Sunday, December 7, 2014


Believe it or not, I still have the dictionary my parents bought for me when I started high school: Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (copyright 1960!)  Ok, ok! So what if you can do the math?!

What is interesting for me is that on page 772, at about a third of the way down the second column, I had placed an * in pencil between the words serenata and serene. At the bottom of the page, also in pencil, I added * serendipity because apparently the G & C Merriam Co., Publishers of Springfield, Mass. U.S.A. forgot this most important word.

The dictionary continues in constant use over half a century later in spite of water glass stains and duct tape on the book’s spine to keep it together. When did I go in search of “serendipity”? Was it as a just-off-the-bus freshman? Or was I a “wise fool” of a sophomore? It could have been much later in my career, but the pencil handwriting looks young and untested by time and events.

It must have taken some courage to edit the great Webster’s NEW Collegiate Dictionary in that manner.  But, it didn’t appear arrogant – just a brief reminder to the publishing world that they didn’t have a monopoly on editorial perfection.

There is something special about knowing a private little example of “serendipity” sits on my bookshelf, engraved in pencil in a young girl’s imperfect but memorable penmanship.

You Are As You Read

I have studied the lives of successful individuals and interviewed a number of accomplished women over the years. One memorable trait among many of them was their early exposure to books.  It wasn’t necessarily a case of reading great tomes.  Memories of the Dick and Jane series were as strong as The Little Engine That Could. 

Minds were taught to imagine a world of words outside a child’s small experience.  Listening skills found early refinement.  Stories were told of a youngster coming home from school to nestle in a corner chair and read to a puppy or kitten – someone with whom to share the excitement of discovery. More precocious kids read poetry, literature, or even worked through math puzzles or games.

Sharing stories with younger generations is a tradition as old as the formation of villages.  Perhaps story-telling helped created the cultural bonds of our earliest gathering together as families.

There is something special about selecting, from an abundance of books (at home or in libraries or even on Kindles), that one special tale that will be shared by parent with child.  There is no greater gift than the time taken to read a story – of joy or sadness; triumph over challenge; adversity or mystery faced and conquered. It might be possible to predict the success of a student by the books she has read as a child.

Christmas is a marvelous time to share the excitement of reading with the children in your life.  It is our personal joy to be able to shop at a local children’s bookstore and then to take a box full to the church across the street to share with the youngsters in their gathering.

For children, today, have their share of clothes, toys, even technology.  Is it possible – nay conceivable – that they could ever have enough good books in their life?  It is a joy, indeed, to see the local library meeting room packed with youngsters on those days that volunteers read to them after school.

The time we invest in reading to a child is a humble gift, but also a great source of mutual joy.  I would love to hear your memories of reading as a youngster.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Median Earnings Gap

A recent MIT Technology Review article on Inequality quoted David Autor, an MIT Economist, as follows:

“The gap between median earnings for people with a high school diploma and those with a college degree was $17,411 for men and $12,887 for women in 1979; by 2012 it had risen to $34,969 and $23,280. ‘Education,’ Autor says, ‘is the most powerful thing you can do to affect lifetime earnings.’”[i]

But not for everyone, apparently.  Look at the chart below to understand what has happened to median earnings for women COMPARED to men in the more than three decades during which more women have attained college graduate diplomas than ever before.

Here are the facts presented by Auton’s research:
  1. The advantage of a college diploma increased 100.8% for men (by $17,558) over the 33 years between 1979 and 2012. 
  2. The advantage of a college diploma increased only 80.6% for women (by $10,595) over the same period.
  3. The gender differential was $4,534 between men vs. women’s median earnings (a ratio of 1.35 dollar earned by men for every 1 dollar earned by women) in 1979, but it was over two and a half times greater at $11,686 (a ratio of 1.5 to 1) by 2012.
So, it appears that there are other factors behind women’s earnings differential beyond simply enrolling in college and receiving a college degree.

Women have outnumbered men enrolled in colleges every year since 1974. In the period 1960 to 2004, women outnumbered men enrolled in college by 2.8 times (1.5 million more women attended college than men). In the same period, women outnumbered men graduating from high school by 22.6 times (4.7 million more women graduated from high school than men).

In the fall of 2012, there were 10.0 million female undergraduate students (56 percent of total enrollment) and 7.7 million male undergraduate students (44 percent of total enrollment). Since 1990, female enrollment increased by 52 percent (from 6.6 million to 10.0 million students), while male enrollment increased by 43 percent (from 5.4 million to 7.7 million students).

Between 1990 and 2000, female enrollment increased by 12 percent and male enrollment increased by 7 percent. Most of the increase in enrollment occurred between 2000 and 2010, when female enrollment increased by 39 percent and male enrollment increased by 36 percent. However, both female and male enrollments were 2 percent lower in 2012 than in 2010.

Between 2012 and 2023, female enrollment is projected to increase by 18 percent (from 10.0 million to 11.8 million students), while male enrollment is projected to increase by 8 percent (from 7.7 million to 8.4 million students).[ii]

Evidence suggests there are two factors that might have contributed to the earnings gap between men and women.
  1. Women were more likely than men to interrupt their careers for an extended period of time to take care of young children.
  2. Women also were more likely than men to prepare for jobs (in women-dominated fields) that historically have lower income potential.[iii]

That same research indicates that higher grades achieved by women in college result in higher average earnings in the labor market. The two factors, cited above, the discontinuity of time on the job experienced by women and the selection of a college major, leading to decisions about jobs and industry sectors of post-college employment, are crucial. 

We could concentrate on the first point: the time women opt out of the workforce to raise children, but that subject has been the focus of childcare specialists, public policy advocates for government provision of childcare, corporate advocates for greater company investment in childcare, and the arguments favoring federal and state legislative efforts across the country.

Only one point might be added to this discussion: If shortages of reasonably-priced, appropriately-located, well-staffed/-supported childcare products/services were the major, primary barrier to women achieving their ambitions in the workforce, then what is the reason that women themselves have not created a larger or better industry of childcare products and services to “solve” this perceived problem to the satisfaction of modern women?

It is the second point that concerns us here:  women follow each other, lemming-like, into the same female-dominated, low-income, support service jobs and industry sectors year after year. Women who burst out of this stereotype, who tap into the higher income-potential STEM fields, are the women whose average earnings and long-term income growth excel.

The question that needs to be asked about his second item is “What do we need to do to persuade young women entering college to NOT pursue only the easy majors, the social media, marketing, fashion, consumer goods, or entertainment industry training where jobs are disappearing en masse or which will keep them at or near minimum wage levels of employment?

[i] “Technology and Inequality” by David Rotman, MIT Technology Review, October 21, 2014
[ii] National Center for Education Statistics
[iii] Gender Differences in Earnings Among Young Adults Entering the Labor Market (April 1998)
by Suzanne B. Clery, John B. Lee, Ed.D., and Laura G. Knapp, JBL Associates, Inc.
U. S. Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau. 1993 Handbook on Women Workers: Trends and Issues. (Washington, D.C.: author, 1993), p. 74.
Jerry Jacobs. Revolving Doors: Sex Segregation and Women’s Careers. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989).