Can a woman have it all?
The socio-economic inequality between men and women is an issue that has characterized societies since the early civilization. It is a notoriously complex issue which, according to Dollar and Gattie’s research for The World Bank, ties back to a myriad of factors such as nurture, socialization, political inequality, religion and legal structures all of which have historically contributed to women’s capacity (or lack thereof) of generating economic value.
Currently, the economic differences between men and women are more disparate in poorer countries than in developed ones while only six countries have enshrined the major tenets of gender equality into legislation. Historically, men have consistently earned more than women but the ever-evolving market as well as social movements which fight for women’s emancipation have made way for new situations and dynamics where these roles are reversed. While this may stimulate economic growth and further the status of women in terms of acquired capital, these scenarios nevertheless challenge the traditional distinctions between the roles of men and women within a family unit and it will be interesting to see if modern societies are able to reconcile this tension. Can a woman have it all? And what are the consequences if she does?
After all, it has hardly been 100 years since women were granted the right to vote in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America and, even then, it is important to remember that this recognition of political agency was granted only after women proved themselves ‘competent’ in the war effort while troops were fighting overseas. Historian Leslie Hume summarizes it thus: “women’s participation in the war helped to dispel the fears that surrounded women’s entry into the public arena”. Despite the efforts of suffrage movements preceding the First World War, this structural shift only occurred after women joined the workforce en masse out of necessity and remained active market participants thereafter. It was unthinkable then that women would surpass men in earnings but women’s liberation has always depended, in part, on financial independence. However, it is still arguable whether women have yet to step into the public arena fully even in the most progressive countries, not least of all due to persisting cultural perceptions and values.
Our project will take a look at the perceived importance of and opinion on the question, “is it a problem if a woman earns more than her husband?” as posed by the World Values Survey and contextualize the answers within the overall economic growth of the country over time. The countries selected will represent the four income groupings as defined by the World Bank : low, lower-middle, upper-middle, high. The data provided by the WVS will then be measured up to sources citing the economic growth of countries, specifically, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as the average wages for male and female workers. This aspect focuses directly on gender inequality as it relates to the economy of a given country.
But in order to address what Esther Duflo describes as “the bidirectional relationship between economic development and women’s empowerment”, it is important to note that the question itself carries baggage. For one, it assumes that the woman is in a traditional heterosexual relationship legitimized through the institution of marriage as well as automatically positing higher-earning women as potentially problematic. This leads us down a more socio-cultural path, prompting questions about religion, marriage, and general perceptions about women’s role in society as well as the political climate in which these values are cultivated.
By keeping these factors in mind, we are looking at the perception of women’s financial positions within their household and how they relate to economic trends at large with the intent to gain insights into the changing role of women over time in various countries at different stages of economic development.
The main tool that will be used is the World Values Survey. It is a “global network of social scientists studying changing values and their impact on social and political life,” at the top of which is an international team of scholars, as well as the WVS Association and WVSA Secretariat, with their headquarters in Vienna, Austria. The World Values Survey has been conducting surveys on social and political values since 1981, giving any scholar or otherwise looking to use the tool plenty of data to work with.
The GDP per capita will be sourced from a variety of sources deemed reputable, such as the Our World in Data Organisation (Roser, Max. 2019).
After poring over the results of the World Values Survey, we noticed three trends which we think will be interesting to investigate. Firstly, there is the striking polarization on the issue at hand in some Latin American countries, most notably Colombia and Mexico. Secondly, Japan and South Korea show a much higher level of neutrality/apathy towards the subject than any of the other countries, and we are therefore curious to find out which political and cultural factors play a role in this. Finally, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden are the most adamant about women earning more NOT being a problem, which leads us to wonder if that is expressed in the society to the extent that one might expect looking solely at the WVS results.
Thus, we are primarily interested in investigating attitudes towards gender inequality and their socio-economic implications in three different regions: Latin America, East Asia, and Europe. Therefore we are using a variety of sources, some more general, others niched, to get a fuller picture. The Spring 2019 Global Attitudes survey on gender equality published by the Pew Research Center shows that, on average, 88% of people in European countries say that gender equality is very important to them. The survey also looks at men and women’s views on egalitarian marriage, which is particularly interesting considering our angle. To examine how these attitudes play out in real life, the survey is supplemented by a research report conducted by Glassdoor which shows Sweden, Norway and Finland to be the most egalitarian workplace environments, consistently ranking in the top three scores along 12 separate indicators. The report also provides an aggregate score for each country: Sweden and Norway are tied in first place with a score of 0.8 while Greece is at the other end of the spectrum, scoring a measly 0.2 on their 0-to-1 scale. For Latin America, we are using sources such as the World Bank and the Development Bank of Latin America; since the region has recently experienced economic expansion, the sources are mostly focused on the percentage increase of women in the workforce, with the World Bank even claiming that extreme poverty in 2010 would’ve been 30% higher if women had not entered the workforce. However, according to the Development Bank of Latin America women’s participation is still lacking with only around 50% of women in the region participating in economic activities.
Finally, we are using The Global Gender Gap Report 2017, which is calculated based on ratio using a long list of sources such as UNESCO and the World Economic Forum, in order to compare the regions to each other on a global scale. Furthermore, we are using statistics from the Center of Global Education to assess women’s shifting social role in South Korea along with several articles about the pervading gender inequality in the region.
To support our story and to explain the data, we interview four couples, where the woman is the main earner, about their perspective on this situation. What do they think about it? Do they experience problems or disapproval of their environment? We try to find out through the interviews what the survey answers ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ mean in daily life and what consequences the couples experience with it. Since not all of the interviewees are in the Netherlands, most conversations will take place via Skype.
Contact details and the date of interview:
Dunja Heijer (25) and Jip Verkerk (21)
1 year relationship, both atheist
The date of interview: Thursday 19 March 20:00
Europe, The Netherlands, Amsterdam
Maria Estandia Ordovás (22) and José Bachur (27)
5 year relationship, atheists
Date: Monday 16 March
South America, Mexico, Mexico City
Do you think women experience “status leakage” if they earn more than their husband? (Shame by others, disapproval)
How do you feel about being the breadwinner/how do you feel about your partner being the breadwinner (question asked depending on breadwinning status) (Identity, power, balanced/good/bad/jealous relationship with partner)
How do you see gender equality in an ideal world?
Were there any factors that affected your career pathway? Yes? What are those factors?
Do you feel valued?
What expectations do you have that are limiting your ability to be emotionally connected to your partner ?
Because of the unequal income, do you feel inequality in your relationship?
Can a woman have it all?
- Ricards, Kat, Fanni, and Melody