angry woman

Credit: Graffiti Land/Manuel Faisco on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–Middle-class America is fast becoming a matriarchy, where women are the major breadwinners and make most family decisions and men are failing economically.

That’s the preposterous thesis of a recent New York Times Magazine cover article, adapted from the book "The End of Men and the Rise of Women" by Hanna Rosin.

This article is part of a sad trend in journalism, where anecdotes are marshaled to present a sexy narrative designed to generate major buzz with little attention to research, including a piece this week from The New York Times’ David Brooks.

Rosin focuses one anecdote on a group who live in one town in Alabama where most of the residents are evangelical Christians and both sexes have a strong attachment to the by-now outmoded idea that the man must be the head of the household. That’s an atypical sampling to say the least.

The main weakness, however, is her inattention to major studies from respected researchers and reliable national statistics.

Not many people are doing economically well right now, but the idea of women surging ahead while men sink is wildly inaccurate.

After the 2008 economic collapse, manufacturing and construction were hit especially hard. More men than women lost jobs in this sector, giving rise to the "Mancession" term.

The National Bureau of Economic Research calculated that from December 2007 to June 2009 a total of 7.5 million jobs vanished, with men losing 5.4 million and women losing 2.1 million.

But in the past two years, as a recovery slowly moved ahead, men fared much better than women. (The Times cover article ignored all the excellent reporting by the papers’ own journalists on the "Mancovery.")

Reversed Situation

Today, it can be argued, the situation has reversed. Women are fast becoming big losers due to the heavy toll of the weak economy on public-sector workers.

"Since August of 2008 state and local governments have shed a total of 647,000 workers, of which 64 percent, or 416,000, were women workers," notes Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress. "We predicted this outcome when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed: Because there was insufficient aid to the states in the legislation, there were high job losses among women workers who predominate state and local employment."

The National Women’s Law Center on Sept. 7 reported an analysis of the latest jobs data showing that public-sector layoffs wiped away 45 percent of job gains for women over the course of the recovery.

Even though women today earn more advanced degrees than ever before–and more than men–women’s earnings still trail far behind. Salary gains that women in management acquired over the 1980s and 1990s have dropped off and men’s salaries are pulling far ahead once again, according to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Catalyst finds women no closer to closing the gender gap at the top ranks than they were six years ago.

Most Disturbing Aspect

The most disturbing aspect of the Times piece ("Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?") is the notion of a "matriarchy" in which women use their power against men both at home and in the workplace.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that men and women share economic and domestic responsibilities. These "dual-centric" people are sufficiently flexible so that they can respond to economic shifts without the angst and sense of failure reflected in Rosin’s narrative.

In addition, other studies show that when women earn more than their husbands, the women do more domestic labor, exercise less power and use their money for domestic expenses rather than personal purchases.

When The Pew Research Center conducted a study in 2008 of 1,260 couples, it found striking equality in decision-making in finances, weekend activities and big-ticket purchases. Women made the decisions 43 percent of the time, men 26 percent of the time and couples made decisions equally in 31 percent of the cases. These findings dovetail with a major study of dual earner couples directed by Rosalind Barnett that found a high degree of collaboration between husbands and wives in bringing home the bacon, raising the kids and managing the household.

As for wrathful women refusing to hire men, research finds just the opposite. Female supervisors hire white men more often than they hire other females or members of minority groups. This "glass escalator" phenomenon was identified by sociologist Ryan Smith at Baruch College, City University of New York.

Rosin’s scenario ignores all this and is based on men who are so rigid that they can’t even consider going into a "female" field such as nursing. But from 2000 to 2010, occupations that are more than 70 percent female accounted for almost a third of all job growth for men, double the share of the previous decade, according to a New York Times analysis.

Forget about the coming matriarchy. It’s not going to happen.

Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers are at work on a new book, "The New Soft War Against Women" for Tarcher-Penguin.

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