Note: Parallel Development is a column by contributing writer Brandon Cooper about Lewisville’s rich (yet often untold) history and how it relates to the issues we’re facing today.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the New Deal in Lewisville and included some information on government employment that surprised even me. After going through the database I created again, a few more things caught my attention, this time regarding gender and employment.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a gender gap exists here and elsewhere. According to the American Community Survey from the US Census Bureau, full-time working women made about 91% of what men made in Lewisville as of 2010. That’s actually not that bad compared to the statewide average: According to a 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics report (PDF, page 37), women in Texas made 84% of what men made in weekly pay; men averaged $714 per week and women averaged $611. Economists, statisticians, and sociologists have spent the last 40 years arguing about why this gender gap exists, but since that’s not my field, I’m not going to try to figure that out today.
But here’s the interesting part: In 1939, female employees in Lewisville made about $16.42 per week ($257.60 in 2010 dollars), while male employees earned around $16.83 ($264.02 in 2010 dollars). Think about that for a moment: Women in Lewisville made almost 98% of what men made in average weekly pay in 1939.
True, women worked fewer weeks on average, and the census only listed paid employees’ income. So what happened - or didn’t happen - that caused this generation to pay fairer wages to women than any generation since? One possible explanation could be education levels. Of course, conventional wisdom says that “back in the day” the reason why women stayed in school longer was because the men had to quit school to work on the farm, or something to that effect. I thought of that too, but of the 211 people under the age of 18 in Lewisville that year, only 5 had jobs, so I don’t really buy that idea.
In reality, over half of the high school graduates in Lewisville were women, and the average high school graduate made 70% more per week than a non-graduate.
|Graduates vs. Non-graduates, Lewisville 1940||Graduates vs. Non-graduates (Subdivided by Gender), Lewisville 1940|
|Pay Per Week: High School Graduate vs. Non-graduate|
But perhaps the best explanation here is the simplest: Necessity makes progressives of us all. Human beings are fairly predictable creatures; more than anything, we do what we think we must to make our own lives better. Sometimes, that tendency has caused us to staunchly defend our injustices by hiding under the guise of labels like “manifest destiny” or “state’s rights”. At other times, however, we are forced to acknowledge that our customs and traditions mean nothing when they are tested by true adversity. For example, some of biggest steps in women’s suffrage came from unlikely places like Wyoming Territory and Utah, not because the people in those areas better ideologically speaking than the traditionally liberal eastern states but because they knew it was simply a good idea to try to attract more women to the area (and not to anger the ones that were already there).
Lewisville was and is no different from anywhere else. Although I’d like to believe that these women were paid fairer wages simply because it was the right thing to do ideologically, the more likely motivation was the same practicality that drives most social change in the world. When we’re talking paying teachers to educate our children or seamstresses to make the clothes on our back, how would it benefit anyone to pay them less, regardless of their gender?
It was this kind of dogged, unyielding pragmatism that led these men and women through the dark years of the depression and war. No doubt it will be that same mentality that will lead us through many more such times ahead.