The XX Factor: How Working Women Are Creating a New Society

From The Guardian:

Alison-wolf-010Is there, Alison Wolf asks, such a thing as “a female paradise on Earth”? If there were, you'd expect it to be in the Scandinavian countries, with their Borgen and their Killing and their excellent state-supported childcare. And yet, Wolf has discovered, “the labour markets of egalitarian welfare-state Scandinavia” display yawning gaps between higher paid and lower paid women, not to mention “the highest levels of gender segregation anywhere in the developed world”. And the reason is obvious, once you know how to look at labour-market data. In top jobs – law, finance, homicide detection – gender segregation, right across the rich world, has more or less disappeared; but in low-paid jobs, such as care work, it mostly hasn't. So the more women you have out there smashing the glass ceiling, the more nursery nurses, cleaners and care-home assistants those women need to – as Wolf puts it – free them up at home. “Scandinavian countries hold the record for gender segregation because they have gone the furthest in outsourcing traditional female activities and turning unpaid home-based 'caring' into formal employment.” Yes, childminders are paid more in Denmark than they are in Britain. But it's not a Birgitte Nyborg lifestyle.

Wolf, a British economist and social policy wonk, was the author of the 2011 Wolf Report on vocational education. But for readers interested in feminism, she's mostly known for “Working Girls”, an essay published in 2006 in Prospect magazine. In it, she wrote: “For the first time, women, at least in developed societies, have virtually no career or occupation closed to them … This marks a rupture in human history.” This new freedom, however, applies only to “young, educated, full-time professionals” – for “the majority of women”, nothing much has changed at all. This, Wolf wrote, opens a huge gulf in experience between the different classes, and has uncomfortable consequences. Now that clever women can get glamorous jobs as bankers, who fills the gaps left in teaching, nursing and voluntary work? And you can only keep up as a banker if you take as little time off as possible for having babies etc. What's this doing to birth rate and family dynamics among the new elite? Wolf's essay was a brilliant piece of popular social-science polemic, a stark and confident joining of unexpected dots, statistically sophisticated and with a copper-bottomed evidence base. This isn't to say its conclusions were beyond argument, as plenty of critics have shown. But it did, decisively, move on the terms of those arguments. “The feminism of the 1960s and 1970s, reflecting and feeding into a revolution in women's lives, spoke the language of sisterhood – the assumption that there was a shared female experience that cut across class, ethnic and generational lines. The reality was that at that very moment, sisterhood was dying.” Her book expands the 4,500 words of the Prospect essay into more than 400 pages. Around half develop the thesis with material that augments and/or complicates the original argument. The other half takes on other popular debates in gender and workplace economics. The erotic capital one, for example – do good-looking people get promoted faster? The time-use one – why do working women still seem to do much more housework than their men? And of course the one about prostitution. If it's as well paid as people say it is, why is it still the profession of last resort?

More here.