A FLURRY of books and articles in recent months, with titles like The End of Men and The Richer Sex, have sounded the alarm–watch out, fellas, women have you on the run.
According to these publications, women are surpassing men on any number of fronts, but especially jobs and wages. They cite various pieces of evidence–from employment levels in the U.S., to polls about whether male or female offspring are preferred in South Korea, to interviews with men who feel they’re being replaced–to back up their claims.
Well, you could have fooled me. It’s not just that many of the statistics used are misleading, and sometimes incorrect, but they get in the way of a serious examination of the day-to-day reality for most working-class women.
On top of that, the claims about women passing up men mask the deteriorating conditions and living standards that working-class women and men are both facing–while a select few men and and an even select fewer women are doing better than ever.
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ACCORDING TO Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, women are on their way to making as much, if not more, than men–and could soon take men’s place as the main “breadwinner” in conventional families. “Our vast and struggling middle class, where the disparities are the greatest, is slowly turning into a matriarchy,” writes Rosin, “with men increasingly absent from the workforce and from home, and women making all the decisions.”
Is there any truth to this picture?
Since the 1960s, women’s earnings have increased relative to men’s overall. But women still make less than men–on average, 77 cents to every dollar a man made as of 2011, according to government statistics. According to the most recent Census Bureau figures, women are still more likely to be poor, too.
More women are filling jobs that were dominated by men in the past, but it’s still the case that certain fields remain “women’s work”–and along with gender segregation in employment comes lower pay for female-dominated jobs. And historically, as women have made gains in a new field, wages decrease compared to jobs that continue to be male-dominated.
What we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance. Between 2010 and 2011, men and women working full time year-round both experienced a 2.5 percent decline in income. Men suffered roughly 80 percent of the job losses at the beginning of the 2007 recession. But the ripple effect of the recession then led to cutbacks in government jobs that hit women disproportionately. As of June 2012, men had regained 46.2 percent of the jobs they lost in the recession, while women had regained 38.7 percent of their lost jobs.
Working-class women aren’t eclipsing working-class men. At most, women are meeting men on the way down, which isn’t exactly good news for either one. While some journalists might be happy to muse about women’s new position as the “breadwinners” in families, what they’re ignoring is the fact that most families as a whole are getting by on less.
According to University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, there has been a significant increase in the frequency of wives earning more than their husbands. But this was true for only 28 percent of married heterogamous couples in 2010–and in the most common scenario, women didn’t earn that much more than their spouse.
If some women now have the lead role in bringing home the bacon, the reality is that the meat is sliced very thin all around.
So how is it anyone can claim that women are taking over? The question begs another: Which women?
A small number of women have made it to the top and now wield power in the worlds of business and politics where men once ruled alone. Hillary Clinton, for instance, was a successful attorney before she took her latest job as Secretary of State, one of the most powerful political positions in the world. Forty-five women made the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans this year. Read more