WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

The Right to Research: How Data Helps Women’s Human Rights around the World – The Case of West African Market Women

GBlog2The Right to Research: How Data Helps Women’s Human Rights around the World – The Case of West African Market Women

This past November, I had the opportunity to visit Ghana as a member of the international research advisory committee for a study on West African market women that was sponsored by the African Women’s Development Fund, Ford | West Africa, and the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund (full disclosure: I’m a member of the SMWF board). This sweeping study, in which over 500 women from four Anglophone countries--Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone--were interviewed, was the first ever to examine market women’s contributions to economic and social development in West Africa, particularly from the perspective of the market women themselves. Five researchers--a coordinating lead researcher, Dr. Comfort Lamptey, plus one researcher for each country--collected and analyzed the data, and we were convening in Ghana for a validation workshop to which national government officials, UN operatives, NGO leaders, funders, and market women leaders had been invited to discuss the results and formulate next steps.

Market women--those everyday traders who sell foodstuffs and other necessities in local open markets--are a force to be reckoned with in their respective countries. Yet, their voices, concerns, and ideas have often been ignored because they are considered economically and socially marginal due to their location in the informal sector and the fact that many continue to live at subsistence level. Nevertheless, as our study showed, market women make up approximately 80 percent of the women working in the informal sector in their societies, and, without them, their countries couldn’t function. They are the ones responsible for moving crops and livestock from farm to market and for basic processing of foods most frequently used. Whether rice or corn, yam or cassava, plantains or peppers, pineapples or papayas, sugar cane or palm oil, greens or groundnuts, goat, chicken, or fish--they are the ones who bring it to market and sell. One thing we agreed on at this conference is that no longer should these women be referred to as “petty traders,” because there is nothing petty about what they do!

In fact, our study revealed that market women play a major role in human capital development in their respective nations because, after feeding their families, their major economic expense is paying school fees for their children--and often for the children of others, such as extended family members. In our study, there were market women paying school fees for up to 13 children; an average was four or five. Often, these women also generously take care of neglected or orphaned children in their communities, even on their subsistence-level budgets. Market women are committed to education, and many have put children not only through primary schGBlog1Layli Maparyan with the Delegation from Liberia.ool, but also secondary school and university. Some can claim heads of state, government ministers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, professors, and corporate executives among those they have educated. In fact, the head of Ford | West Africa expressed that he was in part inspired to fund this study because his own mother was a market woman. Even President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Africa’s first democratically elected woman head of state, after whom the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund is named, is the grand-daughter of a market woman. Almost everyone in West Africa--or anyone from West Africa, living in the diaspora--is related or connected to a market woman.

Although our study was able to identify the fact that market women contribute significantly to the gross domestic product (GDP) of their respective nations, further detailed study of their contributions to GDP by economists would be the next logical follow-up. Such data would provide leverage for convincing governments to earmark budgetary lines for market women. Market women have many needs, from infrastructural improvements to their markets (such as better stalls, improved storage and security, and improved water and sanitation), to financial literacy and business skills training (which will enable them to better engage formal sector institutions), to basic literacy programs (our study found that most market women have only completed primary school or less), to child care and early education schemes for their children, to family leave policies and maternal care provisions that will provide flexibility and support when they are pregnant or lactating. These are the needs that were identified by the market women themselves in our study. Although some foundations, multi- or bi-laterals, and NGOs address these needs quite valiantly, they would be most comprehensively and reliably addressed if governments became involved, creating relevant policies, contributing dedicated funds, and coordinating multi-sectoral efforts so that duplication is avoided. More detailed research about the economic impact of market women could show governments that investing in market women isn’t just the right thing to do for the women themselves, but it is also a profitable economic investment for each nation respectively, particularly as many struggle to move from low-income to middle-income economic designations.

In the study and from the floor, the market women expressed the need to strengthen their national blogpullquoteMarketWomenmarket women organizations, with a special focus on gender parity in leadership. Although women are, by far, the largest proportion of marketers and traders, often it is the few men who are afforded positions of leadership that allow them to engage with policymakers. The market women who participated in our study would like to see women’s voices rise to the top and for women’s leadership to be recognized with top-level posts. Additionally, they indicated that the time might be right for a West Africa-wide market women’s organization that allowed market women from different countries to network, share best practices, and shape policy that affects them. Many touted the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund as a good example of a multi-constituency organization that has raised the visibility of market women’s issues at the same time as it has brought different stakeholders together for a common cause, and they imagined this model growing from its roots in Liberia to other countries. Additionally, the pivotal roles of the African Women’s Development Fund, UN Women, and Ford, all of which have provided funding for market women’s issues and related actions, were lauded as model donors.

One extremely interesting and exciting development from the floor was the suggestion that market women should and would like to take more responsibility for data collection about themselves. Many market women expressed “research fatigue”--an exhaustion with “outsider” researchers who “come in, collect data on us, write books about us, don’t call us back, and don’t do anything to help us.” Fortunately, the whole purpose of the validation workshop was to present the findings to the market women, determine whether they rang true with market women, and engage in conversations about the way forward with market women as equal partners at the table with other stakeholders. At the workshop, all of us discussed ways that data and research could be maximized for the benefit of market women, including how to collect data in ways that avoid duplication and how to bring market women into the process as researchers. It is market women who know best what is important to their lives and their businesses, yet the ability of researchers from different sectors (academia, government, multilaterals, NGOs, CBOs, and funders) to converse together enriches the larger effort.

GBlog3Dr. Comfort Lamptey and Layli MaparyanMy own horse in this race has to do with making sure that women all over the world have equal access to good research that affects their lives. At the Wellesley Centers for Women, we have prioritized raising the banner of research in important conversations and working with women- and gender-focused research organizations around the world to increase capacity, where needed, and to partner as equals wherever possible. We have so much to learn from each other; but, more importantly, the world’s policymakers need more and better information about women’s lives that is informed by women themselves. Whether it is creating more opportunities for women to become researchers, or making sure there are enough women- and gender-focused research organization around the world, or making sure that data generated by and about women gets utilized in all the right places, or making sure that everyday people who aren’t researchers have the research literacy to interpret research findings critically, we believe that research is a human right and that access to data advances human rights. So, on this Human Rights Day, we are glad to be part of the cause!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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Equal Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

78centsEqual Pay Day & A Woman's Worth

April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

What is a woman worth? On Tuesday, April 14, 2015, we celebrate Equal Pay Day, a day to acknowledge the continuing gap in wages between women and men. By now, we are all familiar with the statistics – women employed full-time, year-round earn only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. While some of this gap is attributable to differences in worker’s education, training or experience, about 40% of the pay gap can be attributed to discrimination.

What does this familiar narrative mean for individual women? Let’s start with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). While girls have closed the gap with boys in high school science and math, women are losing ground in engineering and computing. While Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recommends leaning in, Gamergate reminded us of the challenges and open hostility that women can face in tech fields.

Over one-third of women are employed in the health and education fields; four of the top 20 occupations for women in are these fields--elementary and middle school teachers, secondary school teachers, registered nurses, and nursing and psychiatric aides. Even in these heavily female occupations, men outearn women. For example, “males in nursing outearned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.”

blogpullquoteEqualPayService occupations, such as maids and housekeeping cleaners, personal care aides and child care workers, are the lowest paid of all broad occupational categories. This disproportionately affects the earnings of women of color; while 16% of all women work in service occupations, 24% of Black women, and 27% of Latinas, are employed in service occupations.

How do we fix this? There are a few proposals on the table right now that would go a long way to address this gap. First, raising the minimum wage would affect women who are disproportionately employed in low-wage occupations. Second, ensuring equal pay for work of equal value, and putting teeth into the Equal Pay Act, would reduce wage discrimination [link ]. Third, providing paid parental leave for all workers would make it possible for mothers with young children to stay competitive in the labor force, and for parents to participate equally in raising their families. Wouldn’t it be great if we never needed to celebrate Equal Pay Day again?

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

April 2016 Update: The wage gap cited has improved by 1% point since this article was originally posted in April 2015.

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The Greying of the LGBTQ Community

LGBTblogThe Greying of the LGBTQ Community

October was LGBTQ History Month. We should continue to celebrate, reflect, and get back to work!

It has been less than 50 years since Stonewall, the start of the current LGBTQ Rights Movement. There have been trials and tribulations, along with celebrations. Today, over 30 states grant same-sex couples the right to marry legally. Today, social acceptability has permeated society (Pew Research Center, 2011). Today, groups, businesses, and academic institutions supporting LGBT rights and LGBTQ youth, all with the message of equity and equality, have increased exponentially (HRC, 2014). Curriculum teaching about inclusiveness is making schools safer and more hospitable than they were even 5 years ago.

These accomplishments are certainly remarkable considering a mere 50 years ago homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. Gay people feared getting fired from their jobs and, often, only a suspicion of homosexual behavior was enough. Religions condemned homosexuality as an abomination, an affront to the natural order of things. And AIDS meant social isolation and certain death.

With so many improvements in equality and rights for LGBTQ communities since Stonewall, one might wonder what else there is left to do. One area that is unaddressed and under-researched is the challenges LGBT elderly people face. More than six million LGBTQ individuals will be in the “65+” age bracket by 2030 (SAGE, 2014). This, of course, provides some trepidations -- and opportunities—for LGBTQ communities, policymakers, and the general population.

blogpullquoteGreyingLGBTQIn the last couple of years, more research has surfaced regarding LGBTQ elderly people, which provides a sobering look at their attitudes and thoughts about aging. The first and obvious concern is aging in a society and community that places a high value on youth, leaving the elderly feeling useless and insignificant (Fox, 2007). This is both within the LGBTQ communities and in the general population. Ageism is pervasive in the U.S.

The second concern is discrimination or perceived discrimination at long-term facilities and healthcare institutions. SAGE (2014) reported 40% of lesbian and gay elderly people do not tell healthcare providers they are homosexual, and healthcare providers just assume they are heterosexual. Moreover, in long-term care settings same-sex couples are denied same-space living arrangements more often than heterosexual couples (Stein, Beckerman & Sherman, 2010). In other words, heterosexism entitles you to live your life with your significant other, especially in the final years.

A final concern is that LGBT elders worry about financial insolvency more often and believe they will not be able to retire or will outlive the meager retirement savings they have. In addition, current retirees have lived through years of employment discrimination (SAGE, 2014). Even today, there are still some states that don’t ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in their employment discrimination laws (HRC, 2014). About 15% of LGBT women and men 65 or older live in poverty, compared to only 10% of heterosexual men (Table 4; Badgett, Durso, & Schneebaum, 2013). In couples over 65, female same-sex couples are almost twice as likely as heterosexual couples, or male same-sex couples, to be low-income, reflecting the double impact of women’s lower earnings compared to men(Table 9; Badgett, Durso, & Schneebaum, 2013).

October’s LGBTQ History Month is about celebration, reflection, and work. We should celebrate that elderly couples are now, legally, entitled to their married spouses Social Security benefits when one spouse dies. Moreover, we should celebrate that the Affordable Healthcare Act is providing many people, especially transgender older adults, with needed healthcare. Finally, we should celebrate that LGBTQ issues are being discussed and acknowledged with the federal, state, and local agencies. In the span of less than 50 years, LGBTQ communities have gone from despised to celebrated and are seen as important members of the global community. Reflection comes as we realize there is more to be done to truly create equality for all members of society.

Let’s get back to work. We need to call members of Congress and demand that they pass the Older Americans Act (the premier elder care law) with LGBTQ elders added to the definition of vulnerable populations. We must call on state and local decision makers to pass anti-discrimination laws and create new minimum wage laws, so that pay is equalized for males and females, LGBT and heterosexual, gender conforming or nonconforming. Furthermore, let’s do what we do best, continue to initiate meaningful discussions on heterosexism, sexism, and ageism.

Brian Fuss, M.P.A., a Research Fellow at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, is working on his doctorate in Public Policy and Administration. The working title of his dissertation is Public Policy Recommendations for Florida’s LGBT Elderly Population Residing in Rural and Suburban Areas.


Additional References:

Fox, R.C. (2007) Gay grows up, Journal of Homosexuality, 52, 33-61. DOI:10.1300/J082v52n03_03

Stein, G. L., Beckerman, N. L., & Sherman, P.A. (2010). Lesbian and gay elders and long-term care: Identifying the unique psychosocial perspectives and challenges. Journal of Gerontological Social Work 53, 421-435. DOI:10.1080/01634372.2010.496478

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Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent

july29blogChild Care and the Overwhelmed Parent

Courtney Martin, a friend of the Wellesley Centers for Women, journalist, author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists,” and one of the founding directors of the Solutions Journalism Network, is a regular contributor to the New York Times online opinion pages. In her July 24th article, she writes, "...what working mothers really need are systematic ways to find and afford safe, local care options for their kids. While many parents scramble to find care in the summer months, especially for older children out of school, it’s a year-round challenge for families with kids younger than preschool age."

Read Martin's full article,"Child Care and the Overwhelmed Parent">>

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A Case of Structural Racism

MIblogimageA Case of Structural Racism

For five years, from 2008 until 2013, I studied how Mississippi implements its child care certificates for low-income women who received the certificates as a welfare benefit. I brought to the work a racial lens and decades of studying the political right as a movement. I found a profound impact of both race and right-wing politics in my study of the Mississippi welfare bureaucracy and how low-income women and their children are treated. It has been a challenging and enlightening five years of travel, reading, conducting interviews, and mining historical and contemporary narratives.

Although Mississippi is majority white (60.6 % vs. 37.2 % Black in 2008), its poor are disproportionately African American (55% of low income households). Its overall poverty rate is 28%. Black people’s median earnings in Mississippi are about $10,000 less than whites. Approximately 13.9 % of children live below half of the poverty level, the highest percentage in the country. According to KidsCount, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Mississippi’s overall rank in child well-being is 50th out of 50 states.

Because many white people in Mississippi think of welfare as a “Black” program, its image is doubly stigmatized--by the negative stereotype of welfare recipients and by the widespread belief that recipients are African American. No Mississippi governor in recent memory has made the state’s low income people a priority. As a result, recipients of welfare services are viewed with suspicion and hostility.

Usually, some 6,000 children are on the waiting list to receive a child care certificate. This is no longer a matter of explicitly racial policies, but is a product of de facto racism in the implementation of Mississippi’s subsidized child care. By creating daunting barriers for low-income mothers in accessing subsidies for child care, Mississippi is disproportionately leaving their children behind.

blogpullquoteStructuralRacismIn Mississippi, advocacy for low-income women and children tends to occur only in the non-profit and non-governmental sectors, which are both relatively under-resourced in comparison with other states. No adequately powerful counter-voice exists to offset the public tone of hostility toward low-income women. Further, conscious and sub-conscious racism is so entrenched in Mississippi that even policies that would appear to address racial discrimination turn out to have no impact. Mississippi could be said to be “Ground Zero” for structural racism. So intractable is this form of racism at all class levels that the elimination of Jim Crow laws and practices has failed to eliminate structural racism. Neglect of poor children of color in Mississippi is but one outcome.

A symptom of the Mississippi Department of Human Services’ attitude toward welfare recipients is its latest scheme to fingerprint mothers each time they drop off their children at child care and when they pick them up. Only welfare recipients will have to use the fingerprint scanner. This scheme has cost Mississippi $8 million dollars and is intended to “reduce fraud and thus make more child care certificates available to others.” Child care providers and certificate recipients mobilized in opposition to the program. It has been temporarily stopped by the courts, but only because MDHS has been unable to complete the research the court required of it.

Mississippi is not alone in its pervasive structural racism. In every state in the country, race plays a role in the opportunities available to children and the likelihood of success for families. The perception by whites of the motivations of low-income people has been heavily influenced by a rightist campaign to demonize the poor as “dependent” and failing to take personal responsibility for their lives. This campaign has amounted to a war on the poor. Mississippi is but a shining example of that war.

For those of us who believe that improvement in the lives of Mississippians depends on empowerment of Black and white Mississippians from the ground up, child care is a crucial component. We learn more every year about the development of a child’s brain and what an enormous difference it can make to the future life of a child if that development is nurtured and expanded in the earliest years. Child care is not the only key to breaking through the barriers standing in the way of low-income Mississippians, but high quality early child care is an intervention that holds the possibility of changing outcomes for low-income children.

Jean Hardisty, Ph.D. is a Senior Scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. This blog draws upon the report, Between A Rock and A Hard Place: Race and Child Care in Mississippi.

 

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UN Commission Calls for Increased Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

UNFlagsUN Commission Calls for Increased Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

The following blog article was posted onHuffington Post, March 25, 2014 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women ended early Saturday morning with a strong call to prioritize gender equality and the human rights of women in order to achieve sustainable development.

The Commission was convened at the UN headquarters in New York to address the challenges and achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in improving the lives of women and girls in developing countries. While the MDGs resulted in a reduction of poverty in some respects, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls -- particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health. With the MDGs set to expire in 2015, the Commission's outcome document will help shape priorities for the next global development framework.

The Commission specifically called for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, a move that was applauded by women's rights activists.

A stand-alone goal on gender equality signals that gender equality and women's rights are important in and of themselves, as well as a priority for governmental investment. It recognizes that sustainable and meaningful development must address the root causes of gender inequality, which deny women and girls an education, the right to make decisions about their bodies and childbearing, to decent employment -- and equal pay for equal work -- and to live free of violence.

blogpullquotePromoteGenderEqualityThe Commission also stated that the post-2015 development agenda must include gender-specific targets across other development goals, strategies, and objectives -- especially those related to education, health, economic justice, and the environment. It also called on governments to address the discriminatory social norms and practices that foster gender inequality, including early and forced marriage and other forms of violence against women and girls, and to strengthen accountability mechanisms for women's human rights.

The Agreed Conclusions reaffirmed the Cairo Programme of Action as well as the Beijing Platform of Action, which called for investments in "quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care" including emergency contraception, information and education, safe abortion where allowed by law, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Furthermore, the Conclusions called for the recognition of the human rights of women to "decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality... free from coercion, discrimination, and violence."

Member States also recognized that progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals -- which include eradicating poverty and expanding access to health services such as reproductive health -- has been held back due to persistent "unequal power relations between women and men," particularly discriminatory laws, social norms, and gender stereotypes.

The governments expressed concern that several critical issues related to gender equality were not adequately addressed by the MDGs, including violence against women and girls; harmful practices such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; women's and adolescents' sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; women's and girls' disproportionate share of unpaid work, particularly unpaid care work; the gender wage gap; women's equal access to and control of resources including land; women's inheritance rights; and women's full participation in decision-making at all levels.

The Commission called for measures to ensure universal access to primary education, especially for girls and vulnerable youth, as well as measures to strengthen the ability of women to participate in formal and informal labor sectors. The governments also called for efforts to ensure that women's rights and health obtain the prominence they deserve in the next global development framework.

Women's health and rights organizations applauded governments who stood up for the rights of all individuals to live free of violence, discrimination, and barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, particularly for girls. However, advocates expressed disappointment that a small minority of conservative governments spurred on by the Holy See--which holds special observer status at the UN -- held up negotiations by objecting to concepts as fundamental as gender and the human rights of women throughout the two weeks of negotiations.

In particular, advocates noted that, despite a 20-year legacy of UN prohibition of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and increasingly on gender identity, government delegates gave in to pressure to exclude recognition of these violations in the final agreed conclusions. 

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

 

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More than the Gender Wage Gap

SocialJusticeDialogueBox NewSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

More than the Gender Wage Gap…On Many Fronts the Economic News is Not Good for Women

In spite of attention-grabbing headlines like, “The Richer Sex: How the Majority of Female Breadwinners is Transforming Sex, Love, and the Family" (Liza Mundy, 2012), on many fronts the economic news is not good for women: and indeed for the poorest, the news is getting worst.

It is not good news when we examine:

  • PovertyBlog The gender wage gap that continues at all educational levels. In 2012, the median annual earnings for womenworking full-time were 76.5 % of men’s earnings and had barely changed since 2001. This is evident in the gap between the median earnings for women and men with Associate’s degrees ($42,300 and $55, 600, respectively), and continues through earnings for those with Ph. D. degrees.

  • Racial/ethnic disparities among women. The gender wage gap is smaller between African-American and Hispanic men and women (89%), but it is much larger when compared to white men (64% and 53%, respectively). Although the median earnings of Black, Hispanic, and White women with less than a high school diploma are almost equal (around $380), the median weekly earnings of White women with Associate degrees is $678, compared to $595 for Black women and $611 for Hispanic women.

  • The incidence of family poverty, particularly among households headed by women of color. In 2012, 18.4% of all families with children under the age of 18 lived in poverty. However, almost 49% of Hispanic, 47% of Black, and 38% of White single-mother households with dependent children lived in poverty.

  • blogpullquoteGenderWageGapThe inadequacy of full-time, year-round minimum wage earnings to support a family. In 2009, single mothers earning the hourly minimum wage of $7.25 earned just over $15,000--well below the poverty level of $17,285 for a family of three. These earnings are far below the median U.S. family income (almost $50,000) and the median earnings of dual earning households (over $78,000).

  • The erosion of public benefits for the poorest families. The greatest income gap emerges in the discrepancy between the amount of income received by families with federal cash benefits known as TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families) and the federal poverty level. In 2012, not a single state’s TANF benefits for a family of three brought the family up to 50% of the poverty level, i.e., $8,641 per year. For example, the Massachusetts TANF benefit for a mother with two children under the age of 18 was $7,400 a year. Even when the value of food benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is added to TANF, only one state (Alaska) brings its families up to 80% of poverty level.

  • The erosion of opportunities for economic advancement through education for low-income mothers. The ‘welfare reform’ policy of the mid-1990’s diminished access to education for TANF recipients. Prior to TANF, forty-eight states had counted participation in postsecondary education for periods ranging from 24 to 72 months; post-1996, women have had difficulty participating in even 12-months of vocational training. Instead, welfare-to-work programs have shunted women back into the same low-paid jobs without benefits they had previously.

 

The earnings and wealth gap is not a recent phenomenon; it has been growing steadily for three decades. However, only recently has it become a topic of general interest, particularly as the gap between the very rich and the very poor accelerated during a time of deep economic recession. This inequality gap has seeped into the national consciousness as it became a rallying cry for the “99 percent” movement, and trickled into the 2012 presidential debates.

Clearly, at the Wellesley Centers for Women an account of economic inequality is incomplete without the concerns outlined here: the inequalities among women, including the deep poverty of vulnerable families headed by women. In addition, we must address the often overlooked and alarming educational divide that exacerbates these economic concerns by eroding the possibility of social mobility through education, particularly for the poorest women. While access to college has become a mantra of the current administration, we must become more aware of and concerned with the educational divide as it affect low-income mothers – both in and out of the workforce.

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, working in two major research areas: Gender and Justice with a focus on women, and low-income women’s access to education.

Sources:
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. March 2013. The Value of TANF Cash Benefits Continued to Erode in 2012. Washington D.C.: CBPP.
U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey. 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau Statistical Abstract of the U.S. 2012 (based on 2009 data) Tables 692, 703.
American Association of University Women. Fall 2013. The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap. Washington D.C. AAUW.

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Tackling Inter-generational Poverty through Education

collegecounselingSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

Tackling Inter-generational Poverty through Education

SocialJusticeDialogueBox NewA frequent theme in the discussion on poverty is the degree to which poverty persists across generations. While the United States is touted as the land of opportunity where everyone can attain their American dream, poverty is still the most likely outcome for a child born into a poor family. A large body of research demonstrates that education is the best way out of poverty, especially when dealing with inter-generational transmission of poverty. The problem is, however, that children from economically disadvantaged families are much less likely to obtain college education than their wealthier peers. In this article, I review innovative recent studies demonstrating cost-effective ways to increase educational attainment among poor children.

Caroline Hoxby and Sarah Turner show that high-achieving students from poor families typically apply to selective colleges much less frequently than students from wealthier families, despite the fact that those selective colleges would have generous financial aid available. In their experimental study, Hoxby and Turner offer customized information on the application process and financial aid to students, and find that the college application, admission and enrollment rates of high-achieving low-income students increase dramatically. As their intervention only cost $6 per student, the authors argue that providing information in this manner would be a highly cost effective way to improve the educational attainment of low-income students. Their experiment was adopted by the College Board in an effort to attract poor, high-scoring students to elite colleges. Indeed, Wellesley College has just launched their own effort to advertise financial aid available to low-income families.

blogpullquoteTacklingPovertyEric Bettinger and his colleagues tackle the low take-up rate of college financial aid among low-income individuals by providing assistance for filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms and handing out information on the expected student aid levels relative to college costs. High school seniors whose parents received the assistance were much more likely to enroll in college and complete at least 2 years of education during the 2-year follow-up period. The experiment cost a total of $88 per participant (including a $20 participation incentive and $20 incentive to the H&R Block tax professionals proving the assistance). Even so, the large positive effects of the experiment would far outweigh the modest cost per participant.

Several recent studies have provided information on the benefits of higher education to high school students, concentrating especially to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. These studies cover students in a variety of countries such as Canada, Dominican Republic and Finland. In each case, these low-cost interventions find that students exposed to the information provided change their application behavior and/or post-secondary educational attendance. In most cases the effects are particularly large for students stemming from poorer or less educated families.

The studies reviewed here demonstrate that children from poorer families are lacking in their educational attainment at least in part due to insufficient information on the economic benefits of education and available financial aid. In addition, their college attendance may further be hampered due to the application procedures required to obtain financial aid. These disadvantages could be easily, and cheaply, overcome by providing targeted information and assistance to students and their families. As the research shows, the modest investment would be far outweighed by the positive benefits stemming from greater college attendance and higher future earnings of the participating students. And most importantly, these types of policies could begin to bring children out of chronic poverty by cutting down the inter-generational transmission of economic status.

Sari Pekkala Kerr, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist and Economist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Her research and teaching focus on the economics of labor markets, education, and families.

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Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

SocialJusticeDialogueBox NewSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

Work at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) is undertaken with the goal to help inform change makers, amend attitudes, and to help shape a more just world for women, girls, their communities, and families. The interdisciplinary team of scholars, administrators, and advisors who ensure that WCW’s mission moves forward are informed by their own and others’ work, as well as their lived experiences. The Women Change Worlds blog allows us to share our expertise and perspectives, and for our community to engage with us. Responding to critical issues in the world and creating teachable moments, our Social Justice Dialogues can broaden all our perspectives.

Beginning next week and throughout October, I will share blog articles written by WCW scholars, focused on our current Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty. I invite you to share in the Comments box links to one or two news stories, essays, or other resources that you believe may contribute to a productive dialogue on Eradicating Poverty.

blogpullquoteEradicatingPovertyThe link I will share today focuses on the United Nations Millennium Campaign. Started in 2002, this Campaign "supports and inspires people from around the world to take action in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The current eight goals form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest." Goal One is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

The UN lists the ambitious targets for this goal:

  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day
  • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

 

More information about this Millennium Development Goal is available online: www.un.org/millenniumgoals/poverty

We will share articles that address innovative and practical steps to help eradicate poverty written by some of our scholars throughout October. What articles, news stories, essays, or other resources do you think may contribute to a productive dialogue about Eradicating Poverty? Please share in the Comment box below.

Donna Tambascio is the Deputy Director for Communications and External Relations at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. WCW has nongovernmental organization (NGO) status at the United Nations which facilitates our participation in this international work. We are committed to continuing and deepening our research and policy-focused programs in order to better understand and offer solutions to the challenges facing women and girls.

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Opt-Out Revolution 2013

Opt-Out Revolution 2013

NYTimesMagCoverLast Sunday’s New York Times Magazine article provides a follow-up on the women of the so-called Opt-Out Revolution that the Times first heralded in 2003. The Times rightly points out the price these women have paid--and the forces that pushed them out in the first place--the culture of Motherhood and an inhospitable corporate culture among them. Erin Gloria Ryan, at Jezebel.com provides an even more pointed critique of the “promises” of opting out.

But both articles miss the most important point–the Opt-Out Revolution was not a “revolution,” it was a media creation that took a drop in employment rates among mothers of infants in the 2000 Census, and the experiences of a few women with husbands with high salaries during an economic period when the haves seemed to have it all--pre-Great Recession--and used that mythology to suggest that the reason women don’t fare as well in the workplace is because “they choose not to” (see the cover of the original NYT article). In fact, a study by Sharon Cohany and Emy Sok published in the Monthly Labor Review reported that the labor force participation rates of mothers of infants, with husbands earning in the top 20 percent of incomes, had the largest declines in 2000, but their participation only declined nine percentage points, from a high of 56 percent employed in 1997 to 47 percent in 2000, and 48 percent in 2005. While the decline was real, at least for women with husbands who could support the family, it was hardly a revolution.

blogpullquoteOpt OutRevolutionMeanwhile, media and popular attention remains focused on the message that women should solve the problems we face--of unfriendly workplaces, long work weeks, glass ceilings, and some men’s unequal sharing of household and parenting activities (often justified by workplaces that still think all men have wives who will support their husband’s careers)--by their personal, individual actions, rather than by our collective action to challenge the inequalities built into our economy, inequalities of gender, class and race. Women in the professions and in managerial jobs, who are most likely to be forced out, need redesigns of their fields to allow women--and men--during their parenthood years, to parent in the ways they value. There are top employers who have already figured out how to do this, including American Express, Johnson & Johnson, General Electric and Bristol-Myers Squibb. These changes to support working families need to be combined with changes that address the growing income disparity between the top 20 percent and the bottom 20 percent, and the consequences this has for financial well-being, as well as for the best interests of women, children, and men.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

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“Having it all,” “Lean in,” or “Work-life Balance”-- Asking the right questions

WorkingMom“Having it all,” “Lean in,” or “Work-life Balance”-- Asking the right questions

Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Lean In, created a media frenzy. Before that, Ann-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” was hailed as another round in the Mommy Wars. It’s time to call a truce.

I’d like to begin with a brief personal history. When I was ten, my parents divorced. While my father provided some financial support, it was not enough to support four kids. So, when I was 13, my mother put my four-year old brother in nursery school and went back to work. I learned at my mother’s knee that women do what they need to do to take care of their families.

By the time I was 25, I had worked as a babysitter, cafeteria worker, sales clerk, library clerk, passport adjudicator, child care teacher, community organizer, drug program counselor, and research assistant. As a child of the second wave of the women’s movement, I had sung along to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman, hear me roar. I knew about women’s work.

blogpullquoteAskingtheRightquestionsWhen I was 39, I gave birth to my daughter. I took a few months off with her, using up most of my sick leave, because this was pre-Family Medical Leave Act, and Wellesley College did not yet have paid parental leave. While at home, I discovered that parenthood was hard work, work that required a different rhythm than my paid work.

All of these experiences have informed my teaching and research on women’s experiences with paid work and family work.

Over the years, I have seen the question, “Can women have it all,” raised repeatedly. These debates have never been satisfying, because I felt they were asking the wrong question. The reality is that almost two-thirds of women with children under the age of six are employed. Overall, women’s rates of employment are fast approaching men’s. Moreover, employed women are even more likely than women not in the labor force to have children.

According to the research, for most women, as for most men, employment has its ups and downs. Good jobs contribute to health and well-being, including self-esteem and feelings of efficacy, and provide opportunities to make a contribution to others. Bad jobs are exhausting, mind- and body-numbing and bad for our health and the health of those around us. One of the questions employed women and men ask is, “How can I find and keep a good job, a career that I enjoy and value?”

But what about “having it all?” I hear many young women concerned about whether their job and career choices will jeopardize their future family, and whether their desire for a family will inhibit their ambitions.

The research clearly shows that combining paid work with raising children is actually a positive for most women and men. Paid work provides working parents with the income to raise their families, and can provide a sense of well-being that spills over to home, while providing a balance in their lives.

Even when combining work and family is stressful, most workers report more benefits from the combination than drawbacks. For the majority of women, and men, the question is, “how can I manage the stresses, and what can my employer do to support me to be the best worker as well as the best parent?”

Based on the research, I second Sheryl Sandberg’s advice: “don’t leave before you leave.”

However, for some parents, work and family is difficult to manage. Because mothers still do more of the day-to-day work of parenting young children, mothers of babies sometimes face more work-family conflict than they can manage, especially if they have very demanding jobs, or very demanding home lives, such as a baby who is sick more than other babies are. Parents with larger families, a serious illness or crisis in the family, or with one or both adults employed in demanding jobs, may find that home demands cannot be met while maintaining demanding jobs, and something needs to give.

For these people, the question is, “how can I manage caring for my family?” For Anne-Marie Slaughter, and others like her, the answer to that question was to make changes in their paid work. Dr. Slaughter chose to leave the Washington D.C circles of power for a full-time job as a professor, where she could be more available to her family; others choose to take time out from paid work, or to leave completely.

It’s time, then, to stop the media fascination with the “Mommy Wars.” No one wins in the current climate. Instead, we need to step up to the challenge of creating good jobs for all workers, and providing parents with needed supports, including family-friendly workplaces, as well as affordable child care and health care.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

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It's a SNAP: Living on Four Bucks a Day

SNAPfoodChallengeIt's a SNAP: Living on Four Bucks a Day

This blog appeared originally on YWCatalyst blog. Author Peter Biro is the husband of Nova Biro, a participant in LeadBoston, YW Boston’s experiential executive leadership program which explores key equity issues facing Boston. As part of its examination of poverty, LeadBoston 2013 participants undertook the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge (feeding yourself on four dollars a day for one week). To support Nova, the entire Biro family participated in the Challenge to better understand food insecurity. Here, Peter reflects on the experience:

I rarely decline a cappuccino any time of day, and certainly never first thing in the morning, but last Thursday I had no choice. To support my wife Nova, our family went on a diet. We were trying to shave not calories, but dollars: her mission was to complete the “SNAP Challenge” as part of her LeadBoston program, and experience issues of poverty firsthand by limiting our daily food spend to what poor families can afford. That number, per person, is only four dollars a day.  

So, the Thursday morning cappuccino that rang in at $4.25 was not in the budget.

If you are lucky enough never to have thought about the breakdown on four bucks a day, as many reading this have not, you eventually arrive at a few other non-obvious conclusions. First, you have to allocate the $4 among your meals--say, 50 cents for breakfast, 1 dollar for lunch, 2 dollars for dinner, and 50 cents for “other” 50 cents for other is just not a lot. In that world, if someone offers you free food, whatever the kind, you probably take it. Second, as characters in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, about growing up poor in Ireland could tell you, alcohol is a budget-killer. Say your addiction is on the opposite end of the spectrum like mine and you need a cup of coffee. Cheap will do. That’s about $0.25 if you make it yourself.  

The issue in both cases is that the $0.25 has to come from somewhere. So taking your children out for a ice cream or a treat is a non-starter.  
blogpullquoteFourBucksaDay What are some cheap nutritious foods? In no particular order, the Biro family’s diet last week consisted of rice, beans, potatoes, inexpensive meat (specifically split chicken breasts on sale, and stew meat on sale), bananas, eggs, carrots (but you have to peel them yourself--having the factory do the work for you and turn them into baby carrots costs too much), pasta, homemade pancakes, nuts, oatmeal and super cheap granola bars we bought in bulk (more on this later). We bought a small crate of “Clementine” oranges on sale for $6, or $0.20 apiece. We made homemade pizza one night, with dough from scratch costing roughly $0.40, the sauce about $1 and mozzarella at $3, totaling not quite $5 for 2 pizzas, with leftovers for lunch. We did buy fresh broccoli, which is expensive at $0.30 per serving, so we didn’t have much.  Frozen vegetables are usually cheaper, but not always. Lentils are cheap and high-quality calories but we didn’t get those in.  

Greasy tortilla chips are cheap--low quality, to be sure, but cheap. It is true, as has been noted many times by those studying childhood obesity, that two liters of soda (for about $1 on sale) are much cheaper than a half gallon of orange juice (about $3.50 on sale) or milk.  

Besides designer coffee served by a disgruntled barista, other luxuries were out.  Berries. Flank and high-quality steak. Lamb. Brand names. Good apples out of season cost $1.33 each. So, you can eat a granny smith in March, but you have to give something up.  

My daughter Sophie and I typically spend Tuesday afternoons together and share a piece of cake ($4) and bring one home for my wife and other daughter ($4). We knew this had to go. So, last week, Sophie and I split a mini-cupcake for $1.  

We worked over the crumbs for a while. This was a theme all week.

This experience with my daughter really got my attention. My wife and I know how to improvise in the kitchen, and the convenience of leftovers makes them a way of life for us already, so fitting different ingredients into this model didn’t jar us. For Sophie and me to go without our usual dessert was not that big of a deal either, because in truth, we knew we could resume it next week. It was temporary. But poverty is rarely temporary. And on the best day, you can either have a cup of coffee yourself, or give your child a treat, but never both.  

My family adapted. Sophie resiliently offered, “That’s OK dad, I don’t need the big piece anyway.” I checked the daily sales at our local supermarket and, for example, bought a “Five Buck Cluck," a pre-roasted chicken on sale on Thursdays for $5. That’s meat for four of us, plus a little extra, plus the basis to make stock instead of buying broth at $0.80 per can. We used things that we had bought before in bulk--on a per-serving basis, much cheaper. A granola bar from a small box cost $0.40, but from a Costco-sized box, it’s about $0.10.  

But families in poverty, I imagine, cannot adapt this way. They might not have time to check in at  the market every single day. Yes, shopping at Costco saves money in the long run. But if you are poor, it’s not in your neighborhood. How do you get there? How do you have the money upfront to pay for everything? How do you get it back home? Where would you store it? And  you can’t spend, in the form of foregone wages, nearly $22 to make the 3-hour round trip; $22 is food for six days. At the same time, you probably have to shop for food much more frequently, which is a tremendous time burden for people already stretched to the limit.

This made us think about the broader issues.  

Tight food budgets bring the pervasiveness of cheap processed foods into sharp view. I don’t know what happens to the economy if the minimum wage goes up $1. I do know, that an extra $1 equals $40 per week and would increase the food budget of a family of four by almost 35 percent. A huge impact.    

Most importantly, I remember the anxious feeling after exhausting the daily $4. Not hunger pangs--we had full pantries in a warm spacious house in a safe neighborhood. The anxiety was rooted in this: for someone on $4 per day for food, food insecurity is rarely the greatest of their challenges.

Peter Biro is husband of Nova Biro, co-director of Open Circle, a social-emotional learning program for grades K-5, based out of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. Biro and her family's food challenge were featured on Yahoo News.

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