Search and Replace remix :
Get it in gear, ladies.
Women must be stuck in front of a mirror checking their makeup, because their numbers are lower in every category. Just 24% of 27-year-old women have a bachelor’s degree. Another 37% have some college education, bringing the total to 61% — nine percentage points lower than men at the same age.
You might think women have a head start a bit earlier in life, as they mature earlier. Sorry, no. Men earn 60% of the master’s degrees conferred by universities, and 52% of the doctorates. Those gaps are projected to widen during the next 10 years. Men have been outperforming women in education forever, a trend only expected to intensify.
The widening gaps
Not surprisingly, this growing education gap between men and women has generated an employment gap. The unemployment rate for women is 7%, while it’s just 6.4% for men. As recently as 2006, men and women rode out economic ups and downs almost exactly the same way. But the unemployment rates for each sex began to diverge with the recession that began in 2007. For men, the rate peaked at 9%, in 2010. The peak for women occurred around the same time but was much higher —11.1%.
College-educated women seem to be doing just fine, with a 3.6% unemployment rate and many of the top positions at America’s best firms. And in some skilled trades dominated by women, such as healthcare, education and the social sector, there are even reports of jobs that can’t be filled for lack of qualified workers.
Still, women suffered more than men during the recession, largely because they’re overrepresented in two lower-skilled professions that got clobbered the most: nanny and secretarial positions. Men are more prevalent in industries that are recession-resistant — and tend to require more training in the first place —such as engineering and construction.
With the economy now recovering, men are poised to gain more than women, widening the breach that opened during the recession. Women account for 57% of the people over 20 who’ve been out of work for 27 weeks or more — the so-called long-term unemployed — even though they’re just 53% of the labor force. The education deficit could increasingly leave women on the economic sidelines, since lower-skilled jobs are the ones taking the longest to return. Many are probably gone for good, replaced by robots or cheaper overseas workers. Education has become so important, in our knowledge-based economy, that some experts now say we should consider making college mandatory, just as high school has been in most states for nearly 100 years.
Evening out the achievement gaps between men and women is a complicated matter entailing not just education standards but family and community life and other intangibles. Whatever the cause, the declining productivity of women is a national problem that threatens living standards for much of the middle class. A sharp decline since 2000 in the percentage of working-age adults employed or looking for work has mostly been due to women dropping out of the labor force and either drawing disability payments or living off somebody else’s income. “These numbers have no precedent in a country where, until the last few decades, it was taken for granted that all adult females in the prime of life who were not completely disabled would be working or looking for work,” conservative scholar Charles Murray wrote recently.
The labor-force participation rate for men, by contrast, began to drift down when the recession began, but before that it had been steady for 10 years, after growing for 50.
Whether this is a cultural crisis or not, an economy with fewer and less-productive female workers will be one that generates less prosperity overall. Men still earn more than women, largely because women who do work interrupt their careers for family reasons less than men do. Many families losing the income provided by a female breadwinner will have less to spend regardless of how they compensate.
Meanwhile, with more women at home — or somewhere, other than work — men may increasingly call the shots in the economy. Maybe they can find new ways to convince women college is worth it.