Tag Archives: gender: economics

The Threat of (Brown) Women’s Fertility

Earlier this month, The New York Times and Foreign Policy both reported on the United Nations population forecast for the next 100 years. According to the report, rather than hitting 9 billion at mid-century and then leveling off, the world’s population is likely to climb to 10 million and keep going. The cause: a fertility boom in the global south –– Africa, Asia, Latin America. Such growth, according to the report, if unchecked, will have dire consequences on a world already facing shortages of food, available water and other life-giving resources.

In reporting the story, both the Times and Foreign Policy used pictures of women and their children, but the way they used the pictures was somewhat chilling. For example, the Times ran this photo under the heading: “Coming to a Planet Near You: 3 Billion More Mouths to Feed.”

Additionally, Foreign Policy ran this photo under the sub-headline: “Why ignoring family planning overseas was the worst foreign-policy mistake of the century.”

These photos, paired with the headlines and the dire predictions in the stories of what’s to come should the global south’s fertility boom remain unchecked, tap into anxieties about women’s bodies and link the coming doom and gloom directly to them. The Times headline, warning of “3 billion more mouths to feed,” is combined with seven new mothers in Manila; positioned in a long row, they crowd the frame of the photograph as they are imagined to crowd the planet.  While the Foreign Policy sub-headline inspires fear, saying that allowing the burgeoning birth rate was  the “worst… mistake of the century.”  Its photo features two women and a child in the foreground.  In both cases the focus on women makes it seem as if men have no role in reproduction at all.

Whether they meant it or not, such a juxtaposition does little more than demonize women –– particularly poor women from developing countries –– as directly responsible for the problem of overpopulation and its solution. While the commentaries herald funding for family planning and education –- both great ideas –– they contain no conversation about economic systems that create or maintain poverty in certain parts of the world; how patriarchy and systems of male-centered power prevent women from being able to control their own reproduction; and how international development money too often comes with strings attached that restrict government resources for education and health care, especially for women, who too often are the ones who bear the hardest brunt of poverty and the greatest social opprobrium.

Here’s what an alternative might look like:  GOOD Magazine discussed the U.N. report and the coming population boom. Its focus: How responsible living in the United States and other wealthy countries can help ensure food for all. The photo that ran with the commentary: a photo of the planet Earth.

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Barbara Yuki Schwartz is a doctoral student in the Theology, History and Ethics program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.  She studies postcolonial and poststruturalist theory, political theory and theology, trauma studies, and is interested in how body, community and psychic life intersect and influence theology and liturgy. She blogs regularly at Dialogic Magazine.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

Why Did Married Mothers Go To Work?

Claude Fischer, at Made in America, argues that the biggest change of the last 50 years is the increase in the number of mothers in the workforce.  From the beginning of last century till now, that rate has accelerated precipitously:

While some women have always worked (at unpaid housework and childcare, selling goods made at home, or in paid jobs), most women now work outside of the home for pay.  So long “traditional” family.  Why the change?  Fischer explains:

First, work changed to offer more jobs to women. Farming declined sharply; industrial jobs peaked and then declined. Brawn became less important; precise skills, learning, and personal service became more important. The new economy generated millions of white-collar and “pink-collar” jobs that seemed “suited” to women. That cannot be the full story, of course; women also took over many jobs that had once been men’s, such as teaching and secretarial work.

Second, mothers responded to those job opportunities. Some took jobs because the extra income could help families buy cars, homes, furnishings, and so on. Some took jobs because the family needed their income to make up for husbands’ stagnating wages (a noteworthy trend after the 1970s). And some took jobs because they sought personal fulfillment in the world of work.

And married working mothers changed the economy as well.  Once it became commonplace for families to have two incomes, houses, cars, and other goods could be more expensive.  Things women had done for free — everything from making soap and clothes, to growing and preparing food, and cleaning one’s own home — could be commodified.  Commodification, the process of newly buying and selling something that had not previously been bought and sold, made for even more jobs, and more workers, and so the story continues…

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

2011 International Women’s Day Round-Up Post

As a number of readers emailed us to point out, yesterday was International Women’s Day, designed to highlight both women’s accomplishments and the persistence of gender inequality worldwide. Ben Buursma noticed an ad in an Indonesian newspaper celebrating International Women’s Day and marketing “Books to empower all women,” though it turns out what they empower women to do is “look into the minds of men” and “find, keep, and understand a man”:

Emma M. H. sent in a link to the the White House Council on Women and Girls report on the status and well-being of U.S. women on a variety of social indicators. Interestingly, while both men and women are waiting longer to get married, the gender gap in age at first marriage has remained relatively constant for decades:

Men are more likely to be either married and never-married, while women currently more likely than men to be divorced or widowed:

Over time, the percent of women who have never given birth has gone up, particularly for the 25-29 age group, though in the last decade there has been a slight downward trend for women aged 30-44:

One note about that graph: the report uses the phrase “had a child” and “childbearing,” so I think this data would include women who have adopted children but never given birth.

I was surprised to see that rates of Cesarean sections have gone up in the past decade:

Women are now outperforming men in terms of educational attainment, earning the majority of bachelor’s degrees, though notice the number of degrees in engineering/computer science earned by women hasn’t increased since 1998:

However, women still make less than men at each level of educational attainment:

The report has lots more data on family life, work, education, health, crime, and so on. I’ll post on other topics in the future.

Finally, Ben N., Kay C., Gregory S., and Dave Z. all sent in this video starring Daniel Craig that highlights global gender inequality (though unfortunately I can’t find any reference that provides sources for the statistics in the video, so take it for what it’s worth):

The Gender Gap in Pay by Industry

Peter N. sent in this graph, from the Bureau of Labor Statistic, showing how women’s earnings compared to men’s in various industries during 2009:

In 2009, 59.2% of women worked outside the home:

For detailed information about the status of men and women in the paid labor force, check out the BLS report Women in the Labor Force: A Databook.

Database of Human Development Information

Dmitriy T.M. and Jeff H. sent in a link to Mapping the Measure of America, a website by the Social Science Research Council that provides an amazing amount of information about various measures of economic/human development in the U.S. Here’s a map showing median personal (not household) earnings in 2009:

The District of Columbia has the highest, at $40,342; the lowest is Arkansas, at $23,470 (if you go to their website, you can scroll over the bars on the left and it will list each state and its median income, or you can hover over a state).

You can break the data down by race and sex as well. Here’s median personal income for Native American women, specifically (apparently there is only sufficient data to report for a few states):

Native American women’s highest median income, in Washington ($22,181), is  lower than the overall median income in Arkansas, which is the lowest in the U.S. as we saw above.

Here is the percent of children under age 6 who live below the poverty line (for all races):

Life expectancy at birth differs by nearly 7 years between the lowest — 74.81 years in Mississippi — to the highest — 81.48 years in Hawaii:

It’s significantly lower for African American men, however, with a life expectancy of only 66.22 years in D.C. (again, several states had insufficient data):

The site has more information than I could ever fully discuss here (including crime rates, various health indicators, all types of educational attainment measures, commuting time, political participation, sex of elected officials, environmental pollutants, and on and on), and it’s fairly addictive searching different topics, looking data up by zip code to get an overview of a particular area, and so on. Have fun!

Treat Women Like Women, but Pretend You’re Treating them like Human Beings

Cross-posted at Jezebel.

Sarah P. sent in this stunning video, from the the Wall Street Journal, about how to advise women about investing. The video has a simple message:

Women are women. They’re weird and need their weirdness to be attended to. But they don’t want to think that you’re treating them like women. They want to think that you’re treating them like human beings (whatevs!). So, whatever you do, never let them know that you’re treating them like women. If you do this, you will make gazillions off of them. Go forth!

The video after a short commercial (selected transcription below):

Selected transcription:

We all know women can be a little difficult… no one wants to feel that they are… being treated differently from the men, so what can advisers do to try to connect with women and keep from following that stigma?

In other words, women are different and also more annoying than real people (e.g., men), so you need to treat them accordingly. But they don’t know that they’re different from real people (they’re “difficult,” after all), so you have to work around that.

First… you can’t approach women as women… don’t treat her like a lady, treat her like a person… women need more time, they ask more questions… get to know what motivates her… if you connect with her on that level, not on the basis of her gender, that’s the first mistake most advisers make…

In other words, pretend like you’re treating her like an individual, but know that what you’re really dealing with is a creature named W.O.M.A.N.

Second… she’s gonna triangulate, women seek many sources of opinions… just know she’s gonna do that, why don’t you play along… give her other sources of information that augment the advice that you’re giving her… that’s a good way to play to women’s natural ability and need to triangulate on advice that they’re getting. She’s gonna do it anyway, put that to your advantage.

In other words, the goal here is to manipulate her essential woman-ness to your advantage. Don’t actually help her learn more about investing, just feed her information that confirms what you’re telling her. She’ll never know the difference!

Third… be aware and be prepared to invest. It’s gonna take more to serve her… It takes time, she needs education… she’s gonna ask a lot of tough questions… but if you invest that time up front… she’s a better client… what advisers tell me time and time again: women are more fun.

In other words, women are “better clients,” even though they’re a drag because they’re “more fun”!  Woo hoo!  If women aren’t good for fun, what are they good for!

The conversation just goes on from there… the expert here tries so hard to balance the essentialization of women’s nature and the social construction of gender, but she just really fails because she goes back and forth between both and her interviewer keeps cornering her with questions about how frustrating it is to work with women.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Wealth, Race, and Gender

Sanguinity sent in an interesting, if disheartening, report by Insight Center for Community Economic Development. The report looks at the assets owned by women of color and the wealth gap between them and men of different racial/ethnic groups.

An overview of wealth (the value of all assets minus the value of debts) broken down by race/ethnicity and type of household:

Of course, the most striking finding there are the major disparities by race, particularly how much wealth White non-Hispanics have compared to all other groups (largely due to owning more valuable homes). Notice that single White men and women have higher median household wealth than married Black or Hispanic couples. This is astounding.

Blacks and Hispanics are more likely than Whites to have no wealth at all, or to have debts outweigh all assets; again, unmarried Whites are better off in this regard than are married Blacks and Hispanics:

Among single parents, women appear to bear a disproportionate amount of the financial hardships of caring for children. White single mothers with children of any age (second column) have only 57% as much wealth as White single fathers; the equivalent ratio for Blacks is 0.4% and for Hispanics, 5%. Read that again: 0.4% and 5% as much wealth as single fathers from the same race! And take a look at the actual cash value: median wealth for Black women is $100, and for Hispanic women, it’s $120!

But then look at that third column! If you’re a single mother and have children under the age of 18 — who are more likely to be living with you than with their father — your financial picture is pretty dismal. Black and Hispanic women with children under age 18 have a median wealth of zero, meaning half have no wealth at all or owe more than all their assets combined are worth. Even White women, who are absolutely wealthy by comparison, have only 14% as much wealth as White single fathers with children under age 18.

Thinking about the implications of those numbers — the very meager financial resources available to many families, the particularly difficult situation of single mothers of all races, what this means for a family’s ability to cope with a crisis such as a car breaking down or a medical emergency, the ability to come up with deposits for an apartment — is mind-blowing.

The report has quite a bit of other information too, so if you’re interested in this topic, go check it out.

Increase in Percent of Wives Making More Than Their Husbands

Dmitriy T.M. and Karla K. sent us a link to a story in the New York Times about the increase in the percent of men marrying women who earn more money than they do. A graphic from the Pew Research Center post the NYT article is based on:

While still a minority, there has obviously been a huge jump in the percent of men married to women who make more than them. I found the data on education equally striking, in that the percentages for husbands and wives almost exactly flipped between the two time periods. Scholars have noted for quite a while the increase in the number of women getting college degrees, in particular, such that in many fields more bachelor’s degrees are granted to women each year than to men, with the imbalance getting wider over time (this pattern doesn’t hold as you move up the educational ladder).

This graph shows the median household income, adjusted by family size and scaled to be equivalent for comparison, depending on gender and marital status:

It makes sense that the adjusted household incomes of married men and married women are pretty similar across the time period, since the two groups are pretty much tied to each other, given how recent and still limited legalized gay marriage is. It is interesting that until 1990 unmarried men had higher median household incomes than married men or women but since then have made less, with the gap widening. The Pew report explains part of the cause:

Marriage rates have declined for all adults since 1970 and gone down most sharply for the least educated men and women. As a result, those with more education are far more likely than those with less education to be married, a gap that has widened since 1970.

Aside from education, another major factor in the rise of incomes for married people is that in 1970, for many couples marriage did not mean the creation of a household with two income earners, whereas today most do.

Obviously unmarried women stand out because of their lower median household income relative to any of the other groups. Why would unmarried women have incomes so much lower than unmarried men? A number of possibilities come to mind. Gendered job segregation and the pay gap play a large role in differences in income by gender overall and are surely part of the cause of these disparities. Unmarried women may be more likely to work part-time than unmarried men, and it doesn’t appear that number of hours worked per week is controlled for here. It’s also possible that unmarried men are more likely to be in a household with a partner who earns an income than are unmarried women.

Regardless of the cause(s), it clearly indicates that unmarried women are at a significant disadvantage regarding income compared to every other group. It’s worth noting that the Pew report repeatedly focuses on how men have fared worse than women by comparing the % change in their incomes since 1970. While this is true, it seems somewhat overstated to say they fared worse given that even with smaller % increases, men’s income in general is still significantly higher than women’s.

UPDATE: Reader Philip Cohen adds some more context to this on his blog, Family Inequality:

It’s not clear how to assess the benefits – or losses – that men derive from all this. That recliner-king image assumes that employed wives still do the unpaid work of the household, but the best predictor of how much housework a woman does may be her own income.

That’s why I don’t buy this:

“When you think about it from a guy’s perspective, marriage wasn’t such a great deal,” says Richard Fry of the Pew Research Center. “It raised a household size, but it didn’t bring in a lot more income.”

What about the value of all that work the stay-at-home wife did? Maybe it was more inefficient, but the report also shows with survey data on decision-making, wives get more say-so when they earn more – the price a “recliner king” pays, willingly or not.