A recent Pew Research Center study called “Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage (Jan. 19, 2010 by Richard Fry and D’Vera Cohn) revealed that women are making much more money, over the recent past, than at any other time in our history. The study had the following opening: “The institution of marriage has undergone significant changes in recent decades as women have outpaced men in education and earnings growth. These unequal gains have been accompanied by gender role reversals in both the spousal characteristics and the economic benefits of marriage.”
It makes total sense given the changing values and trends in our society and the increasing number of women attending college, now outnumbering men significantly. But, the social impact of these changes might be troubling. As part of the generation that is both responsible for and feeling these transformations the most, I have mixed feelings about this brave new world.
Further conclusions from this report were that “A larger share of men in 2007, compared with their 1970 counterparts, are married to women whose education and income exceed their own…A larger share of women are married to men with less education and income.” What does all this mean for our children who are growing up in this changing environment? I’m not sure and I can only make some generalities from my own perspective.
First, I believe that gender roles are often getting mixed up. When I grew up, boys were boys and girls were girls and we each knew what was expected of us, more or less. As equality has sometimes become the mantra of our times, knowing our respective roles in work, home, and life in general is confusing to say the least. Is this good? I’m not sure.
The report goes on to say, “From an economic perspective, these trends have contributed to a gender role reversal in the gains from marriage. In the past, when relatively few wives worked, marriage enhanced the economic status of women more than that of men. In recent decades, however, the economic gains associated with marriage have been greater for men than for women.”
Is this why we have so many single parent households (the majority being single moms, though I don’t have the statistics at hand to support this assertion)? Is it because women don’t need men to support them or, for that matter, to even procreate anymore? Again, I ask if is this good for men and women, for society as a whole, and most of all, for our children?
I know whenever I touch on gender-related issues I tend to be playing with fire, since I often make generalities in doing so. Generalities are a fact of life. But, they can and often get people upset when they know of exceptions to them. Of course, there will be exceptions to most generalities, but they’re “generalities” because they apply to the “general” majority. It is a generality to say that most men are taller than most women. Is that sexist, true, or just a generality? You know the answer.
Another fact reported in the Pew report, which is surprising on the surface but also makes total sense, relates to how these gender reversals have been impacted by our current economic malaise. They declare that “it [the economic downturn] has hurt employment of men more than that of women. Males accounted for about 75% of the 2008 decline in employment among prime-working-age individuals (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2009). Women are moving toward a new milestone in which they constitute half of all the employed. Women’s earning grew 44% from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men.” They go on to state the fact that this “sharper growth has enabled women to narrow, but not close the earnings gap with men.”
Do you wonder how this has affected the institution of marriage? The report goes on to declare that these trends have affected the institution of marriage itself. It says, “Americans are more likely than in the past to cohabit, divorce, marry late or not marry at all. There has been a marked decline in the share of Americans who are currently married. Among U.S.-born 30- to 44-year-olds, 60% were married in 2007, compared with 84% in 1970.”
Do you still think generalities are inappropriate to use? And, what conclusions might we reach from these trends and gender role changes? I will state that I think it has created a lot of confusion for boys and men while empowering too many women to make selfish choices that exclude men from their lives and/or the lives of the children that they may choose to have on their own.
Of course, I believe in equal pay for equal work. Of course, I also believe that true sexual harassment is wrong. And, of course, I believe that many of these gains in women’s rights and opportunities are for the best. Yet, I also believe that we’re in the middle of suffering a downside to these apparent positive gains, which we won’t realize or recognize until several generations have passed. Since we are in the epicenter of these societal changes, it is unlikely we can be objective enough to see exactly what good or bad we’ve wrought. Time will tell.