Tag Archives: feminism

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:


Filed under In the news, Me @ work

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
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  • women are half the worlds population working two thirds
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  • 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
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  • 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.


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).


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?


Filed under Me @ work

Follow the bouncing 1% meme…

This thing is a perfectly designed info-virus. It replicates beautifully in a 140-character environment. It feeds on gullibility and thrives in a numeracy vacuum. I think it will outlive us all. Women will forever own “1% of the world’s wealth.” (Here’s the original debunking.)

September 18, 8:50 pm:

I really wonder how Sudeep Reddy managed to work that 1% thing into this blurb on a World Bank Report. I’m pretty sure it’s not in there.

Someone at WSJ’s Twitter account was asleep at the switch. Don’t they edit this thing?

Anyway, September 19, 3:45 pm:

By the evening of the 20th, @MsMagazine got on board:

Then I saw this one from Shakesville:

To the credit of the readers there, many raised logical questions — what about me and my husband, who owns our wealth? what about Oprah and Martha Stewart, JK Rowling, the Queen of England? After 46 comments of back and forth — including some heroic logical attempts to imagine how it could be true, and several trips through the WB report — the moderators closed the comments (but left the post up).

And if you look really closely, you can see a faint heartbeat. It will be back.


Filed under In the news

When there’s housework to do…

According to the flyer in yesterday’s mail, “Life’s too short to clean your own home.”

Naturally, for the people who work for The Cleaning Authority, life is not to short to clean someone else’s home – and love it, as this woman on the inside flap apparently does:

Maybe she’s happy because she has a job she likes — even though she would be miserable cleaning her own home — like in the 1970s feminist version:

Remember, nobody smiles doing housework but those ladies you see on TV.
Your mommy hates housework,
Your daddy hates housework,
I hate housework too.
And when you grow up, so will you.
Because even if the soap or cleanser or cleaner or powder or paste or wax or bleach
That you use is the very best one,
Housework is just no fun.

Children, when you have a house of your own,
Make sure, when there’s house work to do,
That you don’t have to do it alone.
Little boys, little girls, when you’re big husbands and wives,
If you want all the days of your lives
To seem sunny as summer weather,
Make sure, when there’s housework to do,
That you do it together!

The sociological truth is that it is different to clean someone else’s home. Today’s corporate cleaners are different from an informal cleaning relationship. I once tried to imagine that “keeping house” should be considered a real occupation — which would help reveal the overall gender division of labor, not just the segregation of occupations or housework, which are almost always studied separately.

Corporatizing housework does change its social nature. It’s not the physical labor itself that makes it about gender, after all. That doesn’t mean it’s not unpleasant work. But cleaning the toilet of an anonymous person may be less degrading than cleaning the toilet of someone you have a personal (subordinate) relationship with. On the other hand, maybe people love cleaning toilets for people they really love.

The rationality of market dynamics ideally makes irrelevant the gender of workers in general. Men are more somewhat more likely to cook and clean for money than for free, for example. In that ideal, not real, marketized world, then, maybe there is no such thing as housework — just work and workers. Would that be better?


Maybe it would be better — a genderless world of labor and capital. But as Joan Acker wrote 21 years ago, and reiterated last year, the generic worker in the mind of employers is usually actually male —  in the sense that “he” has no family responsibilities; and if he does, “he’s” not a good worker, committed to the job, and the ones that get promoted are more often actual men.

That makes this ad from Groupon especially ironic (thanks to Ken Kolb for the tip):

How many “man-hours” does a woman at Designer Maid do in an hour?

If you follow the links to Designer Maid, it gets more interesting still. On the home page, the copy reads:

For many upwardly mobile and dual income families today, the home we’ve worked so hard to obtain is a time consuming chore to maintain. We give you more time to do those things you need to do or would rather be doing. So, instead of spending endless hours on mundane housework, Relax… We’ll take care of the rest! (emphasis added)

That’s rich, because on the Employment page — where there is the same picture of the smiling woman doing the backbreaking work — those “endless hours” of “mundane housework” become a fabulous professional opportunity:

Designer Maid is a great place to work… Designer Maid provides all of the equipment and supplies you will need to fulfill your role as a professional house cleaner. In addition, we provide all of the training necessary for for you to achieve the distinction of Certified Professional House Cleaner.

So, just forget what we said about the endless hours of mundane work, and common down to apply!


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Global women’s progress report

I have criticized sloppy statistical work by some international feminist organizations, so I’m glad to have a chance to point out a useful new report and website.

The Progress of the World’s Women is from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The full-blown site has an executive summary, a long report, and a statistics index page with a download of the complete spreadsheet. I selected a few of the interesting graphics.

Skewed sex ratios (which I’ve written about here and here) are in the news, with the publication of Unnatural Selection, by Mara Hvistendahl. The report shows some of the countries with the most skewed sex ratios, reflecting the practice of parents aborting female fetuses (Vietnam and Taiwan should  be in there, too). With the exception of Korea, they’ve all gotten more skewed since the 1990s, when ultrasounds became more widely available, allowing parents to find out the sex of the fetus early in the pregnancy.

The most egregious inequality between women of the world is probably in maternal mortality. This chart shows, for example, that the chance of a woman dying during pregnancy or birth is about 39-times higher in Africa than Europe. The chart also shows how many of those deaths are from unsafe abortions.

Finally, I made this one myself, showing women as a percentage of parliament in most of the world’s rich countries (the spreadsheet has the whole list). The USA, with 90 women out of 535 members of Congress, comes in at 17%.

The report focuses on law and justice issues, including rape and violence against women, as well as reparations, property rights, and judicial reform. They boil down their conclusions to: “Ten proven approaches to make justice systems work for women“:

Below are ten proven approaches to making justice systems work for women. They are achievable and, if implemented, they hold enormous potential to advance women’s rights.

1. Support women’s legal organizations

2. Support one-stop shops and specialized services to reduce attrition in the justice chain [that refers to rape cases, for example, not making their way from charge to conviction -pnc]

3. Implement gender-sensitive law reform

4. Use quotas to boost the number of women legislators

5. Put women on the front line of law enforcement

6. Train judges and monitor decisions

7. Increase women’s access to courts and truth commissions in conflict and post-conflict contexts.

8. Implement gender-responsive reparations programmes

9. Invest in women’s access to justice

10. Put gender equality at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals

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What is the 1% meme solution?

What is the point of the instant-publishing blogosphere if it doesn’t produce results?

Six weeks ago I wrote about this old thing:

“While women represent half the global population and one-third of the labor force, they receive only one-tenth of the world income and own less than one percent of world property. They are also responsible fortwo-thirds of all working hours.”

And I explained, in a supportive way, that this is not true, wasn’t true at the time it was invented, and shouldn’t be part of the modern feminist lexicon anymore.

Yet, even though the truth is now out there, the meme is still out there, too. The insulation between our echo chambers must be too good. There’s a hole in the knowledge-space continuum.

Specifically, you can find this thing repeated in these places — and many others:

  • undp.org: “…Yet some 75 percent of the world’s women cannot get bank loans because they have unpaid or insecure jobs and are not entitled to property ownership. This is one reason why women comprise more than 50 percent of the world’s population but own only one percent of the world’s wealth.”
  • un.org. “Women comprise more than 50 percent of the world’s population, but they own only one percent of the world’s wealth, United Nation statistics say.”
  • womenaid.org. Women “earn a tenth of the world’s income and own a hundredth of the world’s property.”
  • womenforwomen.org. Women “only earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property).”
  • Trust.org: “Women own just 1 percent of land in the world, according to UNDP.”
  • unifem.org: “…earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property…”


Filed under Me @ work

Risks women share, more and less

What is the basis for women’s global unity?

The other day I discounted the idea — expressed in the myth of women owning less than one percent of all property in the world — that women share a universal propertylessness. “If global feminist unity is to be had,” I said. “It won’t be built on a shared poverty experience.” One person commenting on the Huffington Post retorted: “The shared experience of women is patriarchy.” And she challenged me to produce a “gift-wrapped statistic that might make people think twice about gender inequality.”

I don’t have it. But for discussion, consider maternal mortality. I have previously shared the worldwide trend (except in the U.S.) toward reducing maternal mortality — the deaths of women related to pregnancy and childbirth. For every 10,000 live births in the world, 260 mothers still die.

This isn’t a risk all women face, since many have no pregnancies or births, but it’s something that is unique to women (more so even than rape). It is at least a potential risk women have in common.

In reality, however, the risk is so unevenly distributed as to virtually undermine its universality. In Sub-Saharan Africa, among all women, one out of every 31 women is estimated to die from maternal causes; in Western Europe that number is one-in-8,800. That is partly because African women have more children, and partly because they are more likely to die during each pregnancy or birth.

Those numbers are from a new data sheet published by the Population Reference Bureau. They estimated the lifetime chance that a given woman would die from maternal causes (factoring in both birth rates and risks of death). I’ve converted those to deaths per 10,000 women, by world region:

As is the case with wealth, statistically anyway, the women of the richest countries have more in common with their male peers than they do with the women at the bottom of the scale. So this isn’t the gift-wrapped statistic for global feminist unity based on shared personal risks. But do people need to experience the same hardships in order to unite against them?

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Stop that feminist viral statistic meme

That thing you might have heard, about women’s work, income and property ownership — it’s not true. (And yes, I really am a feminist.)

If you’re a feminist you’ve probably seen this. You may have even repeated it: verbally, on your blog, on a flyer, on Twitter, in your book or an academic article. It goes something like this: “While women represent half the global population and one-third of the labor force, they receive only one-tenth of the world income and own less than one percent of world property. They are also responsible for two-thirds of all working hours.”

That’s how it appeared in 1984, on page one, in Robin Morgan’s introduction to the classic collection called Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology. That’s more or less how it was tweeted by untold numbers of people a quarter-century later, on #IWD 2011 (a.k.a. International Women’s Day). And that’s how it was graphically presented in a slick Google video promoting IWD events this year.

But that wasn’t where it started, of course.

Where did it come from?

I don’t know what it is, but some concepts come to mind: meme, virus, legend. I’ll just call it it.

Usually, it is repeated without real attribution. But there are three bonafide sources offered by real scholars.

  1. A report called “World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace,” from 1980 (U.N. buffs might call it A/Conf. 94/20); or to the “Programme of Action” that emerged from Copenhagen. That Copenhagen document was released under the name of Kurt Waldheim, who (before his Nazi past was revealed) was Secretary General to the United Nations at the start of the U.N.’s 1975-1985 Decade for Women. This is not the true source.
  2. The footnote from Morgan herself says: “Statistics from Development Issue Paper No. 12, UNDP.” Produced under Decade-for-Women impetus, this was titled “Women and the New International Economic Order” (I’ve placed a copy here). Unfortunately, this is just a restatement, without substantiation. It is not the true source.
  3. The Copenhagen report contains a footnote to a 1978 edition of a Decade-for-Women-inspired journal published by the International Labour Organization, called Women at Work (1978/1). This, I now believe, is the true source.

The Women at Work reference, the oldest of the three, occurs in an editor’s introduction. Unfortunately, the sum total of what it provides is this:

A world profile on women, using selected economic and social indicators, reveals that women constitute one half of the world population and one third of the official labour force; perform nearly two-thirds of work hours; but according to some estimates receive only one-tenth of the world income and possess less than one-hundredth of world property.

There is no information on the indicators used or their sources, or what is meant by “some estimates.” That is where the trail goes cold — the oldest source, completely unsourced.

Krishna Ahooja-Patel

However, in 2007 Krishna Ahooja-Patel, the editor over whom’s initials that editorial appeared, published a book called Development Has A Woman’s Face: Insights from Within the U.N.” In that book she attributes the formula to herself, and offers an unsourced sketch of the methods used, “based on some available global data and others derived by use of fragmentary indicators at the time, in the late 1970s.”

The figures used for the formula were: women were 33% of the world’s formal workforce, and they were “only on the low income level in the pyramid of employment,” where — even in those lowly jobs, based on data from “several countries” — they earned 10% to 30% less than men. Therefore, “one could assume that women’s income is only one-third of the average income of men.” Since they were one-third of the workforce, and earned one-third as much as men, their total income was .33 * .33, or 11%. (She rounded it down to 10%.) In short, a guess based on an extrapolation wrapped round an estimate.

What about the dramatic conclusion, that women “possess less than one-hundredth of world property”? She offers only this explanation: “if the average wage of women is so low, it can be assumed that they do not normally have any surplus to invest in reproducible or non-reproducible assets.” Hence, less than 1%. That’s it. In fact, she adds, “In reality the figure may be much lower.”

Source? “Various UN Statistics.”

Who knows?

These things are hard to measure, hard to know, and hard to explain. Setting aside the problem that the data didn’t (and still don’t, completely) exist to fill in the numbers in this famous sequence of facts — the first and perhaps greatest problem is that we can’t easily define the concepts, which is part of the feminist problem. Even in 1970, how could women own only 1% of property, when most women were married and in many countries had at least some legal claim to their families’ property? Similarly, what claim did women who worked in homes and fields have to their husbands’ cash incomes? And what about socialist countries (which were a big deal back then), where a lot of payment was in the form of in-kind transfers, and where various forms of collective ownership were pervasive?

Underneath it all, the universal problem of accounting for unpaid, and underpaid, work. (This was one of the core insights that inspired the Decade for Women, and fueled its most progressive elements.) And so on.

So it’s too simple to say the famous facts are wrong. The burden of proof is not on us (me) to show they are wrong, but rather to point out that they were never demonstrably true, so we shouldn’t use them. (I’m not sure the truth will set you free, but I’m pretty sure this won’t, either.)

As an exercise, though, consider one of the facts. With a combination of arithmetic and basic knowledge of a few demographic orders of magnitude, it’s straightforward to conclude that, whether or not women only received 10% of the world’s income in the 1970s, they receive more than that now.

Here: In the U.S. in 2009, the 106 million women who had incomes averaged $29,700 each. I think that’s $3.2 trillion. The whole world’s gross domestic product — a rough measure of total income — is $58.1 trillion. So, it looks to me like U.S. women alone earn 5.4% of world income today. Ballpark, but you see the point.

One of the potential negative consequences of this is also one of its attractions: The claim that, for all women do, they own virtually nothing, is a call to global unity for women. But it is undermined by the fact that a large number of women are — lets face it — rich. So if global feminist unity is to be had, it won’t be built on a shared poverty experience.


Why is this thing, which never had many legs to stand on, so pervasive even today, 33 years after it was devised? It has been used by legislators in South Africa, international universities, feminist NGOs, journalists, humanitarians, activists, sociologists, economists — and, amazingly, UN organizations such as UNIFEM and UNDP, speaking today in the present tense.

There is a great, much longer story here, that I hope I have forestalled investigating by getting this much off my chest. It has to do with access to information; and deference to, and cynicism about, statistical authorities — in the context of statistical and demographic (sorry to say) illiteracy; the relationship between feminism and science; and even the role of Twitter in social movements.

And debunking it won’t hurt feminism.


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Janet W. Salaff (and the feminists China helped make)

The sociologist Janet W. Salaff has passed away at age 69, according to her department in Toronto and her mother’s hometown paper.

I did not know her, but I am very familiar with a single article she published in 1973, shortly after completing her PhD at Berkeley. In that paper, published in Population Studies, she reported in highly technical terms on the dramatic declines in mortality experienced in post-revolutionary China. She challenged the common perception that health and mortality statistics from local medical teams and journals were not trustworthy, and she showed that China had achieved in less than a quarter century what the U.S. had done in about 100 years — drastically reducing mortality through public health innovation. Their approach was massive application of low-technology, labor-intensive public health campaigns to educate the public as well as prevent and treat common sources of illness and death. It was cheap and quick, and highly effective.

Here is what she found about child mortality in the capital city of Beijing in less than 10 years, for example:

There is a historical context to that work, and her career, that is unique and worth contemplating. At the time, a cohort of (mostly) female feminist demographers and social scientists were breaking into Western academia. (I previously wrote about one of them, Valerie Oppenheimer, who passed away in 2009.) As they were entering the academic scene, China was making such dramatic progress — especially in the fields of public health, education, and women’s rights — that a number of them were motivated to research and publish on the changes underway.

As they matured and their research developed, their analysis became critical of Chinese family and gender politics, but the tone of their work was worlds apart from most of what one reads today — which usually casually attributes Chinese progress to post-1980 reforms, or dismisses its health and education progress in light of human rights abuses that accompanied (or followed) that era. (Most people seem not to know, for example, that birth rates already fell dramatically — with beneficial effects on women’s health and gender inequality — before the “one-child” policy, which introduced new levels of coercion to the family system.)

Some of the flavor of that time is evident in a review essay that Salaff published in Contemporary Sociology, on three books from 1983: The Unfinished Liberation of Chinese Women, 1949-1980, by Phyllis Andors (who died at age 50 in 1992); Women, the Family, and Peasant Revolution in China, by Kay Ann Johnson, a professor at Hampshire College; and Patriarchy and Socialist Revolution in China, by Judith Stacey, now at NYU. Salaff described the set of books as “sober reflections of how a complex development  process  both  limits  and  enhances women’s status,” and provided a balanced, theoretical description of the issues and controversies raised.

I would include in this rough cohort several other women I don’t know. Ruth Sidel, now at Hunter College, wrote a series of books: Families of Fengsheng (1975), Women and Child Care In China: A Firsthand Report (1976), and The Health of China (1983). In Britain, Delia Davin, now an emeritus professor at Leeds, started her career teaching and translating in China in the 1960s; she wrote, Woman-work: Women and the Party in Revolutionary China (1976). Elisabeth Croll, who got her anthropology PhD studying China in 1977 and wrote Feminism and Socialism in China (1978), and died in 2007.

A number of these women moved away from studying China. Their recent contributions include Sidel’s Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream (2006), and Stacey’s Brave New Families: Stories of Domestic Upheaval in Late-Twentieth-Century America (1998). Davin and Croll, along with Salaff herself continued to study Asia. Salaff’s most recent book was Hong Kong Movers and Stayers: Narratives of Family Migration in 2010 (with Siu-lun Wong and Arent Greve). From an academic life-course perspective — or the sociology of sociology — it is interesting to see where this early work led them. I imagine them as being imprinted by the experience — though I’ve never discussed it with them.

It is hard to remember (or imagine) now how different it was to be a student in the social sciences when there was such an active debate and analysis of socialism as a legitimate alternative mode of social organization — and especially in the context of gender inequality. Today’s first-year college student was born after the Berlin Wall and Tienanmen Square. But maybe one of today’s graduate students will write the history of the Western feminist academics who cut their teeth, and tested their ideals, on the Chinese revolution.

Source: Palisadian Post

Janet W. Salaff
Source: Palisadian Post

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