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 12th (it came out in 2015), 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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Friday, May 1, 2015

Patriarchy, Power, and Pay

Tonight was the Presidential Address at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America by this year's PAA President, Steven Ruggles of the University of Minnesota. He is an historical demographer (although perhaps more famous as the creator of the immensely useful IPUMS database). The title of the talk (which will be published this fall in Demography) was "Patriarchy, Power, and Pay: The Transformation of American Families, 1800-2015." Naturally, it made excellent use of the IPUMS data. While the title might not indicate this, the paper could have been--"Age of Extremes Revisited 19 Years Later." In essence, he put Doug Massey's PAA Presidential address of 19 years ago into historical perspective. That is my interpretation, by the way, since Ruggles didn't actually mention Massey. 

The point is that in the past two hundred years, we have gone from almost all families being agricultural family businesses that were patriarchal in nature, to the male breadwinner system, to the dual wage earner family, to the current situation in which wage and salary labor is rapidly diminishing, especially among the lower strata of society. This has raised the age at marriage, raised the incidence of childlessness, and raised the rate of out-of-wedlock births. But, Ruggles, argues, this is not necessarily bad. We just have to adjust. We adjusted to the loss of family farms as the basis of the economy (only 1% of workers are now employed in agriculture, yet we grow more food than ever), and we adjusted to the demise of the breadwinner system, which was part and parcel of women's liberation. Now, we must adjust to the fact that robots and other forms of automation can do a lot of the menial work that we as humans used to do. 

That should lead to the happy situation of humans having to do less work, while being freed to do things that are more enjoyable. The only sticky wicket is that, as Massey had noted many years ago, we have rising inequality. What to do? Ruggles left us with a reference to Keynes, implying that his solution, like Massey's, is for government to institute regulations that shift a bit of wealth (not all--just a reasonable amount) from the affluent to the rest of society. Now, how do we go about doing that? There lies the big challenge. We have the diagnosis and the cure. Can we implement it?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing.

    AT THE RISK of alienating the whole world - I will offer this opinion. I doubt that the future political and economic system that exists in the world one hundred years from now - will resemble ANY current system. Because by then people will have paid a huge price for the great failures for the existing systems. Therefore, it is probably egocentric for us to believe that any current government, or system of economics, has a high chance of survival. We shouldn't get to "emotionally attached" to today's current systems.

    I hope that the future system provides some WAY to channel investment so that it actively benefits humanity as a whole. I hope that the future system offers some degree of upward mobility to all people in the system. I hope that the future system overcomes all boundaries related to race, religion, gender, nationality, and political viewpoint.

    I hope!!!

    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA