As a woman of the vast Baby Boom generation, a survivor of the turbulent 1960s and 70s and the mother of a Millennial daughter, I look forward to the day that the United States is led by a woman President. But, as Gail Collins wrote in the New York Times just after the election, “The Glass Ceiling Holds.” While 2016 was not the year of shattering glass, there has been much progress.
One area of change that stands out to me is education. We women apparently either like to learn or are highly ambitious or both. We are outdistancing our male brethren in almost all educational sectors, save science, design and engineering.
The year I finished college, only 8.5 percent of American women held college degrees, compared to almost 15 percent of men. In 1979, women became the majority of students enrolled in college and today women represent 57 percent of college student bodies nationwide. Today, the U.S. Census Bureau says more American women, 30 percent, hold college degrees than men, 29 percent, and that the percentage of women college grads is growing.
In addition, women are beating down the doors of professional schools.
The American Bar Association says that 2017 is the year women’s enrollment will pass men’s in our nation’s law schools, and the rosters of both the Cumberland County Bar Association and of local judges reflect these changes.
The story is much the same in our nation’s medical schools. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that nearly 48 percent of graduates in 2013-14 were women, compared to less than 7 percent in 1965-66. What’s more, a study of 1.5 million hospital visits published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that women are better doctors for elderly patients. The study estimates that 32,000 medicare patients could be saved each year if male docs did as well as women docs. That is about the same number of vehicle crash fatalities annually across our nation.
However dramatic, these numbers remain statistics, open to as many interpretations and implications as there are readers. The one that keeps me up at night is wondering why women are surging ahead of men in these areas and what, if anything, that means in the long run for all aspects of American life from business to child rearing.
America mourned in the final days of 2016 for two of our celebrity sweethearts, actresses Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds who died within 24 hours of each other. The daughter died of unexpected cardiac arrest and the mother of a heart apparently broken by the loss of her daughter.
There is a real phenomenon of people who love each other deeply dying within a short period of time, especially long-married couples.
Remember the wonderful story of Bernard Jordan, the 90-year-old escapee from a British retirement facility who received worldwide attention after he bolted and crossed the English Channel to attend the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day? He and his escape–abetting wife died less than a week apart shortly thereafter.
Scientists say there is a reason for this called, not so scientifically, Broken Heart Syndrome. It is an impermanent heart condition brought on by acute stress, such as death of a loved one. Blessedly, most people who experience a sudden surge of stress hormones causing chest pain do not die of it, but we should all know that Broken Heart Syndrome exists and is a real condition with science behind it.
Public policies aside, we Americans have plenty of reasons to miss the Obamas.
The former president was dubbed “no drama Obama” early in his White House days for his cool, intellectual and controlled demeanor and his articulate voice. But “no drama” went beyond the president himself. He and his wife, Michelle, were role models for a collaborative marital partnership, and they showed America what a grownup and affectionate marriage and attentive and loving parents look like. Their daughters, Malia and Sasha, passed through their childhoods and adolescences without mishap, or at least no publicly embarrassing ones. And, Obama administration staffers made it through eight years of intense public exposure without significant scandal.
The Obamas had fun being together in the White House and on various trips, both public and private. They sang and danced, played sports, marveled at other parts of the world. They valued, promoted and lived healthy habits and helped us understand we could as well. And, they looked good doing it all, especially Michelle Obama, who gave a huge boost to young American fashion designers.
As the Obamas, still a relatively young family, begin their next chapters — whatever they may be — America wishes them Godspeed.