In a story yesterday in the Washington Post ("The Striking Power of Poverty to Turn Young Boys into Jobless Men"), the reporters recognize a new kind of gender gap:
Men are more likely to work than women. This has been true in the United States for generations and for entrenched reasons that have to do with “family values” and workplace policies. It’s true because the culture says women should care for their children and because paying for child care is expensive. And it’s true because of discrimination.
The durability of that pattern makes a recent finding by economists at Harvard and Stanford universities all the more puzzling: Among the poor, the opposite is now true. Girls who grow up in poor families are more likely than the boys who grow up with them to work as adults.
It's an exception that holds up in national data. And in segregated, heavily minority communities like Baltimore — places where rates of incarceration, poverty and single-parent families run high — the gender divide is especially wide. Poor children struggle there. But boys are left even further behind.
Citing a new study, the Post reports that in Baltimore, about 71 percent of girls born into poor families in the early 1980 had jobs at the age of thirty. For boys from similar circumstances, the news is bleaker: only about 58 percent were working. In Washington, the numbers were similar: 72 percent of girls were working by thirty, as compared to 56 percent of the boys.
The Post says that the aforementioned study from which this information comes indicates geography is an important factor in determining future prosperity. There is no employment gender gap, for instance, of the kind we see among Baltimore's low-income kids in rural Hartford County, Md., or in Fairfax County, where poor boys are slightly more likely to have work by thirty than poor girls.
No doubt where you live is important, but isn't the Post overlooking something glaring? Roger Clegg says that the Washington Post has buried the lead. He writes:
The key point is buried, just where you would bury something in a long article if you felt like you sort of had to mention it but didn’t want it to be noticed. You would mention it just once, and it would be near the end — not at the very end, because then someone who wanted to see what the article’s conclusions were might actually read it. And you would put it in the middle of a paragraph, though that isn’t easy since newspaper paragraphs are so short. And you would not even have it be a sentence on its own, but just part of a sentence. That’s where you would reveal that the reverse gender gap “appears only among poor children with unmarried parents . . .”
So the real determining factor isn't whether a child's parents live in the country or city–it's whether they live together and share the responsibility of bringing up kids with the skills and traits to become functioning members of society.
I would also hazard a guess that it is more difficult for struggling single mothers to bring up rambunctious boys than girls.