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Report: N.D. girls realize pay inequities still exist

A study of North Dakota girls shows urban girls and rural girls differ in the opportunities they have today and in their aspirations for the future. But they apparently share the belief that when they enter the work force, they'll make less money...

A study of North Dakota girls shows urban girls and rural girls differ in the opportunities they have today and in their aspirations for the future. But they apparently share the belief that when they enter the work force, they'll make less money than men.

"I was surprised at how clearly that they recognize that pay inequity is still an issue," said Renee Stromme, executive director of the North Dakota Women's Network. "They were so clearly seeing that if they wanted to enter a nontraditional field, they were up against a lot and probably weren't going to get the same pay."

The North Dakota Women's Network and American Association of University Women-North Dakota sponsored the report, "Aspirations and Challenges for North Dakota Girls," to examine how girls perceive opportunity and challenges in their futures.

Connie Hildebrand, past president of AAUW-ND and co-director of the project, said she found it especially interesting that urban girls in North Dakota had different role models and a different sense of opportunity than did rural girls.

"Based on these results, I believe our state needs to examine programs and policies that will facilitate more involvement, opportunities and raise expectations for these young women," Hildebrand said in a news release.

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The study was based on discussions with four focus groups, 34 girls from age 12 to 18. Two groups totaling 18 girls were drawn from junior and senior high school students attending urban schools in Bismarck, and two groups totaling 16 girls were drawn from a rural school district near Devils Lake.

Here are a few of the general observations.

- Urban girls' ideas about their future work tend to be more entrepreneurial and creative than the career aspirations of rural girls, whose ideas are more aligned with traditional gender roles.

Both are valid career paths, Stromme said. The concern is that some girls may not be aware of all the choices they have.

"I think that we felt struck by the drastic differences between the urban girls and the rural girls and their vision for themselves," she said. "It was one of the things one of the other board members and I talked about, both of us having come from small towns, that we never even considered, for instance, applying to an Ivy League school. We

didn't even know that was an option."

- Urban high school girls were more likely than rural high school girls or junior high school girls in both groups to identify multiple and extended family members as having had major influences on them. Rural girls more frequently identified their mothers as their most important role model.

- While urban high school girls were more vocal than rural high school girls about the quality of their school curriculums, rural girls were more likely to express dissatisfaction with the lack of career-related courses.

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The rural girls said their schools offered no foreign languages. None mentioned taking a computer course, which contrasted significantly with the multiple computer courses offered at the urban high school.

One rural girl said: "It seems like in bigger schools, they have a lot more classes and a lot more interesting classes than here. Like right over there, they have theater class. Other rural girls supported her, on saying her school had "the basics."

- In all four groups, girls were concerned about the personal and social consequences of their developing sexuality. They were anxious about how others perceived and behaved toward them. They believed, in general, that girls' sexual behavior was judged more harshly than that of boys.

Unplanned pregnancy was an often expressed concern.

- Rural girls found it more difficult than urban girls to imagine a world in which women as well as men could obtain positions of leadership and power.

"I don't want to paint it as the rural girls are not as smart, which is not the case at all," Stromme said. "It's simply that their vision of the world is smaller because there are fewer opportunities in the rural communities."

The data obtained in the report was rich and raised important questions, Stromme said, but the next step should be to replicate and broaden the study to engage more girls in more communities and delver deeper into some of the issues.

The report has been shared with Women's Network and AAUW-ND members, as well as some legislators. The complete 72-page report, written by Kathleen Slobin, professor of sociology emeritus at North Dakota State University, can be read online at www.ndwomen.org/ . To order a copy ($10), write to: North Dakota Women's Network, 418 E. Rosser No. 100, Bismarck N.D. 58501.

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Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

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