Beware “The Reverse Gender Gap”!!!

Good news! The gender gap is closing!

In an article titled “They Call it the Reverse Gender Gap,” Luisita Lopez Torregrosa argues that there is a “global trend” of young single women out-earning men and of increasing female breadwinners, and that in today’s new matriarchal society, many men will have to “import brides” and do housework:

“As the year ends, much of the talk around women — at least in the United States — has moved from empowerment and global gender gaps to the trend of young single women out-earning men and the rise of female breadwinners.

She opens with:

For starters, young women today — and not just in the United States — are moving quickly to close the pay gap, or in some cases have closed it already.

According to The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2010, resulting in a gender wage gap of 23 percent.   2010 census data showed that the wage gap between men and women didn’t budge in 2010, but has remained steady. According to the 2011 World Economic Forum, U.S. wage equality overall is only at 0.65. Not 1.08. Of course, that data takes into account all women, and the data Torregrosa uses (and fails to cite, but we found it ourselves) is as follows:

…  a study shows that in most U.S. cities, single, childless women under 30 are making an average of 8 percent more money than their male counterparts, with Atlanta and Miami in the lead at 20 percent.

The Time magazine article about the study quickly points out  that outside of that specific demographic group, times are not a’changin’ – “The rest of working women — even those of the same age, but who are married or don’t live in a major metropolitan area — are still on the less scenic side of the wage divide.” Economist Mark J. Perry sums that up nicely: If you control for all of the important variables that contribute to wage differentials (age, marital status, having children, etc.), i.e. impose ceteris paribus conditions, there is no evidence of gender discrimination, and either there is no statistically significant wage gap, or now there’s a wage gap in favor of women.” 

Time points out that the cities where women earned more than men shared one of three characteristics: the city had knowledge-based primary local industries (such as New York or LA), the city was experiencing a decline of a manufacturing base, (that’s where you won’t necessarily see women making more as you’ll be seeing men making less), or the city had a majority minority population, as Hispanic and black women are twice as likely to graduate from college as their male peers.

Torregrosa attempts to create an image of the “young independent single woman” that simply isn’t reflected on the ground because she’s essentially comparing apples to apples. Female college graduates still earn 33% less than male college graduates. This graph from The Bureau of Labor Statistics displays wage disparities between men and women in the same industries:

Just last week, in fact, Forbes published an article using current data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research showing that the unfounded “Mancession” (already a problematic concept to begin with) is “over,” and that women aren’t recovering lost jobs as quickly as men are.

There are plenty of other factors in this picture too — according to an interview with Dominic Barton in the Wall Street Journal, “if you look at the corporate world today, about 53% of the workers coming in are women. Then it dwindles. The female participation rate kind of goes 53% at the entry level, and then 37% at the next level up — lower-middle management. Then, at the VP level, it’s 28%. And at the executive committee, it’s about 14% and then, 3%.”

Sociologist Mariko Chang revealed in a talk on “Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It” that despite the rise of women’s earnings to 78% of men’s, women still own only 36% as much wealth. Salary is only one piece of the financial picture.

According to the 2011 World Economic Forum, the overall gender equality score in the United States is 0.741 (where 0 is inequality and 1 is equality). Iceland, which has ranked first for the last three years, has a score of 0.853. (According to a quick Google search, Iceland’s major newspapers are not publishing stories of all-out panic over women “reversing the gender gap.” But that’s not really the point).

So, now that we’ve dealt with 10% of the reasons why that “women earn 8% more than men because they are women” statistic is irrelevant, let’s move on to this zinger, also presented as evidence of the powerful “emergence of [a] cohort of high-earning young women and [an] increasing number of female breadwinners”:

“[Young women today] are marrying later and later, or not marrying at all. They no longer need husbands to have children, or want no children (40 percent of births in the United States each year are now to single women).”

So, WOW! Wow. Bet you never thought you’d see “40 percent of births in the United States each year are now to single women” as evidence of a reverse gender gap! That’s not such encouraging information when nearly 41 percent of unwed mothers with children under 18 live on incomes below the federal poverty line. How many of these women are unmarried, but in a serious relationship? How many have female partners/co-parents? But most importantly — how many of those women chose to independently get deliberately pregnant with the intention of raising their child alone? What if I told you that 59% of women who choose single motherhood have POSTGRADUATE degrees? We’re not talking “a majority” here.

And the Reach Advisors study doesn’t get to what happens before everyone comes back from mat leave to find that someone who was hired at the same time has been promoted above them. (Women with children are also 50% less likely to be hired than another women with equivalent qualifications and no children, because they are seen as less devoted to their jobs. Men with children are equally or more likely to be hired than men without, and are seen as more devoted to their jobs.)  Shortchanged points out that “mothers face stereotypes that decrease their perceived credibility, capability, and worthiness of promotion in the workplace, whereas men experience a wage increase with fatherhood. Mothers receive a 4% wage penalty for the first child and a 12% penalty for each additional child.”

There are also no statistics about what happens after 30, when more women start having kids — and when you’re making a generalization about the future of gender relationships, you should probably look at the future.

The New York Times similarly misrepresents data about college graduation rates. The article cites the fact that 55% of college graduates are currently female. However, it does not look at which fields or which colleges this includes. Female engineers are still outnumbered four to one, according to a 2010 report from the University of Waterloo. While female doctors (in Britain) are predicted to outnumber male doctors by 2017 (which newspapers called “bad for medicine”), they are still expected to make less and not reach equally high professional positions. Jane Dacre, the medical school director at University College, London, who released the study, said, “For 500 years men have dominated the medical profession and that has been seen as the status quo, but as soon as there’s a sniff of women dominating the profession there is a crisis. I don’t think we have yet reached an era of feminization. What we are doing is reaching equality.”

Some studies have shown that over the course of a lifetime, male college graduates will earn over a million dollars more than women college graduates will over the course of a lifetime.

Equality: even more fun than saying the gender gap is closed and not following up with actual evidence.

So now that we’ve assembled information disproving the thesis upon which she begins anecdotally fleshing out, let’s see how this imaginary trend is allegedly changing our everyday lives and gender roles: “Increasingly, if by no means the majority, women bring home the bacon while husbands or male partners take care of an ever greater share of the domestic front.” This argument for a reversal of roles does not, as the author seems to imply, completely transform the gender landscape. It still implies that there are two roles, and that one is better, and that there is no alternative.

Woven in with the wage-gap discussion is another, far more worrying tone, which are the interviews with young women quoted in the work:

“‘Women here are doing the same jobs as men,’ [a 29-year-old Parisian, Natacha Richard, single and childless, who came to New York to work in the beauty business because, she said, women have more opportunities and freedom here than in France] said. ‘They are getting paid almost as much or sometimes more and doing the jobs better, and on top of that, women are the ones who have children and who care for children. What’s there for men to do?’

Ms. Bolick laid it out, saying, ‘If, in all sectors of society, women are on the ascent, and if gender parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction.’

A cause to rejoice? Only future years will tell.”

Can you imagine what this discourse will look like if the numbers actually do back up the story these people are telling? Do you see to what degree we’re literally being brainwashed by bullshit into believing things are better than they are because people are so fucking petrified of how powerful women could be if they took over?

Earlier this year there was a similar “panic” in Canada over girls out-performing boys in schools. According to the results of the 2010 Pan-Canadian Assessment Program, which tests grade eight students across the country, female students performed better than male students in reading and science and at about the same level in math. According to some experts, boys are often less strong at reading, and thus performed worse on the test because “the current system is setting boys up for failure.” The most sensible thing anyone said came from an education professor: “I don’t discount the issue that there are issues for boys, but I don’t think it’s helpful to think of boys as a homogenous group.”

It’s not that girls and boys learn differently, it’s that different children learn differently. Looking at data as if gender is the only relevant category, and as if one gender is being “set up for failure” because the curriculum isn’t designed solely around them, is just lazy. So is looking at data about employment rates and college graduation and salary as if gender is the one and only factor.

It’s possible to work for an educational system that serves all children and bends to meet individual education needs, and every time we fail to do so in lieu of chalking all our children’s differences up to intrinsic gendered characteristics or placing all of our efforts in blocking a reverse gender gap, we perpetuate gaps in performance. Which leads to gaps in the opportunities for our children, whatever their gender.

And while the “reverse gender gap,” does not actually exist, they still do.

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Carolyn is the NSFW Editor for Autostraddle.com. She is also a freelance copy editor and writer, and her work has appeared in Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, the Billfold, and other places. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 284 articles for us.

28 Comments

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    “as Hispanic and black women are twice as likely to graduate from college as their male peers.”

    I’m not in any way trying to discredit you (the writer) I’m just wondering where this statistic came from. I know that women are out graduating men from college, but I am shocked that ethnic minority females are out graduating men by a ratio of 2:1. With the achievement gap firmly in place, this made me say aloud “Really?! Reeaaallly?”

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    This is a great post. The Times has done this kind of thing in the past talking about the ‘Mancession’. It’s wildly irresponsible to report as though the pay gap battle has been won when the data — and the personal experience of many women in corporate America — shows otherwise. Especially when you look at women with children.

    Many of the best jobs in this country are now and will continue to be in technology, engineering and computer science. But women are not being educated in these fields in significant numbers, and are thus increasingly under-qualified for high-paying, in demand jobs. What does this suggest about our trajectory? What do we have to do to change this course? These are the real questions we should be grappling with, not whether a 30 year-old white collar woman has a very small, very temporary income advantage.

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      Getting more women in engineering and technology has to start from a very young age. Take a look at the toy industry – you see Transformers, robots, etc. marketed to boys. On the other hand, dolls and makeup, etc. are marketed to girls. What does this say to you? From a young age, boys are already introduced to the building blocks of engineering and technology, but girls are not. Girls are already disadvantaged at this level.

      I’m studying mechanical engineering, and in a class of 60, there are 10 girls. Almost all of these girls have parents who are engineers, or did something in high school that introduced them to engineering. Otherwise, I know so many intelligent women who are simply intimidated by the concept of engineering. I think it’s a big problem that society continues to perpetuate that boys are good at math and science, and girls are good at humanities, when it’s not necessarily true. Yet it’s this idea that people continue to believe and conform to, and it inhibits them from realizing their true potential.

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        It’s kinda sad actually on the engineer front, as in my electronic engineering there are 3, including me, one doesn’t want to be there and i was brought up as a boy. So yeah it does unfortunately ring true, and at more than 4:1 ratios…

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        I’m an economics major. I’m one of three women graduating this year with that major. When I was in the Computer Science department, I was the *only* woman major, not only for that year but also for about three years before. (Smaller liberal arts school, blah blah blah, but still.)

        We need to start a support group for women in male-dominated fields or something around here.

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    There are few things I hate more than portmanteau words with “man” in them, like “mancession.” How stupid.
    Also, this article is a fucking rad smackdown and I want to make everyone I know read it. It makes me sick that bullshit like this ny times article is being published on such a wide scale- just more fodder for the douchebags to complain that life is so hard for straight white guys these days!

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    I think the root of the gender gap problem is in society’s attitude towards it. It bothers me that so many men are intimidated by intelligent women who are earning more than them, and that so many women are willing to play by this standard and downplay their intelligence just to find a husband. The fact that society continues to perpetuate these gender roles really frustrates me. I’m realizing that a lot of women in my generation (college) no longer feel the need to fight gender inequalities because they feel like they don’t exist anymore (possibly because of articles like the NY times one), they don’t see it in their own worlds yet, or they feel like there’s nothing they can really do about it because the pressure from society is so strong.

    The point is, why does society fear gender equality so much? Women have been oppressed for so long, it’s about time that we actually start receiving credit for what we bring to society. I strongly believe that women are powerful, and are the driving force for social change, if only the opportunities were available.

    Women have so much potential to be equally as great as men, but they often have to find their own opportunities to shine, whereas men are simply given them.

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    I think it is important to note though, that men and women are fundamentally different, and it does come into play when considering numbers. It’s an interesting observation that women are generally more inclined to help society/other people, and would choose careers that allow them to do that. I find that generally, men tend to desire power and control, and strive for higher positions. Again, these are generalizations, but perhaps sometimes the numbers are the way they are because of the individual choices that people make, and I don’t believe we’d ever see true 50/50 equality in certain fields.

    Still, the gender gap still shouldn’t exist as drastically as it does – it is the way it is largely because of bias and unequal opportunity, in favor of men. If only society wasn’t so hung up on gender roles and gave everyone the same opportunities based on a person’s qualifications as an individual…

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      I think you’ll find that there is a large number of us that believe that men and women are NOT fundamentally different. Even if you do make the generalisations that women are more inclined to help people (I don’t think they necessarily are) and men are more likely to desire power (I’m not exactly sure what that means…) you have to wonder why this is so. If you start putting labour trends down to the “nature” of gender and individual choices then discussions of the gender gap become pretty pointless pretty fast.

      And really, the problem is not as simple as paying two people with the same qualifications the same amount of money for the same job. Entire sectors of the labour market (the service industry, the childcare industry, the beauty industry, etc) are engendered as feminine and devalued accordingly. These types of jobs are seen as unskilled and therefore are underpaid and subject to worse conditions (casualisation, part time hours, less superannuation) than their masculine counterparts (engineering, mathematics, politics). This is especially true in Australia, which has one of the most gender segregated labour forces in the developed world. As long as certain jobs (helping people & society) continue to be seen as women’s arenas (and women continue to be seen as more natural and less skilled), the pay gap will stay with us.

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        Whether or not we agree that there are inherent differences between men and women, the differences (if they exist) shouldn’t be an excuse for the way things currently are.

        What I mean is that, sometimes given the same opportunities, men and women might make different career choices because they naturally want different things, and so we may never see qual numbers of men and women in certain fields. However, that shouldn’t be a reason why we should bias things towards one gender or continue to classify industries as either feminine or masculine. The difference shouldn’t be an excuse for things to remain the way they are. The fact that classification exists is already restricting, and when people continue to conform that idea, they may not realize their true potential in a field classified as for the other gender.

        It’s important that we continue to strive for equal opportunity in all industries so that all individuals can make their own career choices based on what is best for them and their capabilities. And, opportunity isn’t just about job availability – it starts from childhood, before gender roles are even defined for the individual, so that they themselves are not restricted by the idea of gender.

        There still is gender inequality because sometimes the opportunities aren’t available to certain genders (because of bias and gender roles), and that needs to change.

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    Carolyn this is so well-researched and interesting! I get scared every time I hear someone talk about reverse anything. Mostly because chances are they’re going to complain about how the people who used to be large and in charge now have to their their power.

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    There’s a massive ‘reverse’ gender gap in education, that’s the big one, and it needs to be addressed pretty quickly because it starts at elementary/primary school level.

    Boys reading/writing grades have declined in the OECD since the mid 1980s. Where’s the alarm/outrage? We did something about the gender gap for education in girls, particularly in maths/science and university enrolments, now it’s time to address the issue we have with boys.

  8. Pingback: Why Does Everything Seem to Be Going Wrong for Women’s Progress? | Greediocracy

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    Such “reverse gender gap” articles are just nonsense. Women aren’t even equal to men yet to begin with. We don’t even have equal pay yet in the Western world. Outside the Western, world women are still being beaten, raped and confined to the home. In Saudi Arabia, women can’t even drive cars.

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