Something doesn’t add up (Girls can do math, right?)

So let me get this straight. As early as 13 years old, Canadian girls are outperforming boys in reading and math, and are as good at science.

When they graduate high school, they are more likely than men to go on to have a diploma, certificate or bachelor’s degree.

There are more women graduating from university annually than men.

And of those graduates, the only programs where men outnumber women are Architecture, Engineering and Related Degrees, and Mathematics, Computer and Information Sciences. There are more women than men with degrees in Agriculture, Physical and Life Sciences, Business, Education or Health.

And yet… and yet!

If you look at the hourly wages of permanent employees, Canadian women make an average of $19.94/hour while Canadian men make $23.97/hour! And if you say, well it’s unfair barganing practices, women can’t negotiate… then that should be controlled for by unionized jobs. Not the case: $24.01/hour for women while men make $25.55.

Given that the economic downturn was harder on men than women in terms of unemployment, helping the wage gap shrink, the mind boggles. I found an interesting bit of older information at Stats Can looking at the wage gap between women with and without children, which found that women without children earned 9% more than their counterparts with one child. “Aha!” you say, triumphantly as any good rhetorical puppet should. “It’s because they take a year off to have babies that sets them back in wages!”

Sadly, this is not the case, as the wage gap between the childless and mothers doesn’t begin until age 25, and if it were as simple as maternity leave, the gap would appear immediately. Interestingly, being more educated seems to exaggerate this gap.

Being good statisticians, they tried to elucidate why this gap might be there, and so they controlled for:
“age, years of education, work experience, marital status, full- or part-time status, union membership, employer size, family income (earnings from spouse and other family members as well as non-employment income), industry, occupation and management responsibilities…”
These factors taken out of the equation, there was still a statistically significant gap between childless women and women with children: 2% decrease with one child, and a 3% decrease for two.”

Is that it then? We tell our girls that they can be anything they want to be, we encourage them to do well in school and pursue the career of their choice. We tell them that they can have a family and a career – and then when they do, we punish them financially. Not because of how much experience or education they have, not because they’re part time, not because they enter lower paying industries. Just because they have children.

So, I guess it’s time to spread the word: tell your girls that they can be highly educated and have a high paying job… or they can have a family. And while we’re at it, tell your boys that they should be highly educated and have a family: They’ll make more money that way.

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Hear me ramble in other media!

For those of you who like hearing what I have to say and yet are simultaneously tired of reading my long-winded text blocks, here’s some fancy new ways to get your fix:

Check out my Skepticamp talk on the history of the relationship between science and the media, and how we can navigate it to parse the truth from the hyperbole!

And now that you’ve heart all about the problems of media, take some time to hear the good stuff! Give Life, the Universe & Everything Else a gander – I’ll be on the panel occasionally, just like I am in the latest episode discussing “What’s the Harm?” in alternative medicine. We’re the top “New and Noteworthy” podcast on iTunes in Science & Medicine, and also in the top 25 of popular Science & Medicine podcasts as of right now!

And hey, if you really can’t live another day without reading an Orac-ian block of text, I’m also blogging for Skeptic North now, where I’ve already been trolled for my post on the evils of pox parties and the lack of informed consent in the anti-vax movement.

This is why we need women in skepticism!

There is a lot of post-Elevatorgate buzz about women in skepticism, including the announcement of a conference to specifically deal with women in secularism, more specifically the lack thereof. A lot of people who think that this is a non-issue have said that women (and other minorities in skepticism) will join the movement when they want to, that women simply aren’t interested in hearing about it. (And if you don’t think people actually believe this, please read the comments on the “Women in Secularism” announcement.) Since secularism is about self-improvement and education, I’m going to call Bullshit! on that. Yes, part of the problem is an environment in secularism that is intimidating to women, a lack of prominence for female skeptics, and so on. But the inverse of that is the amount of woo that is promoted to women.

Manitoba women use the health care system more than men, averaging 5.4 physician visits annually (4.4 for men), and 85% of women see a physician at least annually (79% for men.) Even healthy women of reproductive age receive birth control from their physician, have annual Pap tests, get mammograms, have prenatal consultations, and use health care services before, during and after childbirth. Women who are sick visit their physicians more frequently than men with similar illnesses. Women are more likely to be injured due to domestic violence (1 in 5 Manitoban women have been victimized by their partner in the last five years). Women are more likely to be proactive with their health, seeking screening and taking preventative measures more often than men. Now here’s the scary bit: almost 1 in 5 women in Manitoba consulted a CAM practitioner in 2003 (the most recent data). Only 1 in 10 men did the same! These statistics are in reality even worse, as the analysis excluded chiropractic, which partially covered by the province and therefore “not alternative.” Women are more preoccupied with their health, more concerned with prevention, and therefore more likely to be taken in by quacks.

Here’s a figure from the report I’m getting my data from:

The higher the household income, the more likely the women would seek CAM (here denoted CAHC for "health care"). Men did not seek more care as it became financially feasible.

In other words, as women were able to afford it, likely due to both increased income and increased private insurance coverage with the better paying jobs, more women were using CAM. I certainly would be interested to see if the discrepancy is access in lower income brackets, or a lack of awareness.

Well, maybe, you helpfully offer, chronically ill women are more likely to use CAM, and the wealth changes represent their ability to try unproven treatments for their disease! Nay nay….

The majority of women using CAM are healthy!

So what now? We have a bunch of healthy, wealthy women who are out there spending money on homeopathy and reiki and healing meditation and detox regimens and spiritual communicators. Why is it our problem if women want to waste their money on unproven crap? Well, because it’s not right, and it’s not fair. We don’t teach girls to ask questions, we tell them to trust authority, we tell them that their problems aren’t important, we tell them that they’re not an important part of the skeptical community, and then we proceed to laugh at them for finding a sympathetic ear and falling prey to placebo effects!

Worst of all, thanks to “integrative” “medicine,” woo is pervading our hospitals. While walking through the Women’s Health Centre, I saw a poster for upcoming health workshops being hosted at the Centre that made me do a double take. Yes, sponsored by Alberta Health Services, you can take a $40, 2-hour workshop in Reiki (“massage for your soul!”), a $190, 12-hour class in Feng Shui, or a $48, 3-hour workshop entitled, I kid you not, “Talking to Your Angels and Learning How to Listen,” run by Sandy Day, who claims to be a Reiki Master, Shaman, and Intuitive Healer. This is not some backwoods hand-waving Natural Healing Centre Of Happiness and Puppy Dog Kisses, this is at the biggest teaching hospital in the city, the centre for the high-risk pregnancies, for breast cancer: the medical hub! Or, on Wednesday, September 17th from 7-9 pm, the classroom for “Energy Medicine – The Internal World.” Oh but don’t worry, in tiny text:

Women’s Health Resources does not support, endorse or recommend any method, treatment, product, remedial center, program or person. We do, however, endeavour to inform because we believe in the right to have access to available information in order to make informed individual choices.

Now, call me skeptical, but I’m pretty sure if I wander over to the Urology clinic, I somehow doubt that I will see the same advertisements promising healing touch lessons for prostate problems.

For more than one reason, really. (zpeckler@flikr)

If we don’t teach our girls to question, and if we don’t ask our women to think, stuff like this is only going to get worse. No amount of half-assed disclaimery is going to change the fact that misinforming anyone is the opposite of giving them an informed individual choice. Talking about the dangerous of being teleported to Neptune by devious extraterrestrial cows does not come into discussions of which car you’d like to buy. Yes, you should be aware of the pros and cons of every car, and yes you should be free to make that choice, but having some random loon come in off the street to convince people that our Bovine Neptunian Overlords only abduct people who drive Chevies is pretty much the opposite of informed consent, particularly if the random loon also happens to sell Toyotas. Why is the Women’s Health Centre not bringing in drug companies to give presentations on why everyone should be taking Lipitor? Perhaps because there is a major conflict of interest when you are essentially charging people to sit through a sales pitch? And this is actually a bad example, because at least Lipitor actually has demonstrable, independently reproducible benefits!

So yes, we do need more women in skepticism. We need women standing up for themselves, saying that they are tired of all this bullshit being thrown at them. Without female allies telling Oprah to go stuff herself and Dr. Oz to take his reiki elsewhere, the skepticism movement will never succeed at exposing fraud in CAM. Women’s voices don’t just deserve to be heard in skepticism, they need to be heard, for the sake of everyone’s health.