The rise of women in the workforce has been the subject of endless discussion in recent years, much of it accompanied by hand wringing over the demise of the "traditional" family and the emasculation of American men.
In her new book, The Richer Sex, Washington Post reporter Liza Mundy takes a completely different view, arguing that women's increased economic clout "will bring about a new liberation for women but also for men."
Mundy explains her thesis in the accompanying video, as well as the reasons why the "big flip" toward women being the primary breadwinner is an inevitable outcome of trends already in motion.
While male-dominated industries such as construction were hardest hit by the bursting of the housing bubble, Mundy notes the trend of women being primary breadwinners started in the 1980s. Since then, the percentage of women who earn more than their husbands has risen steadily before accelerating in the early 2000s, well before the Great Recession.
Today the percentage of women who out-earn their husbands currently hovers near 40%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Mundy believes that percentage will continue to rise because women currently earn 57% of undergraduate degrees, and 60% of graduate students in American colleges and universities are females.
With the globe shifting rapidly toward a "knowledge economy," education is often the big determinant of an individual's income potential. "College-educated workers are the only sector where wages are rising," Mundy notes. "The high-paying industrial job for a male high school graduate is the job that's waning."
Furthermore, women dominate some of the fastest-growing industries, such as marketing and human relations.
In other words, the increase in women's earning potential is another fundamental change brought about by the shift from an economy based on manufacturing to one dominated by services and technology.
It's pretty impossible to argue against these macro trends. What's more controversial, and subject to much debate, is Mundy's argument about them being good for both sexes.
Much of the literature to date has focused on the negative implications of men losing their place as the family's main provider. In addition, some sociologists argue that as women become more economically empowered, they will seek to delay or avoid marriage and will become more promiscuous because they won't need to seek a mate who can provide for them. In other words, they will act more like the stereotypically "confirmed" male bachelor, putting further pressure on the traditional family model.
Mundy doesn't deny there are risks to women's economic rise but believes they're overstated or, at least, don't tell the whole picture.
As women's earnings power rises, men will feel "less pressure to be to the sole breadwinner," she argues. This will give men more time to pursue their passions, rather than just a paycheck, as well as spend more time raising children if they choose.
"As women become more economically empowered, they'll be more likely to have a spouse supportive of their career," Mundy predicts. That "will help propel women through the glass ceiling -- to have a partner at home who will make sacrifices for her career."
This may sound unrealistic or even heretical to some. But basically, Mundy is arguing couples will make choices based on economic incentives (and realities) rather than traditional gender roles, i.e., they'll do what families have always done and are already doing in America today.
- Society & Culture
- Cultural Groups