Friday, July 3, 2009

Elementary Schools and the Modern Workplace: Food for Thought

Everyone knows about the wage gap, and everyone knows that it sucks. Some people know about the performance gap that's rising between boys and girls in schools, with more girls now graduating from high school, college, graduate school, and so on. Girls are also performing better on all sorts of aptitude tests as far back as elementary school. The question is: why?

I posit that the wage gap is in some part due to the actual structure of the standard workplace. Things that are rewarded include working fulltime (as opposed to part time), working overtime, not taking time off, and asking for pay raises. It evolved over many years in a male-dominated workforce, with men in positions of power, and as a result, it's not well-suited for people who don't behave in the same standard male way. For whatever reasons, be they social, biological or both, women are less likely to do these things that would raise their salaries than men are: they tend to value their time at home more, are more likely to call in sick, and tend to feel uncomfortable asking for pay raises. The system that is in place is ill-suited for women workers, and women workers are ill-suited for the system that is in place. (Note also that young women workers, before child-rearing age, actually make more than men nowadays in a lot of circumstances.)

Similarly, elementary schools are nowadays largely populated by women teachers. Encouraged behaviors include sitting still and quietly for long periods of time, learning things through worksheets and lecture rather than through labs and hands-on workshops, collaborating rather than competing, and so on. These are things that, for whatever reasons, are easier for little girls. Perhaps the gender gap in school performance and the gender gap in salary have similar roots? Some schools have already started examining this possibility. I have high hopes.

1 comment:

  1. You've mentioned the "full time, overtime, and no time off"-encouraging workplace multiple times, and I don't think I'm understanding what you're saying: What is the alternative to "if you work more, you get paid more"? Doing something different seems unfair to employers, at least under the assumption that employees are being compensated for the work they do to the employer's benifit.