While reading the March 17, 2008 issue of Newsweek I came across a reference to an interesting fact: 21-30 year old women in certain cities make more than men in the same age range.
Interested, I did some further research and confirmed this. One concise source is the New York Times article from August, 2007.
Based on the findings of demographer Andrew A. Beveridge, women made 117% percent of men’s wages in New York City and in Dallas it was 120%. However, the national average in that age range is 89%.
The main explanation given for this is that there are more women than men in and graduating from college now and, as is often the case, many educated young people go to major cities.
Not surprisingly, many women are very positive about this change. In the past, more men than women graduated from college and men consistently made more than women.
Women compose 51% of the population. But, women make up 58% of the student body and 61% of the graduates of American community colleges. In 2002, for every 100 men who received a bachelor’s degree there were 133 women. In the same year, for every 100 men who received a master’s degree there were 138 women. Men, however, still outnumber women in the number of doctorates received.
The situation is even more extreme for minorities. For every 100 African American males earning a bachelor’s degree there are 192 African American women. The proportions are roughly the same for Hispanics and Native Americans.
What is somewhat disturbing is that little concern seems to be expressed about the growing disparity between men and women in education and the resulting disparity in wages.
Given the past and present concern with bringing women’s education and income on par with men, moral consistency would seem to require that the same concern be exercised when the balance tips in favor of women. After all, if the guiding principle is fairness, then what is fair for women would have to also be fair for men. Thus, serious steps should be taken to study and correct this growing imbalance.
One obvious reply to my view is that women do not yet have a general parity with men. While women enjoy a positive income disparity in certain cities, they suffer from a negative disparity in general. As such,no action should be taken to address the inequality that is in the favor of women.
This is a reasonable reply. But, the underlying cause of the inequality in the specific cases must be considered. If, as suggested, the cause is due to a disparity in education, then it is likely that the situation in New York will be repeated elsewhere in America and perhaps, as time goes by, women will make more than men because of this.
Helping myself to the argument put forth by feminists in the past, I contend that this disparity in education should be addressed now. After all, if it was unjust and unfair when women were a minority in higher education, then it follows that it is unjust and unfair when men are a minority.
It might be replied that this disparity is fair because men have had such a long time to enjoy their advantageous disparity. I have two replies to this.
First, what is unjust is unjust. What is unfair is unfair. Hence, this fact is not morally relevant to the status of todays disparities. Committing injustice because of past injustice just continues the injustice.
Second, the women who are benefiting and the men who are suffering from this disparity are not the men and women who benefited and suffered from the previous disparity. To justify the current disparity in this manner would be like fining a person because someone who looked like him committed a theft and then giving this money to someone who was not harmed simply because she happened to look like the actual victim.
Some might respond to this by claiming that since women as a group were harmed in the past by men as group the women of today have the right to enjoy a new disparity to balance out the “gender books.” Presumably, when the group injustices have been set right, then equality will be established. If it was not, then new gender inequality would start piling up and things would have to be reversed again and again thus creating an ongoing cycle of injustice.
I don’t buy into the notion of gender groups in this sense. There seems to be no rational basis for this sort of metaphysical claim of a group entity that can be harmed and benefited as a collective as opposed to individuals being harmed or benefited. From an objective logical standpoint, the burden of proof is on those who claim there are such entities. In fact, going from individual harms and benefits to collective harms and benefits in this manner would seem to involved committing the fallacy of composition. But, being a philosopher and a metaphysician, I am open to the possibility of strange metaphysical entities. Obviously, I am aware that individuals can be collected into groups for statistical purposes-but this is quite different from gender groups that can somehow sustain harms and benefits in this manner.
It can be argued that the fact that women now outnumber men in higher education is not unfair. After all, a disparity need not indicate injustice. The disparity between men and women might not be based on unfairness (such as special scholarships for women, etc.) but might be the result of the actions of individuals. If women are more serious about their education and this is why more women than men are in college, then this is not injustice. To use an analogy, the fact that more disciplined people run than non-disciplined people is not a sign of an athletic injustice even though a disparity exists between the numbers. This is because the difference is not due to an unfair attempt to limit one group. So, if more women than men are choosing to go to school and gender based factors are not involved in unfair ways, then there would be no reason to take special action to correct the injustice of the disparity-because there would be no injustice.
What must be determined is whether or not the disparity is a matter of choice or whether the disparity is caused (perhaps only partially) by gender based factors. Interestingly enough, when women make less money and when there were fewer women in college it is and was often assumed that gender based factors were the causes. Even today, people make claims that when a man succeeds it is because he is a man. The most famous recent example is that of Obama. As noted in an earlier blog, Ferraro claimed that his success was due to his being a black man.
Perhaps it is the case than when a disparity favors men, then it is due to gender based factors. But the same sort of principle would seem to apply when the disparity favors women. If it is to be argued than women are justly entitled to advantageous disparities, then the same sort of consideration must be applied when men have the advantageous disparity. If the women who go to college and make more than comparable men earned that disparity, then perhaps men who do better than comparable women earned that as well. We should not uncritically assume sexism when men do well.
My view obviously is that education and success should be based on merit-people should get what they rightfully earn. Gender should not be a factor because it is not relevant in this regard. Capable women and men should be able to achieve everything their efforts can bring them in terms of education and success. Anything else would be unfair and unjust.