U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
Since women won the right to vote in 1920, few issues have been able to command the same amount of widespread support as suffrage did in the years after World War I. Some women want more political and social representation, but others feel that increased individual rights for women are not necessarily a positive social good, as demonstrated by the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. The problem with arguing for women's rights is that "women" are neither a minority nor a natural interest group. Women exist on all points of the political spectrum from conservative to liberal; they are rich and poor, rural and urban, married and single. American women are black, white, Asian and Latina; atheists and evangelicals; mothers and those with no children.
Knowing their diverse constituency, the organizers of this year's National Women's History Month chose the apparently innocuous theme "Women's Education - Women's Empowerment." It would seem that education as a medium for increased opportunity, social mobility, and empowerment is all but a foregone conclusion in today's American society. However, President Obama's recent call for increased post-secondary opportunity for Americans in order to compete in the global economy elicited accusations of snobbery. Some believe that higher education erodes the value of blue-collar work. Similarly, some women reject the need for college education as tending to degrade the traditional roles of wife and mother.
Despite the howls of protest from some quarters, the fact remains that a college education is the best way to achieve upward social mobility in modern American society. The US Census Bureau recently developed the graph below, reporting that, "the results of this analysis demonstrate that there is a clear and well-defined relationship between education and earnings, and that this relationship perseveres, even after considering a collection of other personal and geographic characteristics." Education is the single most important factor in lifetime earnings, which translates into upward social mobility, better access to health care and quality education, and a host of other benefits.
The importance of education for women is even more pronounced. Several scholarly articles have underscored the importance of a mother's education to the educational achievements and health of her children. Although experts disagree on the strength of this correlation, one worldwide study found strong evidence of community-wide benefits resulting from the education of even a small fraction of women: "(1) [maternal] education may affect access to health facilities at the community level, thereby improving the health of children of educated as well as uneducated mothers in communities with high levels of education, and (2) higher immunization levels for children of educated mothers may reduce the likelihood of diseases like measles for all children in the community, thereby reducing mortality for children of educated and uneducated mothers in a given community through spillover effects."
Educating women is instrumental in raising educational and health standards of American communities.
This year's National Women's History Month seeks to celebrate existing opportunities for women in America as well as to highlight the need for expanded access. Educated women can enjoy the benefits of education themselves, but can also bring these benefits to their families, their communities, and ultimately, their nation.
Women's History Month: http://womenshistorymonth.gov/
National Women's History Project: http://www.nwhp.org/whm/index.php