Jewish World Review April 2, 2003 / 29 Adar II 5763

Thomas Sowell

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The grand fraud: Part II

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Fraud is as pervasive in arguments for affirmative action for women as in arguments for affirmative action for blacks. In fact, a whole fraudulent history has been concocted to explain the changing economic position of women over the years.

In the feminist movement's version of history, women's changing economic position is explained by women's being repressed by men until they began to be rescued in the 1960s by the women's movement, anti-discrimination policies, and affirmative action.

Hard facts tell a very different story. Women had achieved a higher representation in higher education and in many professions in earlier decades of the twentieth century than they had when the feminist movement became prominent in the 1960s.

This earlier success can hardly be attributed to Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and the like. Nor should they be allowed to claim credit for the later resumption of that earlier trend, which had more to do with demographics than politics.

The percentage of master's degrees and doctoral degrees that went to women was never as great during any year of the 1950s or 1960s as that percentage was back in 1930. The percentage of women who were listed in "Who's Who in America" was twice as high in 1902 as in 1958.

Women were also better represented in higher education and in a number of professions in the 1920s or 1930s than they were in the 1950s or 1960s, though none of this fits the fashionable fairy tales of the feminists.

Women received 34 percent of the bachelor's degrees in 1920 but only 24 percent in 1950. In mathematics, women's share of doctorates declined from 15 percent to 5 percent over a span of decades, and in economics from 10 percent to 2 percent.

What was going on? After all, there was no feminist movement and no affirmative action in those earlier years.

What really happened was that, as the birth rate fell from the late nineteenth century into the 1930s, women rose in the professions and in the postgraduate education necessary for these professions. Then, as women began marrying younger and having more children during the years of the baby boom, their representation in both the professions and in the education that led to those professions fell.

There is nothing mysterious about the fact that motherhood is a time-consuming activity, leaving less time to pursue professional careers. It is just plain common sense -- which is to say, it does not provide the moral melodrama needed by movements such as radical feminism.

In later years, as women again began to have fewer children, they rose again in higher education and in the professions, though it was often some years before they regained the position they had achieved decades earlier. But now their rise was accompanied by a drumbeat of feminist propaganda, loudly claiming credit.

Yet the role of motherhood in explaining male-female differences is far more readily demonstrated. Data from more than 30 years ago show that women who remained unmarried and worked continuously from high school into their thirties earned higher incomes than men of the same description.

What about the rise of women's income relative to that of men after the 1960s? Surely that must have been due to the feminist movement or to affirmative action, no? No!

What the hard data show is that more women began working full time, both absolutely and relative to men. Obviously, full-time workers get paid more than part-time workers. Among those women who worked full-time and year around, their income as a percentage of the income of men of the same description showed no real trend throughout the 1960s and 1970s, despite all the hoopla about the feminist movement and affirmative action. The income of women who worked full-time and year around began an upward trend relative to the income of men in the 1980s -- during the Reagan administration, which is not when most feminists would claim to have had their biggest impact. How do the feminists explain away all this earlier history of women's progress? They don't. They ignore it. By the simple expedient of tracing women's progress only since the 1960s, the fraud is protected from contact with inconvenient facts.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)

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