November 13 2013

Move over, Sheryl Sandberg.

Charlotte Hays

Move over, Sheryl Sandberg.

An economist and government policy analyst in the U.K., Allison Wolf has written a book about elite women that has been much-discussed in the U.K. and is just now available in the U.S.

It’s likely to be the next big book that professional women read and debate.

But, first, Aifric Campbell, a novelist and former managing director at Morgan Stanley, who reviews the book this morning in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required),   has some harsh words for the way Wolf’s book is being presented to U.S. readers:

What happens to a book when it crosses the Atlantic? Alison Wolf's "The XX Factor" was published in England six months ago with the subtitle "How Working Women Are Creating a New Society." The American publisher has switched this to "How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World," adorned the dust jacket with neon pink scribble and added an invective about women who derive "self-worth and pleasure from wielding professional power." Thus this important book about how social change affects everyone, everywhere, arrives in the U.S. as a story about how working women are screwing things up for their sisters.

The repackaging insults the author, misrepresents her thesis and risks alienating the broad readership that the book deserves. Meticulously researched, global in reach and grounded in data, "The XX Factor" elevates and informs a jaded and adversarial debate that often turns on sound bites and anecdote. Instead of urging women to "lean in," or trumpeting "the end of men," or whining about not having it all, Ms. Wolf invites us all to consider a future already unfolding.

The focus of the book, according to the review, is the elite women who hold “top-quintile jobs” and who are top earners in their countries. There are about 70 million such women in the world. Wolf, according to the review, has synthesized the data about education and earnings and found that there is a “divergence” among women that extends to all facets of life—including sexual behavior, fertility, parenting, and divorce patterns.   

But the suggestion that working women are creating "a far less equal world" confuses cause and effect. "The XX Factor" confirms what we have always known: Education and money transform lives. The key issue is that the female universal no longer exists. We might therefore hope that media commentators and politicians will cease to talk about "women" en masse and address a new reality that has profound implications for social and economic policy from cradle to grave.

Some of Wolf’s findings about elite women are just as one would expect: for example, they marry men with similar educational and professional attainments to their own.

But other findings may surprise: the “big breeders” among elite women in the U.S. are the super-rich women (less than 1 percent) who will eventually quit working to raise their three-plus children and help manage their husbands’ estates. Eighty percent of Dutch women work part-time because they want to be with their children.

Apparently, however, parenting is difficult for these elite women—“a joyless parenting narrative haunts this book”—because they put so much emphasis on educational credentials that they live in fear that Muffy won't get in the right schools.

And what's the most intriguing factoid in the book?

[I]ncreasingly, [elite women] want satisfaction. The data reveals a sharp but unexplained rise in professional women who think orgasm really does matter.

 

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