What Female Economic Power Means for Men, Girls and the Middle Class

Question: Where does increased female economic power leave men?

Maddy Dychtwald: I think this is good news for men and good news for women for a couple of reasons.  First, improved profitability in companies, increased GDP in countries and an improved overall economy—well that is good news for everybody. 

Second, that idea that gender should be the number one thing that defines our roles in society seems a little ludicrous and sort of old school, and many men have told me and I’ve interviewed a lot of men over the last several years about this very issue.  They’ve told me they love the idea that no longer are they defined completely in their role in society by being a guy.  I mean there is lots of men that feel that their skill set or their talent is much more relevant to maybe being a stay-at-home dad or maybe having sort of a part-time or a consulting type of arrangement. And they look forward to the opportunity of really moving towards a more partnership society. 

You know one of the interesting things that happened to me in my life is that I got a chance to have dinner once with Betty Freidan and... I was with my husband and I asked her—I got up my nerve when she… of course this is when she was alive and I got up my nerve and I asked her—"I said, what made you decide to write 'The Feminine Mystique?'" and I think her answer is one that is really relevant to this question that you just asked.  She said, “You know I just didn’t want women to be judged by the metric of men moving forward.”  I would say it’s the same thing for men.  They need to be judged as individuals and based on the talent and skill that they have individually rather than being just a guy.

Question: How does this affect young women?

Maddy Dychtwald:  It’s interesting because we’ve seen dramatic shifts take place in society in terms of the role of women and we don’t often think about it.  I mean just think back: 100 years ago.  Women couldn’t vote.  Women didn’t have the right to own property.  In fact, they were considered property of their husbands and women couldn’t even open a bank account in their own name, so we’ve seen dramatic shifts.  One of the key shifts took place during the baby boomer generation as they were growing up and that was back in the 1960s.  That is when the doors of higher education really opened up for women and in fact baby boomer women were the pioneers of many of the great strides we’ve seen women take in the workforce today and that is great news.  In fact, when you talk to younger women they don’t even understand really how bad it was or how difficult it was for women in the past, so now you see young women graduating from high school in better shape to go into college than men, graduating from college in higher numbers than men.  I mean for every 100 men who graduate from college there is 131 women.  I mean that is a huge difference and now you see women, young women, in urban centers like New York, Paris, Frankfurt, San Francisco where I’m from... you see them entering the workforce in similar positions to men having as much income or even more income. So that is a huge breakthrough and hopefully we’ll see that translate into continued growth in their positions and the opportunity to move into leadership positions because that's the next step.  That is the tipping point at which we’re at right now, women not just entering the workforce and staying, but taking on lots of the key leadership positions and that hasn’t happened yet, but my hope is that we’re going to begin to see that happening more and more.

Question: Where does this leave the middle class?

Maddy Dychtwald:  Today we see the middle class really struggling to hold on, and you know it’s not good news for anybody. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that the only reason we have anyone in the middle class today is really because of women in the workforce.  Now what do I mean by that?  Well over the last 30 years the only families that have seen any increase in income at all is when the wife is working.  That is pretty incredible.  What it really translates into is the fact that dual-income families are the only ones who have thrived over the last 30 years. So instead of just having one income to be middle class today we need two and that is a huge transformation that puts a strain on all kinds of families.  That is the direction we’re going to be moving.  We need to be aware of it and we need to really recognize the contribution that women have made to families. 

Recorded on October 12, 2010
Interviewed by John Cookson

Most families today need more than one incomes to be part of the middle class. That is a huge transformation that puts a strain on all kinds of families.

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