Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Breadwinners and breadlosers

Reading this article about Egypt presented the following statistic:
Yet one fact can't be overlooked: Almost 40% of Egyptian women are the sole breadwinners in their households. Many have had to overcome domestic abuse, sexual assault and poverty.
Looking for US numbers, this article was discovered:
We find that there are more wives, and women generally, supporting their families economically now than ever before—and there could not be a more important time to ensure that working women receive the pay they deserve. The typical woman only earns an average of 77 cents to the male dollar. It is not difficult to imagine how many more women would be breadwinners—and how much better off our families would be—if the gender wage gap were closed.
[...]
While part of this was undoubtedly due to steep job losses by men, even now in the midst of the so-called “Man-covery,” women still comprise about half of U.S. payrolls (49.3 percent as of February 2012).
Some groups of women, particularly women of color, immigrants, and low-income women, have always had high levels of labor force participation.
In no small part due to higher male unemployment, alongside the longstanding trends, in 2010 in nearly two-thirds (63.9 percent) of families with children women were either breadwinners or co-breadwinners.
[...]
Breadwinning wives are even more common in families with lower incomes.
And the paper's conclusion:
 And yet, in spite of women’s ever-growing economic contributions to their families, the gender wage gap persists and the only indications that it is beginning to narrow are due to men experiencing a greater decline in real earnings compared to women
Closing the wage gap because everyone is doing worse is hardly the same as gender equality. As these numbers make clear, supporting real pay equity for women is important for women and their families.

More recently, the LATimes has published an article about a Pew study that says the same things:
The new reality is a dramatic shift from decades ago, the Pew Research Center found in a study released Wednesday. Two years ago, more than 40% of American households with children relied on a mother as their biggest or only source of income — a massive jump from 11% of families in 1960.
The article also mentions changing attitudes:
Though married couples try to juggle the demands of work and home, concerns remain about single mothers trying to do the same. Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans see the rise in single motherhood as a "big problem," Pew found in surveys this spring.
However, worries about working moms, single or married, have softened with time, and younger adults are much less troubled by the trends, Pew found. More than half of young adults said the increase in unwed motherhood was a small problem or not a problem at all.
Researchers also found that most people now reject the idea that a wife outearning her husband is bad for a marriage. Back when Huff was dating her husband — who was working as a waiter — a customer razzed him about the fact that she was going to make more money as a doctor.
His reaction? "Yeah. Who cares?" she recounted.

Yikes!

Some facts about the situation:

  • More women than ever are primary sources of income in their households
  • When both husband and wife are working, it's not uncommon for the woman to earn more
  • Pay gap is closing largely due to men losing employment/wages
  • Working women are less likely to be members of wealthy households
  • Younger people are less worried about single parents and unwed parents

This is a disaster of incredible proportions. It is rather tragic that a metric that one may think is a measure of success in gender equality matters seems to be a harbinger of doom. 

The story seems to be that women are not choosing careers as much as they may be coerced into employment to make up for losses in their partner's earning abilities. This is not a demonstration of freedom but of changing economic realities.

Perhaps contributing factors are the gradual evaporation of the manufacturing sector and a greater number of female college graduates. Females have marketable skills and larger economic incentives than ever before.

This the appearance of winning a battle while losing the war. 

It is entirely possible that this is a part of generally positive changes - a general shift to a more equitable employment arena, a skilled workforce that will eventually command higher salaries and more flexibility in home life.

Yet the doom and gloom scenario is still quite convincing. Is this gender equality or underemployment? If things were looking up, why aren't wealthy households participating in the changes? Why would troubled economies be so similar to developed nations in this respect? (Example above: Egypt)

One worrisome measure is the attitudes of the younger population. While the last century has in many ways belonged to incorporated parties, young people see marriage as a construct of financial liability, forced intimacy and the "patriarchy".

The reasoning is straightforward - adults can choose to have kids before marriage if they want to. Adults can focus on what's important. It's a free world and the "traditional family" is more Hollywood than reality. 

An apparent contradiction is that while this "progressive" wave sees little as fixed in the home, the growing opinion is that social services and employment law needs to be more concrete. 

For some examples of this trend, see some opinions thrown around today:
  • Early childhood education needs to be filled in by government services. 
  • Parental leave (for both parents) leave needs to be mandated.
  • Teachers need to be evaluated more strictly and answerable to both parents and students.
Largely missing from this outline is further discussion of the role of the father or the role of the mother. Who does what is at this point irrelevant. The assumption is they're far too busy working to put food on the table, and society as a whole needs to normalize educational outcomes so the next generation is not completely lopsided in economic opportunities.

Overall, the lesson may be that simple gender breakdown metrics misses the big picture and it's all too easy to paste together solutions in one area to make up for uncomfortable deficiencies in others.

Where does this leave us?

Is this the bumpy road to success or is the bridge out?

1 comment:

  1. Here are my thoughts on the topic.

    Female breadwinners and the power of the market

    I don't think married female breadwinners are primarily low-income. In the example you quoted from the LA Times, the woman is a physician. Personally, I think it's great that her reaction to out-earning her husband is "Who cares?" This is the kind of feminism I think we should be getting behind, unlike the perpetual victimhood model peddled by Marcotte & Co.

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