Category Archives: Economy

Dear Ladies (an intervention)

Ladies, it’s time for an intervention. I know, I have been defending you up to this point, but your behavior in the recent decade or so has become a menace to society and as a lefty, I will not stand for it! Continue reading

The End of Men (as we know them)

This month, journalist and editor Hanna Rosin is releasing her already infamous book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women” (Riverhead Hardcover). It has been eagerly anticipated ever since the 2010 publishing of her article for The Atlantic which bears the same name. Just a couple of days ago, The New York Times printed a preview under the telling title “Who Wears the Pants in This Economy?”.

shocker! a woman journalist (and with children no less)! clearly, men are on their way out. via wall street journal

The article is an interesting read, if you want to learn about a certain American demographic. That’s right: a certain demographic, because I think there is no way this text can claim universality. It outright ignores the realities of the working poor or of minorities. I sincerely hope that this will be problematized in the rest of her book. But yeah, if you were ever interested in the psyche of middle-aged, middle class, mid-Western white folks, it will surely be enlightening to discover the obvious disconnect between their ideals, and the harsh realities of modern American life. And it tells you about why certain ordinary people still vote Republican. Continue reading

Thoughts on Work

In order to counter the increasing unemployment rates in Europe, politicians and news media outlets seem to agree that the best solution to this problem is job creation.  Their statements generally imply that there aren’t enough things for people to do, so that they need to be artificially created. What a strange idea.

In early utopian socialist ideology a society was conceived of, in which technological advancements will have made work so much easier and more effective, that people would have to do less and less of it, could enjoy more free time and benefit from an improved lifestyle. Well, that technological progress has happened and continues to accelerate; people are being made redundant in factories, public service jobs and even supermarkets. Yet many people are still pulling 40 hour weeks or more, unless they are unemployed, socially stigmatized and dependent on benefits. How did we end up here? Continue reading

My Quota Memo

Just in time for International Women’s Day, the discussion about quotas for women is back with a vengeance. The EU is once again pushing for quotas in boardrooms and in Germany, journalists are demanding equal representation in the media. Naturally, the news is all over it, printing opinion pieces everywhere, which has prompted me to gather all the thoughts and ideas about the quota that seem relevant to me. None of these ideas are mine; I have simply collected them from articles, blog posts and comments, in order to weed out the ones that continuously derail the discussion. None of this is new, but I figured it cannot hurt to be repeated as much as possible.

1. When we talk about the women’s quota, we are already making the first mistake, because generally what is proposed is a gender-based quota. A 40% quota law could  mean that at least 40% must be either male or female. The fact, that such a law would primarily promote women is the sad underlying truth of the whole debate.

2. A 30%, 40% or 50% quota that promotes women would still effectively result in a 70%, 60% or 50% quota of men. Considering that men and women make up about half of the population each, how exactly does this translate to “discrimination against men”?

3. Quotas are supposed to benefit the disadvantaged, not to increase their disadvantages. Demanding quotas for women in less desirable occupations is such a lame argument, I shouldn’t even be mentioning here, but it seems to come up every single time. Firstly, some sectors, such as the public cleaning service in Berlin, already have a quota system, even a successful one. Secondly, men and women are already fairly equally represented in low paid, exploitative and dangerous jobs, there’s absolutely no need to distribute the social inequalities more evenly.

4. A quota arrangement is never an ideal situation. An ideal situation would include the potential results of a quota (equal representation) minus the actual quota rule.

5. A quota can never be a single solution. It is not an all-encompassing remedy for the inequality of the sexes; it may not even be a start in the right direction. The quota as an isolated measure is useless. It is not a coincidence that it has been embraced more in countries, which already have a fair amount of laws in place that promote equality (for example France and the Scandinavian countries).

6. Here is what the quota does:

It furthers the equal representation of half of the population. It helps create a society in which women are active and equal participants; a society that inspires young girls to follow in their footsteps and have high aspirations. Women’s issues and perspectives will become part of the agenda. 

they didn't need a quota to discuss women's issues: the all-male panel testifying before congress about the insurance coverage for contraception. via abc news

7. Here is what the quota doesn’t do:

It doesn’t necessarily improve the performance of a business or generate higher profits. It may even have the adverse effect. A quota arrangement is not designed as a push for the economy. It is an affirmative action to counter structural discrimination.

It doesn’t necessarily change or improve the working culture or hierarchical structures. That’s a whole other set of adjustments that does not automatically follow the implementation of a quota. A lot of rethinking is necessary in that area, and a quota can only ever be a tiny part of that process, if at all.

All things considered, I am still in favour of the quota, but as an isolated measure suggested  and enforced by politicians I find it unconvincing and populist. Evidently, there are different kinds of quotas, and in certain areas they make more sense to me than in others. I am certainly in favour of a quota in the media, and a political party without a considerable amount of women should be unelectable for any woman in my opinion. But when it comes to the boardroom quota for corporations, I kind of don’t really care. Somehow I highly doubt that any woman (or man) could end up in that position without compromising their convictions and throwing other women (or men) under the bus…

That Pesky XY% – The Gender Pay Gap

It’s spring and countries all over the world are “celebrating” their specific Equal Pay Day on the day that symbolizes “how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010”. The global gender pay gap amounts to 15.6 %***; the European rate is 17.5 % on average. However, there are large differences between the nations that contribute to these average rates: Georgia’s pay gap is more than 50%, Japan’s more than 30%, Canada and the United States more than 20% and in Europe the numbers range from 4.9% (Italy) to 30.9% (Estonia). You can find the data of your home country here (only Europe). Note that these numbers do not mirror the countries’ overall progressiveness regarding gender equality. So what do these numbers actually tell us?
What needs to be pointed out first and foremost, because it has led to a lot of misunderstandings, is that the European 17.5%  gender pay gap is for the most part NOT a result of direct discrimination, meaning women generally DO NOT get paid less than men for doing the exact same job. While this form of discrimination may still occur, it has been outlawed by the European Union and can be subjected to prosecution. The more relevant reasons that factor into the wage injustice are the undervaluing of women’s work, the segregation of the labor market into “male” and “female” professions, the traditions and stereotypes that are often responsible for this segregation, and the difficulties of balancing work and private life (for example, only 62,4% of women with dependent children are employed, compared to 91,4% of men). From the website of the European Commission:

“Jobs requiring similar skills, qualifications or experience tend to be poorly paid and undervalued when they are dominated by women rather than by men. For example, the (mainly female) cashiers in a supermarket usually earn less than the (mainly male) employees involved in stacking shelves and other more physical tasks.

In addition the evaluation of performance, and hence pay level and career progression, may also be biased in favour of men. For example, where women and men are equally well qualified, more value can be attached to responsibility for capital than to responsibility for people.”

While these inequalities certainly are a problem in Europe, they become even more pronounced in a global perspective, especially in developing countries where women can be found more often in vulnerable working positions, while at the same time working for free as primary care-takers of the home and children:

“Women may get paid less than men for the same work, or be denied access to better paid jobs because of entrenched attitudes that incorrectly assume men are the main breadwinners and need to earn more. Or women may not be able to compete equally with their male colleagues because they cannot invest an equal amount of time in work when they remain responsible for the greatest share of household and child-rearing tasks. In other words, women’s unequal status can restrict their ability to choose to leave a job as an accountability strategy if their rights are infringed.”(Unifem, p. 55)

It is useful to mention that the feminisation (i.e. the expansion and outsourcing of the tertiary service sector) and informalisation of labor go hand in hand, and that these developments sustain gender discrimination by keeping the female working sectors (subsistence agriculture, care-taking and services) low-paid and free of “fixed costs” (benefits, social security etc.)(p. 57/58). While the statistics show that the wage gap has been decreasing over the last few years, there are studies that claim that this development can be attributed to a decrease of male workers’ wages. So while work that is traditionally considered “feminine” is on the rise, this does not mean that overall working conditions or wages have improved for women. The neoliberal labor market requires well-trained, flexible and less demanding workers, and women who, as mothers and homemakers, are often forced to work part-time, are the ideal employees.

In conclusion, there is not a lot to celebrate on Equal Pay Day, not even the steady reduction of the global gender pay gap. German journalist and blogger Antje Schrupp has gathered some interesting and clever ideas on what we really need to talk about, when we talk about equal pay. I have taken the liberty to translate them here:

1. The actual upsetting “pay gap” we should be talking about is not the one between men and women but the one between rich and poor. Therefore it is wrong to be focussing exclusively on the gender aspect.

2. The gender pay gap is not an illness in itself but a symptom of a much more profound problem of our society. Therefore it cannot be our goal to simply cure the symptom, but we have to tackle the illness – the crass material inequality between people. If we end up having a fifty-fifty quota of men and women among the rich and the poor, but the divide between the two remains as big as ever or even increases, I don’t see how we’ve achieved anything.

3. It is not very useful to compare “men” and “women” regarding their income. Statistics are per se not very conclusive regarding our real lives, but in this context it makes even less sense, because not many men and women find themselves to be in these average situations: in fact, the difference is especially big among the lower income bracket and among the ones who earn a lot; in between among the white-collar employees and other professions, the difference is not that distinct.

4. There is a lot of talk about women earning less money than men, but in my opinion there is too little talk about (some) men simply earning way too much. Now and then, the wages of managers are being debated, and rightly so. But why has no one ever considered presenting the female managers as role models, who are satisfied with earning less money for the same work?

5. All studies show that women confronted with the question of what they should do with their lives, seem to care less about money and status than men, and more about the meaning and the community (study here (in German)). For some reason, this is considered to be a problem. I don’t see why. Rather, it is a problem ( and not just regarding gender relations) that there are still too many men who mainly care about money and status and not so much about the meaning and necessity of their work. We should be talking about this, and about the images of masculinity that lie underneath, and whether or not we still want them. Fortunately, many men don’t want them anymore either.

6. Incidentally, this happens to be my suggestion for getting more women into leading and executive positions: simply pay these positions much less in general. That way, all of those who are attracted to these positions only because of the money and status that they offer, will stay away. Which would surely be to the advantage of the directorates’ quality. Consequently, the amount of women would probably increase on its own.

7. There is always a lot of talk about women choosing the wrong professions. But who should do all the work of the nurses, the carers of the elderly and the nursery school teachers? As a society, we should be thankful that there are enough women who want to work in these professions (and if men want to follow their example, go for it!). It is imperative to have a discussion about the value and the importance of these professions – and, consequently, about how to increase their wages.

8. It is appropriate to encourage women to talk and reflect more about money, and to question their historically socialized distaste for monetary issues. However, the goal should not be that they take on the “normal” approach to money according to “male” standards, but rather the goal should be that they develop their own approach and introduce it to the world.

9. Finally, we need to abandon the idea that men and what they do should be considered the norm to which women need to adapt themselves to, and if they don’t they are to blame for their discrimination. What men do, their tendency to overvalue money, is just as much historically socialized and not at all “normal”. Moreover, it is often enough detrimental to the world at large; financial crisis etc.

10. Therefore I would like to suggest to celebrate Equal Pay Day in autumn from now on: on the day when men can stop working, while normal people (joke) have to keep working until December.

You can find the original text here.

*** I have found different numbers from various sources, some as high as 22%. This variability can be explained by the lack of data from some countries, especially in the developing world.

European Court Of Justice Rules Against Gender-Based Insurance Rates

I have the privilege of having been born the daughter of two public servants, thus making me eligible for private health insurance. Until recently, I was insured under my mother’s coverage, so I never bothered much with the details. Therefore I was quite surprised when one day my mother pointed out to me: “Of course, I pay more for my insurance for being a woman!”
Of course? Why?
“Because we get older than men and have children, and therefore have to go to the doctor more often.”
That got me thinking. It’s true, my mother had two children, me and my sister. But for some reason I strongly believe that my father was just as concerned about our and my mother’s health during and after the pregnancy. You don’t get pregnant without a man involved, so why is it a woman’s responsibility only to pay for her “special needs” when she has private health insurance? We should all be concerned with bringing children safely and healthily into this world, no matter if we are men or women (with or without children).
The difference in the life expectancy of men and women may be debatable. Statistics say it exists, but is it biologically invariant or rather subject to the respective living conditions? Perhaps women get older, because they (are obliged to) go to the doctor more often. The only reason for why I could see my mother potentially getting older than my father is the fact that she is an absolute exercise and health freak. To hold an entire gender financially accountable for their health choices, strikes me as, well, ridiculous. And discriminatory.
So I can’t help but feel a little relieved that this practice has now been outlawed in the European Union. 

On March 1st the European Court of Justice ruled that insurance companies can no longer discriminate on the basis of gender. This law affects life insurance, pension insurance, health insurance and car insurance, all of which offer different rates for men and women according to their risk potential. Statistically, men are considered more likely to cause traffic accidents and women are considered more likely to live five years longer and to give birth. According to these statistics men and women had to face different rates for their insurances, a practice that has now been outlawed in the European Union. The law takes effect in December 2011.

Critics have argued that this law will only lead to more costs for everyone, instead of balancing out the inequalities. However, it should be noted that the loudest voices among the critics come from the insurance companies themselves. Why, in the face of generally higher premium rates, they would be critical of this regulation is a mystery to me, unless, of course, they have been hugely benefiting from this discriminatory practice. Naturally, it is more difficult and takes more effort to determine someone’s individual risk potential if gender is no longer a valid category, even though it would make for a fairer and more appropriate calculation.

In this context, it is worth looking at articles from the 1980’s, when unisex insurance rates were a heatedly debated issue in the United States. Back in 1985, Montana was the first American state to introduce a unisex insurance law, and today it is one of two American states that have outlawed gender-based discrimination in insurance policies, with this law being constantly under threat .
In this article from 1985, the authors offer a cost-benefit analysis of different kinds of discrimination (race, sex and age) regarding insurance policies, based on “the premise that American society has reached a collective judgment that discrimination against individuals on the basis of innate human characteristics is repugnant” (p.332). They come to the conclusion that unlike the elimination of age discrimination, which may be morally desirable but not affordable for society, the elimination of the discrimination on the basis of race and gender is both desirable and affordable.

I welcome this law here in Europe as a means to limit discriminatory practices in the economy. Just like discrimination on the basis of race should never be acceptable, gender should not be a valid category to determine premiums and payments.

"Of course men are better drivers than women, even though my car insurance doesn't seem to think so..."

No Need For A Quota? – Women In The German Democratic Republic

While investigating the quota issue I came across another example, why equality on paper doesn’t necessarily lead to equality in real life: the German Democratic Republic. It is often deployed as a positive example for political interventions that forwarded women’s equality. In fact, the GDR did include the equality of men and women in its Constitution in 1949. Women were quickly integrated into the workforce (70% of all women were employed in 1962), and the government took measures to provide daycare and other benefits for families.

The writings of August Bebel, Friedrich Engels and Clara Zetkin provided the ideological background for these political measures. Engels described the antagonism between man and woman, specifically husband and wife, as the very first class oppression in history, in which the female sex is suppressed by the male. The woman, being financially dependent on her husband, can only be freed by securing her economic independence. The inclusion of women into the labor market was supposed to be the solution to the “woman question”.

This ideological legitimation for welcoming women into the labor market concealed the fact that the GDR depended on women as a labor force during the post-war era. In fact, most of the GDR’s political measures were driven by economic factors: the shortage of labor, the no longer secured reproduction of the population, and the loss of young talent that fled to the West. The emphasis on paternalistic, top-down solutions to these problems ignored specific women’s needs and the far more deeply ingrained inequalities of men and women.

In the German Democratic Republic, working was not simply a right of women; it was expected of them as much as from anyone else. Having children was also considered the norm. In fact, the majority of policies directed towards women were exclusively helpful to mothers (Erich Honecker’s “mommy politics” in the 70’s). Therefore, most women in the GDR were working and having a family at the same time. However, it is naive to believe that this led to instant equality between the sexes. In fact, in most cases it led to double or even triple the pressure for women, who were now responsible for the upbringing of the children and the keeping of the household, while also working full time. Later generations of men became more involved with their children and the home, but the government failed to ever explicitly state the responsibilities of men, thus leaving it entirely to the women to negotiate their standards in the private as well as in the professional sphere.

doris ziegler "ich bin du" ("i am you") 1983/84

Because the employment of women was more an economic necessity than a progressive step towards equality, certain inequalities were never eliminated. Traditional gender roles remained deeply fixed in the minds of the Eastern German people, who were unwilling to redistribute the work at home. The excessive demands in the private sphere discouraged and alienated women, who mostly felt independent and emancipated and not at all as inferior to their husbands. Their unwillingness and inability to put up with this situation is most adequately demonstrated by the increasing divorce rates and the falling birth rates. In the professional sphere, women faced wage discrimination and an obvious under-representation in leading political, economic and academic positions. During the 41 years of the GDR’s existence only three women achieved minister status in the state’s government.

The GDR can be regarded as among the forerunners in the emerging trend of the emancipation of women in the second half of the 20th century, closely followed by countries such as Sweden and the United States. While its society was certainly more progressive regarding women’s equality than its Western counterpart, it nevertheless failed to address prevalent issues that could not be explained from a purely materialist point of view. In fact, the GDR is often praised for its progressiveness mainly because West Germany, where only half of the women were part of the workforce, appeared overly reactionary in comparison. However, the reunification of East and West Germany thwarted many of the positive aspects of the GDR’s approach to women politics. By pronouncing Western German values and ideals the status quo, the reunited Germany failed to take the GDR’s progressive side into consideration, thus eliminating some true potential for a development towards a more equal society. Therefore it is not at all surprising that since “die Wende” not much has changed for the better for women in Germany in terms of policies.

For more information, see: Susanne Kranz: Women’s Role in the German Democratic Republic and the State’s Policy Toward Women.

matthias leupold "untitled" 1985