Women are making great strides academically, so much so that I think it fair to claim at this point that they have overcome just about all of the road blocks to higher education previously placed in front of them.
Women in the United States now earn 62 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 52 percent of doctorates.
So clear is this triumph that people are starting to ask a question rarely considered in our modern society: what about the boys? Few folks seem to care about them really, instead celebrating the triumph of women as a sign of the female’s greater adaptability.
As the United States moves toward a knowledge-based economy, school achievement has become the cornerstone of lifelong success. Women are adapting; men are not.
That’s all good and well, but a recent perusal of a New York Times article got me thinking about a crucial aspect of this growing academic “fempire” that seems overlooked: the utility of the educated woman.
I’M a doctor and a mother of four, and I’ve always practiced medicine full time. When I took my board exams in 1987, female doctors were still uncommon, and we were determined to work as hard as any of the men.
Today, however, increasing numbers of doctors — mostly women — decide to work part time or leave the profession. Since 2005 the part-time physician workforce has expanded by 62 percent, according to recent survey data from the American Medical Group Association, with nearly 4 in 10 female doctors between the ages of 35 and 44 reporting in 2010 that they worked part time.
This may seem like a personal decision, but it has serious consequences for patients and the public.
Medical education is supported by federal and state tax money both at the university level — student tuition doesn’t come close to covering the schools’ costs — and at the teaching hospitals where residents are trained. So if doctors aren’t making full use of their training, taxpayers are losing their investment. With a growing shortage of doctors in America, we can no longer afford to continue training doctors who don’t spend their careers in the full-time practice of medicine.
Women are dominating men in classrooms now and this is, of course, hailed as a good thing, a sign of modern progress and, some would argue, greater potential for societal improvement (that argument stemming from the notion that women are more adaptable and more benevolent than men and, thus would better the world if found more prominently in positions of power).
The article above, however, raises serious concerns about this celebrated trend, as does this one:
One tiny problem may be holding women back: they are leaving the workforce in record numbers…
…There are numerous explanations put forth to explain this trend. Most tend to identify two categories of workplace drop-outs…
…The second (and more problematic) group consists of highly educated women who drop out (or “opt-out”) when they have children, even though they have the skills and income necessary to hire childcare. This latter bunch has economists and feminists alarmed for different reasons.
Economists consider the defections costly for the country; we need highly talented and trained workers. For feminists, the drop-out trend undermines their argument that women – even our most accomplished and best educated — are victims of discrimination. If the women most likely to enter the C-suite marathon increasingly choose to hang up their running shoes, why should we expect more finishers?
A recent study by Joni Hersch, professor at Vanderbilt Law School, makes that case. She looks at female graduates of our top universities – those presumably who have the best shot at shattering the glass ceiling – and finds that once they have children, they are more likely to quit their jobs than are women who graduated from less selective schools.
Overall, Hersch reports that 60 percent of women who graduated from our top schools are working full time, compared to 68 percent who made it through less prestigious institutions. Married women without children from top schools are 20 percentage points more likely to work full time than those with children; the difference for graduates of lesser schools is 13.5 points.
Perhaps most astonishing is that only 35 percent of women who have earned MBAs after getting a bachelor’s degree from a top school are working full time, compared to 66 percent from second-tier schools.
So, as Hersch argues, if only a little more than one third of the best C-suite candidates continue to work after they have children, it is not surprising that women are not showing up more often in corporations’ top ranks.
Tremendous amounts of economic and social effort have gone into the promotion of the educated woman and the more gender-diverse workforce. Tremendous amounts of real capital have gone into the promotion and education of women, the goal being to bring them fully up to par with men in both ability and opportunity.
Are we getting a good return on that investment? This is a question feminists do not want to hear about, but how long can it be avoided?
When it comes to educational costs, women are by all means equal to men. It does not cost less to educate a woman at Harvard Law or [insert prestigious and preposterously expensive medical/law/business school here] than it does to educate a male. It does not cost less to send a woman to an elite liberal arts school than it does to send a male. These costs, I don’t need to tell you, are massive.
Society is, collectively, making a gargantuan investment in educating college students with the hope that there will be some return on that investment. That return doesn’t have to come in the form of capital, but rather in productivity: those receiving these extravagantly expensive educations are expected use them in order to enhance their performance in professional fields. Said enhancement leads to better performance of professional fields as a whole (ex: a larger number of competent doctors, lawyers, investors and the like available to a larger share of the population), and that in turn leads to a better society.
The problem here is that men are offering a greater return on that investment than their equally well educated female counterparts.
The maddening reality for feminists is that this can’t be blamed on the patriarchy. There are many more women capable of holding elite white-collar positions than there are women actually holding them. That differential is, as the article above mentioned, due to female choice, not to male oppression. Women not only self-select out of many demanding, prestigious and high paying fields (even if they’ve not shown any lack of mental capacity to do the work), they also seem to very strongly favor the birthing and raising of children (and the professional sacrifice that comes with it) to the maintenance of a life on the hard-charging career track.
Most women (and men, actually) want kids, and (unfortunately for feminists), no amount of protest and advocacy for increased gender equity is going to close the gap between the biological role men and women play in reproduction. That burden will always be harder on the female than the male, and child nurturing is always going to be a greater female burden than male (another reality hated by feminists, except when our court system uses it against men). Therefore, so long as people want kids, women will always have a harder time keeping up with men on the career track, and will always “opt-out” at vastly higher rates.
Now, I don’t see anything wrong with women opting out in principle. Feminists shouldn’t either—after all, female choice is the most important thing, right? Women who opt-out are merely exercising their choice, and that’s fine.
The problem, however, is not one of principle but one of practical matters, particularly those relating to finance. Western nations are running out of money and, as the aforementioned New York Times article notes, running out of educated professionals in many crucial fields:
The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that, 15 years from now, with the ranks of insured patients expanding, we will face a shortage of up to 150,000 doctors. As many doctors near retirement and aging baby boomers need more and more medical care, the shortage gets worse each year.
Yet, this continues to be a reality:
women received 48 percent of the medical degrees awarded in 2010.
But their productivity doesn’t match that of men. In a 2006 survey by the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, even full-time female doctors reported working on average 4.5 fewer hours each week and seeing fewer patients than their male colleagues. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 71 percent of female pediatricians take extended leave at some point — five times higher than the percentage for male pediatricians.
This gap is especially problematic because women are more likely to go into primary care fields — where the doctor shortage is most pronounced — than men are. Today 53 percent of family practice residents, 63 percent of pediatric residents and nearly 80 percent of obstetrics and gynecology residents are female.
How long can this go on? I’m sure the pie in the sky ideas promoting absolute gender equality and the costs associated with it were more bearable in an age when economic growth seemed endless, an age in which the generation that largely began this whole gender revolution (hi boomers) grew up in.
Today, however, we’ve got a harsh reality staring us in the face: we’ve decided to take a massive portion of society’s investment in education and focus it on women and we’re seeing less of that investment returned to society. We’re paying more and, essentially, getting less. We’re committed to maintaining equality in our investment, but totally unconcerned with the equality of the return. This isn’t sustainable in world of finite money/resources.
The answer, surely, is not to stop educating women. Rather, it is to find a way to improve the return on the investment that said education symbolizes. How should this be done? If the answer means perhaps accepting persistent gaps in career earnings between men and women (due to female choice), tolerating some persistent gaps in male-female professional achievement (due to female choice) and perhaps pushing for a closing of the current gender gap in education that favors women in order to ensure that a larger share of this society’s massive educational investment goes to males (who, again, offer a greater return on it), will feminists and their progressive allies be able to accept that?
Feminists are going to have to find a way to answer this question, and soon. A society that fails to take a truly objective look at dilemmas of this sort and grapple with their serious (and, some will argue, horribly sexist) implications may be a society that, ultimately, fails to persist.