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Weekend reading: Blog battle of the sexes

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My regular roundup of the week’s blog and financial site links.

I don’t know exactly what I think about feminism, and in particular demands that more should be done to promote equality of outcomes for men and women in career and pay.

I say ‘outcomes’ because that is different from ‘opportunity’.

To me it’s very clear that a woman who wants to achieve something professionally, who has all the talent and drive of her male equivalent – and who will put the same hours in – should meet no prejudice.

But that is not the same it should be made easier for her then for a man.

On a financial level, I’m more dogmatic. Unfortunately it’s now financially reckless if you’re a man to marry a woman who is anything other than your financial equal.

The same is true if she’s your equal but she intends to take ten years out of her career to stay at home.

With some 50% of marriages ending in divorce, the chances are evens yours will, too. Laws and courts that still take their cues from the 19th Century when women were chattel and divorced women ‘worthless’ will at this point likely sign over half of everything a man owns, even his pension.

Men regularly find themselves living in bedsits while their wife and kids continue to enjoy the ex-family home, which the man still pays for. Incredibly, you can even end up paying money to your wife and her lover to raise the child they had while you were still married. And you won’t get a rebate for all the money you paid for her upkeep when you were the sole earner.

(The same would be true for a wealthier wife, though in my experience these are still very rare, and women also tend to be granted custody of children and thus the home).

Remember, this isn’t under your control. Divorce isn’t debated anymore, and there’s little stigma. Whenever your husband or wife decides enough is enough, they can call it in.

I think 50% downside and 0% upside are terrible odds, unless you enjoy playing Russian roulette. At the very least, forget marrying that wonderful but poorly-paid environmental activist or nurse or aspiring novelist you’re in love with – look for a wealthy heiress.

Already I know 80% of readers will be cross, because the entire agenda of the media is still skew towards female empowerment. This is a hangover from the moral force of feminism when it was vitally in the right: the 1960s and 1970s.

Today women do better at school, more women are training to be doctors, and women even earn more than men in their twenties.

Yet you rarely read about the flipside : men falling back in school, or dropping behind in their careers. This despite the fact that most human progress on a scientific and technical level was achieved by men. Surely society should be terrified?

It is also men who have suffered most from the shifting economic landscape of the past three decades:

  • Communication skills are in / strong backs are out
  • Empathy is in / stiff-upper lips are out
  • Correctness is in / the banter of Mad Men is estranged
  • Portfolio working is in / careerism is out

There must be ten photos of smiling girls throwing their A-Level results into the air for every one article on the plight of the redundant male working class.

Nearly everything written about men and women is written from the pro-woman perspective. For instance, we’re often told about the glass ceiling in corporations. And yet a study by (from memory) Harvard found very little evidence of female MBAs earning less than male MBAs, unless they left the workforce to have kids.

There was no glass ceiling – there was the fact that someone in a hyper-competitive corporate environment who took several years out was at a disadvantage, just as surely as a man who spent a decade surfing in Fiji would be if he returned expecting a place on the board.

Or take again the issue of divorce. A woman has ‘sacrificed’ her career to stay-at-home, but what if we flip the genders to say:

The man admitted in court that he had spent ten years at home living off his wife’s earnings. Her lawyers found that she had spend some £200,000 keeping him in food, clothes, transport and home furnishings over the decade, while he contributed mainly by shopping and discussing which Polish cleaner to hire with his friends over a mid-afternoon coffee.

I’m not saying it’s wrong for women to stay at home while men work, or what have you: what’s right for individuals is fine by me.

What I’m saying is you’d never find the ‘sacrifice’ of the husband in terms of his money that pays for the whole family and his comparative lack of time at home written out in such terms.

And yet…

…and yet this is clearly still a man’s world.

The U.S. has voted in black president, but it’s never elected a woman. Two decades after Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the UK, fewer then one in five MPs is female. Men still dominate the business pages, and hold most of the positions of power in the legal system and the military. And of course women are wildly more likely to suffer from domestic violence or rape than men.

As for the rest of the world, it’s decades behind the U.S. and Europe, as you can see when desperate Western feminists start scrabbling for examples of inequality in the Sudan or India to justify some female empowerment program in Manchester or Milwaukee.

The question for me comes down to choice and opportunity versus outcomes, as I said above. Two excellent blog posts this week explored this territory from different perspectives:

On The Digerati Life, guest blogger Mr Moneybags wrote about some of the myths of gender inequality and pay imbalances that I’ve alluded to above, saying:

After ten years in the workforce, only 10% of male MBAs went for six months or more without working, compared with 40% of female MBAs. If that wasn’t enough, over the first fifteen years of their careers, women work fewer hours than men (52 per week versus 58) – adding up to a whole six months’ worth of experience over those 15 years.

In short, women work less than men.

Presenting the other side of the case is the latest blogging superstar and sometime Monevator reader, Financial Samurai.

He takes a more traditional, pro-empowerment stance:

At the end of that one night of passion, someone has to give birth eventually. And since that someone is female, they should get as much slack as possible.

As I say, I’m not sure who I think is right, despite the fact some readers probably now have me labeled as a rabid misogynist for straying from the accepted line.

In terms of relationships, feminism and equality for women has surely helped destroy the stable marriages and families that most people claim to want.

And yet if I was a smart 15-year old girl living in the 1950s, I’d despair for the roles available to me. I’d go postal if I saw some mediocre, barely bothered bloke become the doctor or physicist I should have been while I was packed off to finishing school to learn to cook.

If I was such a girl, I know I’d gladly swap traditional society’s mores for the chance to use my brains and my talents to the fullest, even if I knew it would make a stable married life far less likely for me than for my mother.

In short, I’d choose the world we have today.

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{ 14 comments… add one }
  • 1 George December 19, 2009, 2:24 pm

    I don’t know if I agree about that stuff about getting married. As far as opportunity goes, I think everyone has enough opportunity to make as much money as they want and achieve everything that they could dream of. Regardless of sex, color, education, height, origin, looks, or any other criteria. Besides that, many women have a massive advantage that most men don’t: intuition.

    Thanks for the great weekend reading!

  • 2 Financial Samurai December 19, 2009, 4:37 pm

    Hey Mate,

    You’re making me blush with your adjectives lol. Several things:

    1) Since when did the divorce rate jump to 70%!? Thought it was “only” 50%? Is this a UK thing due to the weather or something?

    2) Why do you consider Obama black, instead of white? His mom is white you know. This is a topic of a future post.

    3) It’s never 0% upside 50% downside. In California, you keep everything you own before you get married. A defacto prenuptial if you will. I DO believe in paying 50%/50% afterwards, of whatever we earn, even if i’m a billionaire and she is not, b/c we’re a team.

    Cheers,

    Sam

  • 3 Rob Bennett December 19, 2009, 6:19 pm

    Getting married was the best financial development in my life. Not because my wife had any more money to bring to the table than I did (neither of us had anything of consequence). Because she made me a better person in so many ways and that often translates into money down the line.

    Yes, it would be a disaster to experience a divorce. But that would be a disaster on so many levels that it seems almost silly to focus on the financial angle. I think the focus should be on making sure it doesn’t happen. This is one case where the best move is to put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket like a hawk.

    Rob

  • 4 The Investor December 19, 2009, 10:05 pm

    @Rob – I love it when I read comments like that about a marriage. A successful long lasting marriage is an incredible thing. Close friends and girlfriends sometimes take me to task because they know my parents have had such a marriage – and indeed my father is now incredibly lucky to have my mother at his side (he is basically helpless through various serious health issues, as discussed on this site).

    My argument tends to be that they were from a different time, place and even community (they’re from the 1960s, but not somewhere where the ‘sixties’ had happened yet, if you see what I mean). I think the odds, challenges, and conflicting aspirations of both parties – plus the legal ease of divorce etc, and the consequences – make it a much more difficult issue today.

    I definitely don’t want to give the impression I am ‘against’ marriage as such though. If someone makes it work, I understand why they’d say it’s the best thing they’ve done. Statistically, that’s ever rarer though (a good proportion of the majority who don’t divorce are surely unhappy, if culture / media / anecdote and personal experience is anything to go by).

    Thanks for commenting on this.

  • 5 The Investor December 19, 2009, 10:12 pm

    @FS – Yes, I think you may be right. I thought it was higher for new marriages (i.e. without all the old people who were less likely to divorce) but a quick Google isn’t proving providing much evidence. Possibly I’d conflated two statistics – 70% of divorces are initiated by women – but it does seem the divorce rate is about 50%. I’ll amend the article accordingly.

    I still think coin toss odds are terrible for a 50% call option on half my worldly wealth, and while this isn’t strictly a male/female thing (theoretically richer wives will find themselves in the same position, though that’s much rarer still) the 70% initiation rate is a worry for me personally, being a man!

    Thanks for commenting, and seriously with your explosive arrival you deserve the adjectives. 🙂

  • 6 Len Penzo December 19, 2009, 10:51 pm

    Don’t worry about being kowtowed by a segment of society that would have the audacity to call you a misogynist, Investor.

    That is quite a leap to suggest so.

    As I have mentioned on other blogs, the myth of gender pay imbalances is largely attributable to most studies focusing on GROSS annual pay, rather than RATE of pay. Mr. Moneybag’s correct conclusion that, on the whole, women work less than men obviously accounts for the reason their gross annual pay is less.

    And, by the way, if a woman ever had the courage to run for president here in the US who happened to have the same political views as the great Margaret Thatcher, then she would certainly have my vote!

    FS: I would argue that regarding Obama it is completely fair to consider Obama a “black” president because that is how he chooses to posture himself. The American mainstream media does the same.

    Happy Christmas!

    Len
    Len Penzo dot Com

  • 7 The Investor December 21, 2009, 12:15 pm

    @Len – Thanks for your extended thoughts! I’ve had a couple of emails on this and Friday’s post (which included a metaphor about marriage that some people didn’t like) but they’ve been perfectly civil and sensible. I’ve no problem at all with sensible disagreement. For instance, I disagree with your sceptical view on climate change but I see where you’re coming from, and it hardly detracts from your writing for me.

    Re: Thatcher, I agree… we need another! The Conservative opposition is better than this tired incumbent Government, but it’s short on vision.

    Happy Christmas to you, too! 🙂

  • 8 Rebecca December 21, 2009, 6:17 pm

    Your post overlooks two glaring facts about marriage and divorce:

    1) Women typically experience a much greater negative economic impact after divorce compared with men.

    Here are three citations all showing women’s greater economic vulnerability after divorce:

    http://www.troubledwith.com/Relationships/A000000830.cfm?topic=relationships%3A%20divorce

    http://www.divorce-lawyer-source.com/html/law/effects.html

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/2657403

    2) The creation of offspring requires that a woman offer her body as a host to an internal parasite for 9 months, followed a prolonged period during which this parasite feeds externally and requires round the clock alertness. It is difficult for women to work full-time while striving to keep this being alive. They can hire childcare, but this is often too expensive to justify, and many couples believe that outsourcing childcare is less desirable than having parents care for their own kids, at least for a while.

    As the child gets older (we’re assuming here that there’s only one child – once there’s a second, the whole parasite thing repeats), managing the household becomes exponentially more challenging. Keeping everything clean and organized, maintaining the child’s safety, transporting the child, providing the child with the necessary amount of attention and support, are all incredibly time-consuming. And once again, outsourcing is an option, but it is very expensive. This is why many women “intend to take ten years out of her career to stay home” (in your words).

    I don’t disagree that a man must think about his financial security, or that in a traditional arrangement a man often provides more financial support while the woman contributes domestically. But I think you should also take into account WHY women find it so difficult to maintain their careers while bearing children. They aren’t all simply lazy – there’s a systemic reason for it.

    For more perspective on the topic, I recommend that you read this:

    http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/08/27/your-family-would-be-better-off-with-a-housewife-so-would-mine/

  • 9 Nick December 21, 2009, 10:58 pm

    @Sam: Like Len says, we give Obama the benefit of the doubt because he calls himself black. But there’s also the old test about whether someone of mixed heritage can “pass” as white. Obama couldn’t. It’s a choice of calling yourself “black” or “mixed,” becuase “white” is off the table.

    @Investor: No mention of prenups? Come on!

  • 10 Commenter December 26, 2009, 2:27 am

    “This despite the fact that most human progress on a scientific and technical level was achieved by men. Surely society should be terrified?”

    I’m not sure whether this is joking or not, but of course this is correlated with the other fact that you mentioned, which is that women did not have access to higher education or scientific work for much of human history.

    “But there’s also the old test about whether someone of mixed heritage can “pass” as white. Obama couldn’t. It’s a choice of calling yourself “black” or “mixed,” becuase “white” is off the table.”

    Agreed on this. Without knowing someone very well, we tend to make snap judgments about race based solely on appearance; Obama looks more black, despite being half black and half white; Derek Jeter is generally not thought of in a snap judgment as black, despite being half black and half white. Similarly, Jessica Alba is generally thought of as Latina, but is half white and half Mexican-American, and Cameron Diaz is often thought of as white, despite her last name, and is half white and half Cuban.

  • 11 The Investor December 26, 2009, 10:58 am

    Hi Commenter — yes, it was sort of a naughty joke. That said I don’t think women are racing away in the Nobel prize stakes etc after a couple of decades, and I wonder if they will — not so much down to intelligence but obsession. It is my observation that men tend to get more obsessed about things than women — whether it is cultural or inherent in their nature. Perhaps the reproductive facts mentioned elsewhere here (if only the internal debate they have about it, and whether they can have ‘it all’ – as the media puts it) means women tend to retain a broader but as a result less intense perspective. I agree it is early days though, and as always there are exceptions (Curie, for instance).

  • 12 The Investor December 26, 2009, 11:18 am

    @Nick – I tend to skirt around pre-nups, because they’ve only just become ‘sort of’ legal here in the UK, and the emphasis is on ‘sort of’. London is the divorce HQ of choice — multinational spouses choose to take their partners to court here for the superior payouts! So prenups are a start, but I’d like to see them legally enshrined and tested in our courts before I had much faith in them.

    Indeed, things were lookingly like going further the other way here recently — cohabiting partners who weren’t married were to be given divorce-like rights in a split, thus removing even more choice from people’s lives. That’s been kicked into the long grass for now though.

  • 13 The Investor December 26, 2009, 11:54 am

    @Rebecca, thanks for stopping by and apologies for the delayed response. Christmas mayhem!

    I don’t disagree with a lot of what you say; what I disagree with is how society currently structures its solutions to these issues, much of which I think is a historical relic, and lots of which is at odds with how people claim they want to live.

    To address your points too briefly (I’m sneaking away from Christmas family festivities to catch up!), firstly, what you say about women and babies is potentially fair enough, but it doesn’t apply to marriages without children involved. Yet women (or rarely men) who don’t have children and split can still be awarded enormous payouts. e.g. See the divorce of Alan Mills here:

    The Millers, who lived in Chelsea, London, were married for two years and nine months and had no children when they split.

    Mr Miller had challenged an earlier court order that he pay his ex-wife £5m. He said they had not been married for long enough to justify that sum.

    A judge had decided Mrs Miller was entitled to a substantial settlement because she married with “reasonable expectation” of a future wealthy lifestyle.

    Law Lords agreed with the judge’s original ruling.

    Obviously that’s a more extreme example, but I don’t see any reason why she should receive any payment whatsoever and I wouldn’t expect anything in her shoes. The reason she does is because I said in the original post, there’s still some relic of the pre-1960s about women’s rights in marriage. Such relics are rightly contested in the workplace and so forth, but seem perculiarly uncontested by feminists when it comes to the divorce courts…

    In terms of your links about women having a poorer standard of living after divorce, I am not exactly falling backwards and begging for smelling salts to be brought around on reading those.

    The unfortunate reason — women get custody of children, can’t work as they’re caring for them, they cost money to raise, too, and therefore even if in the family home and receiving a payout from the husband are short of cash. Clearly the deserving cases.

    The cynical but still equally valid reason — women tend to ‘marry up’ in terms of partners, looking for the sort of higher income lifestyle that Mrs Mills aspired to in that previous article — so when they divorce and the banker or lawyer or whoever moves on, they are left poorer than when married. (But NOT poorer than they would have been before marriage, especially if they didn’t work and spent all day shopping in Chelsea as they did when married).

    No doubt people will pile in and say I’m stereotyping women in being mercenery but they should read around. Just as men look for attractive women with curves despite the 21st Century and political correctness, women look for ‘solvency’ despite our claims of equality, marrying for love etc.

    Finally, I accept the issue that the human race wants to propogate itself and women drew the short straw means there should be some special circumstances involved with kids.

    What I’m not sure about is exactly what they should be. (As I said in my post, I haven’t decided yet).

    One idea I do think is bogus is that raising children is a job, and yet the ‘wages’ depend on what your husband earns. If a woman wants to become a teacher, she would earn say £30,000 a year and saying her husband is a millionaire would cut no ice with her employer.

    So why, after divorce, is the ‘full-time job’ of rearing children suddenly worth half the estate? Clearly it’s not.

    Either it’s a job or it’s not — if it is then perhaps society should decide what the job should pay, and cap alimony payouts at that level (perhaps topping up ‘lower-paid’ divorced women with poorer exes with credits and benefits, to a full ‘salary’, although I’d rather the state kept its nose out as much as possible).

    In terms of giving up careers for having children, well, I think again everyone is very woolly on this. Some women seem to go back to work after six weeks, some six months, others never go back. How can you legislate for that, being fair to men as well as women?

    I don’t think laziness is to blame, not usually anyway, although I think wanting the better standard of living that pushing a pram about with a rich husband paying for everything and you don’t have to work can be an incentive. (Who wouldn’t want to retire early)?

    The point is it’s very variable, and clearly a lottery when you marry a woman — and that there’s no obvious universal solution.

    I don’t think society should be totally geared around providing maximum flexibility to the whims of every woman. There should not be equal protection/payouts for a part-time shopworker and a would-be company director who decides to take five years out of her career and then complains of a glass ceiling. There has to be personal responsibility for choices.

    Much of the divorce laws/traditions are fairly commendable in terms of helping poor women who marry habitually useless men. I am all for trying to break the poverty trap, in theory.

    But:

    (a) the law of unintended consequences comes into play (i.e. by bailing out such broken families, we get more of them in the next generation),

    and (b) the same divorce laws also apply to relatively wealthy middle class women speculating over a potential husband’s future income, or in time a divorce payout. (Or, for balance, alimony from a wealthier wife, but that’s still vanishingly rare in reality).

    This makes a mockery of the system, and makes marriage reckless and less attractive for the wealthier party, which probably isn’t what society wants.

    Life is about choices, and people have to make them all the time. The fact is there’s no getting away from the choices about reproduction and what you give up, whatever solution is in place. And the reality is the current set-up is leading to massive divorce rates, and, arguably, is correlated to ever unhappier populations of both sexes, compared to previous generations.

    I’d submit it’s not really working. It also makes it as I said originally a sheer gamble to get married if you’re wealthier than your partner (man or woman).

    Hmm… not so brief, after all! A bit of a ramble and not my specialized subject, but I think there are issues here that are glossed over by the media.

    Finally, I fully believe that women have the same rights and responsibilities to look after their own financial future, and while I understand some of my views in this debate may not be on every woman’s wavelength, I hope they keep enjoying the other articles on Monevator.

    It’s a pleasure to have anyone, man or woman, as a reader! 🙂

  • 14 Bret @ Hope to Prosper December 27, 2009, 5:55 am

    I believe radical feminism is the converse and equivilient of male chauvanism. Both are selfish, shameful and equally misguided.

    Only a few decades ago, most women had few opportunites in the workplace beyond Secretary, including my Mom. I am so proud the workplace has evolved, the income disparity has shrank and the glass ceiling is disppearing. I want my daughter to have an equal opportunity and to choose her own path in life.

    Now, if we can only make similar strides in family court. There is no question the laws are biased and antiquated. And, the children often become pawns in a money grab. There has been some recent improvement, but we still have a long way to go.

    BTW, I am happily married for 19 years and hope to never divorce. The greatest thing I have done for my children is to raise them in a loving home. A child-support check is not a substitute for a father.

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