I just got back from my niece's wedding in New Mexico.
She's enjoying a successful career as a nurse; met a guy who seems like the
real deal and, together, they are riding off into what promises to be a
I'm sure glad she didn't grow up in Indiana.
That was my first thought upon getting home and
finding "The Status of Girls in Indiana,"
Status of Girls in Indiana,"a new report from Saint Mary's College in
Notre Dame that claims to be the first study of how girls between the ages of
10 and 19 in this state are doing.
The results are enough to make you think that, for
girls, life in this state is caught in a kind of time warp.
According to the report, our high school girls are
more likely to be overweight (18.5 percent) than girls in other states. At the
same time, they are also more likely to take diet pills, laxatives or resort to
vomiting to lose weight.
And 20 percent of girls do not engage in at least 60
minutes of physical activity on any given day.
Hoosier girls are more likely to graduate from high
school than Hoosier boys, but they do worse on most standardized tests.
Although they best the boys on Advanced Placement tests having to do with
foreign languages and arts, they fall behind when it comes to math and science.
The chances of a girl being forced to have sex are
higher in Indiana than the national average; approximately 15 percent of female
high school students here report having been raped.
Finally, middle school girls are more likely to smoke,
drink alcohol or use prescription drugs than boys in the same age group.
Kristin JehringKuter, one of this project's leaders, and an Assistant
Professor of Math, said she was surprised by the mental health and body image
data: "I didn't realize that the figures of girls affected by depression
and suicide were as high as they are, and that girls in the eighth grade seem
to struggle the most with these issues."
Carol Mooney, Saint Mary's president added: "Depression,
inactivity, and obesity were significantly higher in Indiana than in the rest
of the nation. Suicide rates were also statistically higher."
Mooney and JehringKuter are quick to say that many girls in Indiana are doing
fine. But this doesn't make up for the fact that so many are behind their
counterparts in other states.
What's going on?
While it is tempting to make sweeping generalizations
about something being cracked in the state's culture, to speculate that our
obsessions with sports, guns and internal combustion have preserved Indiana as
a kind of boys' club, this may miss a larger issue — Indiana's dismal
rate of personal income.
Last week, the state's most recent ISTEP scores were
released. Guess what: Carmel and Zionsville, Indiana's two wealthiest
communities, ranked No.1 and 2 in the percentage of students who passed the
test last spring.
Meanwhile, the state's lowest-income school districts,
places like East Chicago, Medora, Gary and Indianapolis, were at the bottom of
Family income, in other words, looks like a definite
predictor of how well a kid — girl or boy — is likely to do in
Kids, of course, may be affluent and still be plagued
by eating disorders and suicidal thoughts like those afflicting so many Hoosier
But in a state where, in some parts, the standard of
living can be decades behind what passes for average in the rest of the country,
the linkage between personal incomes and the quality of girls' lives seems
impossible to ignore.
A recent Ball State study
recent Ball State studyfound that average per capita income in Indiana in
2010 only made it as high as the national average in 1996. Indiana ranked 40th
among states for 2010 per capita income.
The Ball State researchers then took 2010 Indiana
wages, adjusted for inflation, and assigned each county the year in which its
standard of living was equal to that of the nation. In Marion County, for
example, average personal income was equivalent to the national average in
1999. This put Marion ahead of most other counties in the state. In LaGrange, earnings
came in at 1964, the year the Beatles first played on Ed Sullivan; Miami and Starke were still in the disco era: 1975.
But Hamilton and Boone Counties, those ISTEP winners,
were also the only counties in the entire state to come out ahead of the
national average. "Standard of living raises all boats," said Michael
Hicks, director of Ball State's Center for Business and Economic Research.
Hicks could have been talking about the lives of girls
in Indiana. Next time some Hoosier politician boasts about our low cost of
living, or how keeping wages low is good for business, find out if (s)he has a daughter.