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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology today’

To pick up where Shannon’s post from Tuesday left off:   Here’s more evidence that the news of men’s untimely demise has been greatly exaggerated.  To wit:

If you happen to be a high school senior, live with one, or ever were one, you know what this coming week is all about:  Waiting by the mailbox for the envelope with the college logo in the corner.

But what you may not know is the dirty little secret inside that envelope:  If you happen to be a male, you’re more likely to get the fat one.  Affirmative action for males?  Yes, ma’am.   Which is to say, colleges want more men on campus, and many private universities that are not prevented by law from doing so are tipping the scales in their favor in the great admissions sweepstakes.

Women reached parity with men on campus in the 1980’s — when they were still called co-eds: go figure — and since then, their numbers have been steadily climbing to the point where some 60 percent of today’s college applicants are women.   And they are qualified.  By and large, their test scores are higher than males’, their GPAs are higher, and they often boast a heftier list of extra-curriculars.   But since hormonally-charged teenagers are likely to prefer colleges where the male-female ration is more balanced, what happens?  Ahem. You do the math.

This business about the hidden quotas first came to light about five years ago (more below) and became news again this week when an investigation into the issue by the Civil Rights Commission that began in 2009 was suddenly disbanded.  No one knows exactly why.   (Some speculate the investigation may have been called off because it muddied the waters relating to the Title IX provisions for parity in women’s sports — or the underpinnings of affirmative action itself — but that’s another issue.)

But back to the quotas, according to a recent piece by Richard Kahlenberg in Chronicle of Higher Education, here’s the backstory:

There has long been concern that some liberal arts colleges routinely provide admissions preferences for men in order to avoid large gender imbalances in their student bodies. Some argue that once a school becomes more than 60 percent female, it becomes unattractive to many  potential applicants, male or female.

The issue gained prominence in 2006 when a Kenyon College admissions officer wrote an op-ed in the New York Times openly acknowledging that “the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men.” For example, according to the Washington Post, the College of William & Mary admitted 43 percent of male applicants in the fall of 2008 and 29 percent of female applicants. An admissions officer told U.S. News & World Report: “It’s not the College of Mary and Mary; it’s the College of William and Mary.” Canadian medical schools, likewise, have recently raised concerns about educating too many women to become doctors. While many suggest that white women are the primarily beneficiaries of affirmative action, in most undergraduate admissions, precisely the opposite is true.

Ugh, right?  Since when did we decide that we should privilege a group with special preferences when that group has historically been, you know, privileged?  Oops.  Stop me before I go on.

Anyway, what got me all riled up today was this post by Susan Newman, Ph.D. in Psychology Today that cited a bunch of numbers on the lack of progress women had made in the workforce over the past few decades:

… the disparity between men and women in earning power, advancement, and titles runs deep and it doesn’t seem to be improving despite new laws and corporate awareness.

According to a survey, Pipeline’s Broken Promise, from Catalyst, a global organization that evaluates women’s progress in the workforce, “for the past two decades leaders have counted on parity in education, women’s accelerated movement into the labor force, and company-implemented diversity and inclusion programs to yield a robust talent pipeline where women are poised to make rapid gains to the top. But results of this study show that these hopes were ill-founded-when it comes to top talent, women lag men in advancement, compensation, and career satisfaction. The pipeline is not healthy; inequality remains entrenched.”

Fortune Magazine reports that in the top Fortune 500 companies, only 15 women are CEOs. Women with MBAs earn an average of $4,600 less than men with the same degree. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research revealed that pretty much across the board men continue to work in the highest paid jobs and when men and woman have the same job, men earn more. That holds true if the job is as a registered nurse or home health aide, teacher, or administrative assistant. Looking at some of the highest paid occupations–physicians and surgeons–male doctors have the income edge over women. Economist Linda Babcock and writer Sara Laschever point out another disturbing imbalance in their book, Women Don’t Ask: Women own about 40 percent of all businesses in the U.S. but receive only 2.3 percent of the available equity capital needed for growth. Male-owned companies receive the other 97.7 percent.

Now.  Look to the beginning of that so-called pipeline:  parity in education.  We’re there.  We’re better than there.  So what happens?  We’re being squeezed so that men can catch up.  Because, who knows, if there are too many of us around, that might one day translate to — gulp — equal pay.  Or even worse, a woman boss.

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Frankly, all this hype about happy is making me sad. It’s not enough we have folks like Marcus Buckingham telling us how to be happy — and making us feel guilty because we are not. Or the incessant volleys about the paradox of women’s declining happiness. But, frankly, despite the wealth of books, blogs, life coaching and, yep, even college courses about how to become happy little campers, we can’t even define the term.

That’s a problem, writes Carlin Flora in this month’s Psychology Today. He not only provides some research-backed insight into what so-called happiness is truly all about (hint: it doesn’t have much to do with shopping, as this post on some new research suggests. Or smiley faces, for that matter.) He also points out that — finally — there’s some counterpoint to what he dubs the “happiness frenzy.” And hooray for that.

I mean, really, hasn’t all the recent talk about slapping on a smile made you just a little bit grumpy?

While all this happiness business began as the serious study of positive psychology, the science has lately been reduced to the equivalent of a mylar balloon emblazoned with a happy face. Not good, Florin writes:

It wasn’t enough that an array of academic strands came together, sparking a slew of insights into the sunny side of life. Self-appointed experts jumped on the happiness bandwagon. A shallow sea of yellow smiley faces, self-help gurus, and purveyors of kitchen-table wisdom have strip-mined the science, extracted a lot of fool’s gold, and stormed the marketplace with guarantees to annihilate your worry, stress, anguish, dejection, and even ennui. Once and for all! All it takes is a little gratitude. Or maybe a lot.

What we’ve lost in all this focus on the sunny side of life is the ability — no, even the permission — to embrace the melancholy, which in turn pathologizes sadness, which is often the true, honest and normal reaction to life as we know it. More from Carlin:

There are those who see in the happiness brigade a glib and even dispiriting Pollyanna gloss. So it’s not surprising that the happiness movement has unleashed a counterforce, led by a troika of academics. Jerome Wakefield of New York University and Allan Horwitz of Rutgers have penned The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into Depressive Disorder, and Wake Forest University’s Eric Wilson has written a defense of melancholy in Against Happiness. They observe that our preoccupation with happiness has come at the cost of sadness, an important feeling that we’ve tried to banish from our emotional repertoire.

Horwitz laments that young people who are naturally weepy after breakups are often urged to medicate themselves instead of working through their sadness. Wilson fumes that our obsession with happiness amounts to a “craven disregard” for the melancholic perspective that has given rise to our greatest works of art. “The happy man,” he writes, “is a hollow man.”

Maybe yes, maybe no. But, as Flora continues, happiness isn’t about smiling or pretending or desperately seeking sunshine. It’s more along the lines of, well, facing reality. And that includes a certain amount of discomfort. Even angst:

…It’s not about eliminating bad moods, or trading your Tolstoy-inspired nuance and ambivalence toward people and situations for cheery pronouncements devoid of critical judgment. While the veritable experts lie in different camps and sometimes challenge one another, over the past decade they’ve together assembled big chunks of the happiness puzzle.

What is happiness? The most useful definition—and it’s one agreed upon by neuroscientists, psychiatrists, behavioral economists, positive psychologists, and Buddhist monks—is more like satisfied or content than “happy” in its strict bursting-with-glee sense. It has depth and deliberation to it. It encompasses living a meaningful life, utilizing your gifts and your time, living with thought and purpose.

It’s maximized when you also feel part of a community. And when you confront annoyances and crises with grace. It involves a willingness to learn and stretch and grow, which sometimes involves discomfort. It requires acting on life, not merely taking it in. It’s not joy, a temporary exhilaration, or even pleasure, that sensual rush—though a steady supply of those feelings course through those who seize each day.

Flora ends the piece with a round-up of various theories on happiness. I think my favorite is this:

Happiness is not your reward for escaping pain. It demands that you confront negative feelings head-on, without letting them overwhelm you. Russ Harris, a medical doctor-cum-counselor and author of The Happiness Trap, calls popular conceptions of happiness dangerous because they set people up for a “struggle against reality.” They don’t acknowledge that real life is full of disappointments, loss, and inconveniences. “If you’re going to live a rich and meaningful life,” Harris says, “you’re going to feel a full range of emotions.”

Happy-ness redefined? Permission to be anything less? To choose, as Shannon wrote last week, interesting over happy and call it a day? Wow. It’s enough to make me, well, you know….

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