Thursday Interview: Liz Mundy best selling author of THE RICHER SEX

Liza – your new book ‘The
Richer Sex’ is a provocative and exciting exploration of how society is
continuing to shape itself according to market forces. What compelled you to
take this subject on?
For quite some time I’ve been interested in the rise of women
on college campuses and the fact that women now take the majority of university
degrees, here and in the majority of countries–both developed and
developing–around the world. Women also take the majority of associates,
bachelor’s, masters and doctorate degrees. This is such a radical change from
when I was on a college campus in the 1980s, where men still outnumbered women
three to one. I’ve long been curious to know what being in the majority feels
like for women on the campuses of local community colleges and private liberal
arts universities alike.
Then, a couple of years ago, in a
conversation with my editor at Simon and Schuster, she mentioned the really
significant increase in the number of women she knew who were out-earning their
partners. Around the same time, we were starting to see some jaw-dropping study
results, such as the 2010 study by Reach Advisors showing that in most American cities now, single childless women under
30 out-earn their male peers. At the risk of using a cliché, it seemed clearer
and cleared that we had reached, dare one say it, a cultural and economic
tipping point. And that change seemed well worth exploring. Initially I was
afraid I wouldn’t find enough women and men to interview, and boy, did that
turn out not to be the case.
Do you believe that social
media has empowered women and over-represented them on the internet perhaps
even giving us (as women) a false self-image?
I’m not sure about that. Do you
mean so-called mommy bloggers? It had not occurred to me that social media per
se privileges one sex over the other; I feel like my Facebook feed has a fair
amount of gender parity. And men seem to post family photos as much as women
do. And seems like there are plenty of daddy bloggers.
Most working mothers I know
may balk at your assertion that women will eventually out-earn their husbands,
on what stats can you realistically base your projections?
Looking at U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics numbers: Nearly 40 percent of working wives now out-earn their
husbands, up from 23 percent in the late 1980s. This is a significant increase,
and it’s been a steady, incremental rise. If you simply plot that rise, create
a graph, and continue the line created by the plot points, then you see that if
the rise continues at the current rate, by 2030, a majority of working wives
would out-earn their husbands. At the same time, we know that 40 percent of
births now are to unmarried women, and for women under 30, it’s 50 percent.
Some of these women may be cohabiting, but a lot are not. That’s a lot of women
supporting households and families.
For example data seems to
suggest that University gender ratio is not a sound indicator of where educated
female students will be in 20 years, this is due to the hidden cost of
pregnancy, maternity leave and early childhood rearing. In other words, while
women continue to be solely responsible for managing their careers around
childcare needs (men tend to opt out of this process or defer to their
partners) how can the advantages of their education and career positions
over-ride the impact of motherhood?
For sure, life is not perfect for
working moms. I have two children and I know well what it is to juggle
cubicle-centered office work and at-home family needs. Believe me, I know. At
the same time, I survived. I stayed in the work force. I asked my supervisors
if I could work at home some. They said yes. My kids are teens now. Life is not
the crazy balancing act that it used to be. It gets better. We also know that
measures such as telecommuting really are making it feasible for women to stay
in the workforce even during their childbearing years. Not easy, but feasible.
And at a certain point, even if you have been a part-time worker or
stay-at-home mom, you can ramp it back up. You really can. You can get back in
the workforce full-force. Over and over, I’ve seen this happen.
That’s anecdotal, of course, but
statistically we see that the economic payoff to a college degree, for a woman,
has risen steadily over the past 40 years, at a faster rate than for
college-educated men. College-educated women still don’t make as much as
college-educate men, but the gap has narrowed dramatically. It’s important to
look at trends, not just where we are now. And the trends show that
college-educated women–including mothers–continue to gain ground,
economically.
Also, the growing academic
disparity between men and women does have an impact on the strategic decision
making of couples. More and more, couples will perceive that because the woman
in the partnership is better educated than the man, she has greater earning
potential and so the couples will make decisions to privilege her career. The
man will make the decision to be the secondary earner, support system, or
stay-at-home partner, or to move for the sake of her job. This was true of
many, many of the couples I interviewed in my book. Couples make pragmatic
decisions based on earning potential.
Is there a fall guy in your projection of a richer more
powerful feminine elite? Will poorer, less educated women primarily sourced
from developing countries fill the gap between motherhood and careers for the
wealthiest women? Will less educated and less privileged women fail to compete
against this new class of power mavens and their domestic servants, and will
that group become more and more marginalized?
Not if we develop a better
child-care system. And not if more and more husbands decide to be the
stay-at-home partner, as is in fact occurring. Lots of the breadwinning women
in my book had become the primary earner in their marriages because they did
not want to rely overly on childcare providers, so the husband was the one who
stayed home. And some women in my book did employ nannies or put their children
in day care. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. Sounds like you do.
But in my own life, I’ve employed plenty of nannies and babysitters–women who
were also taking care of their own children, or putting themselves through
college or putting themselves through med school, for whom this was a great
arrangement. It’s always worked out really well and they’ve moved on with their
lives at some point and we remain close to all of them.
Finally – are we not in truth speaking about a very small
bubble, an urban clique, an elite of women, destined like their male
counterparts through privilege and social position, to rise above the rest?
While the country at large and indeed the world, trails miserably behind in
terms of universal female emancipation?
No indeed. Once upon a time,
breadwinning was the purview of poor women: women whose husbands could not find
good steady work, so the women were forced to get jobs, and the work they could
find was not well-paying. More recently, breadwinning has been very familiar to
African American women, whose partners have suffered from a changing economy
that has seen the disappearance of many traditionally male industrial jobs.
And of course, during the
recession breadwinning became familiar to women whose husbands were laid off
from construction and manufacturing jobs. These are not upper-income women.
Breadwinning is increasingly familiar to Hispanic women, who are out achieving
Hispanic men, academically, at an even higher rate than the national rate.  Interviewing for my book, I talked to
Latina women in deep South Texas, African American women in Detroit, white
women working at a jobs bank in Michigan, whose husbands had all been laid off
during the recession. I interviewed lots and lots of urban women in their
twenties, many from blue-collar backgrounds. So no, it’s not just an elite
phenomenon.
Where can we buy your book?
Your local independent bookstore
Or click the Buy A Book button on my website, at
www.lizamundy.com


LIZA MUNDY is the bestselling author of Michelle: A Biography and Everything Conceivable. A longtime award-winning reporter for The Washington Post, she is currently a Schwartz Fellow at the New America Foundation. She lives in Arlington, Virginia.