Kay Steiger

Women Hiding From the Economy in School

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Today the New York Times has an article (via the glorious Sara Libby), on women opting out of the workforce—hold on, before you get mad, it’s not this article—and going back to school or staying in school longer. From the piece:

There are now — for the first time in three decades — more young women in school than in the work force.

This time, the Times backed it up with some actual data. And, of course, an anecdote about a woman who would rather be pursuing a master’s in strategic communications than work at Starbucks. She notes her program is mostly women.

I suspect much of the reason this feeling that going back to school is so important is so prevalent among women has a lot to do with this chart. Whether women know it or not, or whether women are thinking about going back to school (or staying in school) in these terms or not, many women do feel the very real pressures that seem to come with credentialing.

For many women, negotiating a higher salary or getting a better job seems easier when you have a new credential to present. And many of the highly paid unskilled jobs that men gravitate toward—like construction, for instance—have significant barriers for women.

Previous studies have shown that women perform better when payscales and promotions are standardized. The gender pay gap is narrower in federal government jobs and in unionized jobs. Where some men might see scoring a big client or working overtime as the pathway to success, women may feel more secure with a credential in hand, because that can’t be disputed.

The overall tone of the NYTimes article seemed to play up women’s “choice” a lot. Women are “pickier” about jobs, and women are “reluctant” to work night or weekend shifts, but the reality is that women are making choices based on the information they have about the economy. Even more accessible skilled jobs for women, like cosmetology or nursing, generally require at least some schooling. It’s much harder for women to enter professions dominated by men, for a variety of reasons. When it comes to that, the choices don’t seem so much like choices anymore.

Written by kaysteiger

December 29, 2011 at 5:38 PM

Posted in gender equality

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