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Deaf women and inequality: Is deafness or femaleness to blame?
Sharon Barnartt, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC, USA
This paper argues that, when indicators of socio-economic status are examined from the 1960's to the late 1990's, deaf women in the US look more like hearing women than they do like deaf or hearing men. Examination of patterns of education, occupation and income over time period show that the inequality that deaf women experience is quite similar to that experienced by hearing women, although the same is not true for deaf men. The paper is based upon analyses of several data sets which either included only deaf people or which included large proportions of deaf/hard of hearing people. These data sets include the 1972 National Census of the Deaf Population, the 1990-1991 National Health Interview Surveys, and the 1995-6 Disability Supplement to the National Health Interview survey.
The incomes of deaf women workers were substantially lower than those of deaf male workers in the early part of the 1900's. Deaf women's salaries were 42% of deaf men's salaries in 1910 and 45% in 1920. Even in the early 1970's there were large educational differences between deaf and hearing workers, and deaf female college graduates earned only 74% of the salaries of deaf male college graduates. Sex differences in occupational distribution were large and statistically significant. By 1991 educational differences related to hearing status for both sexes had largely disappeared, but women regardless of hearing status and hearing men became overwhelmingly likely to be white collar workers, which was not true of deaf men; All female workers continued to earn much less than comparable male workers.
One tempting explanation for these results is that laws which have been passed since 1972 are effective. Deaf people have caught up to hearing people in educational level because of the Education for all Handicapped Children Act [now called IDEA], and positive changes in labor force patterns can be attributed to the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, there are other possible explanations, including the declining manufacturing sector; increased educational attainment of workers, especially women; increased labor force participation of women, especially wives; and increased income inequality between better and less educated workers.
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