Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Educated white women responsible for the decline of Western civilization?

Salon has an article on the increasing gender gap in colleges these days and how some are (or are on verge of) practicing affirmative action for boys. One of the popular explanations for the gap is

the lack of male role models in American schools and [educators] alienating boys by prizing passive, "feminized" behavior such as sitting quietly, reading independently, and focusing on sedentary rather than dynamic projects.

Others disagree. Perhaps men aren't going to college because they don't have to?

According to Laura Perna, assistant professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Maryland, the gender gap is all about economics. Last fall, Perna published a paper in the Review of Higher Education in which she determined that young women might be more motivated to pursue higher education because, consciously or unconsciously, they sense that there are real economic advantages at stake. Her examination of a Department of Education sample of more than 9,000 high school students, interviewed over a period of eight years, revealed that women with bachelor's degrees earn 24 percent more than women without, while young men with bachelor's degrees experience no significant economic gains. For practical proof of her hypothesis, one need only consider that most well-paid, skilled, blue-collar professions continue to be dominated by men -- while minimum-wage jobs in hospitality and service remain the province of women.

And maybe nothings changed on the male side -- maybe the gap is the result of women's increased success.

In the fall 2005 issue of Ms. magazine, Phyllis Rosser wrote that rather than being "celebrated for [our] landmark achievements, [women] have engendered fear," and offers up this fact, conspicuously absent from most media coverage of the gender gap: "There has been no decline in bachelor's degrees awarded to men," she writes. "The numbers awarded to women have simply increased." Put simply, in the words of Jacqueline King, director of the Center of Policy Analysis at the American Council of Education, who is quoted in Rosser's piece, "The [real news] story is not one of male failure, or even lack of opportunity -- but rather one of increased academic success among females and minorities."

But does the success of women in education have other implications for our society? (Here's where we get to the interesting part.)

"On the one hand, you want to embrace the success of women," [Tom Mortenson] tells me. "Yet, as more and more women substitute careers for having babies, I've come to see that we're looking at a population crisis. The most educated women have the fewest children -- this is not rocket science, it's just the way things work. We need women to have 2.1 children [in order to maintain the U.S. population], but the recent Census Bureau reports show that American women with bachelor's degrees average only 1.7. You can do the math -- if we continue this way the white population is headed for extinction."

Having worked for decades to increase educational opportunities across class, race and gender lines, Mortenson knows his talk about women's responsibility to preserve the species will get him in trouble -- indeed, it already has. He says his daughter, age 29, unmarried, childless (but equipped with a master's degree), won't speak to him on the subject. But even his fatherly concern ("I want my daughter to have it all, but I worry that in old age she'll be lonely") can't disguise some of the insidious implications underneath those concerns: that educated white women might single-handedly be responsible for the decline of Western civilization.

It's true the women busy getting their college educations and starting their careers don't have as much time to get married and start a family, so I'd agree that, left to itself, this has a negative effect on the birth rate. But it would be proposterous to suggest that witholding opportunity from women is the solution. Education is not the problem.

What we need are educated women (and men) that are not brainwashed with the idea that marriage and children are best put off as long as possible. We used to have a society where a man and woman would fall in love, get married, and then welcome children into the family as they came. This is very life-affirming.

Now we have people that develop sexual relationships and put off marriage via birth control and abortions. Then even when they're married they put off children via same. Once the inconvenience is at a minimum, a child might be allowed. What is this saying? That we only have children when we must? That there are other more important things to do, like show up at an office day-in day-out, increase your salary, drive a late-model car and live in an oversized house? I'm sorry, this is a culture of death.

Our culture is the problem, not education. How do we change our culture? I don't know. Arrayed against any change is a media based on selling people on those new cars, bigger houses and successful careers (so you can buy more). And you have endless reinforcement of the idea that children will end your life (as it currently exists) and are more trouble than they're worth.

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