Sex Segregation in American and Polish Higher Education

By Cole, Maria | International Journal of Comparative Sociology, August 1999 | Go to article overview

Sex Segregation in American and Polish Higher Education


Cole, Maria, International Journal of Comparative Sociology


MARIA COLE [*]

The Influence of Class Structure, Politics, and the Economy

ABSTRACT

This article presents a study of sex segregation in higher education in the United States and in Poland. The analyses cover the period from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930s. High levels of sex segregation in American higher education are linked to well-developed capitalism and democracy, which in the early stages empowered men but not women. They are also accounted for by an open-class system that produced high levels of competition for the most desirable jobs. A low level of economic development, the lack of democracy, and a less open-class system were the structural conditions in Poland. Together, they limited the power of men and led to relatively low levels of educational sex segregation.

ARTICLE compares sex segregation in higher education in the United States and in Poland from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1930s.1 It relies largely on individualizing comparisons (Tilly 1984) which contrast political, economic, and class structures of the two countries. The goal is to demonstrate the impact of these structures on the difference in power between men and women and on sex segregation in higher education. The statistical data on the participation of men and women in the two systems of higher education covers the 1920s and 1930s.

High levels of sex segregation in American higher education are traced to well-developed capitalism and democracy, which in the early stages empowered men but not women. Educational sex segregation is also linked to an open-class system that created high levels of competition in the professions.

The study explains the relatively low level of educational segregation between Polish men and women in terms of structural conditions that differed sharply from those found in the United States. Polish conditions included a low level of economic development, the absence of democracy, and a relatively rigid class structure. Being evidently regarded as unfortunate from almost any point of view, these circumstances nevertheless appear to have favored certain aspects of women's emancipation.

Theoretical Framework for the Analysis of Sex Segregation

Several macrostructural theories of gender stratification (Blumberg 1978, 1984; Chafetz 1984, 1990; Sanday 1974,1981; Dunn, Almquist, and Chafetz 1993) maintain that such theories should be "universally applicable." Their writings are criticized by Folbre (1993) as being ahistorical and macroempiricist, rather than macrostructural. I agree with Folbre (1993) and Connell (1987) that macrostructural analysis in the sociology of gender should be historical.

Hartmann's (1976, 1981) theory of capitalism and patriarchy is a more successful macrostructural approach to the analysis of sex segregation. Hartmann studies both capitalism and patriarchy mostly in the English and American contexts. Her definition of patriarchy includes "solidarity among men" -- also that between male workers and male capitalists -- and, therefore, assumes a certain type of class structure: one of a segmented and divided working class which existed in the United States or in England but not, for example, in pre-Revolutionary Russia (Mann 1993). In Poland between the wars, the capitalist class was tiny and largely composed of foreign elements. This made solidarity between male workers and male capitalists difficult. Moreover, both the intelligentsia and the working class were more class conscious than gender conscious.

While Hartmann mainly considers working-class occupations, I am primarily interested in the professions and higher education. I also extend the base of patriarchy from the economic to the social and political realms. This article reformulates the concept of patriarchy as understood by Hartmann (1976) by introducing, in addition to solidarity among men, other micro-links between structural conditions and the control men exercise over women. …

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