Thursday, July 28, 2011

Worst-Paying College Majors

Thanks to Mark Morales for posting this on his facebook:

This slideshow, presented by our dear friends at Huffington Post, documents the “13 Worst-Paying College Majors” in the United States. For those of you who are too tired to click the hyperlink (I understand, I had a long day, too), here's the list:
    1. Children and Family Studies
    2. Elementary Education
    3. Social Work
    4. Culinary Arts
    5. Special Education
    6. Recreation and Leisure Studies
    7. Religious Studies
    8. Athletic Training
    9. Public Health
    10. Theology
    11. Art
    12. Art History
    13. Paralegal

What stands out right away is how many of these majors-- 5 out of 13 (not including theology, although an argument could be made for it)-- lead to the so-called “caring” professions. These are the jobs that directly relate to the growth, development, wellness, aging, and general care of people. Among these professionals are teachers, nurses, social workers, caretakers, and counselors. They are some of the hardest working individuals in the country, and their jobs exact heavy emotional and physical stress. The value of their work is immeasurable. Yet, if we were to measure it--- say, by salary-- we see that they are technically the most devalued professions in this country.

Why is this?

I have several thoughts on this, but I want to explore here the gendered nature of these roles and how this is leading to the devaluation of caring work.  Put simply, I propose that most of the caring professions have traditionally been held by women.   And in this country, we have always devalued “women's work.”

To understand this last part, we need to explore the history of “work,” itself, and the rise of industrial capitalism in the United States. It goes a little something like this: Back in the day, before wage-labor became a prominent thing, families were, for the most part, self-sustaining units. You grew your food, raised your kids, cleaned your house, etc., etc. without much interference from the outside world.  Labor in this period was gender segregated, as labor generally is across cultures and history. Women were segregated into what-is-now-considered “domestic labor”-- cleaning, cooking, raising the kids, etc. This kind of work allowed mothers to be near their often-nursing children, while being a productive member of the household.

So far, so good.   The gendered division of labor here, was not, in itself, a terrible thing.  However, something completely changed the game:  The Industrial Revolution. With the rise of industrialism at the turn of the nineteenth century, much of what was considered “men's work” moved outside the home into factories and markets. This became the type of work that earned wages, while women's work stayed inside the home and did not.

The rest is history. Since this time, money has been how, as a culture, we value things.  And since women's work has historically not earned money, it has also been rendered worthless. Consequently, that work-- caring work-- is devalued, as well, even as much of it has moved outside the home and into the public sphere of wage labor (think schools, daycare, etc.).

There are a myriad of cultural reasons for why this work continues to be associated with, and devalued as, “women's work.” One is simply time. I've mentioned above that there were contextual reasons for why women performed gendered functions in 1800 (namely, needing to be near young children while they nursed). These reasons are now long gone-- we have public schools, daycare, breast-milk-pumps, a healthy women's rights movement, and a host of things that allow women freedom from the burdens of child-rearing, if they so choose. Yet, blind tradition has continued to segregate women into these types of roles.

Second, and I think more causal and damaging, is the myth that women are naturally more caring, sensitive, emotional, people-smart, etc. This is a myth that needs to be de-bunked ASAP, mostly because the implication is that men are somehow emotion-less, asshole drones. We're teaching our boys that it's not manly to care about people! What kind of society are we trying to create, if this is our message?

As a country, we need to de-gender and re-value caring work. Any civilization is the product of it's people. If we desire to be a great civilization, we need to put more effort into molding great people. This is the work of the caring professions.


Addendum: I can't make any excuses for “Recreation and Leisure Studies” being on this list. What the hell is that, even?

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