Greater Education Means Greater Inequality?

As reported by The Times of India, a recent survey of formally employed Indians showed something odd: the higher level of education a woman has, the greater the inequality is between her and her male counterparts. Specifically, among those with no formal education, women are paid 11.99% more on average. Completing some form of basic education means that both groups will earn more, but the pay gap switches, with men 10% ahead. The trend continues up to those with master’s degrees, where men earn 40.76% more than women. To avoid listing out all the data from the report, here’s a chart:

"Percent Difference in Salary of Females from Males"

Data from Varkkey & Korde (2013)

(If you’re not familiar with some of the categories, you don’t have to take my word for it: here’s the full report. It’s not a long read, and covers far more than just this one issue. It’s fascinating.) So with the PhD-level data outlying somewhat, we can see the pay gap becoming more pronounced the more education one receives! This is directly counter to the conventional understanding that investing in your education reduces economic inequality.

As we read again and again, educating young girls is supposed to solve these problems later in life. So why hasn’t it worked in this case? The report offers some theories:

  • There is a perception that a woman’s primary responsibility is unpaid care work
  • Women exit the work force earlier in life than men (for marriage or motherhood)
  • Women take breaks in their careers
  • Women opt for part-time jobs to care for children
  • Women “are categorized as potential mothers”

So here we get to the truth of the matter. Women should only work as long as they are single and without children, while men should work regardless of their marital or parental status. This is obviously not a story isolated to India.

It’s easy to discuss the obvious sexism inherent in these assumptions: women’s intense labor in the home and with children is economically undervalued; women should be the primary caregivers of children; all women will get pregnant and leave work; married women should not work, etc.

Consider also what messages these pay gaps are sending to the young girls currently in school: I should not worry too much about getting an advanced degree, because I will eventually leave work to care for my husband and children; I am best suited to work involving household chores and child-rearing; because I am always seen as a potential mother, I should feel incomplete as a woman until I have a child.

So how can these disparities be remedied? If education is not the panacea we imagine it to be, then what is the answer? Well if I knew that, I wouldn’t be in school studying this, but here’s my stab at it: more education.

Educating the young girls themselves is one thing, and the most important. On the whole, a quality education opens doors economically, socially, personally, psychologically, and you get the idea. But what about their parents, neighbors, male classmates, political and community leaders, and the rest of the nation?

Just as important for India to teach young girls letters and numbers, history and economics, physics and anthropology, is for India to teach itself that the women these girls will become can be valuable contributors to every aspect of India’s future success. Limiting their potential contributions by insisting that a woman’s value is derived from her husband and children hurts not only that woman and her community, but India as a whole. To deny half the population the ability to fully exercise their capabilities is to deny them the chance to flourish as individuals.

(And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every other country could stand to learn the same lessons. Just look at the gender gap in the US.)

Unnithan, C. (2013, November 3). For women, more education means salary discrimination at work. The Times of India. Retrieved from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/For-women-more-education-means-salary-discrimination-at-work/articleshow/25148884.cms

Varkkey, B. & Korde, R. (2013). WageIndicator. Gender pay gap in the formal sector: 2006 – 2013: Preliminary evidences from Paycheck India data. Retrieved from http://www.wageindicator.org/documents/publicationslist/publications-2013/Gender%20Pay%20Gap%20in%20India%202006-%202013.pdf

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