Ethnogender Stratification and High School Graduation

The National Women’s Law Center’s report, When Girls Don’t Graduate, We All Fail: A Call to Improve High School Graduation Rates (2007) discusses the short and long-term implications for females when high school graduation does not occur.  Women who do not complete high school have limited opportunities to secure employment and receive wages that allow for financial security (Barton, 2005; Britt, 2006). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Governor’s Alliance, and America’s Promise Alliance indicate that dropouts are likely to be stricken by poverty, unemployed, have poor health, receive public assistance, and are often single parents with children who have an even higher potential to drop out of school. To stress this point further, a report prepared by Fogg (2007) for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry indicates that during the year 1979, dropouts earned seventy-five percent of what high school graduates earned and forty-one percent of those with a bachelor’s degree. By 2006, that number had plummeted to under sixty-six percent when measured against high school graduates and thirty-three percent when measured against those who had obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Statistics compiled by (2009) reports that 47.9 percent of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania residents who did not graduate from high school live in poverty as compared to a 17.5 percent poverty rate for high school graduates.  Furthermore, female residents are more likely than males to be in poverty during peak working years (Jones-DeWeever, 2009).  According to a report published by the Pennsylvania State Data Center (2006), females earn 74.5% of what their male counterparts earn in similar occupations.  Moreover, the cost of childcare and the financial burdens on a female headed and single-parent household places females at an economic disadvantage.  Therefore, from statistical research, it can be implied that African American females have the most to gain by securing a high school diploma as we witness the feminization of poverty (Hilfiker, 2002).

Literature focusing on racial identity has grown in popularity as America has increasingly recognized diverse populations across the vast landscape.  Nonetheless, the intersectionality of race, gender, and class has been male focused while discounting the importance of the African American female. Moreover, Psychology textbooks have historically excluded ethnic females from their writings on female development (Santos De Barona, 1992) and the various tracks by which ethnic minority females must navigate.  

Historically, African American females have been relegated through various exclusionary social practices that exist as a part of the fabric of the United States (Lewis, 2006).  The media’s promotion of negative imagery through the denigration and portrayal of African American females as poorly educated mothers to illegitimate children affects the development of positive identity traits in African American female adolescents. Further, through the annals of interpretive commentary, African American females are overlooked for their contribution, self-determination, and ability to establish a sustainable balance through their efforts.  Furthermore, a study of African American females (Jones-DeWeever, 2009, page 16) indicates that their view of femininity “includes both hard work and perseverance; self-reliance and tenacity; care giving work and wage-earning work; along with egalitarian notions of sexual equality”. With minority race and gender status coexisting, the many exclusionary societal roadblocks that impede development, opportunity, and access to resources for African American females places their identity concerns and perceptions of their lives at the forefront for possible observation. Additionally, African American females are confronted with discrimination from an array of sources and directions. Discrimination in resources, education, and employment are primary discussion points when addressing the topic of exclusion.

The term double jeopardy has been assigned to African American females by creating two distinct and separate veins; one being race, and one being gender (Greenman, 2006; Kim, 2008; Robinson, 2001; Sanders, April, 1989). The Theory of Intersectionality (Knudsen, 2006; Morris, 2007; Nash, 2008) intertwines this stratum in an attempt to address race, class, and gender in the conceptualization of an African American female population.  Black Feminist Thought (Collins, 1990) as a juxtaposition to Critical Feminist Theory (Marshall, 2005) speaks to overwhelmingly oppressive patterns “by placing Black girls at the center of its analysis” (Jones-DeWeever, 2009, pg. 14) while advancing a clear theoretical comprehension of the intersectionality of race, gender, and class as aspects of a historically imposed system.  To this point, Evans-Winters’ book, Teaching Black Girls: Resiliency in Urban Classrooms (2005), places the African American female at the center while amalgamating several schools of thought including Black feminism.

Again, the voice of the African American female has been silenced and her experiences ignored. For years, the popularity of the Feminist Movement muffled the issue of race. This Progressive Era movement consisted of primarily white, heterosexual, Christian wives of the white middle and upper class. Black Feminist Thought (Collins, 1990; Holcomb-McCoy, 2005), as a reform movement and as a resistance to racial exclusion, emerged from the original Feminist Movement to advance a cause more specific to the legacy associated with the African American female population in terms of addressing not only gender, but race (Morris, 2007). The intersectionality of race and gender was able to exist under the broader female centered agenda of the earlier Feminist Movement. This inspired women to seek deeper meaning in their existence and prompted a level of consciousness that evoked an inner networking towards social justice for all women.  Through this, revealing a broader image of the African American female can significantly extend the range by which African American females are positioned within society.

In general terms, there is no doubt that self-concepts and identity awareness are impactful on the academic achievement of America’s public school students.  The degree to which these self-concepts affect student achievement and resilience cannot be assuredly quantified.  Evans-Winters’ (2005) ethnographic study of a group of African American female students residing in an urban school district over the course of three years identified support systems available through community, school, mentorships, and federal and state funded programmatic initiatives.  Jones-DeWeever’s (2009) study of 128 African American females in New York City is an insightful study that investigates their perceptions and attitudes as they navigate the urban terrain of New York City. Many of the responses within focus groups and through surveys gives way to further understanding of this vulnerable population of girls. Survey responses identified the people in their lives that have had the most impact. The most influential people in the lives of the female study participants have been mothers at forty-eight percent followed by female authority figures who play a significant role within the family structure. Unfortunately, fathers were at eight percent and teachers at three percent. The study did not identify the reasons for such a low percentage for fathers and teachers. The study concluded that simultaneous access to support systems such as mentorship programs, faith-based initiatives, community groups, and service providers aids in the resilience of Black [African American] female students. However, further investigation into the processes and stages of identity development for African American females remains valuable towards understanding the contributory relationships impactful on African American female values and attitudes towards academic achievement.

Barton, P. (2005). One-Third of a Nation: Drop Out Rates and Declining Opportunities. Policy               Information Center. Educational Testing Center. Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Britt, P., Thomas, C., Blackbourn, J., Blackbourn, R., Papason, B., Tyler, J., & Williams, F. (2006). Listen to the Children: Students At Risk for Academic Failure Speak Out. National Forum of Applied Educational Research Journals (electronic)  Retrieved on March 30, 2009 from,%20Conn-Listen%20to%20the%20Children%20Students%20At%Risk%20For%20Academic%20Failure%20Speak%20Out.pdf (2009). Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (PA) Poverty Rate Data – Information About Poor and Low Income Residents.  Retrieved on April 7, 2009 from

Collins, P. (1990). Black Feminist Thought:  Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of       Empowerment. Retrieved on January 20, 2009 from

Evans-Winters, V. (2005). Teaching Black Girls:  Resiliency in Urban Classrooms. NY. Peter Lang Publishing.

Fogg, N., Harrington, P., & Khatiwada, I. (2007). The Long Term Labor Market Consequences of Dropping Out of High School in Pennsylvania. Center for Labor Market Studies: Northeastern University.  Retrieved on April 9, 2009 from

Greenman, Emily, and Yu Xie. (August, 2006). Double Jeopardy or Compensating Disadvantage? The Interaction Effect of Gender and Race on Earnings in the U.S. PSC Research Report No. 06-604.  Retrieved on July 3, 2009 from

Hilfiker, D. (2002). Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen. NY, Seven Stories Press.

 Holcomb-McCoy, C. (2005). Empowerment Groups for Urban African American Girls: A Response. Professional School Counseling. Retrieved from

Jones-DeWeever, A. (2009). Black Girls in New York City: Untold Strength & Resilience. Retrieved on June 10, 2009 from

Kim, M. (October 1, 2008). Women of Color: The Persistent Double Jeopardy of Race and Gender.  The American Prospect. Retrieved on June 22, 2009 from

Knudsen, S. (2006). Intersectionality – A Theoretical Inspiration in the Analysis of Minority Cultures and Identities in Textbooks. Retrieved on July 12, 2009 from

Lewis, M. and Lockheed, M. (2006). Inexcusable Absence:  Why 60 Million Girls Still Aren’t In School and What To Do About It. Washington, DC: Center for Global Development. Retrieved on June 22, 2009 from .

Marshall, C. and Gerstl-Peppin, C. (2005) Re-Framing Educational Politics for Social Justice. Boston, MA. Pearson.  

Morris, E. (2007). “Ladies” or “Loudies”? Perceptions and Expectations of Black Girls in Classrooms. Youth and Society, 38(4). Retrieved June 10, 2009 from

Nash, J. (2008). Re-thinking Intersectionality. Feminist Review, 89(1). Abstract retrieved July 9, 2009 from

National Women’s Law Center.  (October 30, 2007). High School Dropouts:  A Problem for Girls and Boys.  Retrieved March 13, 2009 from

Robinson, M. (January 8, 2001). African American Businesswomen Face Double Jeopardy. Retrieved June 13, 2009 from

Sanders, K. (April, 1989). Double Jeopardy – The Precarious Status of Women of Color:  Issues of Race/Ethnicity and Gender at the Storrs Campus.  The Status of Women at the University of Connecticut.  Retrieved June 20, 2009 from

Santos de Barona, M. & Trotman Reid, P. (1992). Ethnic Issues in Teaching the Psychology of Women. Teaching of Psychology. 19(2). Excerpt retrieved July 20, 2009 from;jsessionid=KyJJpjhNp7JCsXs4KsvD7yLfJ5xnvp1pQ1xJgTmTz5dzc8TYWCbB!1296077275!275188706?docId=77521040.


Explore posts in the same categories: African American female, Dr. Eric Waters, Dropout Prevention, economics, Education, Eric Waters, feminism, feminization of poverty, identity, Policy, support, urban

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5 Comments on “Ethnogender Stratification and High School Graduation”

  1. andy2700 Says:

    Thank you for posting these resources. Here’s a post about schools, discipline, and reform:

  2. Kelly Unger Says:

    Thanks for sharing Eric. I’d love to hear more about programs or studies that have been put in place to increase the perceptions of influential teachers of this population. I’m also curious as your opinion of Afrocentric curriculum as possibility for increasing graduation rates. There are a few schools here in Detroit that are going that route. Thoughts?

  3. […] former administrator) Eric L. Waters — whose Twitter feed is a must-follow in my book — looks at the underlying causes of low graduation rates among young black women. As with black males, this […]

  4. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

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