The XX Factor

Women’s Work Comes Cheaper

Another day, another article about how men were more likely to be laid off than women and will, if we get the promised recovery, will be less likely to be rehired, making women an even more dominant economic force by default. The tendency is to spin this story as a battle between the sexes-women winning at men’s expense? OMG feminism!-but in the real world, this is a story less of women’s empowerment and more one of further destruction of the American dream.

You know how occasionally a company will lay off all its best-paid employees and replace them with new hires that they can pay way less? That’s what’s going on, but on a global scale-if men are being replaced by women in such great numbers, it’s because women come 25 percent cheaper. That’s a win for feminism in the same way Sarah Palin is a win for feminism, which is to say not at all. When average working people are seeing their actual income and wealth go down, this isn’t a win for women. Or to put it in more specific terms, it’s not some feminist victory for you to come home to find your husband laid off with no future job prospects and your much-lower salary being the now sole source of income.

And that’s the great unspoken story in these kinds of articles. Women may have 89 percent of all bank accounts, but they’re smaller banks accounts. They may now have 51 percent of all personal wealth, but that’s because personal wealth holdings have shrunk dramatically.

The “battle of the sexes” frame is the easiest one to grab, because there really was a lot of male anger and fear of loss and emasculation when women stampeded into the workforce decades ago. That’s because their actual dominance was actually threatened by women’s economic independence. But you can’t simply reverse the genders while keeping the same framework and call it a day. There’s no real chance that these economic trends mean women are somehow gaining dominance over men. It’s probably not even going to do much for women’s equality at home. You can’t really achieve equality by dragging men down instead of lifting women up. All that does is create more stress and resentment.