Friday, December 23, 2011

They Call It the Reverse Gender Gap


As the year ends, much of the talk around women — at least in the United States — has moved from empowerment and global gender gaps to the trend of young single women out-earning men and the rise of female breadwinners.

There are so many views and theories out there, some of them driven by independent research and others by personal experience and still others by a chatty blend of both, that we are getting a sometimes confounding, always provocative and occasionally contradictory picture.
For starters, young women today — and not just in the United States — are moving quickly to close the pay gap, or in some cases have closed it already.
They are marrying later and later, or not marrying at all. They no longer need husbands to have children, or want no children (40 percent of births in the United States each year are now to single women).
Women are ahead of men in education (last year, 55 percent of U.S. college graduates were female). And a study shows that in most U.S. cities, single, childless women under 30 are making an average of 8 percent more money than their male counterparts, with Atlanta and Miami in the lead at 20 percent.
Although that study of 2,000 communities was done only in the United States, it points to a global trend.
The emergence of this cohort of high-earning young women and the increasing number of female breadwinners are transforming gender relationships, upending patterns of matchmaking, marriage and motherhood, creating a new conflict between the sexes, redefining the word “breadwinner” and inspiring tracts on the leveling of men’s roles.
It is being called the reverse gender gap.
Increasingly, if by no means yet the majority, women bring home the bacon while husbands or male partners take care of an ever greater share of the domestic front.
This reversal of roles, evolving over the past decade or so, too often comes with a certain stigma. “Many couples are perfectly content and well adjusted, but for the stigmatizing opposition of friends, family, in-laws and even religious traditions,” said Liza Mundy, a fellow at the New America Foundation and author of a new book, “The Richer Sex: How the New Majority of Female Breadwinners Is Transforming Sex, Love and Family,” due out in March.
The stigma, sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, undermines relationships between high-earning women and the husbands or boyfriends who are secondary earners or “househusbands,” and it is playing havoc with the dating game, Ms. Mundy told me.
She met high-achieving women who, afraid to put men off, devise strategies to play down their affluence. One woman carries small bills to pay for tips, drinks, parking and other dating expenses rather than whipping out her high-limit credit card.
“Some of these women had learned the hard way that when they went to bars, they were better off lying about what they did — saying that they were a cosmetologist or music teacher rather than a software consultant or lawyer,” Ms. Mundy said.
Faced with a shrinking pool of men on their level, some young women are settling and marrying “down,” but others will jump on planes for “dating excursions” to cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston where the male market is more promising.
What is to come out of this new world? “I think women are going to have to abandon the traditional 50-50 everything-must-be-equal feminist mind-set,” Ms. Mundy said, “and learn to value husbands and partners who are becoming more domesticated and supportive.”
A feminist leader, Siobhan (Sam) Bennett, president of the nonpartisan Women’s Campaign Fund, does not see conflicts for high-earning women in dating, marriage and domestic life. On the contrary, she told me, “I see great opportunity that these high-value women will ask and gain the flexibility they need to have marriages and families — their lives will probably look different than what we’ve seen — but they will work for them.”
The writer Kate Bolick, culture editor of the lifestyle magazine Veranda, sees a grimmer picture.
“As women have climbed ever higher, men have been falling behind,” she said in an article, “What, Me Marry?,” in the November issue of The Atlantic. “We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of the party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up — and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.”
This state of affairs is not confined to the United States. The trend is global. Japanese and South Korean men are importing brides from poorer Asian countries with traditional attitudes about marriage. In Spain, Ms. Mundy said, she found high-achieving women marrying men from progressive Northern European countries like Sweden, while Spanish men seek out immigrant wives from more conventional Spanish-speaking countries.
By chance, I recently met a 29-year-old Parisian, Natacha Richard, single and childless, who came to New York to work in the beauty business because, she said, women have more opportunities and freedom here than in France. Women have made progress there, she said, but not as much as in the United States.
“Women here are doing the same jobs as men,” she said. “They are getting paid almost as much or sometimes more and doing the jobs better, and on top of that, women are the ones who have children and who care for children. What’s there for men to do?”
Ms. Bolick laid it out, saying, “If, in all sectors of society, women are on the ascent, and if gender parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction.”
A cause to rejoice? Only future years will tell.


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