Tag Archives: suffrage

Women’s Equality Day earnings data stuff and suffrage note

Tomorrow is Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the day, in 1920, when U.S. women were granted the right to vote. (Asterisk: White women.)

One historical story

Congress finally passed a Constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage in 1918, after decades of activism. The suffrage movement in the end successfully made a few convincing arguments – and one clarification. The most important may have been that White women had proved their patriotism during the war, and so they finally deserved the vote. I wrote in 1996:

“No one thing connected with the war is of more importance at this time than meeting the reasonable demand of millions of patriotic and Christian women of the Nation that the amendment for woman suffrage be submitted to the states,” declared Representative James Cantrill. And, he added, “Right, justice, liberty and democracy have always been, and will always be, safe in the tender care of American womanhood.”

And you know what he meant by “American womanhood” (an image the mainstream suffrage movement encouraged to various degrees over the years):

American_progress

American Progress, by John Gast (1872)

The important clarification was that women’s suffrage would absolutely not hurt White supremacy in the South. You know how it is when you just need that Southern vote. I went on:

If reluctant congressmen would only believe in the contribution of white women that was waiting to be made, suffrage advocates explained, the political math was irresistible. “There are more white women of voting age in the South to-day than there are negro men and women together,” [Congress’s only woman, Jeannette] Rankin said. Representative Scott Ferris assured them that poll taxes and literacy tests would remain untouched, so that “for every negro woman so enfranchised there will be hundreds and thousands of intelligent white women enfranchised” (Congressional Record 1918, 779). And Representative Thomas Blanton proclaimed, “So far as State rights are concerned, if this amendment sought to take away from any State the right of fixing the qualifications of its voters, I would be against it first, last, and all the time, but such it does not.” Although states should be allowed to set qualifications for voting, he believed, they could not do so at the expense of undermining true republicanism, and, “if you deny the 14,000,000 white women of this country the right to vote, you are interfering with a republican form of government [Applause]” (786). That day, the House passed the amendment with the required two-thirds vote.

Anyway, rights are rights, America is America, history is history (ha ha).

Some pay gap numbers

Back to nowadays. Today’s numbers come from some analysis of the gender earnings gap I did to support the Council on Contemporary Families brief for Women’s Equality Day. One big story is women’s rising education levels, especially BA completion.

In the active labor force as often described (age 25-54, working at least 20 hours per week and 26 weeks in the previous year), women surpassed men in BA completion in 2002:

wed1

That’s very good for women with regard to the earnings gap, because at every level of education men earn more than women. Women’s full-time full-year earnings are between 70% and 80% of men’s at all education levels except the highest, where they diverge: men who are doctors and lawyers earn much more than women, while women PhDs are doing relatively well. Here’s the 2015 breakdown by education:

wed2

With the education trend and differentials in mind, consider these multivariate model results. Going back to the sample of 25-54-year-old people working at least half-time and half the year, here are two results. The first line, in blue, shows the gender earnings ratio when only age is controlled. It shows women gaining on men from 2000 to 2016, from 77% to 83%. This is not much progress for 25 years, but it’s the slow pace we’ve come to expect during that time. The other line shows result from a more complete model, which adds controls for education, race/ethnicity, marital status, and presence of children; it shows even less progress.

wed3

In the full model (orange line) the relative gains for women are not as great. (Note I don’t include occupation in the “full” model although that’s very important; it’s just also an outcome of gender so I let it be in the gender variable for descriptive purposes.)

In the old days, when women had less education than men, controlling for education shrank the gap; now it appears the opposite is true. I haven’t done the whole decomposition to confirm this, but here’s another way to look at it. The next figure shows the same models, but in two separate samples, with and without BA degrees (and no control for education). The figure shows little progress within education groups. This implies it’s the increase in education for women that is driving the progress seen in the previous figure.

wed4

In conclusion: there is a substantial gender earnings gap at every level of education. The limited progress toward equality we’ve seen in the past 25 years may be driven by increases in women’s education.

There is a lot of other research on this — especially about segregation, which I didn’t include here — and a lot more to be done.


This is a little analysis, but if you’d like to do more, or see how I did what I’ve shown here, I posted the Stata code, data from IPUMS.org, codebook, and spreadsheet file on the Open Science Framework site here. You can use any of it for whatever you like, with a citation that looks like this one the OSF generates:

Cohen, P. N. (2017, August 25). Gender wage gap analysis, 1992-2016. Retrieved from osf.io/mhp3z

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Quick note on Patricia Arquette and White feminism

Inez Milholland, representing the social kind of White women's feminism that elevates "women" to special symbols of national pride. (Image from Wikipedia)

Inez Milholland at a suffrage parade in 1913, representing the special kind of White feminism that elevates “women” to symbols of national pride. (Image from Wikipedia)

I have just a little to add to the controversy over Patricia Arquette’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. She said:

To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights, it is our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

Backstage, she doubled down:

And it’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now!

Arquette is not a major feminist, not the organizer of a major activist group, and not in charge of messaging for all of feminism. So I don’t think we need to try to get too into her head, or attack her individually for the way she expresses her feminism. But there is a history to this way of looking at things that is important.

Nyasha Junior, writing at the Washington Post, gave some historical context:

Historically, white women’s efforts to support greater women’s equality have been directed toward greater equality for white women. For example, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and some other white suffragists supported the right to vote for white women and refused to back the 15th Amendment, which allowed U.S. citizens to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” At the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913, African American women were told to march separately—at the end of the parade.

My comment

This takes me all the way back to my master’s thesis — “Nationalism and Suffrage: Gender Struggle in Nation-Building America” — which was all about this.

Junior’s history doesn’t go back quite far enough. Because White women’s feminism was very constructively tied up with abolitionism before around 1860 (Frederick Douglass spoke at the 1848 Seneca Falls convention). Even though they frequently juxtaposed “women” with “slaves” in a way that made it clear they were thinking first of White women, there was nevertheless a strong undercurrent of solidarity, as when Sarah Grimke said in 1838, “Woman has been placed by John Quincy Adams, side by side with the slave…. I thank him for ranking us with the oppressed.”

It was the controversy over the 14th Amendment (not 15th), which for the first time in the Constitution specified voting rights for men, that sent the White suffrage leaders into a racist rage. And it accompanied a philosophical shift from women as equal to men, with natural rights, to women as inherently different from men, as the basis for a claim of democratic rights.

Gender essentialism fueled White racist nationalism. Saying women are different and therefore special required them to explain what real womanhood was, which is where the racism, nationalism, and exclusionary politics came in.

When Arquette says, “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation,” I hear Carrie Chapman Catt in 1915:

We appeal [for suffrage] in the name of our foremothers … in the name of those women who unmurmuringly bore the hardships of colonial life, who kept their high courage despite the wild beast and the savage lurking ever near their door, and planted the noble American ideal deep in the hearts of their children; in the name of those women of revolutionary days who kept the fire of freedom burning in their breasts, who fed, clothed, nursed, and inspired the men who won liberty for our country.

This is the ideology under which Elizabeth Cady Stanton complained that the 14th Amendment elevated “the lowest orders of manhood” (Black men) over the “highest classes of women.” And Susan B. Anthony said, “if intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the Government, let the question of woman be brought up first and that of the negro last.”

The wrinkle I want to add to Junior’s history is that the racism and exclusionary politics followed the shift from natural rights to gender essentialism. So, at least in the U.S., when White women start saying things like “To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation,” racism is often lurking nearby.

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