Tag Archives: feminism

Equality, inequality (let’s call the whole thing off?)

Over on the Orgtheory blog, Fabio Rojas created a stir in (two posts) for saying both that “feminists killed feminism” — and that feminism has won. (My most recent related comment might be this “still a patriarchy” post.)

Anyway, here’s a Google ngrams interpretation: the share of all references to “gender” that “gender equality” and “gender inequality” each command (details here):

equality-inequality-ngram

The use of “gender equality” took off, relative to “gender inequality,” right around the time the trend toward gender equality stalled on most measures (and a little while after working moms started replacing working mothers).

Is the use of “equality” triumphalism (pro), fatalism (con), or a more positive feminism?

Previous ngrams posts.

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Moral rules, ruling morals (race, class and gender edition)

One of the common beefs atheists have with theists (especially Judeo-Christians) is when the latter say the former don’t have a moral compass by virtue of their nonbelief in god. But then the first thing religious people do is pick and choose which religious moral dicta they want to follow, and reinterpret the rest, according to their cultural sensibilities (or genetic predispositions) — in other words doing just what the atheists do in the first place.

This is true even of the more orthodox religious movements, the process is just a lot slower. Since I picked on the Pope and his crowd recently, here’s an example from my own, Judaism.

According to a guide from the orthodox Jewish Chabad website, every day, a person (man?) should recite the following, thanking God for (in this order):

Not making me a gentile (שֶׁלֹּא עָשַֹֿנִי גּוֹי)
Not making me a slave (שֶׁלֹּא עָשַֹֿנִי עָֿבֶד)
Not making me a woman (שֶׁלֹּא עָשַֹֿנִי אִשָּׁה)

You can see the Hebrew, with translations, here (or look under weekday prayers).

Quick aside

It’s great to have an authoritative ancient source for the correct order for the inequality trinity, “Race, Class and Gender,” which has bedeviled American academics for several decades. In Biblical terms, this ordering makes perfect sense, representing distances from privilege in the eyes of god — in a nested hierarchy, from the most-fortunate (Jewish man), to the pretty fortunate (Jewish woman), the unfortunate (slave) and finally the likely-annihilated (non-Jews,  when born in the wrong place and the wrong time, e.g., Joshua 6:21, or just in general, as in the orthodox Passover prayer: “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of your anger overtake them. Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the Lord”).

This Biblical ordering fits with current academic usage, as shown here: the frequency of the following phrases in the JSTOR academic database:

raceclassgender

Rules to live by

But back to the point. Each day orthodox Jewish men thank god they are who they are – or rather, they’re not who they’re not. This strikes some as old fashioned, especially the woman part (if you weren’t happy about being Jewish you wouldn’t be saying the rest of the prayers either; and being thankful for not being a slave just seems like common sense). But why be thankful for not being a woman?

Tzvi Freeman, head of Chabad’s “Ask the Rabbi Team” offers a commentary:

Why is our world this way? This is not just another injustice. It is a stage in humanity’s development, a reflection of the state of the general human consciousness: We — both men and women — are stuck within the perception of the masculine role as superior and the feminine as inferior. Our behavior only reflects our perception.

In other words, men are thankful they’re not women because women are subordinate, which is an injustice. Why doesn’t god fix this injustice – or even allow modern Jews to alter their daily prayers (and other practices) in the hope of moving their perceptions and the reality they reflect? Patience.

As with the general scheme of the cosmos, so with man and woman and the human consciousness. The history of humankind can be seen this way: A transition from male to female values, from authority to dialogue, from dominance to persuasion, from control to nurture. But we’re not there yet.* And the best evidence is that we do not have the power, according to Halachah [Jewish law], to change this blessing.

This is charmingly circular: when it’s ready to be changed, we will have the power to change it. What is that power? The emergence of a new Jewish governing body “greater in wisdom and in number” to change the old law. In practical terms, we’re back to infallibility. In response, Rabbi On the Beach Eliyahu Fink joked: “The biggest innovation in the history of orthodox Judaism is that there is no innovation in orthodox Judaism.” Of course there is lots of debate about rules, including over which rules are subject to debate. Whether this aspect of the liturgy should be off limits is itself debated.

Chabad’s type of explanation is not satisfactory, even to some orthodox folks such as Fink:

There are several apologist explanations for the blessing. They all basically say something along the lines of women are really on a higher level than men, they don’t need to do as many commandments, they can if they want, but they don’t have to, men need the commandments to lift men out of the abyss, the blessing recognizes that men are appreciative for having those commandment to elevate them and thanks God for that opportunity. It is not insulting to women because it is not about who is better, it is about appreciating having more commandments.

The idea of making a change now – within orthodoxy – bubbled up last fall, when a rabbi named Yosef Kanefsky, who leads a big orthodox traditional Jewish community in Los Angeles, suggested making the “unusual halachik [legal] maneuver” of affirmatively thanking god for being Jewish, and then omitting the remaining thank-yous.

The kerfuffle over his original post led him to take it down, replaced by a more moderate one in which he wrote:

I believe fervently that Orthodoxy has yet to grapple fully or satisfactorily with the dignity of womankind. We know and understand, like no generation before us has known and understood, that women are men’s intellectual and spiritual equals. Our society has accordingly decided to treat both genders with equal dignity, and has opened all professional, political and communal endeavors to both genders equally. I believe that our community however, falls short of this goal in many ways. We are, of course, committed to operating within the framework and rules of halacha. But it is not hard to construct a halachik universe in which women’s physical space in shul [synagogue] and intellectual space in day schools and Study Halls are not lesser, but equal. It is not hard to imagine a halachik universe in which virtually all positions of leadership are available to all. And we must create a halachik universe in which the extortion of women by their ex-husbands as the Bet Din stands helplessly by, is simply unfathomable.**  It’s not halacha’s fault that we are lagging. It’s our fault.

The cached versions of Kanefsky’s synagogue’s mission says “orthodox,” but now it says, “We’re traditional, but innovative, and deeply committed to strengthening the bonds of understanding among the different movements within the Jewish community.” I’m intrigued that B’Nai David-Judea doesn’t use “orthodox” in their mission statement anymore. Was Kanefsky’s kerfuffle part of a schism?

Kanefsky says “we are, of course, committed” to following laws with which he clearly does not morally agree. I’m sure I’ve lost some of the nuance of this debate, having jumped in several thousand years late. But what I like about the story I am confident about: It shows how people in tradition-based religions sometimes do hard work to live by traditional rules according to their morals, while believing — or insisting — that their morals come from those rules.

*Wait a minute: did Freeman just describe a future history that foresees The End of Men?

**This refers to the law requiring husbands to give permission for their wives to divorce them.

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Not your feminist grandmother’s patriarchy

Originally published at The Atlantic under the title, “America is still a patriarchy.”

cohen_patriarchy_post.jpg

Male dominance may be weakening, but it’s not gone.
In this election, women were the majority of voters, and the majority of them voted for Obama. The weaker sex clearly was men, contributing less than half the vote, the majority of whom preferred the loser. This is not new. As with Obama, men and whites also failed to unseat Bill Clinton in his reelection after voting for him the first time.

This story tests my ability to think systematically about power and inequality. How is it possible to understand an unprecedented transformation in women’s relative status while also acknowledging men’s continued dominance? Must we just list data points, always just including an “on the other hand” caveat to our real narrative?

I have been described as part of a “feminist academic establishment” that insists on taking the glass-half-empty view—as someone who likes to engage in “data wars” over the details of gender inequality. But what I actually try to do is keep the change in perspective.

In our academic research on gender inequality, my colleagues and I study variation and change. That means figuring out why women’s employment increased so rapidly, why some labor markets have smaller gender gaps, why some workplaces are less segregated, why couples in some countries share housework more, why women in some ethnic groups have higher employment rates, and so on.

The patterns of variation and change help us understand how gender inequality works. Systemic inequality doesn’t just happen. People (in the aggregate) get up in the morning and do it every day. To understand how it works, we need to see how it varies (for example, some people resist equality and some people dedicate their lives to it). Someone who studies inequality but doesn’t care about change and variation is not a social scientist.

Patriarchy

“It’s easy to find references to patriarchs, patriarchy or patriarchal attitudes in reporting on other countries,” writes Nancy Folbre:

Yet these terms seem largely absent from discussions of current economic and political debates in the United States. Perhaps they are no longer applicable. Or perhaps we mistakenly assume their irrelevance.

In fact—my interpretation of the facts—the United States, like every society in the world, remains a patriarchy: they are ruled by men. That is not just because every country (except Rwanda) has a majority-male national parliament, and it is despite the handful of countries with women heads of state. It is a systemic characteristic that combines dynamics at the level of the family, the economy, the culture and the political arena.

Top political and economic leaders are the low-hanging fruit of patriarchy statistics. But they probably are in the end the most important—the telling pattern is that the higher you look, the maler it gets. If a society really had a stable, female-dominated power structure for an extended period of time even I would eventually question whether it was really still a patriarchy.

In my own area of research things are messier, because families and workplaces differ so much and power is usually jointly held. But I’m confident in describing American families as mostly patriarchal.

cohen_marriedname.jpg

Maybe the most basic indicator is the apparently quaint custom of wives assuming their husbands’ names. This hasn’t generated much feminist controversy lately. But to an anthropologist from another planet, this patrilineality would be a major signal that American families are male-dominated.

Among U.S.-born married women, only 6 percent had a surname that differed from their husband’s in 2004 (it was not until the 1970s that married women could even function legally using their “maiden” names). Among the youngest women the rate is higher, so there is a clear pattern of change—but no end to the tradition in sight.

Of course, the proportion of people getting married has fallen, and the number of children born to non-married parents has risen. Single parenthood—and the fact that this usually means single motherhood—reflects both women’s growing independence and the burdens of care that fall on them (another piece of the patriarchal puzzle). This is one of many very important changes. But they don’t add up to a non-patriarchal society.

Differences that matter

The social critic Barbara Ehrenreich—in a 1976 essay she might or might not like to be reminded of—urged feminists to acknowledge distinctions that matter rather than tar everything with the simplistic brush of “patriarchy.” Using China as an example, she wrote:

There is a difference between a society in which sexism is expressed in the form of female infanticide and a society in which sexism takes the form of unequal representation on the Central Committee. And the difference is worth dying for.

China presents an extreme case, with an extremely harsh patriarchy that was fundamentally transformed—into a different sort of patriarchy. By the late 1970s female infanticide (as well asfootbinding) had indeed been all but eradicated, which represented a tremendous improvement for women, saving millions of lives. Since the advent of the one-child policy in the 1980s, however, female infanticide has given way to sex-selective abortion (and female representation on the ruling committees has dropped), representing an important transformation. Calling China a “patriarchy” is true, but by itself doesn’t much help explain the pattern of and prospects for change.

Like Ehrenreich, I think we need to look at the variations to understand the systemic features of our society. Men losing out to women in national elections is an important one. Given the choice between two male-dominated parties with platforms that don’t differ fundamentally on the biggest economic issues despite wide differences in social policy, women voters (along with blacks, Latinos and the poor) bested men and got their way. I wouldn’t minimize that (more than I just did), or ignore the scale and direction of change. The American patriarchy has weakened.

I expect some readers will go right to their favorite statistics or personal experiences in order to challenge my description of our society as patriarchal. In that tit-for-tat, men leading the vast majority of the most powerful institutions, and that American families usually follow the male line, become just another couple of data points. But they shouldn’t be, because some facts are more important than others.

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Flattering motherhood, still

I offered the first draft of this — for free — to the major newspapers, to no avail. In the meantime, there have been some great short pieces written on the recent motherhood-is-work kerfuffle. I don’t remember them all, but I liked those by Katha PollittNancy FolbreAdia Harvey Wingfield, Barbara Risman, Laura Flanders, Feminist Hulk, and Linda Hirshman. The feminist field on this issue has been crowded, which is great.

* * *

Hopefully we can agree that that the true measure of motherhood is somewhere between “toughest job in the world” and “nothing.”

On the one hand, both President Obama and pundit Hilary Rosen have now called motherhood the world’s hardest job. And with the Romneys flopping onto the all-mothers-work bandwagon, it appears we’re reaching a rare rhetorical consensus.

On the other hand, the majority in both major political parties agrees that poor single mothers and their children need one thing above all – a (real) job, one that provides the “dignity of an honest day’s work.”* For welfare purposes, taking care of children is not only not the toughest job in the world, it is more akin to nothing at all. When Bill Clinton’s endorsed welfare-to-work he famously declared: “The days of something for nothing are over.” President Obama and Mitt Romney both support that welfare reform.

Of course parenthood is work. But it’s really many jobs, not one. And now that more and more of them are also available for a fee — as real jobs — we can see how much the “market” thinks they’re really worth. Answer: not much. When sold as services, the many tasks of parenthood are disproportionately done by women. Some of its core tasks – such as cooking, cleaning, diaper-changing and laundry – are among the lowest-paid, most demeaning, female-dominated occupations.

Source: My calculations from 2010 American Community Survey.

As I wrote before, when it comes to reproductive labor, there’s work and there’s work:

Katha Pollitt made this point more eloquently in her column:

But the brouhaha over Hilary Rosen’s injudicious remarks is not really about whether what stay-home mothers do is work. Because we know the answer to that: it depends. When performed by married women in their own homes, domestic labor is work—difficult, sacred, noble work. … When performed for pay, however, this supremely important, difficult job becomes low-wage labor that almost anyone can do—teenagers, elderly women, even despised illegal immigrants. But here’s the real magic: when performed by low-income single mothers in their own homes, those same exact tasks—changing diapers, going to the playground and the store, making dinner, washing the dishes, giving a bath—are not only not work; they are idleness itself.

Instead of the money men get for their labors, mothers are asked to settle for less money and a rhetorical pat on the head (if they are middle class “moms” instead of merely poor mothers — I think that’s known in economics as a “compensating differential“). As Barbara Ehrenreich put it, nobody ever put motherhood on a pedestal until feminists pointed out that “the pay is lousy and the career ladder is nonexistent.”

Still, the universal agreement that motherhood is “work” marks a genuine moment. Among other possible interpretations, it is a victory of “choice” feminism – which would have us “respect women in all the choices they make,” in the words of the newfound feminist Mrs. Romney. (Work = respect, nowadays in America, though it wasn’t always that way.) But celebrating the choice to do something most women can’t choose is the dangerous outcome of putting motherhood on a pedestal. It divides women according to the value of their motherhood.

Accepting pedestal status instead of equality is a bargain some feminists have refused for a century or more. One of those was Harriet Stanton Blatch (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s daughter), who wrote in 1908: “Of all the people who block the progress of woman suffrage, the worst are the women of wealth and leisure who never knew a day’s work and never felt a day’s want, but who selfishly stand in the way of those women who know what it means to earn the bread they eat by the sternest toil” (emphasis added).

Parenthood won’t get the respect it deserves – including men embracing it in more equal numbers – until the monetary reward it draws matches the rhetoric of its symbolic value. That means recognizing the real value of parents’ sternest toils – even if they’re not married – from which we all benefit.

*California Gov. Pete Wilson, Washington Times, 12/7/1995, p. A21.

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A little geographic and demographic awareness might squelch the 1% meme

How the 1% meme works, and how it could be stopped.

Here is a typical recent application of the 1% meme -the 30-year rumor that women own only 1% of the world’s property.

In a blog post on Ms., Jessica Mack describes the problem of women’s landownership in China. Land ownership is a big problem there, following the breakup of the collective ownership system, with massive land-grabbing and the migration of tens of millions of people to the cities. She writes:

In China, women have equal rights to inherit and own land, yet rarely do. A recent survey in 17 Chinese provinces, undertaken by the global land rights group Landesa, found that only 17.1 percent of existing land contracts and 38.2 percent of existing land certificates include women’s names. [with her original links]

It’s a serious problem, no doubt. But what does it mean that “17.1 percent of existing land contracts and 38.2 percent of existing land certificates include women’s names”? Does it mean women “own” that land? Are they part-owners? That’s a question she should have considered before writing, later in the post: “Yet women globally own only one to two percent of all titled land.” If “land contracts” or “land certificates” represent ownership, and the “less than two percent” statistic is true, than Chinese women are doing great.

That “less than two percent” fact is sourced to a blog post from World Food Program USA, which says that women “own less than 2 percent of the world’s titled land.” That fact is sourced to an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times, by Tim Hanstad, which simply repeats the classic meme without attribution. Sigh.

Anyway, the good news is that the seeds of the meme’s undoing are in Jessica Mack’s own post. It just takes a sense of the size of the world, and China within it, to get started. If women “own” either 17% or 38% of land in China, could they really own just 1% of land in the world?

Here’s a Peters Projection map of the world, which is “area accurate,” showing the size of China.

On an eyeball basis, would about a quarter of China be more than 1% of the world?

In fact, we know from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that China is 7% of the world’s land area. In terms of agricultural land, however, which is what many people are talking about when they repeat the meme, China accounts for 10.7% of land (523 million out of 4.9 billion hectares).

If women in China have their names on 17.1% of land contracts, and 38.2% of land certificates, that represents 1.8% and 4.1% of all the world’s agricultural land respectively. If either of those figures represents “ownership,” or even half-ownership (as with spouses), then the meme is once again disproved on the basis of one country alone.

This little exercise also shows that the 1% “statistic” is a fool’s errand in the first place, because with so much of the world’s land its ownership cannot be attributed to one person, and therefore its owner doesn’t have a gender.

To review:

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International Women’s Day breathes new life into the 1% meme

I’m told that CNN repeated this old thing today, though I can’t find it on their site. Here is OccupyWallSt.org’s version, though:

[women] perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own less than 1 percent of the world’s property.

Long story short: it’s not true. I’ve dragged this out for more than a year now, since last International Women’s Day (#IWD). The most recent debunking, with links to the others, is here.

This year you could find it on pages put up for IWD by groups such as Opportunity International and Volunteer International — and internationalwomensday.com distributed this from Cosmopolitan UK:

There’s lots of gender inequality. Women bear a disproportionate share of the burden from the world’s overall inequality. That means reducing overall inequality will usually help poor women especially, and addressing gender inequality will often reduce overall inequality.

I really don’t want to be the “gender inequality isn’t that bad” blogger. But the the 1% thing is really very factually wrong, and gender inequality in fact isn’t that bad. Before you think this means I’m not really down with feminism, just consider what this meme says about generations of feminists and all they’ve accomplished when it carelessly exaggerates the state of women’s oppression.

For some sourced statistics on women and gender inequality put up for the day, here’s a reasonable list from CNN. (CNN also ran a good Op-Ed from Stephanie Coontz, drawing from the symposium she put together for the Council on Contemporary Families, which I described the other day.)

On the plus side of the anti-meme effort, my pages on this do draw a lot searchers when this hits the news (a lot for this blog, anyway). There were a few hundred hits on the meme pages today, including ones drawn by these search terms, helpfully reported to me by WordPress, my host:

  • do women work two thirds of all hours?
  • worlds wealth women
  • inequality facts women global 2011
  • women work two thirds of working hours 10% of income
  • women own less than 1 of the world’s property
  • of the world’s income women only reiceve 10%
  • women own less than 1% world property
  • “united nations” women are half the world’s population, working two thirds of the world’s working hours
  • international womens day meme
  • women constitute half the world’s population perform nearly two thirds
  • how much of the world’s wealth is owned by women
  • women work two thirds of working hours 10% of income meme
  • women own 1% of the world’s property
  • 1% meme
  • women are half the worlds population working two thirds
  • women are half the world’s population working two thirds of the world’s working hours
  • woman two thirds of the workforce own percent property
  • what percentage of property is owned by women
  • women quote population hours income
  • how much of the worlds wealth is owned by women
  • women are half the population, working two thirds
  • women “10% of the worlds income”
  • do women own less than 1% of the worlds property
  • women are half the world’s population working two thirds of the worlds working hours receiving of the world income and owning less than 1 percent of the world property
  • women are half the worlds population. working two thirds of the worlds working hours.
  • meme international women’s day
  • women are half the population work two thirds working hours
  • women own 1 of property reference
  • women make up 50% of the population, but own just 1% of the world’s wealth
  • why work women constitute half the worlds population, perform nearly two thirds of it’s work hours
  • women own 1% of wealth
  • women 1% property false
  • women property report 1%
  • sfeminism stattisc about women
  • feminist statistics 2011
  • percentage of the world’s wealth owned by women
  • women day own one percent two thirds work

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How much wealth for women? More than 1%

Stop me when you’re convinced women own more than 1% of all the world’s wealth.

There is a real problem with this women-own-just-1%-of-all-wealth thing. It’s not just that it represents a failure of education in the areas of ballpark-demography and statistical critical-thinking. It’s that people who fall for it aren’t realizing how rich the rich countries are — including the women in them — in the global scheme of things. Like I said at the beginning of this, if global feminist unity is to be had, it won’t be built on a shared poverty experience.

Since people keep asking, I decided to give up on the argument that this needs no refuting, and spend an hour proving it can’t possibly be true, that it must be off by large orders of magnitude. (Well, it was an hour to find the data, but working it all out took a little longer.)

If you need to catch up first, these are the posts in this series so far:

March 1: Stop that viral statistic meme.

April 29: What is the 1% meme solution?

September 20: Follow the bouncing 1% meme…

OK, here goes.

Exhibit A: from U.N. Development Programme’s website

Claim: Women own 1% of all property in the world

This is the original claim from the editor’s introduction to the journal World at Work in 1978. And according to the rationale later written by that editor, Krishna Ahooja-Patel, the number was derived from a (dubious) estimate that women earned 11% of income, and therefore “they do not normally have any surplus to invest in reproducible or non-reproducible assets.”

Various people have since changed “property” to “land” or even “titled land” — never with any research that I have seen — I guess to make it seem more reasonable, but it’s clear from this context that the original claim was about total assets, or what is normally called wealth or net worth.

Debunking strategy: Find a small group of women who own more than 1% of world wealth.

This is much simpler than trying to estimate the actual share of world wealth owned by women. If any small group of women owns more than 1%, that should put the matter to rest. (Dream on.) If someone else can figure out the details for all the other women in the world, that would be great.

I decided to figure out the wealth owned by single women in the U.S. That’s because U.S. data are pretty good and available, the women are pretty rich (in the scheme of things) so they’re likely to satisfy the goal, and single women are simpler because you don’t have to worry about shared wealth. (If married men and women share their wealth equally, the whole women-own-1% thing is obviously impossible, and anything else requires a rule for arbitrarily separating husbands’ and wives’ wealth. And for simplicity I set aside the question of government-owned assets, which are arguably part of “the world’s wealth,” too.)

Looking for a few rich women.

Evidence:

1. World wealth held by households is $181 trillion.

I got that from a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by James Davies and colleagues. They estimated mean global household per capita wealth in 2000 was $29,738. With a global population of 6.09 billion, that means global wealth was $181 trillion.

2. U.S. household wealth is $40 trillion.

Davies et al. have a figure of $144,000 household wealth per person for the U.S. in 2000, which yields an estimate of $40.4 trillion. I believe the basis for that U.S. estimate is the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances. The tables there for 2001 show average household net worth was $397,000. With a Census estimate of 108 million households in 2001, that would be $43 trillion, so it’s pretty close. I use those tables for the calculations below because they break it down by household type.

(Before you say these seems too high, remember these are means, not medians, so the very rich are in there too — and the top 100 individuals in the U.S. alone today have about $953 billion, which is more than $3,000 per person right off the top.)

3. Unmarried women own 7% to 13% of U.S. household wealth.

A 2006 paper by Alexis Yamokoski and Lisa Keister, published in Feminist Economics, used the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (now grown up) to estimate net worth. They found an average of $160,000 per adult, and single women had mean net worth of $63,000 in 2000 dollars. Single women were 17% of that sample, so their share adds up to 7.2% of the total. Their figure is lower per person, but the breakdown allows a reasonable guess of the share held by single women.

Using the Federal Reserve Board numbers is tricky because they didn’t differentiate between single men and single women. Also, they only report on households, not individuals. But using their categories, I can make a good guess. They reported mean net worth of:

  • $95,800 for single parents with children (of which there were 11.1 million who were women, according to Census data)
  • $151,400 for single householders under age 55 without children (8.5 million women)
  • $290,400 for single householders age 55+ without children. (10.6 million women)

If single women had the same net worth as single men, these figures would give them a total of $5.4 trillion. Is that reasonable? In Tamokoski and Keister’s paper the mean net worth of single fathers ($48,000) is about the same as single mothers ($47,000), and among those without children single women actually have higher net worth ($111,000 versus $95,000) — which is not crazy when you consider all those older women widows, and that richer men are more likely to marry (and remarry). So I’ll say women’s net worth is equal to the average for each category.

If that $5.4 trillion is correct, then, relative to the total in the Federal Reserve Board wealth estimate of $43 trillion, single women own 12.7% of all household wealth.

4. Single women in the U.S. own 1.6% to 3.0% of world household wealth.

To review:

  • World wealth:  $181 trillion
  • U.S. wealth: $40 trillion
  • Share of U.S. wealth held by single women: 7.2% to 12.7%.

Thus, my range of estimates for share of world wealth held by U.S. single women is between 1.6% (7.2% of $40 trillion as percentage of $181 trillion) and 2.8% (12.7% of $40 trillion as percentage of $181 trillion).

Conclusion

So, by my lowest estimate, no matter how much the billions of other women in the world own — all married women in the U.S., all single and married women in every other country on earth — women own more than 1%.

Richy Rich addendum

OK, wealth is very, very concentrated. So a sample survey such as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth won’t catch the very richest people — even if they answered the survey, their numbers would be so extreme as to be considered suspect by the analysts. How big a difference could this make?

There are 42 women in the latest Forbes list of the richest 400 Americans, from Christy Walton (net worth $24.5 billion), down through Oprah ($2.7 billion) to the poorest, Campbell Soup’s Charlotte Weber ($1.3 billion). Together, these women alone are worth $172 billion, which is 0.1% of world wealth — that’s one-tenth of the meme’s total for all women in the world!

Just a little further away, in Europe, L’Oreal empress Lillian Bettencourt is worth $13.4 billion, and BMW heiress Susan Klatten is worth $10 billion. Etc. Yes, women are very underrepresented among the super rich, but the few that there are do a lot to push “all women” past the lowly threshold of 1%.

Lillian Bettencourt: $13B large.

Can I stop now?

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