Again, it's all in how you look at the numbers and what the polling question really asks. Boushey breaks it down a bit in her article:

But from the media reports, it's clear that the analysis compared the median earnings of women and men aged 22 to 30 working full-time who do not have children and who live in the largest cities in the United States. Reach Advisors did not address whether the men and women in the sample had similar skills or experience, or held the same kinds of jobs. They asked: If you're a young, childless woman, do you earn as much as a young, childless man? With the question framed this way, the answer was yes. In fact, Time reports, Reach Advisors found that "in 147 out of 150 of the biggest cities in the U.S., the median full-time salaries of young women are 8% higher than those of the guys in their peer group."

What it really comes down to for this age group is that more women have more education than their same-age male peers, so they should earn more money or get the higher paying jobs. This is what the education numbers look like plotted out in a neat graph:

Education attainment chart.

Since it's hard to read those numbers, here is how it breaks out:

Among women aged 22 to 30, a third (34 percent) have some college education and a third (35 percent) have a college degree or more. Among men in that age group, less than a third (30 percent) spent some time in college, and just over a quarter (28 percent) have a college degree.

So what does this man for young men?

A 2008 article in Newsweek suggested that 1 in 5 school age boys have emotional or behavioral problems -according to the parents who sought medical advice. Only 1 in 10 parents of girls reported similar problems (full study here).

Twice as many male children as females are medicated for ADHD or some other mental health issue. Within this overall it breaks down like this:

Older boys (7.6%) were prescribed medication more often than younger boys (5.8%), and older girls (4.4%) were prescribed medication more often than younger girls (2.6%)

The causes for this supposed epidemic of ADHD (are kids really that different than they were 40 years ago when I was entering pre-school?) range from environment to parenting, but I suspect it is even more complex than stated.

The Newsweek article lists some possible causes:

  • environmental pollutants found in plastics
  • parents now schedule their kids' time from dawn till dusk
  • by age 4, an ever-increasing number of children are enrolled in preschool
  • elementary schools have become test-prep factories
  • standardized testing begins in kindergarten
  • recess is being cut to allow more time for reading and math drills
  • active play is increasingly frowned on—some schools have even banned recess and tag

Some kids are dealing with this demand for performance and increased early education pretty well, although despite all of this, test scores by the time they reach high school have changed little in 40 years.

The ones who can't handle this pressure, in general, are the boys.

So here a few other possibilities for why boys are failing:

  • lack of omega-3 fats in the diet
  • too much processed foods
  • too little "real" food
  • too little time in nature
  • too little quality time with parents
  • too much television
  • too little unstructured play time
  • not enough exercise
  • not enough rough and tumble play
  • not enough time with fathers
  • mothers too protective (helicopter moms)
  • boys expected to act more like girls
  • education system skewed more toward girls (over-correction)

I could go on and on. It's not one single cause - nutrition is part of it, child rearing is part of it, the educational system is part of it, and so on.

Unless we start addressing these issues, the gap between women and men in education will continue to widen, and men will eventually be left behind.

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