Sexual Equality, Social Inequality

For a generation, the political class has heralded increased rates of educational achievement and labor-force participation of women as indicators of social and economic progress. Yet a review of international longitudinal studies by two German sociologists finds that the achievements cheered by feminists are actually drivers of new income disparities between families, especially in Europe but also in North America. Hans-Peter Blossfeld and Sandra Buchholz claim that the comparative literature documents two “major determinants of social inequalities:” 1) the relatively greater expansion of educational opportunities for women, which has resulted in a greater percentage of marriages where both spouses share the same educational level; and 2) greater employment opportunities for college-educated married women, which has contributed to the emergence of a new living standard, the two-income family, that leaves all others behind. The sociologists note that women, in previous generations, tended to marry “up,” or wed men with greater education or social status, which reflected a healthy mixing within each generation and a natural reduction in social inequalities. Because more wives then, relative to now, stayed at home to manage the household and raise the children, a college education was not deemed as critical. However, “country-specific analyses show that the proportion of women’s upward marriages has declined sharply since women’s educational attainment levels have caught up with those of men.” Consequently, mating patterns are “contributing less and less to a reduction of social inequalities.” Further driving inequality is the diffusion of dual-earner couples in formerly male-breadwinner societies. The research indicts in particular the increased labor-force participation of married women with “high” educational resources and earnings potential, which reverses earlier patterns. When wives worked outside the home in the past,
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