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“The End of Men”?: You Must Be Joking

In the early years of the Second Wave, a small group of educated young women with extraordinary connections to the media met periodically in New York to raise their collective consciousness about women’s oppression.  These young women never bothered to look beyond their own experience, but instead took a “We are America” stance against anyone who suggested that other women might experience oppression, too, but in a different way.  The result was profoundly devastating for the nascent movement, as  I have documented in my book, Fresh Lipstick (see the chapter on the 1970s, called “Style and Substance in the Second Wave”).

The young women of the Second Wave had some excuse, in that data on women were very thin, even in the US, at that time.  The young women who are holding up The End of Men for the world to take as the latest truth on female experience have no such excuse.  Hanna Rosin’s incredibly skewed sampling approach is bad enough, but her friends in the New York media are adding their own fuel to the fire by pushing the book and recounting supporting stories from their own narrow circles.  In these very select social groups, women are often at the top, may perhaps earn more than their own husbands.  But these are a rare breed, worldwide.

It is true that, as Jennifer Homans’ critical review in the New York Times (slammed as “confused and scatter shot” by Rosin’s friend Emily Bazelon at Slate) points out, the thesis of The End of Men does not apply to the poor in India and it does not apply to the middle and lower classes in the US.  But this is a predictable response, however true.

What worries me is how Rosin’s argument is leading people to perceive the prospects of highly educated women in the United States.  And there is plenty of empirical data on this, from the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report, as well as their 2008 and 2010 survey of corporate practices.

What these data show is a consistent pattern in which women, even though highly educated, are relentlessly squeezed out of leadership roles as they progress through their careers.  Thus, by the time they would be reaching executive or board levels or be ready to become CEO’s, they are down to 10-15% of the available pool–the rest being composed of the men that Rosin is so keen to declare dead and gone.

Consider, for instance, that American women are enrolled in tertiary education at a 142 index to men.  And they occupy the professional and technical jobs at a 120 index to men.  Yet their representation in management level jobs is only an index of 85 and their pay equity as reported by corporate management is only at a 68 index.  This is to say that, though women are more educated than the men and enter the jobs that require education at a higher rate, they nevertheless end up in advanced careers at a lower rate and are paid even less.

This does not sound like the end of men to me.

Take a look at the following chart.  It summarizes the results of the WEF 2010 Corporate Gender Gap Survey, which reported the responses of 600 companies drawn from the OECD and BRIC nations.  These company respondents reported a pattern in which women, entering their firm at high rates, reduce in numbers over the course of their careers. Note that, though the US has higher numbers of women at every level overall, the general pattern matches that of the global average.  

Importantly, the WEF found that 72% of these companies did not keep salary records by sex–it seems to me pretty likely that they would wish to avoid having incriminating evidence in the event of a lawsuit.  It is illegal in most OECD countries to discriminate in pay, but the numbers make it clear that unequal pay for equal work happens often.

The decline in female representativeness at the top is taken as indicative of the pressures of motherhood, as eloquently put forward by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her Atlantic article last spring.  And there is no question that motherhood is an issue, but it is far and away not the only reason why the numbers of females approach zero as one climbs the corporate ladder.

We can tell this much by noting that the pattern occurs even in countries like Norway that have progressive policies toward parenthood.  See how, in the chart below, the representation of women at each level is stair-stepping toward nothingness, despite liberal parental policies, until it gets a shot in the arm at the board level.

That occurs only because Norway has a government-mandated quota that says women must be 40% of all corporate boards.  One intention behind such quotas is to stop the massive hemorrhaging of women in the middle- to upper- ranks of corporations by forcing companies to cultivate enough females to populate 40% of the board room.  Such measures, some legislative and some voluntary, are now under consideration around the world because this problem is found everywhere.  Please pay attention to the fact that the pattern of Norway, except for the bump in the board membership, is basically the same as India, even though one ranks at the top of global gender equality figures and the other nearly at the bottom.

I think it is pretty clear that declaring “the end of men” is premature and irresponsible. Unfortunately, the We are the World group can’t see it.


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