Today, Congress will vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is designed to strengthen the 1963 Equal Pay Act which made it illegal for employers to pay unequal wages to men and women who perform similar work. The Paycheck Fairness Act specifies that they cannot be paid differently for doing the EXACT same job. Men continue to be paid more than women for the same work and, despite lots of rationalizing, there continues to be an “unexplained” gap.
You’ve heard the statistics: women are paid, on average, 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid — a gap of 23 cents. Specifically: White women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns; African-American women earn 61 cents to a man’s dollar; and Latina women 53 cents. At the current rate of change it will be 2060 at least before we achieve pay equity. Despite attempts to depict the pay gap as simply a matter of individual choice, research by American Association of University Women and others demonstrates that the pay gap cannot be fully explained by factors known to affect earnings.
And, yet, people interested in selling lots of books tell us, women are The Richer Sex and we are about to see the, gasp, End Of Men. Ever since culture warrior Christina Hoff Sommers announced a “boy crisis” in The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men parents and educators have been trying to determine how to meet boy’s gender-specific needs and motivate them to be more academically ambitious or risk being left in the dust by girls for whom, according to Sommers, the entire education system has been specifically created. The persistent concern about boys in school, the “crisis,” is largely focused on getting them engaged and performing as girls appear to.
Here’s a suggestion: If we want to stop a “boy crisis” in education maybe we should start by paying women fairly for their work. Despite all the work being done to address this crisis in education for boys the fact remains that girls and women pay the same amount for the educations they get as boys and men do, but, their return on investment is substantially less at every level of education. What messages are we sending to girls and boys about agency, merit, entitlement, fairness, the value of education and pay?
Over the course of a woman’s lifetime the gap translates into this much less, on average, than a man’s for equal work: If she has a high school degree: $700K; a college degree, between $650,000 to $1.2 million. If she has a professional degree – well, she will make up to $2 million less.
For the purposes of this piece, here’s what’s important to note: Women with bachelors degrees earn what men with high school degrees and a bit of college (but no degree) do, women with graduate degrees earn what men with college degrees do. These facts are made more extreme when you compare white men with women of color as representative of either end of the earnings spectrum.
What does this have to do with a “boy crisis”? Three things:
1) What researchers call “boy entitlement” explains a lot about why boys might fail to embrace education as girls do. Studies repeatedly show the degree to which boys feel unearned confidence in their abilities, whereas girls feel the need to over-compensate just to be able to participate in school and the economy.
2) Proponents of Sommers’ “evil feminist conspiracy to destroy boys” theory like to focus on the idea that primary education is biased against the way boys learn, because women policy makers and teachers dominate elementary school environments. If this is the case and women’s domination of the field is a problem consider this: until pay inequities tied to out-dated stereotypes and gender roles are resolved men will continue to avoid traditionally female sectors, like teaching. Teaching is a traditionally “female” job because it was understood as “nurturing” children. It is arguable that teachers are relatively poorly paid for the work they do because teaching was understood to be an extension of mothering – therefore undervalued and barely compensated. We have a gender-segregated work force, with women making up more than 75% of the workers in the lowest paid sectors of the economy. Many of the jobs in these sectors, in health care and administrative work, like teaching, are nurturing, supportive pseudo-mothering jobs that many men avoid like the plague because they break “real men” stereotype and don’t pay well. When they do take these jobs, men report experience getting bullied and teased.
3) Work, professional success, money, job titles – these are rewards for pursuing education. Aside from the personally edifying quest-for-knowledge reasons, most people pursue education to improve their lot in life. With each level of education, potential earning power increases as does the lifetime value of an investment in education. Over the course of a boy’s life, he will make 84% more if he gets a Bachelor’s degree than if he stops at high school. There is a correlating jump if he gets a professional degree. For him each educational step yields a correlating increase in earnings. While that is true for women compared to other women, it is not true for women compared to men. According to a recent study conducted at Georgetown University, on average, for a woman to make what a man with a high school degree makes, she has to get a college degree. In order to make the same amount of money, a girl has work longer in school and pay more for school. This is true at every level of change in education. In addition, she now has to work harder to get into college: because of “boy crisis” panic we have erected yet another impediment to compound the pay inequity costs to girls – namely, it is now harder for a girl to get into college because colleges don’t want to have a majority of their students be female. (We will pass lightly over the millennia of imbalance prior to 2012.) Last year, a U.S. Commission on Civil Rights abandoned, amidst much controversy, attempts to investigate whether or not college admissions, to draw in more men even if they are less qualified, are biased against women. They have not explained why publically.
If I were a boy, I wouldn’t kill myself doing school work, going to college or incurring the debt of student loans if I intuited that with a high school education I could make as much as a woman with a college education. The reason schools are failing to motivate boys is because it is still true that the most important factor in what a person get’s paid is whether they contain sperm or eggs, an effect that is magnified by how much melanin they produce. Why is it surprising to anyone that girls are more likely to apply to college or to leave a depressed work environment to pursue higher education if this is the only way to be paid more and in equal amounts with males? These are financially logical choices. The flip side is that pursuing college or advanced degrees are not financially logical motivations for boys.
In most estimations of “crisis,” starting with Sommers’, everything seems to come down to a zero-sum equation in which the only way girls can succeed is for boys to lose. In Sommers’ many assessment of how the “partisans of girls” are out to get boys and ruin their chances in life there is no distinction made between a loss of privilege and oppression. Richard Whitmore’s book, Why Boys Fail, is one of the more recent to consider the complex range of issues affecting boys’ performance in school. Race, class, ethnicity, gender, brain development, education policy and more are covered in his thought-provoking assessment of the current state of boys and their education.
A real crisis that we face is that the culture continues to tell boys that they will have power and resources by virtue of being male instead of teaching them virtually anything about gender equity and empathy. This has monumental consequences, including but not limited to “boy crises.” Regardless of educational attainment, men continue to run our corporations, govern our country, manage our media and entertainment culture and minister in our churches, synagogues and mosques. Taken from the perspective of the results of education – pay, status, job position – focusing on the “boy crisis” in education is a shallow way of understanding what is happening in the larger context of the culture. Social conservatives generally don’t do their hand-wringing over society’s reluctance to adapt to a rapidly changing world in which gender hierarchies based on outdated stereotypes are being questioned and challenged. They’d rather focus on the symptoms, which are simpler and easy to explain, and not the problem. Feminism isn’t to blame for the sluggishness of culture or the lack of incentives for boys, sexism and traditional ideas about gender and gender roles are.
This idea, to pay women fairly and equally and not teach boys gender entitlement, is not, as Christina Summers Hoffman continues to argue, a corrosive or misguided feminist attempt to rescue boys “from their masculinity.” This is a case for teaching boys and girls the equal value of their work, both in school and out, and their place in society. Paying men and women equally and fairly for the work they do, would go a long way to dispelling the entitlement to higher wages that boys have by virtue of their gametes and to dismantle a system that does not reward students, in the final equation of work, according to their effort.
For a state by state look at pay disparity, check out this report by the Democratic Policy and Communications Center: http://democrats.senate.gov/2012/06/04/dpcc-state-by-state-reports-show-alarming-gender-based-pay-gap-throughout-all-50-states/.