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Gender


Gender also affects educational attainment. If we do not take age into account, slightly more men than women have a college degree: 30.3 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women. This difference reflects the fact that women were less likely than men in earlier generations to go to college. But today there is a gender difference in the other direction: Women now earn more than 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, up from just 35 percent in 1960 (see ). This difference reflects the fact that females are more likely than males to graduate high school, to attend college after high school graduation, and to obtain a degree after starting college (Bailey & Dynarski, 2011). [10]

Figure 11.4 Percentage of All Bachelor’s Degrees Received by Women, 1960–2009

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig11_004.jpg

Source: Data from US Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved fromhttp://www.census.gov/compendia/statab.

Impact of Education on Income


Have you ever applied for a job that required a high school degree? Are you going to college in part because you realize you will need a college degree for a higher-paying job? As these questions imply, the United States is a credential society (Collins, 1979). [11] This means at least two things. First, a high school or college degree (or beyond) indicates that a person has acquired the needed knowledge and skills for various jobs. Second, a degree at some level is a requirement for most jobs. As you know full well, a college degree today is a virtual requirement for a decent-paying job. The ante has been upped considerably over the years: In earlier generations, a high school degree, if even that, was all that was needed, if only because so few people graduated from high school to begin with. With so many people graduating from high school today, a high school degree is not worth as much. Then too, today’s society increasingly requires skills and knowledge that only a college education brings.

A credential society also means that people with more formal education achieve higher incomes. Annual earnings are indeed much higher for people with more education (see ). As earlier chapters indicated, gender and race/ethnicity affect the payoff we get from our education, but education itself still makes a huge difference for our incomes.



Figure 11.5 Educational Attainment and Median Annual Earnings, Ages 25–34, 2009

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig11_005.jpg

Source: Aud, S., Hussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, K., Frohlich, L., Kemp, J., et al. (2011). The condition of education 2011. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.


Impact of Education on Mortality


Beyond income, education also affects at what age people tend to die. Simply put, people with higher levels of education tend to die later in life, and those with lower levels tend to die earlier (Miech, Pampel, Kim, & Rogers, 2011). [12] The reasons for this disparity are complex, but two reasons stand out. First, more highly educated people are less likely to smoke and engage in other unhealthy activities, and they are more likely to exercise and to engage in other healthy activities and also to eat healthy diets. Second, they have better access to high-quality health care.

How the US Education System Compares Internationally


The United States has many of the top colleges and universities and secondary schools in the world, and many of the top professors and teachers. In these respects, the US education system is “the best of systems.” But in other respects, it is “the worst of systems.” When we compare educational attainment in the United States to that in the world’s other democracies, the United States lags behind its international peers.

Differences in the educational systems of the world’s democracies make exact comparisons difficult, but one basic measure of educational attainment is the percentage of a nation’s population that has graduated high school. A widely cited comparison involves the industrial nations that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Of the twenty-eight nations for which OECD has high school graduation data, the United States ranks only twenty-first, with a graduation rate of 76 percent (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2011). [13] In contrast, several nations, including Finland, Ireland, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have graduation rates of at least 90 percent. If we limit the comparison to the OECD nations that compose the world’s wealthy democracies (see ) to which the United States is most appropriately compared, the United States ranks only thirteenth out of sixteen such nations.

OECD also collects and publishes data on proficiency in mathematics, reading, and science among 15-year-olds in its member nations (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010). [14] In reading and science, the United States ranks only at the average for all OECD nations, while the US score for mathematics ranks below the OECD average. Compared to their counterparts in other industrial nations, then, American 15-year-olds are only average or below average for these three important areas of study. Taking into account high school graduation rates and these proficiency rankings, the United States is far from the world leader in the quality of education. The box examines what the United States might learn from the sterling example of Finland’s education system.


Lessons from Other Societies


Successful Schooling in Finland

Finland is widely regarded as having perhaps the top elementary and secondary education system in the world. Its model of education offers several important lessons for US education. As a recent analysis of Finland’s schools put it, “The country’s achievements in education have other nations doing their homework.”

To understand the lessons to be learned from Finland, we should go back several decades to the 1970s, when Finland’s education system was below par, with its students scoring below the international average in mathematics and science. Moreover, urban schools in Finland outranked rural schools, and wealthy students performed much better than low-income students. Today, Finnish students rank at the top in international testing, and low-income students do almost as well as wealthy students.

Finland’s education system ranks so highly today because it took several measures to improve its education system. First, and perhaps most important, Finland raised teachers’ salaries, required all teachers to have a three-year master’s degree, and paid all costs, including a living stipend, for the graduate education needed to achieve this degree. These changes helped to greatly increase the number of teachers, especially the number of highly qualified teachers, and Finland now has more teachers for every 1,000 residents than does the United States. Unlike the United States, teaching is considered a highly prestigious profession in Finland, and the application process to become a teacher is very competitive. The college graduates who apply for one of Finland’s eight graduate programs in teaching typically rank in the top 10 percent of their class, and only 5–15 percent of their applications are accepted. A leading Finnish educator observed, “It’s more difficult getting into teacher education than law or medicine.” In contrast, US students who become teachers tend to have lower SAT scores than those who enter other professions, they only need a four-year degree, and their average salaries are lower than other professionals with a similar level of education.

Second, Finland revamped its curriculum to emphasize critical thinking skills, reduced the importance of scores on standardized tests and then eliminated standardized testing altogether, and eliminated academic tracking before tenth grade. Unlike the United States, Finland no longer ranks students, teachers, or schools according to scores on standardized tests because these tests are no longer given.

Third, Finland built many more schools to enable the average school to have fewer students. Today the typical school has fewer than three hundred students, and class sizes are smaller than those found in the United States.

Fourth, Finland increased funding of its schools so that its schools are now well maintained and well equipped. Whereas many US schools are decrepit, Finnish schools are decidedly in good repair.

Finally, Finland provided free medical and dental care for children and their families and expanded other types of social services, including three years of paid maternity leave and subsidized day care, as the country realized that children’s health and home environment play critical roles in their educational achievement.

These and other changes helped propel Finland’s education system to a leading position among the world’s industrial nations. As the United States ponders how best to improve its own education system, it may have much to learn from Finland’s approach to how children should learn.

Sources: Abrams, 2011; Anderson, 2011; Eggers & Calegari, 2011; Hancock, 2011; Ravitch, 2012; Sahlberg, 2011 [15]

KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • Until very recently in the record of history, formal schooling was restricted to wealthy males.

  • Students from low-income backgrounds tend to have lower educational attainment than students from wealthier backgrounds.

  • African Americans and Latinos tend to have lower educational attainment than non-Latino whites and Asians.

  • Gender influences educational attainment in a complex fashion; older women have lower educational attainment than older men, but younger women have greater educational attainment than younger men.

  • The United States ranks behind many other industrial nations in the quality of the education its citizens receive.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. Do you think the government should take steps to try to reduce racial and ethnic differences in education, or do you think it should take a hands-off approach? Explain your answer.

  2. Should the government require that children receive a formal education, as it now does, or should it be up to parents to decide whether their children should receive a formal education? Explain your answer.

[1] Urban, W. J., & Wagoner, J. L., Jr. (2008). American education: A history (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

[2] US Census Bureau. (2012). Statistical abstract of the United States: 2012. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. Retrieved fromhttp://www.census.gov/compendia/statab.

[3] Tavernise, S. (2012, February 10). Education gap grows between rich and poor, studies say. New York Times, p. A1.

[4] Bailey, M. J., & Dynarski, S. (2011). Gains and gaps: Changing inequality in US college entry and completion. Ann Arbor, MI: Population Studies Center.

[5] Ballantine, J. H., & Hammack, F. M. (2012). The sociology of education: A systematic analysis (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; Yeung, W.-J. J., & Pfeiffer, K. M. (2009). The black-white test score gap and early home environment. Social Science Research, 38(2), 412–437.

[6] Mickelson, R. A. (2003). When are racial disparities in education the result of racial discrimination? A social science perspective. Teachers College Record, 105, pp. 1052–1086.

[7] Kirk, D. S., & Sampson, R. J. (2011). Crime and the production of safe schools. In G. J. Duncan & R. J. Murnane (Eds.), Whither opportunity?: Rising inequality, schools, and children’s life chances (pp. 397–418). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation; Wodtke, G. T., Harding, D. J., & Elwert, F. (2011). Neighborhood effects in temporal perspective: The impact of long-term exposure to concentrated disadvantage on high school graduation.American Sociological Review, 76(5), 713–736.

[8] Wodtke, G. T., Harding, D. J., & Elwert, F. (2011). Neighborhood effects in temporal perspective: The impact of long-term exposure to concentrated disadvantage on high school graduation. American Sociological Review, 76(5), 713–736.

[9] Wodtke, G. T., Harding, D. J., & Elwert, F. (2011). Neighborhood effects in temporal perspective: The impact of long-term exposure to concentrated disadvantage on high school graduation. American Sociological Review, 76(5), 713–736.

[10] Bailey, M. J., & Dynarski, S. (2011). Gains and gaps: Changing inequality in US college entry and completion. Ann Arbor, MI: Population Studies Center.

[11] Collins, R. (1979). The credential society: An historical sociology of education and stratification. New York, NY: Academic Press.

[12] Miech, R., Pampel, F., Kim, J., & Rogers, R. G. (2011). Education and mortality: The role of widening and narrowing disparities. American Sociological Review, 76, 913–934.

[13] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2011). How many students finish secondary education? Retrieved November 10, 2011, fromhttp://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/62/3/48630687.pdf.

[14] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2010). PISA 2009 results: What students know and can do—Student performance in reading, mathematics and science(Vol. 1). Paris, France: Author.

[15] Abrams, S. E. (2011, January 28). The children must play: What the United States could learn from Finland about education reform. The New Republic. Retrieved fromhttp://www.tnr.com/article/politics/82329/education-reform-Finland-US; Anderson, J. (2011, December 13). From Finland, an intriguing school-reform model. New York Times, p. A33; Eggers, D., & Calegari, N. C. (2011, May 1). The high cost of low teacher salaries. New York Times, p. WK12; Hancock, L. (2011, September). Why are Finland’s schools successful?Smithsonian. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html?c=y&story=fullstory; Ravitch, D. (2012, March 8). Schools we can envy. The New York Review of Books. Retrieved fromhttp://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/mar/08/schools-we-can-envy/; Sahlberg, P. (2011). Finnish lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland?New York, NY: Teachers College Press.



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