June 4 2013

The Economy is Not a Game of Girls Versus Boys

Hadley Heath

Hanna Rosin wrote in 2010 that the Great Recession was the “End of Men,” and today Blaire Briody reports in the Fiscal Times that “men are falling behind far and fast.”

Women now earn about 60 percent of university degrees in America and Europe. Single women are increasingly becoming homeowners and a survey by Harris Interactive and Mortgage Marvel this week finds that women are more financially responsible when buying a home.

Of the 41 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 who expressed interest in buying a home this year, 17 percent of men said their finances were “shaky” – whereas only 6 percent of women said the same.

Some women – perhaps especially successful, young, single women – will shake this news off.  “That’s their problem,” it’s tempting to say. 

But what happens when it’s time for us Millennials to settle down?  Most people prefer a mate with similar levels of education, and someone with potential for professional success. 

The trouble with many of the male-vs-female economic analyses is a broad ignorance of how greatly men and women’s interests are tied, even for those who are not married.  It’s easy for a married woman to see that, for example, if her husband gets a huge raise and outpaces her earnings, this may kick her out of the “breadwinner” category, but it increases their overall household earnings, securing a higher quality of life for husband, wife, and children. (The same is true in reverse, by the way.)

But the same is also true for unmarried people. An overwhelming majority of young adults hope to be interdependent with a member of the opposite sex at some point in life (usually through marriage).  This doesn’t mean young women should avoid individual success. It simply means we shouldn’t cheer if men struggle financially.  Also, increased levels of employment (for either sex) and higher earnings (for either sex) are good for our economy, our fiscal outlook, and can lead to greater prosperity, innovation, and fuller lives!

Pew Research Center announced last week that 40 percent of American breadwinners are women.  I frankly couldn’t care less how many breadwinners are male or female.  That’s a matter of how we slice the pie, and isn’t necessarily indicative of how friendly (or unfriendly) the workplace is to either sex.  It also doesn’t tell us much about people’s happiness or the choices they would make if they could have it their way.

I want a bigger pie for us all.  The “War of the Roses” doesn’t apply to economic achievement.  In fact, for women in my cohort, especially in certain industries, our biggest professional competition may be other motivated women.  But even then, the economy is not a zero-sum game.  With 7.5 percent unemployment, the United States needs more breadwinners; I don’t care if they are men or women. 

Professional success is only one part of life that brings us fulfillment. Another important part is success in relationships – especially the foundational relationships among family members.  Concern for our family, friends, and fellow Americans should give us pause when economic analyses pit women and men against each other.

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