Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Educating Canadians and Sexism

Here's my blogging problem in a nutshell. I sit down with two perfectly simple and connecting links to news stories about Canada's education system -- pretty positive stuff actually. We're highly educated but starting to spend at rates that will soon rival our neighbors to the south if we're not careful, but instead of leaving it there I get hold of something contained in both the stories and just can't let it go. In this case it's ages old sexism which shouldn't surprise me but does, and I should be sanguine enough to accept it as a fact of life but I can't.

A study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that... Canada spends more and more on higher education, an increasing percentage of the cost is borne by students and their families. In financial terms, the benefits of a postsecondary education to individuals and Canadian society at large far outweigh the costs -- the OECD estimates that the average Canadian man with a college or university education makes more than three times what he put into getting such an education, both in terms of direct costs and lost wages. For the average woman, the gain is more than double the cost.

 A related story about findings contained in Education Indicators in Canada, a wide-ranging collection of data released by the Council of Education Ministers, that looks at education levels found... Canadians are better educated than they were a decade ago and have some of the highest rates of post-secondary attendance in the developed world.

Sadly and incomprehensibly that report also details male/female inequality and finds that women are graduating from both high school and post-secondary in much higher numbers than men, but continued to earn far less in the workforce. When I read similar statistics like these in two separate studies I despair for the 21st century. I never really expected a flying car just because the calendar changed. I did however expect more common sense, an end to sexism and racism and then if it wasn't too much to ask... well maybe a jet-pack would be pretty cool.

But then I find this hopeful 2008 article from Harvard Magazine on Dan Klindon, a clinical psychologist and adjunct lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health, about what he calls "alpha girls," and it gives me hope that it's just a matter of time before this stuff dies with the generations that brought it to us. It was inspired by some rather remarkable numbers: the historic reversal in U.S. college enrollments, 58 percent today are women, the 1970 percentage for men. He talks about how much today’s girls and young women, born after the early 1980s, "...are profoundly different from their mothers."
 
These “alpha girls” did not appear overnight as we well know. It took ...a century of social and economic change first tipped and then leveled the playing field, creating the circumstances for unprecedented gains for women in education and the labor force. When all is said and done however, these young women will face similar trade offs regards marriage and careers to their mothers once they enter the workforce. But Klindon suggests that in the same ways these women have changed current dynamics of wage and marriage patterns in unexpected ways they may change society: With parenting no longer “women’s work” alone, perhaps a true work/life balance is possible for men and women.
 
So, maybe sometime late in her career my girl can hope for/expect to get equal pay for equal work -- just not anytime soon.

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