gender: economics

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 a photo of several women of color under the heading: “Coming to a Planet Near You: 3 Billion More Mouths to Feed.”

Additionally, Foreign Policy ran a photo under the sub-headline: “Why ignoring family planning overseas was the worst foreign-policy mistake of the century.” It featured a picture of dark-skinned women with a child.

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.

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.

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, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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):

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!

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, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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.

Ryan A. sent in this image of a letter (found at Letters of Note) sent to the Postmaster General in 1934, in which men ask for women to be fired so that men can have jobs:


Notice that work is depicted as an oppressive burden for women (“…in place of making slaves of them let them be ladies”). Men, on the other hand, are entitled to take employment from women if they are in need of it to avoid being “bums” (and apparently it’s ok to make slaves of them).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I actually have sympathy for the psychological distress these and other men must have felt at the time. When manhood is highly associated with the ability to support a family on your income alone, job loss and poverty is not just embarrassing, it is a threat to your very identity as a man. The plea for jobs to help young men “make a name for themselves” is partly a call to let them become responsible adult men in good social standing, rather than bums (a term loaded with moral judgment).

So I have sympathy for the men struggling with the feeling of failure that came with joblessness. But it’s still noteworthy that the letter indicates a sense of entitlement to women’s jobs (much like veterans returning from World War II felt toward women who had taken jobs outside the home). Women, presumably, had a husband to support them and it was his duty to not be a bum so that she wouldn’t need to take a job from another man.

The figure below, borrowed from U.S. News and World Report, shows that the wage gap between women and men, for nearly all age groups, has narrowed significantly between 1979 and 2008.  It also shows that the wage gap is smallest for men and women aged 20-24, grows for men and women aged 25-34, grows even further for men and women aged 35-44, and remains steady after that.


These data are for men and women in the same jobs working full time.  So what would explain this change?  Sociologists have found that much of the growth in the wage gap over the life course is due to the fact that women are held disproportionately responsible for childcare and housework (see some data here).  As men and women start to have children, women (whether by choice or necessity) find themselves sacrificing their careers more so than men.  On the flip side, mothers are discriminated against by employers more often than fathers and women without children. (See, for example, this clip of Gov. Rendell commenting that Janet Napolitano is a good candidate for secretary of Homeland Security because she has no family.) That’s why you see the wage gap increasing during prime childbearing years (25-44), but not afterward.

For more on the wage gap, see our posts on the wage gap for college grads, comparing different kinds of wage gaps, the role of job segregation, gender and the wage gap in different professions.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.