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Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World Excerpt from Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World

by Dan Kindlon, PhD

Chapter One

Daughters of the Revolution

American girls today are the daughters of the revolution -- the first generation that is reaping the full benefits of the women's movement. Their mothers and grandmothers fought and won the battles that produced the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the right to vote. They spearheaded the efforts that resulted in the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. They pressed for Title IX, giving girls equal access to sports participation in school. Thanks in part to the courage and perseverance of these foot soldiers, women today play a wide range of professional sports, have easy access to effective contraception, and attend Ivy League colleges and West Point (Harvard and the U.S. military academies didn't admit women until the mid 1970s).

From a psychological point of view, the move toward economic and social equality for women has made our daughters see themselves in ways that are unfamiliar to those of us who are older. Girls today are growing up in an environment where the status of women is at an all-time high. The oldest members of the cohort of alpha girls we studied were born in the late 1980s -- a tipping point of sorts -- just as women began to outnumber men in college. They have grown with women's ascendance. Consider the following:

  • The newest data from the National Center on Educational Statistics show widening gaps between men and women at the undergraduate and master's degree levels. For the first time, women earned more first professional degrees than men. In the 2004-2005 academic year, 59 percent of all degrees were granted to women. Women earned 62 percent of all associate's degrees, 59 percent of all bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of all master's degrees, 48 percent of doctorates, and 51 percent of professional degrees.
  • The professions of law, medicine, and business administration are increasingly gender-balanced. In 1970, fewer than 10 percent of students earning graduate degrees in these fields were women. In each decade since, that number has increased. Today women earn approximately 40 percent of these professional degrees.
  • The 109th U.S. Congress (2005-2007) contained a total of 84 female members -- the highest number in its history, with 14 women in the Senate and 70 in the House, including the Minority Whip. In 2006, there were three states where both senators were women -- California, Maine, and Washington. As a point of comparison, in 1991 there were only four female senators and 28 congresswomen in total.
  • Since 1971, the number of women serving in state legislatures had increased more than four-fold. In 2006, 22.8 percent of the 7,382 state legislators in the U.S. were women. Women held 20.8 percent of the state senate seats and 23.6 percent of the state house or assembly seats. Three women served as presidents of state senates (CO, ME, WA), and two women were speakers of state houses (OR, VT). Additionally, women had been elected to statewide executive offices in 49 of the nation's 50 states and held 25.7 percent of these positions across the country.

Reprinted from: Alpha Girls: Understanding the New American Girl and How She Is Changing the World by Dan Kindlon, PhD 2006 Dan Kindlon, PhD. Permission granted by Rodale, Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling at (800) 848-4735.