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Girls Rule But Shouldn’t

echidneofthesnakess Icon Posted by Echidne of the Snakes

October 18th, 2007

My title gives you the very short version of a very long article “The New Girl Order” by Kay S. Hymowitz in the City Journal . And what is “the new girl order”, according to Hymowitz? It is a world where young women delay marriage because they just want to have fun. Think “Sex and the City”:

Yes: Carrie Bradshaw is alive and well and living in Warsaw. Well, not just Warsaw. Conceived and raised in the United States, Carrie may still see New York as a spiritual home. But today you can find her in cities across Europe, Asia, and North America. Seek out the trendy shoe stores in Shanghai, Berlin, Singapore, Seoul, and Dublin, and you’ll see crowds of single young females (SYFs) in their twenties and thirties, who spend their hours working their abs and their careers, sipping cocktails, dancing at clubs, and (yawn) talking about relationships. Sex and the City has gone global; the SYF world is now flat.

Is this just the latest example of American cultural imperialism? Or is it the triumph of planetary feminism? Neither. The globalization of the SYF reflects a series of stunning demographic and economic shifts that are pointing much of the world—with important exceptions, including Africa and most of the Middle East—toward a New Girl Order. It’s a man’s world, James Brown always reminded us. But if these trends continue, not so much.

Despite the length of the article, this quote gives you an example of the evidence Hymowitz’s thesis uses: Anecdotal images of educated young women spending money on - the horror - themselves and not on their children, and this anecdotal evidence will be ultimately tied to the aging of Europe, the collapse of the social welfare state and then the inevitable end of all that fun these girls are having. Here is the next step in the horror story powered by the selfishness of the uppity educated women:

Three demographic facts are at the core of the New Girl Order. First, women—especially, but not only, in the developed world—are getting married and having kids considerably later than ever before. According to the UN’s World Fertility Report, the worldwide median age of marriage for women is up two years, from 21.2 in the 1970s to 23.2 today. In the developed countries, the rise has been considerably steeper—from 22.0 to 26.1.

Demographers get really excited about shifts like these, but in case you don’t get what the big deal is, consider: in 1960, 70 percent of American 25-year-old women were married with children; in 2000, only 25 percent of them were. In 1970, just 7.4 percent of all American 30- to 34-year-olds were unmarried; today, the number is 22 percent. That change took about a generation to unfold, but in Asia and Eastern Europe the transformation has been much more abrupt. In today’s Hungary, for instance, 30 percent of women in their early thirties are single, compared with 6 percent of their mothers’ generation at the same age. In South Korea, 40 percent of 30-year-olds are single, compared with 14 percent only 20 years ago.

Nothing-new-under-the-sun skeptics point out, correctly, that marrying at 27 or 28 was once commonplace for women, at least in the United States and parts of northern Europe. The cultural anomaly was the 1950s and 60s, when the average age of marriage for women dipped to 20—probably because of post-Depression and postwar cocooning. But today’s single 27-year-old has gone global—and even in the West, she differs from her late-marrying great-grandma in fundamental ways that bring us to the second piece of the demographic story. Today’s aspiring middle-class women are gearing up to be part of the paid labor market for most of their adult lives; unlike their ancestral singles, they’re looking for careers, not jobs. And that means they need lots of schooling.

In the newly global economy, good jobs go to those with degrees, and all over the world, young people, particularly women, are enrolling in colleges and universities at unprecedented rates. Between 1960 and 2000, the percentages of 20-, 25-, and 30-year-olds enrolled in school more than doubled in the U.S., and enrollment in higher education doubled throughout Europe. And the fairer sex makes up an increasing part of the total. The majority of college students are female in the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Norway, and Australia, to name only a few of many places, and the gender gap is quickly narrowing in more traditional countries like China, Japan, and South Korea. In a number of European countries, including Denmark, Finland, and France, over half of all women between 20 and 24 are in school. The number of countries where women constitute the majority of graduate students is also growing rapidly.

That educated women are staying single is unsurprising; degreed women have always been more likely to marry late, if they marry at all. But what has demographers taking notice is the sheer transnational numbers of women postponing marriage while they get diplomas and start careers. In the U.K., close to a third of 30-year-old college-educated women are unmarried; some demographers predict that 30 percent of women with university degrees there will remain forever childless. In Spain—not so long ago a culturally Catholic country where a girl’s family would jealously chaperone her until handing her over to a husband at 21 or so—women now constitute 54 percent of college students, up from 26 percent in 1970, and the average age of first birth has risen to nearly 30, which appears to be a world record.

All this is fascinating. But note that we don’t learn anything at all about the age at which men get married and whether that, too, might be changing. Indeed, an observer from outer space might assume that somehow women just get married on their own. That same outer space observer might assume that the majority of the women in all these countries are educated women, keen on careers rather than just jobs and willing to sacrifice children for the right to work on better abs and that corner office. That observer would be quite astonished to find that most women in the countries Hymowitz describes work in pink-collar occupations at fairly low wage levels.

The demographic group Hymowitz describes is a very small one. Most women do not go to college, just as most men don’t go to college. When she discusses the percentages of women among college students she ignores the silent majority altogether. And her female college students don’t appear to aspire to be teachers or nurses or social workers. This is odd, because those old standbys are still quite popular among female students. No, Hymowitz’s young women have something quite different in mind:

Combine these trends—delayed marriage, expanded higher education and labor-force participation, urbanization—add a global media and some disposable income, and voilà: an international lifestyle is born. One of its defining characteristics is long hours of office work, often in quasi-creative fields like media, fashion, communications, and design—areas in which the number of careers has exploded in the global economy over the past few decades. The lifestyle also means whole new realms of leisure and consumption, often enjoyed with a group of close girlfriends: trendy cafés and bars serving sweetish coffee concoctions and cocktails; fancy boutiques, malls, and emporiums hawking cosmetics, handbags, shoes, and $100-plus buttock-hugging jeans; gyms for toning and male-watching; ski resorts and beach hotels; and, everywhere, the frustrating hunt for a boyfriend and, though it’s an ever more vexing subject, a husband.

This is the “new girl order” in full bloom. There’s the disposable income (of course still a lot less than the disposable income of otherwise equally educated young men) and then there are all those goodies the income can buy. Too bad that we have no actual evidence on who it is who is most driving the consumption society. So Hymowitz decides that it is these young, uppity, educated, materialistic women. We are never told what their actual population percentages might be, but never mind, the story is really going well.

A story like this must have a moral ending, one which shows the silly and shallow women getting their comeuppance. And here it comes:

But as with any momentous social change, the New Girl Order comes with costs—in this case, profound ones. The globalized SYF upends centuries of cultural traditions. However limiting, those traditions shaped how families formed and the next generation grew up. So it makes sense that the SYF is partly to blame for a worldwide drop in fertility rates. To keep a population stable, or at its “replacement level,” women must have an average of at least 2.1 children. Under the New Girl Order, though, women delay marriage and childbearing, which itself tends to reduce the number of kids, and sometimes—because the opportunity costs of children are much higher for educated women—they forgo them altogether. Save Albania, no European country stood at or above replacement levels in 2000. Three-quarters of Europeans now live in countries with fertility rates below 1.5, and even that number is inflated by a disproportionately high fertility rate among Muslim immigrants. Oddly, the most Catholic European countries—Italy, Spain, and Poland—have the lowest fertility rates, under 1.3. Much of Asia looks similar. In Japan, fertility rates are about 1.3. Hong Kong, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, at 0.98 has broken the barrier of one child per woman.

I have bolded the crucial sentences in the above quote, the sentences which tell us why it is the young and educated single women who are to blame for the collapse of civilizations everywhere. Never mind that the kinds of women Hymowitz so deliciously describes are a small minority. It is they who are guilty for the dropping birth rates, and they alone. But don’t worry. The dropping birth rates will have their revenge on these women one day:

As Philip Longman explains in his important book The Empty Cradle, dramatic declines in fertility rates equal aging and eventually shriveling populations. Japan now has one of the oldest populations in the world—one-third of its population, demographers predict, will be over 60 within a decade. True, fertility decline often spurs a temporary economic boost, as more women enter the workforce and increase income and spending, as was the case in 1980s Japan. In time, though, those women—and their male peers—will get old and need pensions and more health care.

And who will pay for that? With fewer children, the labor force shrinks, and so do tax receipts. Europe today has 35 pensioners for every 100 workers, Longman points out. By 2050, those 100 will be responsible for 75 pensioners; in Spain and Italy, the ratio of workers to pensioners will be a disastrous one-to-one. Adding to the economic threat, seniors with few or no children are more likely to look to the state for support than are elderly people with more children. The final irony is that the ambitious, hardworking SYF will have created a world where her children, should she have them, will need to work even harder in order to support her in her golden years.

That is how Hymowitz’s story goes: Birth rates are shrinking because young, educated women just want to buy stuff for themselves, hovering over the designer shoe racks for so long that their eggs dry up and drop off unnoticed. In the meantime, their societies collapse, immigration threatens to upend old cultural values and they will end up dying alone or overburdening that one solitary child they managed to produce.

It is an odd story. How can a small percentage of women do so much damage, all on their own? What about the men in this story? What about the wider society and the way it treats women and the constraints they labor under?

Hymowitz hints at these players in the drama, but in a way which deserves much more attention. She points out that the Japanese culture is not exactly feminist:

And unlike their foreign counterparts in the New Girl Order, Japanese singles don’t seem to be worrying much about finding Mr. Right. A majority of Japanese single women between 25 and 54 say that they’d be just as happy never to marry. Peggy Orenstein, writing in the New York Times Magazine in 2001, noted that Japanese women find American-style sentimentality about marriage puzzling. Yoko Harruka, a television personality and author of a book called I Won’t Get Married—written after she realized that her then-fiancé expected her to quit her career and serve him tea—says that her countrymen propose with lines like, “I want you to cook miso soup for me for the rest of my life.” Japanese SYFs complain that men don’t show affection and expect women to cook dinner obediently while they sit on their duffs reading the paper. Is it any wonder that the women prefer Burberry?

It’s also worthwhile to note Hymowitz’s earlier sentence: “Oddly, the most Catholic European countries—Italy, Spain, and Poland—have the lowest fertility rates, under 1.3. Much of Asia looks similar. In Japan, fertility rates are about 1.3. Hong Kong, according to the CIA’s World Factbook, at 0.98 has broken the barrier of one child per woman.”

Not that this looks “odd” to anyone who looks at the question of caring for children from the women’s point of view. It is exactly the Catholic European countries and countries such as Japan where feminism has had less effect on gender roles, where the care of children is seen as something that only women do, while also cooking time-consuming dinners and keeping the house clean. Of course now most women in those countries also need to work for money. This means changed expectations for women’s roles but essentially no change in how men are assumed to participate. Hymowitz doesn’t really discuss how the unchanged expectations concerning women’s traditional roles and men’s overall roles work in this context. Men appear to have no agency in her story.

Neither does the wider society, on the whole. It doesn’t matter here that the countries with lower fertility rates are countries where children are expensive, where children cannot be used as extra labor on the form and where children are no longer absolutely necessary as old age pension systems. It is not just women who react to these economic incentives for having fewer children, men do, too. But in “the new girl order” men have no say, of course, and neither does the wider society.

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