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Are Women Really Pulling Ahead?

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  January 31, 2013 08:17 AM

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How comfortable do men feel being stay-at-home dads?

How comfortable do they feel when their wives or girlfriends out-earn them?

Even in 2013, lots of men and women may be initially skeptical of both scenarios - though that aversion is slowly being eaten away by both logic and an acceptance of women’s increasing financial power.

“When women find themselves pulling ahead [of their partner],” author Liza Mundy told me in a recent interview, “it can come as a surprise and it can be disconcerting sometimes.”

Mundy’s book, The Richer Sex, notes that, increasingly, women out-earn men. And in a country in which a higher percentage of bachelor’s degrees go to women, that trend seems unlikely to abate. (More and more graduate degrees also go to women.)

As CBS News reported last year, “roughly 20.1 million women have bachelor's degrees, compared to nearly 18.7 million men — a gap of more than 1.4 million that has remained steady in recent years.”

Some experts, like Mundy, believe younger women will continue to exacerbate the gap, increasingly looking to education to increase their earning potential.

Here’s the problem, though - highlighted by Philip Cohen in this month’s Boston Review - men still rake in more money than women, even when they’re doing the same job. In part because women are simply less likely to advocate for themselves.

A new book from Sheryl Sandberg, whose TED talk about women went viral, will argue that women are simply socialized to demand less. And less is what they get.

A friend in a very well-compensated profession told me that when she was hired, an older woman warned her that women often fail to demand the same sort of contracts as the men around them.

Men, she said, generally ensure they get the vacation time and expense accounts they want before accepting the job in the first place. “You’re lucky to have me working here,” the guys would insist. Women, meanwhile, tended to think: “You really want to hire me? That’s so exciting!”

But Cohen notes that women suffer not just from socialization (being liked is a top priority) but from structural disadvantages:

In policy, the United States lags atrociously on vital matters of work-family integration. Specifically, paid family leave might reduce the career consequences of unpaid care-work obligations. Universal preschool education would smooth women’s reentry into the labor force after childbirth while reducing the inequalities in childcare that help reproduce class inequality.

Which means that women are still far more likely to stay at home and raise a family than men. And they are still more likely to be in marriages where their spouse out-earns them.

Will this change? Can it?

We may be in the midst of a great social movement. But movement can be slow - painfully slow.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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