Tag Archives: liza mundy

The Fempire can’t handle the truth?

Liza Mundy has a post up at The Atlantic about the academic feminist establishment — which she has “begun to think of as the Fempire” — that can’t handle the truth. I appreciate her perspective, and her description of us as “on the same team.” We want gender equality. So that’s all good.

After mentioning Stephanie Coontz, Nancy Folbre and me (a list I cherish), she writes about us:

Why look only at the half-empty part of the picture? Part of this, of course, is a real concern for women’s struggles. But you could also argue that there is an institutionalized mindset that sets in when you become an institution. A certain investment in your historical argument. Certain currently popular theories—that the gender revolution has stalled; that marriage squeezes women out of the workforce—have a hard time embracing situations where there is no stall, and where married women have a strong incentive to work. … You could also argue that in the months prior to the recent election, the Fempire wanted to keep women’s issues in the headlines so that people would vote for, you know, the right guy.

It’s a shame I have to suffer this criticism, even as I still get grief from other feminists for exposing the “women own 1% of world property” meme as a myth. If the Internet had a longer attention span maybe I’d only have to be tarred with one of these brushes at a time.

Anyway, since she comes close to impugning my motives — which is fine and reasonable, of course — I feel permitted to offer just make a little dig in return.

In the post, Mundy writes, about her book: “I argued that female breadwinning could someday become the norm.” Wait a minute, could someday? In the book, on p. 6, it is: “women will become the top earners in households. … that Big Flip is just around the corner.” I should mention (she doesn’t) that the subtitle of the book is, “How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family.”

I hate to impose cynical motivations on Mundy, or on Hanna Rosin, who has also distanced herself from the title of her book, saying, “The End of Men seems to be a provocative title. It’s the one that was given to my Atlantic piece not by me but by my editor…” But it is almost as if one can walk back the the title and overreaching claims after the book is on the market, and not worry because they don’t have to be “true” for the book to be good.


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Women’s Economic Dominance: Is It Really Inevitable?

Originally published at TheAtlantic.com.

Both Liza Mundy (The Richer Sex) and Hanna Rosin (The End of Men) argue that the transition to a postindustrial, service- and knowledge-based economy—in conjunction with declining gender discrimination—are leading inevitably to women’s economic dominance. I have critiqued those stories in a series of posts on my site Family Inequality.

But there is one piece of Mundy and Rosin’s argument I haven’t questioned until now. It is so intuitively appealing that I assumed it was true: The demands of the economy are shifting dramatically in women’s favor. Brains have superseded brawn and social skills have become increasingly important, they both claim (and I accepted without thinking much about it) which all favors women over men.

Mundy and Rosin make frequent references to a set of projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), showing that the occupations with the largest expected growth are dominated by women rather than men. But that description is, it turns out, misleading.

Occupations Projected

First, here is how Mundy and Rosin use the BLS numbers. Mundy writes:

Projections made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that women’s occupations will be favored in the next decade. … All in all, of the ten jobs with the largest projected job growth—nurses, home health aides, customer service reps, food preparation and serving workers, home care aides, retail sales, office clerks, accountants and auditors, nursing units, and postsecondary teachers—nine are majority female.

Rosin uses similar statistics, which have been repeated in reviews like this one in the Chicago Tribune, this one in the Globe and Mail, and blogs like this one at the World Bank. She writes (in a passage approvingly quoted by David Brooks):

The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer…. Of the fifteen job categories projected to grow the most in the United States over the next decade, twelve are occupied primarily by women.

Okay, here’s the first moment I should have paused. Women are almost half the labor force. So if occupations are “majority female” or “dominated” by women, how different are they from average? Does this really mean the occupational structure really strongly shifting in women’s favor?

The BLS projections are detailed here. They include hundreds of occupations, but they also summarize this pattern for 22 “major occupation groups,” which range in size from 1 million to 23 million workers. I added in the gender composition of each group to show the relationship between gender composition and projected growth.


As you can see, the female-dominated occupations are projected to grow fastest. For dramatic effect, one might point to the top-right point: healthcare support occupations are 87 percent female and projected to grow 35 percent over the decade. On the other hand there are production occupations: 26 percent female and aiming for a paltry four percent growth. But that would be cherry-picking examples. What the sophisticated reader really wants to know is the overall relationship between gender and job growth. And that is not what it appears.

Here is the same graph, but with the occupation groups shown in proportion to thethe number of workers they represent, and the trendline redrawn to reflect their disparate weights.


Now the picture is much different. That giant dot on the lower right is 23 million office and administrative support workers – 72 percent female and growing slowly. And near the middle are three large occupation groups that are 40 to 50 percent female, also growing slowly (sales, food preparation and serving, and management). The gender action is all in the occupations that employ a smaller number of people. The big story about growth and gender composition of major occupation groups is not true. (In technical terms, the slope of that line in the first figure is reduced by half when we account for the size of the dots. And in fact the slope would be cut in half again if we just dropped the healthcare support occupations point, which exerts outsized influence as an outlier.)

So how do Mundy and Rosin come up with the dramatic lists of occupations projected to grow the most? The top 10 growing occupations (at the detailed level) are mostly female-dominated. But those occupations made up just 15 percent of the workforce in 2010, and are projected to make up only 17 percent by 2020. The top 15 are projected to increase from 22 percent to just 23 percent of the workforce. The growth in these jobs just doesn’t represent that much of a change for the entire economy.

If occupations aren’t really shifting in women’s directions anymore, we shouldn’t be surprised. In 2001, analyzing occupational trends of the 20th century, David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman concluded:

Change in the occupational structure is not responsible for the continued growth in women’s labor force participation after 1970. That is, it is not the growth of traditionally female occupations that is driving the continuing growth in women’s labor force participation rates in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rather, it was – and still is – the growth of integrated middle-class occupations, and women moving into new occupations, that provide the impetus for women’s increased labor force share. Hard as it is to believe, the overall shift toward traditionally female-typed occupations largely ended by the 1970s. Yes, there are more nurses and home health aides today than there were then, but there are also fewer maids and domestic servants. And although blue-collar manufacturing jobs have continued to decline, truck-driving and construction have not. (I extended their trend through 2010 to check whether this is still true. Women’s share of the labor force would have increased from 38 percent in 1970 only to 41 percent in 2010 based on occupational shifts alone, if the gender composition of each occupation hadn’t changed. That means about 70 percent of the increase in women’s share of the labor force came from occupations becoming more integrated instead of occupations growing and shrinking.)

In other places in her book, Rosin presses the ongoing structural change in the economy in terms of industries (what firms make) instead of occupations (what workers do). Here she is on slightly firmer ground. She writes:

Since 2000, the manufacturing economy has lost almost 6 million jobs… During the same period, meanwhile, health and education have added about the same number of jobs. But those sectors continue to be heavily dominated by women, while the men concentrate themselves more than ever in industries—construction, transportation, and utilities—that are fading away.

In one respect here, Rosin is exaggerating: She is referring to 4.5 million as “about the same number” as 5.7 million. And construction, transportation, and utilities, rather than “fading away,” in fact are togetherprojected to produce 2.7 million new jobs from 2010 to 2020, a 26 percent increase.

But she nevertheless makes a true and important point: Those masculinist industries are growing slower than education and health services, which are projected to add 6.5 jobs, a 33 percent increase. During the next decade, BLS projects education and health will grow from 15 percent to 17 percent of the workforce. But outside of that group, there is no relationship between gender and projected growth. Here is the chart:


The blue line shows the relationship with education and health services included—big dots out on the edges have a huge influence on the trend. If you exclude that you get the pink line. Manufacturing is shrinking, but it’s already only nine percent of workers, and shrinking to eight percent by 2020. Most of the employment growth is in the integrated industries: retail trade, professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, and government—which affect men’s and women’s employment. Health and education growth are a big part of our expected future, but they’re not the whole economy.


Overall, you might be surprised to learn—I know I was—that women are projected to increase their share of the labor force from 46.7 percent in 2010 only to 47.0 percent in 2020. That’s it: less than one percent. How can that be? So many people are so attached to this narrative of women’s rapid advance that they haven’t noticed there has been no advance in the last 17 years: Women have occupied between 46 percent and 47 percent of the labor force every year between 1994 and 2011.


This stagnation itself complicates a big part of Rosin’s and Mundy’s narratives. The continuous—and fast—pace of change is why they argue that we are heading not just toward equality but beyond it, to female domination. As Rosin writes:

Yes, the United States and many other countries still have a gender wage gap. Yes, women still do most of the childcare. And yes, the upper reaches of power are still dominated by men. But given the sheer velocity of the economic and other forces at work, these circumstances are much more likely the last artifacts of a vanishing age rather than a permanent figuration.

And, after several paragraphs of statistics comparing the present mostly to the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Mundy concludes: “Given these trends, it is only a matter of time before a majority of working wives outearn their husbands.”

But the reality is that it is not only a matter of time. The ostensibly gender-neutral processes of economic transformation are not the source of women’s progress they once were. And that’s the real danger in their stories: creating the impression that women’s progress is inevitable and unstoppable.


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Family Inequality now on The Atlantic (Sexes)

Starting today, I will have posts on TheAtlantic.com. They will appear in the new Sexes section (to be launched shortly). Today’s first post is temporarily in the Business section, here — where it naturally continues my reading of The End of Men and The Richer Sex: How the fastest growing occupations can be female dominated while the economy is hardly shifting toward women.

For scrapbookers, it’s also on the front of the web site this morning:


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When women earn more but wives earn less (Mundy/Rosin edition)

We have been told many times now that in U.S. metropolitan areas, among 22-30 year-olds who have no children, have never been married, and work full-time and year-round, women’s median income is higher than men’s.

One implication both Hanna Rosin and Liza Mundy draw from this is that, when these people get married, there will be more marriages in which women are the higher earners.

I previously showed that women’s advantage in this group is partly the result of its odd race/ethnic composition — with a lot of White women and Latino men especially — reiterating  that men outearn women at all ages and all education levels.

But what if that group really was the marriage market, with more and more women looking down the economic ladder at the men they’re dating? Would we have more egalitarian married couples? Maybe, but not necessarily.

Atlanta is a good place to start, since, according to Liza Mundy’s book The Richer Sex, it’s the place where women’s advantage is greatest:

Of all the major cities where young women outearn young men, Atlanta is number one. Well do these [high-income women she’s interviewing] know the accuracy of that statistic. “I never had a boyfriend who made more than me,” says one of them.

Let’s look at this case, starting with a hypothetical income distribution of men and women:

These women have it made, with a median income $2,000 greater than men’s. Now let’s imagine that 80% of them get married — which is 8 marriages involving 16 people. Look how egalitarian the couples will be:

Whoops. Turns out men and women don’t get married randomly. If all men decide to marry women with lower incomes, they can — they just have to squeeze out the poorest two men and ignore the two richest women. Or, maybe it’s that the richest two women opt out of marriage, and the rest of the women taking advantage of the chance to marry up, ignoring the two poorest men. Either way, there’s a $2,000 male advantage in every couple, and the median incomes are now reversed, with married men having a $2,000 advantage, $41,000 to $39,000.

Is this what’s happening in Atlanta? Pretty close, I think.

Using the 2008-2010 American Community Survey (ACS) for the Atlanta metro area (three years pooled for larger sample size), I got the never-married, childfree, full-time and full-year employed men and women ages 25-34 (22-30 is not a good marriage market, since the average age at marriage is near the top of that range).

Sure enough, the women in this group have an earnings advantage, with median earnings of $37,473, compared with $35,000 for men. The distribution looks like this:

I’ve added a few calculations to the figure. The “index of net difference” (ND) is a handy tool for showing how two groups rank hierarchically along a single dimension (in this case income). Using the formula given by Lieberson here, and these categories, I reckon that the chance that a random woman will be in a higher category than a random man from this distribution is 45%. The opposite, that a man will be in a higher category, is 39%, so the ND is -.06. So, that’s good for women.

Note also that, despite the alleged statistical know-how of the high-income women at Mundy’s table, there are actually 1.6-times as many men in the the top income range of this marriage market as there are women. They have plenty to choose from at the high end, even though women’s median is higher. That’s because there are more men than women in the pool. I suppose there are two reasons for this: First, fewer women work full-time year-round. And second, lots of people are single parents, and when children live with their mothers, it’s the mothers who are excluded from this pool — the fathers, not the mothers, come up as childless.

Anyway, that’s the pool. What about the marriages? The ACS identifies people who got married in the past 12 months. In that 3-year sample I have about 200 couples to work with. So, here is the income distribution for men and women, ages 25-34, with no children present, who just got married. I dropped the full-time and -year restriction, since people could have quit working, and I limited it to couples where both are in the age range:

Just as in our hypothetical example, richer men and poorer women got married. Now the distribution skews decidedly male. The ND has reversed, and husbands’ median income is $12,527 higher than wives’.

How is that possible, when, as we are reminded so often, women are so much more likely to have graduated college? Two reasons: first, people overwhelmingly marry partners on the same side of the BA/no-BA divide; and second, men with BAs make more than women.

Here’s the Atlanta situation. First, education: Women in this group — 25-34, FTYR, never-married, no kids — are much more likely to have BAs: 62% to 41%.

However, in 72% of couples both spouses are on the same side of the BA divide (57% + 15%):

Setting aside all that educational endogamy, with so many more women BAs, women really are much more likely to marry down the educational ladder: 25% of childless, 25-34-year-old Atlanta newly-wed couples have a BA wife and a non-BA husband.

But men earn more at every education level. As a result of that — and by whatever additional machinations of partner-selection — only 38% of these couples have a higher-earning wife. Only a third of the BA-BA couples have higher-earning wives, and even when the wife has a BA and the husband doesn’t, that number is only 54%:

That’s how, even when you define the marriage market in such a way as to paint women’s situation as positively as possible — finding that rare niche in which women earn more than men — you discover the marriage system reproducing gender inequality.


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