Matriarchy My… Assets!

The ascent of women. The decline of men. The smarter sex. The richer sex.

So sayeth the pundits and pontificators – as media would have us believe that women rule and men drool. Or, at the very least, testosterone is tumbling and matriarchy is on the horizon.

Matriarchal America?

I don’t think so.

Am I contemplating the “having it all” debate? No. Am I reopening the feminism files on the topic of women needing men emotionally or sexually?

Not that either.

Something bigger. More insidious.

I’m talking about you, me, your mother, your father, your spouse, your ex-louse, and your kiddos who may be heading to college. I’m talking opportunity. I’m talking money.

Real Numbers, Real Context

Author Stephanie Coontz addresses recent pop culture claims projecting the rise of women as imminent, and likewise, bemoaning the demise of men. But rather than latch on to media sound bites, she slips relevant data into thoughtful context, as she highlights women’s socioeconomic progress as well as stagnation.

In her New York Times article, “The Myth of Male Decline,” Ms. Coontz offers evidence of a cultural transformation – it’s undeniable that women have made strides in 40 years – while dismantling the belief that women are becoming the richer sex, women are outpacing men in educational accomplishments, and women are gaining ground at the expense of men.

More precisely, she situates statistics in real world reasoning, rather than posturing in isolation. And the result is a more complete and plausible picture of where we find ourselves, and how far we haven’t come.

Cagey Comparisons, Apples to Oranges

Ms. Coontz presents data and conclusions that consider a broad range of factors. Consideration is given to geographic area, the demographics of that area, age groups, marital status, and extremely important – whether or not women are childless.

For example, she takes on the “women are now richer than men” myth, calling attention to single childless 20-something women in select locations characterized by

the demographic anomaly that such areas have exceptionally large percentages of highly educated single white women and young, poorly educated, low-wage Latino men. Earning more than a man with less education is not the same as earning as much as an equally educated man.

Well now. There’s nothing like a frame of reference to enrich our understanding of reality.

Marital Status, Parenting Factors

What differentiates this article from what we usually see is the detail, not to mention sufficient word count to cover it with intelligence. And so Ms. Coontz debunks the ascending-descending aspects of gender myth by including factors too frequently glossed over, such as:

  • age and ethnicity
  • marital and parental status
  • educational level
  • metropolitan area
  • industry segments
  • and more.

She states:

Among never-married, childless 22- to 30-year-old metropolitan-area workers with the same educational credentials, males out-earn females in every category…

And follows that with:

… a 2010 Catalyst survey found that female M.B.A.’s were paid an average of $4,600 less than men in starting salaries and continue to be outpaced by men in rank and salary growth throughout their careers, even if they remain childless.

Did you get that? Even if they remain childless.

How Bad Is This Picture?

Not referenced in this analysis are workers who aren’t associated with employers.

You know. People like me. Maybe like you, too.

We’re self-employed, contracting, consulting, and freelancing. Some of us, by choice; some of us by circumstance.

How many millions are excluded from these data sets as a result? Wouldn’t it be interesting to compare female contractor rates and earnings to their male counterparts, all other things being equal? What if we were to do the same in the arts?

How much worse is the picture, if we could account for these exclusions? And what if the break-down looked at women, age, divorced status, and earnings?

Is it really any wonder that some of us are worried sick, much of that worry traceable to extreme and prolonged financial stress?

No – I haven’t forgotten that women are typically behind the curve when it comes to negotiating salaries. Maria Gamb’s Forbes coverage on the subject comes to mind – a very worthy read that reflects room for improvement.

Surprise, Surprise: Women Are (Still) Paid Less Than Men

Among the conclusions presented in the Times article:

In every age group women, on average, are still paid less than men. The range is 73 cents on the male dollar to a high of 91 cents. And incidentally, when I read that statistic I was momentarily pleased. I thought “no doubt, the most experienced women are finally catching up to the experienced men.”

But this isn’t the case.

In fact, the 91 cents on the dollar falls to the 25- to 34-year-old group. Somewhat experienced, yes, but unlikely to be those who are potentially running the show – or even close. Moreover, aren’t these the prime child-rearing years?

So just how large is that pool of women that is being considered?

The next “best” earnings appear in the 20- to 24-year-old age group (women earn 88% of what men earn), followed by the 16- to 19-year-old group at 87 cents on the male dollar. But given the age range, aren’t these likely low-paying jobs?

The worst performing age group comes in at 73 cents on the male dollar. Care to guess where?

Exactly where I thought women would be doing best – arguably in their prime – age 45 to 54. Theoretically, working mothers in this age group would be Empty Nesters, or close, so what should we conclude from this data? The 55- to 64-year-old group is the second worst, at 75 cents on the dollar. Again I ask, what conclusions might we consider to explain this?

Advocating vs Reporting

Ms. Coontz is not advocating; to a large extent this article implicitly suggests we all calm down – those who recoil at the thought of women in power, those who are overwhelmed by the enormity of the issues of gender equity, those who are lamenting the media-hyped disregard for our much loved men.

Ms. Coontz is presenting data in a comprehensive and rational fashion, so we can examine (and continue to redress) socioeconomic disarray, rather than persisting in gutless gender warfare.

But the numbers? We should let them stick, reflecting a strange multi-generational brew of action and apathy. As Ms. Coontz states:

Despite their relative improvement, women’s average earnings are still lower than men’s and women remain more likely to be poor.

If you read nothing else on the Times this week, read this Stephanie Coontz article. Read it not only for its content which affects us all, but for the thoughtful journalistic approach that encourages us to consider context.

Data sources and references appear on the originating New York Times article.


You May Also Enjoy



  1. says

    I like that you mention the statistics that were left out–it makes for a thoughtful argument. Sometimes people manipulate statistics so much that they end up meaning nothing.

    You always make me think.

  2. says

    When I was looking at the favorable pay statistics of younger women compared to their male counterparts, I thought maybe I was seeing better percentages based on age. Young men and women in starting positions begin with about the same pay, but as they age, men’s salaries increase at greater amounts than women’s do, thus widening the percentages. What I am pointing out is that I believe women might lose ground in two areas – gender and age. That is depressing. I think I’ll go read Friday’s post about your gams again to cheer me up :)

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Depressing… and not. More thought-provoking, I think. And a reminder, Robin, that we shouldn’t settle for brief presentations of data that tell us what someone thinks we want to hear.

  3. says

    Ah yes, we can all be convinced of something if we gloss over the things that make it not true.

    Thanks for your research on this!

    • BigLittleWolf says

      It’s really the research of the New York Times writer, T. She did an excellent job of presenting data thoroughly and comprehensibly.

  4. says

    It’s pretty easy to run that statistic– how much do self-employed women in various demographic categories make compared to men. If you send it to us as an ask-the-grumpies question, I can address it one of these future Fridays using CPS data. IIRC, there are a lot of self-employed women who don’t make very much $, though they also don’t work a lot of hours.

  5. says

    I left my male-dominated corporate life behind because there was more than pay inequality that was happening around me. I see men who run the show but know nothing of the operations of our company. And the women who do most of the legwork and have to jump through hoops for a promotion.

    And what’s worse was that I felt my female, childless boss discriminating against me when I was pregnant. Women may have it better than we did before (I remember cringing at the Mad Men episodes that highlight the inequality) but we’re still miles away from getting the recognition we deserve. And I’m not just talking about money.

    Off to read that article you recommended!

  6. says

    You’ve come a long way, baby, but you still have a long way to go. A plumber should always be paid a plumber’s wage even if that plumber is female. It takes a while for society to change paradigms.

    When it comes to being equal though, you can do something no man can ever do: you can create life. And, since a commentator above mentioned last Friday’s post, I will add that you have much better gams. Vive la différence! :-)

  7. says

    For a start, I will say that I agree with pretty much all what you say on the topic, and I’m always supportive of this cause which should be from another age but which is, alas, still from ours.

    May be I have to bring here that it makes no difference in France, meaning women are also paid less, and less represented in all power instances. Sometimes to make people understand how France should be ashamed of that I remind people that Turkish women could vote before French ones could (1947 in France) and that Chili has already had a woman as president (not even mentioning England or Germany of course), while we are still waiting for our first one.
    I’m not sure I understand your sense well when talking about “gutless gender warfare.” I mean where is the “gutless” in that? Are you stating that fighting women should be more armed with reliable facts? I would agree with that, but anyway I can’t see it otherwise than warfare and to overcome in it, it will demand guts.

    My point is that, in history, there is no example of a situation where a group of people having all, while another group living next to them had nothing, have just readjusted because the more advantaged group suddenly realize that it was unfair to the others. The balance could only come back with a big amount of fights, where guts were all but optional.

  8. says

    Great article in The NY Times, and very balanced:

    “Just as women who display “masculine” ambitions or behaviors on the job are often penalized, so are men who engage in traditionally female behaviors, like prioritizing family involvement. Men who take an active role in child care and housework at home are more likely than other men to be harassed at work.”

    We seem to be in this together.

  9. says

    Thank you, BigLittleWolf. If this post is a typical example of your Daily Plate of Crazy, you are my kind of crazy. I’m going to have to read more of your work. Excellent stats & informative links on women. My personal take on Matriarchy is future oriented, and possibly even crazier. With Saudi women now being GPS tracked by their male guardians, Women’s Rights may actually be going backwards within Islamic nations. (Don’t get me started on Islam and Women’s Rights.) Inside “enlightened” PC enclaves of Western culture, I see a cold war of attrition, where a confused patriarchy inches backward as slowly as possible, reluctantly granting an occasional tiny concession toward pay parity. “Oh, please. Now what do they want??”

    That’s the Bad News. The Good News is that once we get into outer space, I foresee a paradigm shift where humanity becomes huwomanity, patriarchy is abolished as non-functional, and Matriarchy rules. (OK, I’m a geek. What of it?) Consider, first, that any space habitat is going to be acutely vulnerable to terrorism; one single terrorist can easily kill EVERYONE in a one thousand population space settlement. Consider, secondly, that the male/female ratio of terrorists is between 50:1 and 100:1 depending on the study; and that female terrorists are actively recruited by and indoctrinated by MEN. Terrorism is a guy thing. It won’t be feminism or idealistic socioeconomic thinking or gender warfare that abolishes patriarchy. It will be something as prosaic as insurance actuarial tables. Or, looked at another way, it will be something as evil as sexual profiling. Space colonies where males have restricted access to high security areas will be empirically SAFER, with Greatly Reduced Insurance Rates, which will make them economically more viable. Once the bean-counters get into the act, it will be all over for patriarchy. “Well, do you people want to all pack up and go back to Earth, or stay on here with a thriving space franchise that keeps those dangerous boys where they can’t do any damage?”



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge