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Do you want the good news or the bad news first? Okay, the good news: We women have not only caught up to men when it comes to education, we have taken the lead. The bad news -- and sadly it’s no surprise -- our incomes still lag far behind, earning about 75 cents to every dollar men made in 2009.
This data comes from a new report from the White House, billed as the first comprehensive federal report on the status of American women since 1963. It found that younger women are now more likely than younger men to have a college or graduate degree, and by 2019, women are expected to make up nearly 60 percent of undergraduate enrollment. At the graduate level between 1997 and 2007, the increase in full-time female students was nearly double that of men. We’re also outpacing men in high school, with female students taking more advanced placement exams than men in 2008.
Yet despite earning more degrees than men, we generally score lower than they do in math; earn less than half of all bachelor’s degrees in math, science and engineering; and are less likely to enter those fields than men. And this is perhaps one of the biggest reasons why we’re still fighting for equal pay. “We need to get women interested in different fields,” says Valerie Jarrett, chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and a top adviser to President Obama, during a conference call with reporters. More women go to college, Jarrett says, but now we need to “make sure they select fields that are higher-paying.”
But it doesn’t end there, says Jarrett, who points out that we need to also make sure “employers are paying [women] fairly.” Corporate America, are you listening?
Women are now working more than ever before -- and make up about one half of the labor force -- but still are more likely than men to be in administrative jobs and in traditionally female -- and lower-paying -- occupations. Consider that in 2009, nearly one-fifth of all women were secretaries, registered nurses, elementary school teachers, cashiers and nursing aides. And this statistic is especially troubling: Female-headed families have the lowest family earnings among all family types.
Now all this isn't an Oprah "aha” moment -- these numbers have been reported before and we know the trends -- but when you put it all together, as this report does, there's a message for parents, teachers, policy makers, business leaders and husbands. (Men, are you listening?)
We need to encourage girls to focus earlier on math and science and women to enter higher-paying fields; employers need to do more in the workplace to ensure pay equity, and we need everyone to pay close attention to the extra struggles for female-headed households.
And husbands, there's a message for you too. Even though men spend more hours working than women, according to the report, when you factor in the hours women spend on childcare, housework and volunteering -- on top of the hours they spend on the job -- they work more hours than men and still make less overall.
I just love having the evidence to back me when I tell my husband, "Honey, you have no idea what it's like to walk in my shoes!"