More Thoughts on Gender, Education and Income

The relationship between the gender gap in education and the gender gap in the workforce continues to hold my attention, even after two rather long blog posts. (This may have something to do with my being an overeducated and underpaid woman myself, but I digress.) Debates over it seem to spring up every once in a while in the blogosphere, and even with all the essentialist crap and ad hominem attacks that tend to dominate the discussions (it is the internet, after all), there’s always something there that makes me want to do more research and more arguing.

One argument that’s come up a few times is that statistics relating to the income gap cannot be indicative of current trends because they factor in the entire working population; theoretically, men will always come out on top in these statistics because of the number of older people in the workforce, whose careers began in periods of much greater inequality. Therefore, statistics relating to younger workers would be much more indicative of the way in which the workforce is heading now. This tends to go hand-in-hand with the argument that, with women entering higher education at such high rates, the wage gap will eventually reverse itself and begin to favour women.

The first point is certainly valid, to some extent; I looked into income statistics by age, and it does appear that the gender gap is quite a bit narrower among workers in their 20s and 30s – for example, in 2005, Canadian women aged 25 to 29 made 85 cents for every dollar that men make1; in the US in 2008, women aged 25 to 34 made approximately 88 cents to the dollar2. This seems promising until one takes into account the class dimension – in Canada, at least, female university graduates in their mid to late twenties make 89 cents to men’s dollar; conversely, women with a registered apprenticeship or a trade certificate make 65 cents to the dollar, and women with no high school diploma make 67. So, while the gap is fairly narrow for middle-class women (and, I guess, women willing to take out massive student loans), young working-class women are still at a huge disadvantage compared to their male counterparts.

But when we relate this data to trends in education, it’s important to keep in mind that women have been outnumbering men in higher education for nearly thirty years. The income gap has certainly narrowed since then, but its narrowing is in no way proportionate to women’s increasing success in education.3 It’s also important to point out that a number of things have changed in the past thirty years; education has undoubtedly played a role in the narrowing of the gender gap, but it is far from being the only factor involved. Women started entering higher education in higher numbers than men (and continue to do so) in an effort to counteract our economic disadvantage. This succeeds in narrowing the gap, for some of us (not coincidentally, usually those of us who were more privileged to begin with) but it doesn’t eliminate it, and it certainly doesn’t reverse it.

Which brings me to my second point: Female-dominated jobs aren’t undervalued because they require less skill or are less important. They are undervalued because they are female-dominated. This won’t change without a fundamental shift in our attitudes towards gender, work and profit. The most prominent example here is teaching – a hugely important (and, I have to imagine, difficult) job, which requires at least a Bachelor’s Degree, often a Master’s. Interestingly, a shortage of male teachers is often cited as one of the reasons why boys don’t do as well as girls do in school. I suspect that this is probably true, but it doesn’t particularly surprise me that men might not want to enter a profession that requires 4+ years of education, is stigmatized as “feminine” and therefore inferior, and pays less than factory work.

Want boys to do better in school? Then do away with male privilege. Better yet, do away with gender roles entirely – then we certainly won’t have boys worrying that reading is too girly, or men thinking that teaching is beneath them. Boys will do better in school, and girls won’t feel like they have to work twice as hard to get half the credit and 72% of the money. Isn’t that what we all want?

1. Conference Board of Canada, Gender Income Gap (September 2009).

2. Bureau of Wage Labour Statistics (July 2009).

3. Marc Frenette and Simon Coulombe, Has Education Among Young Women Substantially Reduced the Gender Gap in Employment and Earnings? Statistics Canada, 2007. Note: I can’t provide an exact citation because the full PDF of this file seems to have gone missing. I should have saved it on my computer, I guess.

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  • Dominique Millette  On April 11, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Word. Thank you.

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