Tag Archives: gender: education

A Way for Feminism to Overcome its “Class Problem”: Unions

The Nation sparked a robust discussion last week with its incisive online conversation, Does Feminism Have a Class Problem? The panelists addressed the “Lean In” phenomenon, articulating how and why Sheryl Sandberg’s focus on self-improvement – rather than structural barriers and collective action to overcome them – angered quite a few feminists on the left.

While women of different economic backgrounds face many different realities, they also share similar work-life balance struggles. In that vein, the discussants argue that expanding family-friendly workplace policies – which would improve the lives of working women up and down the economic ladder – could help bridge the feminist class divide.

A growing body of research indicates that there are few other interventions that improve the economic prospects and work-life balance of women workers as much as unions do. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which I co-authored with my colleagues Janelle Jones and John Schmitt, shows just how much of a boost unions give to working women’s pay, benefits and workplace flexibility.Photo Credit:Minnesota Historical Society

For example, all else being equal, women in unions earn an average of 13 percent – that’s about $2.50 per hour – more than their non-union counterparts. In other words, unionization can raise a woman’s pay as much as a full year of college does. Unions also help move us closer to equal pay: a study by the National Women’s Law Center determined that the gender pay gap for union workers is only half of what it is for those not in unions.

Unionized careers tend to come with better health and retirement benefits, too. CEPR finds that women in unions are 36 percent more likely to have health insurance through their jobs – and a whopping 53 percent more likely to participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Unions also support working women at those crucial times when they need time off to care for themselves or their families. Union workplaces are 16 percent more likely to allow medical leave and 21 percent more likely to offer paid sick leave. Companies with unionized employees are also 22 percent more likely to allow parental leave, 12 percent more likely to offer pregnancy leave, and 19 percent more likely to let their workers take time off to care for sick family members.

Women make up almost half of the union workforce and are on track to be in the majority by 2025. As women are overrepresented in the low-wage jobs that are being created in this precarious economy – they are 56.4% of low-wage workers and over half of fast food workers – unions are leading and supporting many of the campaigns to improve their situations. In an important sense, the union movement already is a women’s movement.

Education and skills can get women only so far. It’s a conundrum that women have surpassed men when it comes to formal schooling, yet women have made little progress catching up on pay. Many women who do everything right — getting more education and skills — still find themselves with low wages and no benefits.

With unions already playing a central role in helping to meet the needs working women and their families in the 21st century economy, anyone concerned about the well-being of women should also care about unions.

Nicole Woo is the director of domestic policy at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.  This post is based on her new study,  “Women, Working Families, and Unions,” and originally appeared at Girl w/ Pen!

Sunday Fun: Precious Academic Moments

Thanks to someone for this mash up of academia and Precious Moments figurines! About him or herself, he or she writes:

I’m the sort of person who (a) constantly saw, and was occasionally given, Precious Moments figures as a kid, despite finding them creepy; and (b) now makes a living in, and constantly thinks about, academia, despite finding it creepy.

Scroll through some of my favorites below or see them all!

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Men Feel Bad Around Smart, Successful Women

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

 You know all those badass ladies out there that are inexplicably single? Well, maybe it’s not so inexplicable.

In a study contending for most-depressing-research-of-the-year, psychologists Kate Ratliff and Shigehiro Oishi tested how a romantic partner’s success or failure affects the self-esteem of people in heterosexual relationships.  The short story: men feel bad about themselves when good things happen to their female partners.  Women’s self-esteem is unaffected.  Here’s some of the data.

The vertical axis represents self-esteem. In this experiment, respondents were told that their partner scored high on a test of intelligence (“positive feedback”) or low (“negative feedback”).  The leftmost bars show that men who were told that their partners were smart reported significantly lower self-esteem than those who heard that their partners weren’t so smart.

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In the second condition, respondents were asked to imagine a partner’s success or failure.  Doing so had no effect on women’s self-esteem (rightmost bars).  For men, however, imagining their partners’ success made them feel bad about themselves, whereas imagining their failure made them feel good.Screenshot_2

The various experiments were conducted with American and Dutch college students as well as a diverse Internet sample.  The findings were consistent across populations and were particularly surprising in the context of the Netherlands, which is generally believed to be more gender egalitarian.

We’ve got a long way to go.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post and Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Hooking Up at Occidental College… at Occidental College

1This past semester I had the genuine pleasure of giving my talk about hook up culture to students at my own institution, Occidental College.  This was a treat — and also a little bit scary — not only because I was talking to my own community, but because many of the students in the audience had been part of the two studies that informed my talk (here’s one).  I wanted to do them justice and make them feel good about their contribution, even if they had  mixed feelings about the stories of theirs that I was telling.

In the end, it felt like an incredible catharsis.  The students, who I adore, seemed genuinely thrilled that I was there to bring their experiences into the light; whether they were a part of the study or not, they knew that on some level this was about them.  Their response was overwhelming.  So I post this talk — with relatively bad video and decent audio — but an amazing audience response, as evidence of how receptive college students are to interesting analyses of their lives by (relatively) impartial analysts.  And, also: I love you, Oxy!  Y’all are my favorite!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Framing the Occidental Fight for a Better Sexual Assault Policy

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post.

Last week I posted about our college President’s suggestion that he is disinclined to believe students who report sexual assault.  In response to this, and a series of other problems with our sexual assault policy, the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition is filing a federal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights and a Clery Act complaint.  No longer confident that our President and his administration will agree to implement the best practices for reporting and adjudicating sexual assault, faculty and students are turning to external mechanisms.

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These seem like extraordinary measures, but I want to be clear that there is nothing extraordinary about the number of sexual assaults or the mishandling of reports by the Occidental administration.  Occidental is no more or less unsafe than the vast majority of residential colleges and universities around the country.  College attendance is a risk factor for sexual assault — it raises the likelihood that a person will be a victim of an attempted or completed assault — and Occidental is no different in that regard.

Instead of a sign that Occidental has a uniquely broken system, the activities on campus reflect a commitment to making the college a nationwide model.   You see, we do believe that Occidental is different than other colleges.  It’s extraordinary.  And we’re committed to holding it to a higher standard.  We want Occidental to usher in a new era of sexual assault policy and improved campus sexual culture.  There will be a day when honest, transparent, and fair reporting and adjudication of sexual assaults will be the norm.  When that happens, the approach we find on essentially all college campuses today — a high rate of non-report, pressure on victims to stay quiet, sloppy and biased adjudication, and suppression of sexual assault data — will be considered backward, inhumane, and unjust.  That day is coming, and we want Oxy to get there first.

Photo credit: Chris Ellis and the Occidental Weekly.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Truth About Gender and Math

New data about the science aptitude of boys and girls around the world inspires me to re-post this discussion from 2010.
Math ability, in some societies, is gendered.  That is, many people believe that boys and men are better at math than girls and women and, further, that this difference is biological (hormonal, neurological, or somehow encoded on the Y chromosome).

But actual data about gender differences in math ability tell a very different story.  Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang reviewed these differences in the New York Times.  They report the following (based on the US unless otherwise noted):

•  There is no difference in math aptitude before age 7.  Starting in adolescence, some differences appear (boys score approximately 30-35 points higher than girls on the math portion of the SAT).  But, scores on different subcategories of math vary tremendously (often with girls outperforming boys consistently).

•  When boys do better, they are usually also doing worse.   Boys are also more likely than girls to get nearly all the answers wrong.  So they overpopulate both tails of the bell curve; boys are both better, and worse, than girls at math.

•  That means that how we test for math ability is a political choice.  If you report who is best at math, the answer is boys.  If you report average math ability, it’s about the same.

•  How you decide to test math ability is also political.  Even though boys outperform girls on the SAT, it turns out those scores do not predict math performance in classes.  Girls frequently outperform boys in the classroom.

•  And, since girls often outperform boys in a practical setting, math aptitude (even measured at the levels of outstanding instead of average performance) doesn’t explain sex disparities in science careers (most of which, incidentally, only require you to be pretty good at math, as opposed to wildly genius at it).   In any case, scoring high in math is only loosely related to who opts for a scientific career, especially for girls. Many high scoring girls don’t go into science, and many poor scoring boys do.

Now, let’s look at some international comparisons:

•  Boys do better in only about ½ of the OECD nations. For nearly all the other countries, there were no significant sex differences. In Iceland, girls outshine boys significantly.

•  In Japan, though girls perform less well than the boys, they generally outperform U.S. boys considerably.  So finding that boys outperform girls within a country does not mean that boys outperform girls across all countries.

•  Still, even in Iceland, girls overwhelmingly express more negative attitudes towards math.

So what’s the real story here?  Well, one study found that the gender gap in math ability and the level of gender inequality in a society were highly correlated. That is, “…the gender gap in math, although it historically favors boys, disappears in more gender-equal societies.”

Part of the problem, then, is simply that  girls and boys internalize the idea that they will be bad and good at math respectively because of crap like the “Math class is tough!” Barbie (sold and then retracted in 1992):

However, girls’ insecurity regarding their own math ability isn’t just because they internalize cultural norm, their elementary school teachers, who are over 90% female, sometimes do to and they teach math anxiety by example.  A recent study has shown that, when they do, girl students do worse at math.  From the abstract (this is pretty amazing):

There was no relation between a teacher’s [level of] math anxiety and her students’ math achievement at the beginning of the school year.  By the school year’s end, however, the more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely girls (but not boys) were to endorse the commonly held stereotype that “boys are good at math, and girls are good at reading” and the lower these girls’ math achievement.  Indeed, by the end of the school year, girls who endorsed this stereotype had significantly worse math achievement than girls who did not and than boys overall.

So, with only the possible exception of genius-level math talent, men and women likely have equal potential to be good (or bad) at math.  But, in societies in which women are told that they shouldn’t or can’t do math, they don’t.  And, as Fatistician said, “math is a skill.”  People who think practicing it is pointless won’t practice it.  And those who don’t practice, won’t be any good at it… Y chromosome or no.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Even Astrophysicists Notice Gendered AP Study Guides

This week Neil DeGrasse Tyson tweeted the following, along with a photograph of suspiciously gendered AP exam study guide covers:

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I’m going to take this to mean that Tyson is as big a fan of sociology as I am of astrophysics.  Made my day.

Thanks to Jay Livingston for the tip!

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Gender and Biased Perceptions: Scientists Rate Job Applicants

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012. Originally cross-posted at Ms.

Larry H., Shayna A.-S., and Laura F. sent in a recently released study, “Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students,” that shows compelling evidence for unconscious gender bias among faculty, specifically in some natural and biological science fields. The researchers asked a national sample of 127 biology, physics, and chemistry professors to evaluate the application materials of an undergrad science student who applied for a lab manager position, a job they saw as a gateway to other opportunities. Everyone was given the same materials (excerpts here), but half the applicants were given the first name Jennifer and half were called John. The participants were told the student would be given feedback based on their evaluations.

The results are sobering. There was a significant difference in the average competence, hireability, and mentoring ratings by gender. Professors who thought they were evaluating a female applicant saw a less qualified candidate than professors who were evaluating the identical application materials but thought it was from a man:

So not only was there a gap in perceived competence and fit for the position, but professors were less willing to engage in the type of mentoring that can help students gain both skills and confidence in their abilities — which can be especially important for under-represented groups.

And despite what you might expect, female professors were just as likely to do this as male professors were. Just thinking an applicant was female seems to have touched off an unconscious bias that led them to see female candidates negatively and to be less willing to spend time mentoring them. Professors’ age, tenure status, and discipline didn’t make a difference, either.

The professors were also asked to recommend a starting salary. Again, there was a significant difference. The average suggested beginning salary for the male candidate was $30,238, while for the female student it was $26,507:

The authors point out that these findings are especially noteworthy because, unlike many studies of gender bias that use college students or people who have never had to make the type of hiring or mentoring decisions they’re being asked to engage in for the study, this sample was made up of scientists who are active in their fields, regularly working with students.

Interestingly, when asked how much they liked the candidate, those evaluating the female student gave a higher score than those assigned the male student. But this didn’t translate into seeing the female candidate as competent. The study authors argue that this is strong evidence for subtle gender bias. The professors didn’t express dislike or hostility toward a female candidate. In fact, they tended to actively like her. But as the researchers explained,

…despite expressing warmth toward emerging female scientists, faculty members of both genders appear to be affected by enduring cultural stereotypes about women’s lack of science competence that translate into biases in student evaluation and mentoring. (p. 4)

This study implies that women in the natural and biological sciences (and yes, surely other fields too) still face prejudices that can impact the opportunities they are given to work closely with professors to gain important experiences and skills, as well as limiting their access to jobs and starting them out at a lower salary. These factors can snowball over time, creating larger and larger gaps in career achievements and income as men capitalize on opportunities while women find it impossible to catch up.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.