Education Hurts Your Ovaries?!

August 10, 2011

AAUW’s trailblazing 1885 research report, Health Statistics of Women College Graduates

There was a time in this nation when people believed that if women went to college, it would adversely affect their ability to have children. As silly as that notion seems now, it’s worth remembering that this was once a normal fear about women and education. Although that belief is no longer widespread in our culture — thanks in part to AAUW’s trailblazing 1885 research report, Health Statistics of Women College Graduates — gender bias continues to hamper women’s advancement in certain fields even today.

AAUW explored that issue in the 2010 report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). The report sparked important dialogue at the United Nations, in the federal government, and in the media. Astronaut and pioneer Sally Ride even referenced the report on NPR .

While the popularity of the report was extraordinary, with 15,000-plus copies distributed and nearly 170,000 page views or downloads in 2010 alone, it’s equally gratifying to see the conversation continue more than a year later. A Boston Globe editorial declared that progress is happening since girls took the top prizes in all three age groups at the first-ever Google Science Fair, yet it also stated that “for now, the Google winners’ success isn’t indicative of the overall situation in U.S. high schools and colleges. As the American Association of University Women explained … the challenges standing between a more equal state of affairs … remain daunting.” The themes of Why So Few? continue to crop up around the media, letting us know that the report has certainly increased awareness of the issues surrounding the underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM fields.

But there’s no “gone for the summer” sign outside our doors. We are now at work on three new AAUW reports. One will help all of us better understand sexual harassment at school, a second examines opportunities for women in STEM at community colleges, and the third report looks at the effects of student debt on college graduates as they enter the workforce.

We cannot offer too many details at this juncture about the forthcoming research. However, one thing is certain: We will break new ground. The report on sexual harassment among teenagers, for example, will be the first nationally representative study on the topic in 10 years and the first to include cyberharassment. Slated for a fall 2011 release, the report will be a welcome addition to scholarship on bullying — harassment’s better-known cousin.

The two other reports, slated for release in 2012, will be equally relevant and written with the ultimate goal of serving as catalysts for change in the proud AAUW tradition. After all, AAUW’s founding leaders were the ones who commissioned the 1885 study to disprove education’s supposed “harmful effects” on women’s health, and we’re so grateful they did.

This post was written by AAUW Director of Research Catherine Hill.

By:   |   August 10, 2011

2 Comments

  1. Danielle Parsons says:

    As a professional woman, I can atest to the fact that it is still not easy for women to progress in business. It is still a old-boys’ club. However, my sister-in-law is an active participant in what she calls her “old-girls’ club” and promotes business between other women in her field. Not a bad idea, huh ladies? The female presence at the Google Science Fair was outstanding. Proves we are in there fighting!

  2. Rachel says:

    Considering the barriers facing women with children in the workforce, I would say education is, in fact, bad for the ovaries. It has certainly made me rethink my choices around building a family alongside a career.

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