Society and Culture

The Whole Truth about Women?

Yesterday, the White House released “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” a report prepared  for the White House Office on Women and Girls. Beautifully illustrated, it is reminiscent of the AEI publication Women’s Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America, soon to be rereleased in updated form by the AEI Press. The White House report follows on the 2009 Shriver Commission/Center for American Progress report, ‘”A Women’s Nation Changes Everything.” Both the White House and the Shriver Commission channeled the 1963 federal report of the Commission on the Status of Women, established by President Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt.

The White House Report draws on the work of some of the best government statistical agencies and, as such, there is much to recommend it. It documents, for example, women’s extraordinary progress in educational attainment. The report notes that education pays for both women and men, but notes that a pay gap still exists. While true, this is incomplete, and here AEI has been trying to set the record straight for two decades. In 1990, economist and former Congressional Budget Office head June O’Neill wrote an article for The American Enterprise magazine titled “Women and Wages,” in which she documented the narrowing of the wage gap at that time and explained that a proper understanding of wage disparities needed to take into account women’s levels of education (the White House report does this) and also and importantly, experience and interests. In Women’s Figures, Diana Furchgott Roth and Christine Stolba revisited the subject of O’Neill’s article, explaining that when levels of education and family status and work experience are taken into account, the gap almost disappears.

The White House report noted that “women earn the majority of conferred degrees overall but earn fewer degrees than men in science and technology.” True, but as our own Christina Hoff Sommers reported recently, this doesn’t seem to be holding women back who choose science as a career. Sommers’ article describes the conclusions of a new academic paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that reviewed 20 years of data on gender bias in the sciences. The authors report that women in the sciences are treated as well as men and sometimes better in terms of job interviews, hiring, funding, and publishing.

Feminist groups are powerful allies of this White House and neglecting the full story of women’s progress serves a political imperative. But it gives almost no attention an issue that is far more serious and needs to be addressed now. Today it is boys and men in our society who are at risk. Sommers has been sounding the alarm bells and is updating her book The War Against Boys to describe the dimensions of the problem. She plans to have several conferences on the subject in the year ahead.

Image by Argonne National Laboratory.

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