The Starting Five, 2/3/2015


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

splendid future.

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,"

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

the list.

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.


recent Ball State study

found 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.