This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Is "Leaning In" the Key to Increasing Gender Equality?

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and author of the best-selling book "Lean In," which encourages women to increase their level of self-empowerment in order to close the gender gap in power and pay, especially at the top of the corporate ladder, but in more ordinary ways, as well. The popularity of this book, which seems very common-sensical in its approach, has surprised a lot of people, mostly in a good way, and has encouraged a great deal of comment because the root issue here is the gender structure of society and the families that make up society. One of the better written commentaries is by Stephen Marche in this month's online The Atlantic. Just as Sandberg brings a lot of her personal history to bear, so does Marche, trying to bring men more squarely into the conversation.
In 2007, my life was right where I wanted it to be. After the lean misery of graduate school at the University of Toronto, I had, at 31, landed a job on the tenure track at City College in Harlem, as a professor of Shakespeare. My second novel was in the windows of appealing independent bookstores in Brooklyn, it had a good review in The New York Times, and the lead singer of the Decemberists was recommending it in interviews. This was basically all I had ever hoped for. Then I gave it up. My wife was offered her dream job as the editor in chief of Toronto Life magazine (roughly speaking, the New York of Canada), and we returned home.
You could see our departure as the triumph of egalitarianism, and in a way it was. I don’t think my father would have given up a tenure-track job for my mother. But in my marriage, the decision came down to brute economics: My wife was going to make double what I made. Good schools and good hospitals are free in Toronto. These are the reasons we moved. And if I were offered a job where I would make double what she does, we would move again. Gender politics has nothing to do with it.
These comments illustrate two important things: (1) it is smart economically to defer to whichever spouse makes the most money; and (2) as I emphasize in Chapter 10 of my book, child care is really critical for a young two-earner family. At the same time, Marche probably makes too much of the economic argument when he suggests that:
The rise of women is not the result of any ideology or political movement; it is a result of the widespread realization, sometime after the Second World War, that families in which women work are families that prosper. And countries in which women work are countries that prosper. In 2006, a database created by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development demonstrated what common sense tells us: with few exceptions, countries in which women have more economic and political power are richer than countries where women are relatively powerless. Patriarchy is damn expensive. That’s why it’s doomed.
This idea is way too simplistic. There is a huge cultural shift going on here that has much less to do with economics than with the very way that both men and women visualize their respective roles in society. Only within the last century in the US have women had the right to vote, and divorce their husbands, and gain some control over their reproduction. We are only a few decades away from an America in which women would not be hired for many jobs, especially if they were married. We still have not recovered societally from the fact that only a few decades ago the major professional jobs for women were school teacher and nurse. The persistent gender gap in pay, despite the higher educational achievement of women over men in recent years, is evidence of the strength of these cultural issues. The struggle is bigger than just a simple economic one and that is probably why Sandberg's book is so popular.

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