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.

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Liberia’s Education Crisis: Quality v Access

This post by Laura Golakeh, a 2015 summer intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women, was originally published in The Analyst, a Liberian newspaper. It is posted here with permission.

Laura GolakehOn March 11, 2021, the House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to “create a special education scheme to support deserving students attending public tertiary institutions across Liberia. The Bill is titled “An Act to Create a Special Education Fund to Support and Sustain the Tuition Free Scheme for the University of Liberia, All Public Universities and Colleges’ Program and the Free WASSCE fess for Ninth and Twelfth Graders in Liberia, or the Weah Education Fund (WEF) for short. The bill when enacted into law, will make all public colleges and universities “tuition-free”. The passage of this bill by the Lower House has been met by mixed reactions across the country: young, old, educated, not educated, stakeholders, parents, teachers among others, have all voiced their opinions about this bill. While some are celebrating this purported huge milestone in the education sector, others are still skeptical that this bill may only increase access but not address the structural challenges within the sector. I join forces with the latter, and in this article, I discuss the quality and access concept in our education sector and why quality is important than access. I recommend urgent action to improve quality for learners in K-12.

While this may sound like a broken record, an overview of our context is key in addressing the pertinent issues in my article. Liberia is still rebuilding its damaged education system after more than 14 years of crisis. Additionally, structural inequalities and the recent Ebola crisis in 2015, have contributed to challenges facing the education sector. While some gains have been made, Liberia is still behind many sub-Saharan countries in most education statistics. Poor learning outcomes, overage enrollment, unskilled and unqualified teachers, poor infrastructure are among some of the many challenges facing the sector. There are no national school quality standards and no proper monitoring mechanism at the county and district level. In 2013, all 25,000 candidates seeking admission at the University of Liberia, Liberia’s oldest degree granting institution failed the entrance exam. According to an official, the candidates lacked “enthusiasm and a grasp of basic English”. To put that into perspective, 25,000 individuals who went through K-12 lacked basic English skills needed to thrive in college. I put it that, quality is the issue, not access. A closer look at the following stats may help us understand this more clearly. It is no secret that Liberia has made progress in providing access to education, but has made limited progress in retaining learners. A World Bank report in 2016 showed that, of children who enroll in primary school in the country, 69 percent ‘survive’ to grade 6 and 59 percent ‘survive’ to grade 9. On the other hand, in the Education Quality and Access in Liberia (EQUAL) study, the mean score for Grade 3 oral reading fluency was 19.9 correct words per minute, compared to a mean score of 25 correct words per minute on the EGRAPlus assessment, and an average of 18.9 correct words per minute for Grade 3 students assessed by the Liberia Teacher Training Program (LTTP) II study. International benchmarks associated with literacy and comprehension are set at an oral reading fluency of between 45–65 correct words per minute. Again, the issue is quality and not access. It is not enough for a learner to have a seat in the classroom, the emphasis for policymakers is to guarantee that learner has quality education while they are sitting in that seat. The emphasis is to fix our broken system and ensure adequate funding for our schools. The emphasis is to overhaul our K-12 system and ensure our learners are graduating with relevant skills to succeed in their personal and professional endeavors. As one of my mentors and former boss said in a recent post on social media, we “cannot fix the roof while the foundation is collapsing”. This is a complete error in judgment. A careful review of the sector has brought me to the conclusion that focusing on quality in the system especially, K12 should be a key priority. Policymakers should also be cognizant of the following issues:

Teacher Quality and Societal Perception of Teachers: Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainability Goals aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Teachers therefore are needed to play a key role in achieving this goal by 2030. According to a World Bank report, about 62 percent of Liberian public school teachers are not qualified. Additionally, teachers especially public-school teachers are underpaid compared to other professions in the country. The “salary of teachers in Liberia range between US$140 to US$500 per month depending on their level of education. The lowest paid teachers, certificate holders, earn between US$100-US$ 140 while B certificate holders’ pocket US$ 180-US$ 200”. According to a study by the Center for Global Development conducted in 15 African countries, “teachers are paid either a lower or comparable monthly salary to other wage workers with similar educational background in three-quarters of African countries”. These issues make it difficult for the system to attract qualified teachers, hence the influx of unqualified teachers. According to an IREX report, research conducted to study perceptions of the teaching profession in Liberia showed that the profession is viewed by many as low compared to other professions in the country. It is true that a greater part of a teacher’s experience is based on how society views them and the profession in general. Countries like Singapore have the best education system because reverence for its teachers is well documented.

Bottomline, increase teacher’s compensation, provide professional development opportunities, ensure teachers are monitored and evaluated and engage in an advocacy and outreach campaign to change societal perceptions of the teaching profession. It is widely known that the social status of the teaching profession impacts recruitment and retention of effective teachers. Recent findings from the Global Teacher Index 2018 study suggests that there is a correlation between teacher status and student learning outcomes and that increasing teacher status can directly improve the pupil performance of a country’s students.

Reform Student Assessments: Education leaders need to promote a comprehensive and rigorous assessment systems that contribute to quality education. Student assessment reform is also a powerful stimulus for quality improvement in higher education and its reform goes well beyond the domain of assignments and examinations. Ensure classroom and large scale system level assessments are put in place to not only assess learning in the classroom but also continuous evaluation of the education system. Particular emphasis should be made to encourage teachers to design formative assessments that reflect students’ learning outcomes and that track individual students’ growth, rather than focusing on comparing students with one another. Teachers should be taught the necessary skills and expertise to carry out these assessments. A reform assessment module will serve to diagnose student learning issues, provide feedback to students on their learning, inform teaching, communicate with parents about their child’s learning, and meet school-level requirements on assessing student achievement. The goal is to graduate from traditional assessment to 21st century assessment.

Bottomline, ensure an enabling environment, system alignment and improve assessment quality.

21st Century/Competency Infused Curriculum: I wrote in a previous article, that a competency infused curriculum for education is essential for all learners in Liberia. Curriculum and quality works together. Our curriculum needs to be reformed to reflect our learners developing cognitive skills, practical skills, attitudes, emotions, values and ethics and motivation related to cooperation for learners. A quality education is one that prepares learners to be global citizens. The World Economic Forum defines global citizenship skills as those that focuses on building awareness about the wider world, sustainability and playing an active role in the global community.

Bottomline, a competency infused curriculum will lead to better learning outcomes for learners and better prepare them to thrive in the 21st century.

Gender Nudge: Gender awareness drives quality. In Liberia, as well as our education system, patriachal tendencies have led to a greater disadvantage for female and other vulnerable learners in classrooms. Poverty, disability, early marriage and pregnancy, gender-based violence, cultural ideals about the status and role of women in our society have helped build obstacles for female learners. Inorder for Liberia to ensure quality education for its citizenry, these gender related issues need to be addressed adequately.It is without any doubt that education policies and programs are bound to fail if gender is not mainstreamed in its designs and implementation.For example, a policy that wants to ensure that girls and women thrive in educational institutions should take into account that institutions do not work without interacting with and getting influenced by societal or cultural factors such as family, state, media and society. As a result, educational institutions are forced to perpetuate the stereotypes held against women in society. Such influences can stop women and girls from realizing their potential in academia as they are forced to encounter issues of discrimination, sexual harassment, dominancy of males among others.

Bottomline, mainstreaming gender in education policies and programs as a prerequisite for quality education.

Lastly, the Liberian Government needs to invest resources in the sector. Lawmakers should work with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders to allocate more budget support for the sector. Liberia education spending for 2018 was 8.06% of its GDP, a 0.2% decline from 2017. Recently, civil society organizations in Liberia protested over an 8 percent decrease of the education budget from 570 million in 2018/2019 to 525 million in 2019/2020 national budget.

The education system is in serious need of a “fix” not a temporary political solution. I choose quality over access.


Laura Golakeh is a gender and education expert. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Gender and Peacebuilding and is currently a student at Harvard University pursuing a Master’s in International Education Policy. During the summer of 2015, Laura was an intern at the Wellesley Centers for Women. 

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The 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.

In 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

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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Teen Dating Violence Awareness & Prevention

Last year, when President Barack Obama proclaimed February Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, he noted that an estimated one in ten teens will be hurt intentionally by someone they are dating and “while this type of abuse cuts across lines of age and gender, young women are disproportionately affected by both dating violence and sexual assault.” His Administration has committed many resources to addressing the problem. The Violence Against Women Act, reauthorized in 2013 by the U.S. Congress, funds enforcement of gender-based violence laws, provides victim services, and created new federal crimes involving interstate violence against women. The 1 is 2 Many campaign launched by Vice President Joe Biden aims to reduce sexual violence against those who experience the assaults at the highest rates--young women ages 16-24. And recently, a report from the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President analyzed rape and sexual assault data, including the staggering number of sexual assaults on campuses, and issued a renewed call to action. Teen dating violence between adolescents who are “dating,” “going together,” “hanging out,” or however the adolescents label it, is a serious problem—from public health, education, and legal perspectives—with injuries, poorer mental/physical health, more ‘high-risk’/deviant behavior, and increased school avoidance being experienced and reported.

One concern I have is that federal policies, as evidenced by Congressional funding priorities, may not consistently address systemic issues that contribute to teen dating violence. For example, the federal government has invested generously in “healthy relationship” programs and initiatives that promote marriage as a cure-all for poor women and girls but have no requirement for evaluation, while also funding research that takes a gender-neutral approach to examining the problem.1 Data shows that males and females do not engage in mutual, reciprocal, and equivalent violence—so why wouldn’t there be a need to examine the gendered components of any intimate partner violence?

My research for over 30 years has focused on peer sexual harassment in schools, a form of gender violence, which I consider the training grounds for domestic violence. In fact, sexual harassment may also serve as a precursor to teen dating violence. Schools—where most young people meet, hang out, and develop patterns of social interactions—may be training grounds for domestic violence because behaviors conducted in public may provide license to proceed in private.

Since 2005, my more recent research with Bruce Taylor, of NORC, funded by the National Institute of Justice of the U.S. Department of Justice, has been in urban middle schools, with the youngest sample of 6th and 7th graders ever studied in a scientific, randomly controlled research project on teen dating violence. Our interventions, both school-wide and in the classroom, emphasize articulating and claiming one’s boundaries and personal space; never do we discuss “healthy relationships”—a perspective that I find subjective and judgmental yet seems to operate as the default approach to preventing teen dating violence. Happily, our data shows that our interventions are effective and we are currently expanding them to 8th graders and testing for longitudinal effects.

This year, as we raise awareness about teen dating violence and offer scientific approaches to prevention, we must continue to invest in evidence-based and evaluated programs with rigorous research that inform truly effective public policies.

Nan Stein, Ed.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College where she directs several national research projects on sexual harassment, and gender violence. Shifting Boundaries, her research project with Bruce Taylor, is an ongoing, multi-level study funded by the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the effectiveness of grade-differentiated dating violence and sexual harassment prevention curricula.

1.)Healthy_Marriage_and_Responsible_Fatherhood_Grantees.pdf. January 23, 2013. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Family Assistance, an Office of the Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved February 3, 2014, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/resource/healthy-marriage-grantees

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Dispelling “violence against women and children” myths in human trafficking

New York Times columnist and anti-trafficking advocate Nicholas Kristof recently opened January’s Human Trafficking Awareness month with a Google+ Hangout entitled, “What does 2014 hold for the fight against modern-day slavery?” My answer is the need to dispel myths about sexual violence against women and children within the anti-trafficking movement so that we can all work effectively and sustainably toward ending exploitation. I hold little hope for truly ending human trafficking unless we understand the systemic nature of violence against women and children.

I strongly believe human trafficking and sexual slavery are a manifestation and continuation of interpersonal and systemic violence. For instance, the top two risk factors for sexual exploitation are a history of child sexual abuse and poverty. Yet, International Justice Mission founder and President Gary Haugen argued that an environment of impunity, not violence, is to blame:

[S]lavery is first and foremost a violent crime…and if you were to look at any other crime that would take place in our community that’s violent – let’s say rape – we would of course want to change those attitudes. We would of course want to make sure that the streets were well lit. We would want to make sure that women knew how to walk safely and avoid dangerous areas. But you would start, absolutely, that people who committed sexual assaults actually went to jail for it. You are more likely to get struck by lightning than go to jail for committing that violent crime.

Utilizing such “rape myths” like the need for well-lit streets and women’s ability to walk safely perfectly illustrates Haugen’s limited understanding of sexual violence: the majority of sexual assault survivors know their assailants and most rapes occur at home.

“Law enforcement is absolutely a critical component,” said Rachel Lloyd, trafficking survivor and founder of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS), “but it isn’t the only component…and it won’t be the thing that long-term changes the issue.”

We will not end human trafficking and slavery unless we understand the very nature of violence and how it permeates our culture. Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the worst record of death from violence and child death from abuse and neglect. We have the second-highest incidence of child poverty. Estimates across various surveys suggest one in every four girls and one in four boys in this country are sexually abused, 90 percent of them by either a family member or someone they know and trust. We have created the “perfect storm” for trafficking.

We also must acknowledge how violence is perpetuated. We often overlook that most of the few exploiters who have been studied report a history of child sexual abuse. Men who buy sex also report histories of sexual abuse and describe themselves as “sex addicts.” Abused children can repeat the violation throughout their lives, often within gendered norms, according to trauma expert Bssel van der Kolk, M.D. Abused boys can re-victimize, thus fulfilling the masculine imperative of being dominant and in control, while abused girls can go on to form relational attachments with victimizing boys or men.

If we are to stop human trafficking we must prioritize healing the wounds of abused boys through comprehensive, trauma-informed care over jailing angry, isolated men who become traffickers. We must focus on ensuring abused girls have economic opportunity based on intellect rather than equating their worth with their bodies. I am not arguing we sympathize with offenders because they have been abused. However, I am saying that jailing exploiters and solicitors will not stop trafficking: cycles of child sexual abuse and poverty are the fuel that keeps the engine running. We need to empty the gas line.

Kate Price, M.A., project associate at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), is also a social scientist in the cultural construction of childhood. As a survivor of the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), Price authored a chapter in the textbook, Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Europe, Latin America, North America, and Global (Lexington Books) and a JBMTI working paper, Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience of Commercially Sexually Exploited Children, examining CSEC through a Relational-Cultural Theory lens.

 

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Did the Republicans Lose Women in the 2013 Elections?

This article was originally published May 10, 2013 on Huffington Post by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

Virginia and New Jersey have spoken - the former electing a pro-choice governor and the latter an anti. Did choice matter? Did women matter?

The Choice Gap in Virginia
Abortion was considered the third most important issue by Virginia voters, with the economy and health care coverage outweighing it. The Virginia electorate's views on abortion rights almost exactly mirror the national opinion. The 2012 national election and 2013 Virginia election exit poll breakdown are as follows, when the voters were asked if abortion should be:

Legal in all cases: 29% (National 2012); 27% (Virginia 2013)
Legal in most cases: 30% (National 2012); 33% (Virginia 2013)
Illegal in most cases: 23% (National 2012); 23% (Virginia 2013)
Illegal in all cases: 13% (National 2012); 11% (Virginia 2013)

Voters nationally and in Virginia generally vote for the candidate that supports their view, with the exception of the "legal in most cases" group, which tends to have a greater percentage voting for the anti-choice candidate than the "Illegal in most cases" group has voting for the pro-choice candidate.

Legal in most cases: 58% (Obama); 40% (Romney); 59% (McAuliffe); 30% (Cuccinelli)

Illegal in most cases: 22% (Obama); 76% (Romney); 17% (McAuliffe); 80% (Cuccinelli)

In other words, there is a 20-percentage point difference in voting patterns in these categories. The pro-choice candidates, Obama and McAuliffe, got 58% and 59% respectively of the 'legal in most cases' voter, while Romney and Cuccinelli got 76% and 80% of the 'illegal in most cases' voter.

This pattern is similar to the abortion gap in 2012. Romney got 29% of the vote of people who thought abortion should be legal, whereas Obama got only 21% of the vote of people who thought abortion should be illegal.

This is a pattern that has been seen repeatedly in national and state elections. The mostly pro-choice voter votes other issues more than choice, whereas the mostly anti-choice voter does not. That said, the raw numbers still favor by a slight margin the 'pro-choice candidate since the pool of voters in the 'legal in most cases' camp is larger by 7-10 percentage points than the 'illegal in most cases' voters.

The Gender Gap in Virginia
There was the usual gender gap in Virginia with men supporting Cuccinelli 48 to 45 and women supporting McAuliffe 51 to 42 for a 12-point gap, virtually identical to the 2012 Virginia gender gap for Obama of 13 points. The national gap gender for Obama in 2012 was 18 points, hence Virginia trails the national average.

54% of white women voted for Cuccinelli and 51% of married women. Women are not monolithic, to say the least, in their support of pro-choice candidates or Democrats.

The Marriage Gap in Virginia
A greater voting gap was the married-unmarried gap. In 2012, married voters went for Romney 56-42. Unmarried voters went for Obama 62-35, for a 41-point marriage gap.

In Virginia in 2013, marrieds went for Cuccinelli 50-43 and unmarrieds for McAuliffe 62-29, for a 40-point marriage gap, virtually identical to the national marriage gap.

New Jersey
In New Jersey, every group went for the popular anti-choice, anti-family planning incumbent, with 63% of men and 57% of women voting for Christie. Abortion rights were not a major issue in the campaign, not registering on the exit polls.

The messages from these campaigns include the non-monolithic character of women voters and choice voters. Issues other than choice, and even family planning, are not the primary determinants of many women voters. The gender gap is real but the marriage, income and race gaps are greater. Politicians have yet to make the compelling case that reproductive freedom is essential for women, and men, and that they should vote accordingly. The connections to issues perceived as of greater importance, like the economy, taxes and health care coverage, need to be made. Healthy families with planned and spaced children of one's choosing lead to increased women's participation in the economy, more productivity, and less health care expenditures and taxes. This is a message equally compelling to people who are married as those who are not, but so far only the latter group have gotten the message and vote accordingly, as they want to keep their life options open.

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

Social 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:

  • 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.

  • The 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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Reflections on the March on Washington

Social Scientific Perspectives on Making Change in AmericaBlogMarchCrowd

Yesterday I attended the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington with two members of the WCW staff. We had been in Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings--indeed, we had just met with a liaison to the White House Council on Women and Girls earlier that morning--and we wanted to be a part of this history. The fact that my own mother had been a civil rights activist in the early 1960s was part of my inspiration to attend this event and share in the national moment on reflection on how far we had or hadn’t come in terms of meeting the deeply enshrined American ideals of equality and justice.

WCWHSWHCWGDuring the flight home, as I reviewed the day’s remarks by three U.S. Presidents-- Carter, Clinton, and Obama--vis-à-vis the poignantly articulated and enduring dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., I began to think about a social science perspective on progress towards our shared civil and human rights goals. Of course there are political and philosophical ways to think about achieving equality and justice, but how does the achievement of these ends look through lenses of psychology, sociology, education, or economics, for example?

The work we do at WCW is geared towards social change, yet our methods revolve around empirical social science research. Research not only informs action here, but it also allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of action using evidence. As I mentioned in one of our D.C. meetings, WCW is a kind of “evidence factory”--we are in the business of generating the kind of evidence that shapes effective policy and sound action programs. And it is no accident that, these days, everybody from activists and advocacy groups to philanthropists and Federal funders are seeking evidence that the actions they engage or invest in actually make a difference. Social-change oriented research organizations like WCW are key players in this equation.

Tomorrow, I will post a blog that takes a deeper look at some of the ways that social science research--including work by WCW scholars--informs social justice questions. Over time, I’d like to enlarge this dialogue about the role of research in social change, and I hope you’ll join me by adding your comments and reposting our blogs on your social media channels. By staying in conversation and creating a buzz, together we move the needle on the issues we all care about!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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