Women are becoming the bread winners – and it will transform every aspect of our lives
21:50 GMT, 7 September 2012
21:55 GMT, 7 September 2012
The news, when it emerged this summer, had an air of inevitability: for the first time, women were scoring higher in IQ tests than men.
Girls have long been doing better than boys in GCSEs, and today they make up the majority of university students. When they graduate, they’re more likely than men to find work, and an increasing number are the family breadwinners.
The word ‘purse-whipped’ — referring to men being in financial thrall to women — is slowly entering the English language, and with it the understanding that this is not a question of equality. Britain, like many other places, is witnessing a reversal of power between the genders.
It is odd that this phenomenon should be the subject of jokes when its implications are so far-reaching. But five years ago, there was one senior politician whom no one could accuse of not taking women seriously.
Intelligence: Girls have long been doing better than boys in GCSEs, and now they are scoring higher in IQ tests than men
When Boris Johnson was higher education spokesman, he noticed it had become a women’s game.
‘Far more women than men are receiving what is, in theory, an elite academic education,’ he wrote. ‘It is a stunning fact, the biggest social revolution of our lifetime.’
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Success: Women receive 58 per cent of undergraduate degrees and are more likely to find employment than men
The advent of female breadwinning is seen by some as a crime against nature. But it’s here to stay and will alter the way men and women date, mate, marry, plan, cook, clean, entertain, talk, retire, have sex, raise children and feel happy (or fail to do so).
This reversal of power will change our most intimate conversations and the face of public life. Within a generation, Britain will not hear any more concerns about too few women being on the boards of public companies. There may even be quotas for men.
More women, being self- sufficient, will choose to remain single or cohabit. When women do marry, more will be obliged to marry ‘down’ to less educated men (taking a cue from same-sex couples, who have always been more willing to pair up outside traditional boundaries).
And yet women will be freer than ever to marry for love.
As male domesticity becomes more accepted, couples will argue over who has to be the bread-winning partner and who gets to be the one with the part-time job.
Women will be better equipped to play the field sexually before settling down, as men have done for ages. Men may find they need marriage more than women, and start to panic if they haven’t found a partner by a certain age.
Even homes will change: man caves will become a thing of the past because the whole house will become a man cave, with men dominating kitchens: furnishing them, equipping them with blow torches and Japanese sushi knives in the effort to find something new to bring to the table.
Social life: With more women being self-sufficient, increased numbers will choose to remain single
All this is especially alarming to men when you think how things were just a few generations ago.
Male fears about women turning into nagging shrews when they had too many financial resources was one reason why, for much of history, a woman’s property — even her identity — was subsumed into her husband’s when she married.
Women’s dependence was seen as so crucial to social stability that the notion of property rights for wives was seen as a threat to society.
In 1868, a Times editorial spelled this out. Marriage, it said, should consist of ‘authority on the one side and subordination on the other’.
Male authority rested in economic power; if a wife had her own resources, ‘what is to prevent her from going where she likes and doing what she pleases’ The theme was picked up by feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir, who saw economic independence as central to women’s liberation, even their full humanity.
Like the novelist Virginia Woolf, de Beauvoir argued that for centuries — millennia, even — men used economic power to buy women’s domestic services, ensure their sexual fidelity and deny them schooling and a role in public affairs.
De Beauvoir called this ‘the deal’ and argued that women were poorer in every sense for accepting it.
Now ‘the deal’ is off — or rather, the terms of the deal are changing radically.
Power: With the rise of the career woman, concerns about too few women being on the boards of public companies will be consigned to the history books
In Britain, women receive 58 per cent of undergraduate degrees. Half of trainee barristers and 56 per cent of medical students are women, compared with 25 per cent in the Sixties. The average woman marries at 30, as against 23 in 1980. Women are taking longer than ever to learn, earn and then pick a man.
There are a number of reasons why all this is happening. As vestiges of academic discrimination have waned, and education has become more intense at earlier ages, girls are rewarded for their earlier maturity, their verbal skills and ability to focus.
Girls overtook boys in GCSE results in the mid-Eighties, and continue to excel in every social group.
Economists have shown that when the Pill became widely available, young women quickly reconsidered their futures.
With careers less likely to be interrupted by an unplanned pregnancy, women began investing in education and training.
Young women have higher expectations for earnings and professional advancement than young men.
As the economic downturn has made clear, countries such as the U.S. and Britain are moving away from an industrial economy in which men with no higher education can command a family wage.
We’re moving toward a knowledge-based economy in which the good jobs go to the well-educated — and women have done a better job of preparing for it.
Relationships: Financial independence will continue to challenge perceptions of traditional gender roles, with more men choosing to stay at home
In Britain, women account for 46 per cent of the workforce, up from 37 per cent four decades ago.
Men are moving in the opposite direction: in 1979, just 9 per cent of working-age men were neither working nor looking for work; that figure is now 16 per cent.
It’s true that a gender wage gap remains, and that the average man earns 10 per cent more. But to predict the future, look at today’s 20-somethings. Here, women have opened a small gap.
For many years, when a woman out-earned her husband, it tended to mean he was ailing or unemployable.
This is no longer the case — female breadwinning is a phenomenon at all income levels. Failure to accept this can be painful, even for the victors.
The women I interviewed while researching my book did not always see their status as a liberation.
Indeed, some were having a harder time with all this than men.
Many have been told, growing up, that women must be prepared to support themselves — but supporting a partner is usually not part of that discussion.
Women have been encouraged to aspire to a life of exact and perfect parity, where man and woman work the same number of hours, do the same amount of housework, earn the same pay.
Reality: When couples have children, it can be easier when one parent permits the other to pull ahead
But the truth is, especially when couples have children, that it can be easier when one parent permits the other to pull ahead.
More and more couples will perceive that the woman’s earning potential is higher and plan accordingly. And women are often surprised to find they have ended up taking the lead role in a marriage.
I interviewed some who divorced husbands who seemed to them idle, disengaged or just not trying.
Among young graduates, facing a marriage pool in which women outnumber men, an obsession is growing with finding a mate ‘on my level’.
Some women jump on planes, travelling to find men who share their credentials. Some respond by not marrying at all.
Failure to come to terms with the reversal of power is also affecting bedrooms.
I interviewed a woman I’ll call Felicity, who married a gregarious salesman earning a third of what she did. But while he enjoyed the lifestyle her money could buy, he came to resent it. He started working less, playing golf more and watching TV instead of going to bed with her.
She wasn’t surprised when she found his stash of online porn, but she was still shocked. She ended up going into therapy. ‘The therapist said he’s doing that because he’s insecure — it makes him feel more manly,’ she told me.
‘I’m filling the traditional male role of the primary breadwinner.’
Perhaps this explains why an academic study using Danish data found that men out-earned by their partners were more likely to take medication for erectile dysfunction.
It also explains why Felicity left her husband, preferring the company of her dog, who was faithful and supportive. ‘I’ll keep the dog and get rid of you,’ she thought.
Women with money can go where they like and do what they please (economists call it the ‘independence effect’).
So WOMEN will leave unhappy marriages; raise children alone when they don’t see viable partners; and spend more time with female friends.
A trend is also emerging of single women who downplay their affluence in a similar way to how men have been known to exaggerate it.
For example, a young doctor told me that when she meets men at bars or parties, she tells them she works ‘at the hospital, taking care of patients’, encouraging them to think she’s a nurse.
A university vice-president tells men she works ‘in admissions’, hoping that they will think she’s in middle management. What these women don’t realise is that men, too, are changing. When men are asked to identify the ideal traits in a mate, they place much less value than they did on domestic skills, and much more on financial prospects.
Sexual liberation: When the Pill became widely available, young women were afforded increased control of their futures
Men understand that having a partner who can contribute is a benefit, not a liability.
Women have a hard time believing this, but men are doing more housework than they used to (though we are still not at parity) and economists have shown that, coincidentally, men started ironing when women started earning.
Masculinity is also more adaptable than we give it credit for, capable of embracing golf, hunting and childcare.
This is where hand-held blenders and blow torches (for creme brulee) really do help.
Equip men with masculine domestic equipment, and the house seems hi-tech and macho. What are tools, after all, but a return to the cave days Might genetics stop this economic phenomenon in its tracks
There is a prevalent belief that because woman are the only ones who can give birth, they will always be attracted to hunter-gathering men. It’s not about sociology, runs the argument, it’s about nature.
But, as the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher argues, cavewomen were not exactly sitting at home watching daytime TV. They foraged for roots and berries every day, while men trickled in periodically with a delectable hunting prize. Modern women, says Fisher, are returning to their original role as co-providers.
‘College is built for the female brain,’ she says. ‘What do you do in college You sit. You read. You write and you talk.’ We have moved forward to the past, she says. ‘We’ve got 10,000 years of a belief system to shed. Nobody knows how to do it.’
Modern history has shown that human beings are, above all, astonishingly adaptable. Recently, three economists looked at marriage rates in France after World War I to gauge men’s willingness to marry above their social status.
The study suggests that we are a flexible species, quickly able to surmount gender stereotypes. Men will marry up, and women will marry down, calling into question the old notion that women are hard-wired to seek providers.
So the world is changing, but attitudes need to change with it. And the problem may well not be with old-fashioned male chauvinism. but with female atavism.
If ambitious women can conquer the fear of ‘marrying down’, they may under- stand that having a laid-back partner will help them take their own careers to a new level.
I interviewed a woman whose husband worked as a car mechanic to earn the money to put her through law school. She felt loved and taken care of, and all too happy to have a partner with whom she did not have to discuss law.
Much as it may pain many, today’s chivalrous notions of a man’s duty may soon become as obsolete as yesterday’s notions of a woman’s place.
For the under-30s, there is nothing futuristic about this: the fairer sex is becoming the richer sex.
More than ever, this is becoming a woman’s world. Success and happiness will probably go to the men — and women — who best adjust to the fact.