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Why there’s Still a “Women’s Issue”

You go, girl! Germany has a new female head of state, Geena Davis’ compelling performance in Commander in Chief helps us imagine that America could, too. The presidents of prestigious Princeton, MIT and Brown are women. Miami-Dade has a veritable dynasty of effective female state’s attorneys.
In Boston, the sheriff and police commissioner are women.

The face of leadership is increasingly female— far from enough, but getting there. So why, girlfriends and boyfriends, is there still a women’s issue in America?  

Some reasons a “woman problem” persists:

  • Wage discrimination. As economist Evelyn Murphy points out in her new book. Getting Even, ”Women working full time—not part-time, not on maternity leave, not consultants— still earn only 77 cents to a full-time working man’s dollar.” Yet U.S. employers pay millions of dollars annually to settle sex-discrimination claim—Murphy says $263 million in 2002 alone.
  • Educated professional women opting out. Accurate data are scarce, but anecdotes are oft-repeated. Affluent suburbs teem with 30-something mothers with MBAs, JDs, MDs and PhDs who left partner tracks at investment banks or law firms to focus on their children. Harvard Business School sees the need to help alumnae reenter the work force.
  • Struggling single mothers. According to last week’s Census Bureau report, 29 percent of all new mothers are unmarried, and about half of unmarried mothers are poor. Washington, D.C., where national policy is set, has the highest rates of single motherhood nationwide, and 36.3 percent of all new D.C. mothers live in poverty. (Hello, Washington pols, are you listening?)

The U.S. shines in women’s educational attainment and has good scores for economic participation and political empowerment. However, the U.S. ranks poorly on both economic opportunity and health and well-being, dragged down by meager maternity leave and limited government-supported child-care. And compared with other developed nations, America has high rates of teenage pregnancies and maternal mortality—shocking given a relatively large number of physicians.

This is the American paradox. We applaud individual achievement against all odds but fail to put in place the social and community supports that could shift the odds.

You go, girl!—straight to your nearest elected officials to demand change. If not for yourself, then for your sisters and daughters.