Americans must ‘create education better,’ Miss USA contestant offers

The Globe and Mail

Show co-host Giuliana Rancic holds the microphone for Miss Utah Marissa Powell as she competes in the question portion during the Miss USA pageant at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. (STEVE MARCUS/REUTERS)

Americans “need to try to figure out how to create education better” if they want to end the gender-wage gap, says a beauty pageant contestant.

The insight into the ingrained economic construct that results in a significant negative differential, expressed as a percentage of male earnings, between female and male hourly earnings when productivity is a constant, came from Marissa Powell, the 21-year-old representative of the state of Utah in the Miss USA competition Sunday night.

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Ms. Powell was responding to a question from a former star of the show The Real Housewives of Atlanta. NeNe Leakes kicked off the exchange during the question-and-answer portion of the contest by pointing out that, even though women are the chief breadwinners in 40 per cent of U.S. households with children, they continue to earn less than men. Ms. Leakes then asked, “What does this say about society?”

“I think we can relate this back to education,” Ms. Powell responded as a loud techno beat emphasized the gravity of the moment, “and how we are continuing to try to strive to figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.”

Economists agree with Ms. Powell’s contention that the wage gap, which sat at a global 65 per cent in the 1960s, is caused by both explainable and unexplainable factors. The gap has fallen significantly in the last half century thanks to better education and training for women, among other measurable indices.

But there till remains an unexplained gap, which many economists fear is due to gender discrimination and will never fully disappear. Ms. Powell, a tall brunette who chose a turquoise bikini for the swimsuit portion of the contest and smiled through her entire appearance on stage, did not address why stereotypes about women’s roles in society still persist, and whether they may be contributing to the wage gap.

Ms. Powell’s response has since gone viral and is being compared in its complexity to the answer given in 2007 by a contestant in a Miss Teen USA contest who, when asked to explain an endemic and persistent knowledge gap in Americans’ understanding of the location of their country in relation to other nations, said “U.S. Americans” don’t have enough maps, and the best way to fix that would be for the American education system to help “the Iraq” and South Africa.

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