Ad Spot

Ferrel Guillory: Rising education narrows earnings gap

By Ferrel Guillory

In the late 1990s, education data showed a widening gender gap in higher education enrollment across the South. Women exceeded men among students in four-year universities and in community colleges.

MDC, the Durham-based research nonprofit (at which I am a “senior fellow”), addressed what the data indicated in its State of the South 1998, putting its analysis under a pair of mildly clever headlines: “You’ve come a long way, ma’am” and “Son, you’re in a world of trouble.

Over the two subsequent decades, brain work continued to rise as muscle work faded. And now, fresh data, assembled and analyzed by the Pew Research Center, point to continued gains by women in the workplace — and hold lessons for high school and middle school educators in teaching and counseling young women and men.

“The growing presence of women in higher-skill occupations has contributed to more rapid wage growth for them in recent decades compared with men, and this helped to narrow the gender wage gap,” says the Pew report. It goes on, “Women currently hold an edge over men in certain skills and in schooling: They are more likely to hold jobs in which fundamental and social skills are more important, and a greater share of women than men have graduated from college.”

The Washington-based nonpartisan Pew Research Center conducts polling along with demographic and social science studies. Its report on rising demand for skilled workers and women’s gains, released last week, used Department of Labor and Census data to describe national trends. The report focuses tightly on gender, not on such factors as race, ethnicity and age.

The Pew Research team built its analysis not on specific occupations but on five major “families’’ of job skills: social skills of instructing, serving and negotiating; fundamental skills of critical thinking, writing and speaking; analytical skills of using science, math and technology design; managerial skills in dealing with people, time and resources; and mechanical skills of using equipment and monitoring operations.

Jobs requiring social and fundamental skills are growing rapidly and pay more. A new class of occupations has emerged for people with programming, science, systems analysis, and technology design skills. While men remain more concentrated in mechanical-skill jobs, the Pew report says, “demand for mechanical skills, such as repairing, troubleshooting and equipment maintenance, is on the wane.”

Of course, there are family-supporting job opportunities for men — and women — in blue-collar work. Expanding apprenticeships, for example, makes sense. The challenges facing North Carolina, a state still undergoing a profound transformation, is to align its educational institutions with the dynamic economy and to empower both young men and young women with the knowledge to make good decisions for their work careers and community lives.

“The share of American workers with a four-year college degree increased steadily from 1980 to 2018, especially among women,” says the report. “But while women’s earnings increased faster than men’s earnings over the period, a substantial gender wage gap remains.”

As the Pew researchers acknowledge, the persistence of a male-female earnings gap has to do with a complex set of factors, some difficult to measure, “driving a wedge.” They point to the responsibilities of motherhood, gender stereotypes and discrimination, and differences in professional networking. Still, education has made a difference.

“A rising level of education among women is one reason why the gender wage gap closed from 1980 to 2018,” says the report. “In 1980, 16% of employed women ages 16 and older had completed four years of college education or more, compared with 20% of men. By 2018, 40% of women had completed at least a four-year college program, compared with 35% of men.”

Though the report is not an education policy paper, the payoff in bolstering pre-K-12 education and expanding access to higher education emerges from Pew’s outpouring of data. A society’s investment in schooling can have the transformative power both to propel women to continue to go “a long way’’ forward and to steer young men away from a “world of trouble.”

Guillory is director of the Program on Public Life and professor at the UNC School of Media and Journalism.

Comments

Local

Recreation centers keep legacy of Evans, Miller, Hall alive

Local

Candidates discuss rural internet needs at Woodleaf forum

Education

School board to look at more renewal plans, valedictorian and salutatorian honors

Education

No bond, no building: Supporters say RCCC programs would stagnate without bond issue

Business

Biz Briefs: Local hiring event to recruit military personnel

Local

High school students from across the state compete in trade skill event

Local

James Greene recounts working as one of the first black probation officers

Business

Black business owners celebrate progress in community

Elections

Ellis, Hoy campaign for increased education funding in Senate race

News

Commissioner candidates talk future of space at West End Plaza

Business

Wells Fargo to pay $3 billion to resolve probes into fake accounts

Education

RSVP to attend Hood Theological Seminary symposium in March

Nation/World

McConnell-linked group funding ads to help North Carolina Democrat

Local

Council executive says local scouting won’t be affected by bankruptcy

Lifestyle

Victory 45: Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II

Crime

Blotter: Two arrested, charged after domestic assault in vehicle

Kannapolis

Kannapolis mayor appointed to new statewide committee

Check this out

Rowan weather: Warming up a bit

Local

Photos: Weather sprinkles Rowan County with snow

Crime

Search warrant: Cohen shown on surveillance video at time of fire

Education

Civil Rights leader visits Salisbury High, speaks to students

Education

Blackbeard exhibit comes ashore at N.C. Transportation Museum

Elections

State senate candidates square off on economic concerns, health care

Crime

Blotter: Officers witness road rage incident in Walmart parking lot, driver charged