The disparity in income of male vs. female heads of household is striking. Analysis of census data revealed that, in 1949, approximately thirty percent of households headed by white males were living in poverty, compared to just under thirteen percent a decade later. For women, more than half lived in poverty in 1949; by 1959, that figure declined to thirty-eight percent. The prosperity of the 1950s was not universally enjoyed. Female heads of household at the end of the decade were not better off than their male counterparts had been ten years earlier.
Financing for decent, inexpensive homes was readily available to servicemen returning from World War II. Coontz (1992) argued that this boom in home ownership led to "increasingly pervasive and sophisticated marketing [that] contributed to socially constructed perceptions of "need" and to unprecedented levels of consumer debt (Edwards, 2001). It was new consumer values that helped propel mothers into the work place, not a sudden devaluing of family values. Women did not go into the work place because they no longer considered their families important. In fact, one can argue that their motivation was just the opposite. As Americans' perception of "needs" changed, women felt the pressure to go to work to help them provide for their families.
In 1947, women were admitted to Britain's Cambridge University as equal members. Acker (1984, p. 51) noted "the slow but steady progress of women in education started due to women's dedication and willingness to study despite sub-par compensation when finishing school." Women with Cambridge degrees did not have the same opportunities as male graduates. Times had not yet changed that much. In the United States, the most prestigious institutions were slower than Cambridge to offer equal status to women. At Yale University, women were admitted in 1969 (as they were at Princeton University), although the School of Fine Arts enrolled women a century earlier (www.yale.edu). Harvard University admitted women to graduate programs in the 1940s, but did not admit women as undergraduates until 1973.
What Happens Now?
Education and workplace opportunities afford today's young women with choices their grandmothers did not have; those choices have made marriage itself a choice, and not merely an economic necessity. Society's once-harsh stances against cohabitation and divorce have softened, again making marriage a choice rather than an expectation. Advances in biomedical technology -- infertility treatments, birth control, abortion -- have given couples control in family planning as they have never had before. The very definition of "family" is in flux, with a decade-by-decade increase in the number of single-parent households and the struggles of states to define "marriage." As society has changed, and continues to change, American women have many of the same opportunities for education as do men. This achievement has been hard won. Solomon (1985, p. xix) wrote "the fight for adequate women's education is far from over." Fortunately, progress has been made since the 1980s.
There is still work to do. Johnson (2009) noted that there are still achievement gaps between male and female students, in addition to the gaps that tend to receive greater national focus: the gaps along racial and ethnic lines and according to socioeconomic groupings. Although Title IX has mandated gender equality in school sports programs since 1972, women's programs still lag behind. Lipka and Wolverton (2007) noted gaps in coaches' salaries, scholarship money, and overall university sports budgets along gender lines. The issue of women in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines has long simmered across various levels in academic institutions (Hopewell, McNeeley, Kuiler, & Hahm, 2009). They also noted disparities in employment opportunities and salaries, even in these high-demand fields.
Since the nineteenth century, American women have made gains with respect to access to higher education. Progress, especially in the nineteenth century, was slow. A few brave and outspoken women managed to make advances for women in a society that was still very resistant to such a radical idea. Greater gains were made in the twentieth century, particularly when women finally secured the right to vote. Women in the workplace during World War II demonstrated they could be successful outside the traditional roles of wife and mother. The feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s helped women make further gains. As a group, they showed they could still be wives and mothers but they could also gain admission to the world's most rigorous and prestigious institutions and they could be successful attending graduate and professional schools as well. Title IX enabled women to participate in sports on a level that had previously been unavailable to them. Women have successfully gained entrance to schools, jobs, and opportunities that were once men-only. It is a testament to the women and men who helped make it possible for women to enrich their lives with higher education.
Coontz, S. (2000). The way we never were: American families and the nostalgia trap. [Amazon
Kindle editions version.
Delmont, S. (1996). A woman's place in education. Great Britain: Avebury.
Edwards, M.E. (2001). Home ownership, affordability, and mothers' changing work and family roles. Social Science Quarterly, 82 (2), 369-383.
Evanson, E. (1988). Social and economic change since the Great Depression: Studies of census data, 1940-1980. ). University of Wisconsin -- Madison, Institute for Research on Poverty. (FOCUS 11 (3).
Retrieved from < http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/foc113a.pdf>.
Flounders, a. (2008). Dinner time! Current Health 2, 35 (3), 18-20.
Halsall, P. (1997). Modern history sourcebook: Declaration of sentiments, 1848. Internet Modern
History Sourcebook. Retrieved from < http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/Seneca falls.html>.
Hopewell, L., McNeeley, C.L., Kuiler, E.W., & Hahm, J. (2009). University leaders and the public agenda: Talking about women and diversity in STEM fields. Review of Policy
Research 26 (5), 589-607.
Johnson, K.A. (2009). Gender and race: Exploring Anna Julia Cooper's thoughts for socially just educational opportunities. Philosophia Africana 12 (1), 67-82.
Lipka, S., & Wolverton, B. (2007). Title IX enforcement called 'deeply troubling.' Chronicle of Higher Education 6/29/2007-53 (43).
McClelland, a.E. (1992). The education of women in the United States. New York: Garland
Schneir, M. (1972). Feminism: the essential historical writings. New York: Random House.
Solomon, B.M. (1985). In the company of educated women. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Stubblefield, H.W., & Keane, P. (1994). Adult education in the American experience, from the colonial period to the…