The Rise of Women?
An essay by William Steinberger
The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, proclaims the Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin in her recent, controversial book. The Great Recession has intensified decades of change to the American workplace; almost 80% of the 8 million jobs lost belonged to men, owing to the evaporation of the manufacturing sector. In 2012 women surpassed men as the majority of the American workforce and now earn 42.2% of family income. They earn 60% of college degrees, too.
Women like Nora – single, urban twenty-somethings – earn more on average than their male counterparts, though as historian Stephanie Coontz notes, this trend evaporates when limiting this sample to those with equal education. And while women’s real wages have risen (as men’s stagnate or fall), they started from a drastically lower point. Of the overall economy, Coontz argues that “what we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance,” disagreeing with Rosin’s assessment that “given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment.”
And a troublesome “pyramiding,” to borrow Rosin’s term, occurs at the top of prestigious professions. Only 4% of Fortune top 1,000 CEOs are female; the median wages of female managers are 73% of their male equivalents. A female wage increase clearly exists among the working class but evaporates as the income ladder rises. Wealthy, educated men are not struggling in the service economy.
And yet maybe a change is coming at the top, too. In 2011, female CEOs earned on average 43% more than male CEOs, receiving larger raises, as well. A 2008 study measuring the top 1500 American companies from 1992-2006 found that those with women in top positions had higher profits, particularly if the company pursued an “innovation intensive strategy” where “creativity and collaboration” are valued. “What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men?” Rosin asks. “The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male,” she argues.
But the problem may be this: college educated, high-earning women are increasingly unhappy. Women take on new professional roles but less frequently jettison old roles and there is not yet widespread acceptance of men with homemaking responsibilities. Options do not necessarily breed contentment. Work-Life Balance is hard to achieve, and these assistants might agree.
Photo: Kate Czajkowski and Kevin Meehan. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.