How inequality is halting US feminism
Summary of story from The New York Times, December 19, 2011
Economics professor Nancy Folbre writing about feminism’s uneven success in the USA, argues that the disparity between higher educated women and low-skilled women is causing feminism to loose momentum.
Women’s rights have led to important legal gains, she says, but over the past 20 years the pace of change in attitudes, labour force participation and relative earnings has slowed.
And Folbre believes that the gender revolution has fallen short of its ideals.
Class and racial and ethnic differences among women have intensified over time.
The higher earnings of college-educated mothers make it possible for them to purchase child care and help with housework – typically performed by low-wage female workers.
Folbre quotes from a recent paper by economists Delia Furtado and Heinrich Hock, which shows that the number of low-skill immigrants living in a large city reduces the trade-off between employment and fertility for women with college degrees.
She argues that the outsourcing of care responsibilities reduces the potential for cross-class gender coalitions.
Folbre also stresses that the emphasis on changes in women’s average or median earnings relative to men often conceals growing inequality among women.
Leslie McCall, a Northwestern University sociologist, describes recent trends:
“Absolute gains among women as a whole, and visible absolute gains among more highly educated women in particular, came at the expense of the worsening situation of low-skilled women, whose real wages have been falling.”
On the subject of work/family balance, Folbre writes that a college education often provides access to relatively flexible jobs, which makes women in professional-managerial occupations more likely to reduce their hours of employment when they have a preschool child.
In contrast, women in less well-paid occupations are often forced to choose between making do with long hours or finding part-time jobs that pay even more poorly and do not offer benefits.
Folbre concludes that although the gender revolution did not cause inequality, it is being hindered by it.