Monday, February 18, 2013

Economics and the fate of feminism

Economics and the fate of feminism: What we have here is a failure to connect the obvious dots:

 Over the next 30 years this emphasis on equalizing gender roles at home as well as at work produced a revolutionary transformation in Americans’ attitudes. It was not instant. As late as 1977, two-thirds of Americans believed that it was “much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” By 1994, two-thirds of Americans rejected this notion.

But during the second half of the 1990s and first few years of the 2000s, the equality revolution seemed to stall. Between 1994 and 2004, the percentage of Americans preferring the male breadwinner/female homemaker family model actually rose to 40 percent from 34 percent. Between 1997 and 2007, the number of full-time working mothers who said they would prefer to work part time increased to 60 percent from 48 percent. In 1997, a quarter of stay-at-home mothers said full-time work would be ideal. By 2007, only 16 percent of stay-at-home mothers wanted to work full time. 

Women’s labor-force participation in the United States also leveled off in the second half of the 1990s, in contrast to its continued increase in most other countries. Gender desegregation of college majors and occupations slowed. And although single mothers continued to increase their hours of paid labor, there was a significant jump in the percentage of married women, especially married women with infants, who left the labor force. By 2004, a smaller percentage of married women with children under 3 were in the labor force than in 1993.... 

For more than two decades the demands and hours of work have been intensifying. Yet progress in adopting family-friendly work practices and social policies has proceeded at a glacial pace.

Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.

In today’s political climate, it’s startling to remember that 80 years ago, in 1933, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to establish a 30-hour workweek. The bill failed in the House, but five years later the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 gave Americans a statutory 40-hour workweek. By the 1960s, American workers spent less time on the job than their counterparts in Europe and Japan.

Between 1990 and 2000, however, average annual work hours for employed Americans increased. By 2000, the United States had outstripped Japan — the former leader of the work pack — in the hours devoted to paid work. Today, almost 40 percent of men in professional jobs work 50 or more hours a week, as do almost a quarter of men in middle-income occupations. Individuals in lower-income and less-skilled jobs work fewer hours, but they are more likely to experience frequent changes in shifts, mandatory overtime on short notice, and nonstandard hours. And many low-income workers are forced to work two jobs to get by. When we look at dual-earner couples, the workload becomes even more daunting. As of 2000, the average dual-earner couple worked a combined 82 hours a week, while almost 15 percent of married couples had a joint workweek of 100 hours or more.
The reason "gender equality" stalled is because it is an economic impossibility.  The reason the average hours worked is so much higher than in the more "sexist" 1960s is because primarily there are more women in the workforce.  While immigration too plays a role here, the only significant effect native women have when they enter the labor force in greater numbers is to depress the price of labor.  Unlike immigrants, they don't bring in new consumption to help mitigate their wage-depressing effects; the reason real hourly wages peaked in 1973 and have been falling ever since is because that was the year that the number of men younger than 20 and older than 65 leaving the labor force was surpassed by educated, middle-class women entering it.

One-third of working class women have always worked.  The change brought by feminism is that now middle class and upper middle class married women work as well.  And the more women that work, the more women have to work and the less time women who don't work will have with their husbands who support them, because an INCREASE in the SUPPLY of labor necessitates a DECREASE in the PRICE of labor, demand remaining constant.

And to make matters worse, demand does not remain constant, but actually declines, because a woman who works is statistically much less likely to eventually become a wife and mother, and even when she does, she becomes one several years later and has fewer children.  This means that feminism is a structural economic failure as it creates a downward-spiraling vicious circle of three easily identifiable revolutions:

  1. The increase in the supply of labor causes wages to go down.  This is indisputable in either logical or empirical terms.
  2. Female hypergamy, female independence, and opportunity cost reduces the marriage rate and the average birth rate, while increased male work hours and work-related romantic opportunities increases the divorce rate.  These connections are all logically sound and readily observable.
  3. The reduced birth rate has a negative effect on consumption, and therefore the demand for labor, 20 years before the consequent negative effects on the supply of labor can help balance it out, putting further negative pressure on wage rates.  This is also indisputable, both logically and empirically.
While this didn't have to be the case, feminism has also played a role in the debt crisis of the United States, as the Social Security system, Medicare, and Medicaid were set up structurally to be dependent upon the male breadwinner/female homemaker family model and a birthrate higher than the replacement level.  Funding for those systems was doomed post-1973, necessitating either their complete restructuring or funding them through debt; obviously the latter path was the one taken, much to the detriment of those who are now on the hook for it.

The complete systematic failure of feminism as well as every society which incorporates the concept of sexual equality is no less predictable than the complete systematic failure of socialism.  Ludwig von Mises correctly predicted the failure of socialist societies in his "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth", published only three years after the October Revolution, on the basis of socialism's intrinsic inability to establish a pricing mechanism.

The economic flaws of feminism are no less obvious, no less fundamental and no more avoidable than the economic flaws of socialism.  Feminism's structural inability to sustain wage rates and birth rates spells the inevitable doom of every feminist society, as surely as the inability to calculate prices spells the doom of every socialist society.  "Gender equality" hasn't stalled because it isn't being sufficiently enforced by the government, it has stalled because it is in the process of collapsing along with the society it has infested.

The impossibility of sexual equalitarian societies has nothing to do with fairness, traditional religious beliefs, human rights, or how intensely one feels that women are equal to men in every way.  It is a straightforward and unavoidable consequence of the law of supply and demand, and as such, is far more reliable than the Malthusian equation of the geometric increase of population outstripping the arithmetic increase of the food supply.

Posted by Vox Day.