Friday, March 23, 2012

Hahah! Women Are The Richer Sex

It's even on the cover of the Time Magazine.

You get to be the richer sex by earning less, on average, than the other sex earns, you know. A well-known factoid.

Or as Bryce puts it in the Nation:
This is the heart of her thesis: “Almost 40 percent of U.S. working wives now outearn their husbands, a percentage that has risen steeply in this country and many others.” She adds that “[w]ives are breadwinners or co-earners in about two-thirds of American marriages” and that “[a]lmost 7 percent of wives—nearly 4 million women, up from 1.7 percent in 1967—[are] sole breadwinners.” These are impressive statistics to be sure, but as some have pointed out, the math doesn’t add up to a claim that women are already the richer sex. After all, to flip her numbers around, 60 percent of men are still outearning their wives, a third of married women are still contributing less to their families than their husbands and 93 percent of wives are not sole breadwinners. But Mundy predicts that the time when the balance will tilt toward women is “just around the corner.” “We are entering an era where women, not men, will become the top earners in households,” she says. “We are entering the era in which roles will flip.”

There are several reasons why any flip of the gender roles is not just around the corner, and Bryce discusses several of them in the quoted article:

Women are still concentrated in low-pay occupations and industries, many of the growing female-dominated occupations of the future offer very low pay and women are severely underrepresented among the very highest earners.

Add to that the unchanged division of labor at home (CHILDREN) and the fact that even women with college degrees are over-represented in those fields with relatively low pay and under-represented in the well-paying STEM fields, and the fact that most earnings differences between men and women develop over time and are not visible among young workers, and you become much more skeptical about the idea that women could be the higher-earning sex any time soon. In any country of the world, actually.

These stories are very popular. I hear that Hannah Rosin's book The End of Men will be out in September, and most likely will present the same arguments. Thus, my earlier comments on her work might be relevant here, too. As are my comments on that often-cited study on young women out-earning men in a few places and only when very educated, single and childless.

I'm not arguing with the fact that women are doing better than in the past here. I'm criticizing the odd aspect of these kinds of stories which can leap from women earning roughly 80% of what men earn (when comparing full-time workers only) to predictions about the sky falling, men ending and the world turning into a matriarchy. Or predictions about a complete flip in the gender roles! Whatever these people are drinking I'd like some of it, please.

Yes, indeed, women have bridged the education gender gap in this country and turned it into a reverse gender gap, by a small amount. But all the other bits of the mechanisms which cause average differences in the earnings of men and women are still in place. It is extremely unlikely that the sky will fall or the golden era of matriarchy will dawn.

Never mind all that. Stories like these are click magnets!

They are also very much based on what provoked this representation of women's suffrage:

I am going to read Mundy's book, of course I am. But by the time I have done it we are all talking about something completely different. That's how it goes.