Opinion

The Great Debate

Women: The changing face of U.S. poverty

We’ve seen a dramatic shift in the 50 years since the launch of the War on Poverty. In today’s economy, poverty increasingly falls on women. They make up over half the workforce, and two out of three mothers are the primary or co-breadwinner for their household.

But one thing hasn’t changed since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty: When we think of the poor we still think of someone else. That’s why it’s crucial to share stories — including my own.

I grew up in a suburb of Boston, the child of two immigrants who had come from India decades earlier. We lived in Bedford, Massachusetts, a quintessential middle-class town. But when I was 5, my parents got divorced and my dad left. My mother was on her own.

She had never held a job before. She faced the choice of going back to India or staying in the United States and going on welfare to support her two young children. In India, she knew, we would have been stigmatized — no one got divorced there in the 1970s. Children of a divorced woman would have limited life opportunities.

So she decided to stay in the United States. Welfare gave her that choice. We were on food stamps and received housing vouchers to help pay the rent. Thanks to a new state law, we could use those vouchers to move into an apartment in Bedford and remain in our good local public schools. After three years, my mom got a job and moved up. By the time I was 11, she was able to buy her own house in Bedford.

Why Scandinavian women make the rest of the world jealous

Icelanders are among the happiest and healthiest people on Earth. They publish more books per capita than any other country, and they have more artists. They boast the most prevalent belief in evolution — and elves, too. Iceland is the world’s most peaceful nation (the cops don’t even carry guns), and the best place for kids. Oh, and they had a lesbian head of state, the world’s first. Granted, the national dish is putrefied shark meat, but you can’t have everything.

Iceland is also the best place to have a uterus, according to the folks at the World Economic Forum. The Global Gender Gap Report ranks countries based on where women have the most equal access to education and healthcare, and where they can participate most fully in the country’s political and economic life.

According to the 2013 report, Icelandic women pretty much have it all. Their sisters in Finland, Norway, and Sweden have it pretty good, too: those countries came in second, third and fourth, respectively. Denmark is not far behind at number seven.

Chocolate, darling? The enduring fear of the female poisoner

Last month, Elle magazine published a letter to columnist E. Jean seeking marital advice. “I suspect,” confided the reader, “he’s putting something in my coffee.” If that weren’t enough, her skin showed alarming reactions to the usual lotions. Would a hidden camera catch hubby in the act? The reader was advised to get an attorney posthaste and check her bank accounts: “A husband who tampers with a wife’s moisturizers,” warned E. Jean, “will tamper with her money.”

Poison is an ancient method of dispatching a spouse or lover. But when we think of plots involving philters and powders, a female usually springs to mind, like the fabled Black Widow. Is poison becoming egalitarian in an age when more women hold the power and the purse strings?

Men are still by far the deadlier species, regardless of method: the U.S. Justice Department reports that in 2008 they committed seven times more murders than women and made up 60.5 percent of poisoners from 1980 to 2008. Of 130 poison homicides between 2000 and 2010 listed in the Wall Street Journal’sMurder in America” database, 71 of the identified killers were male, while 62 were female. During the same period, women pulled the trigger in firearms killings more than 5,000 times. Like men, they overwhelmingly prefer guns. Women are a bit more likely to choose poison, but the numbers are so negligible they hardly justify the stereotype of the female poisoner. You are far more likely to be knifed by a woman than poisoned by one, through slightly less likely to be defenestrated.

How Barack Obama killed John Wayne

The reason that President Barack Obama won reelection, as most everyone knows by now, is that older white males, on whom the Republican Party has long relied, are declining in numbers, while women and minority voters, key components of Obama’s base, are increasing.  In the electoral post-mortems, Obama’s victory has been considered a kind of valedictory to white male supremacy. But his win did something else: Obama killed John Wayne on Nov. 6 — with the complicity of roughly 61 million Americans.

Now, Wayne has been dead for more than 30 years, of course. And Obama didn’t even slay his heroic image.  Americans still like brawny brawlers, and apply what I call “The Hollywood Test” in electing their presidential protagonist-in-chief, opting for the nominee who is most like a movie hero. What Obama and his supporters slew, however, was the value system Wayne personified – a whole way of thinking about America. It’s unlikely to resurface any time soon.

From the time he reached stardom in the 1940s, Wayne was not just a movie star, though he was one of the biggest. Nor was he just an icon, though he was one of the most compelling — a whole generation of men imitated his bearish growl and lumbering walk. More important, Wayne presented values that many now associate with America itself.

Gender, capital and ‘the crowd’

It’s an old, and at this point weary, tale that women entrepreneurs receive far less venture capital than men. Women currently own 46 percent of all American small businesses, generate $1.3 trillion in revenue and employ 7.7 million people. Yet Dow Jones Venture Source says that of the U.S.-based companies that received a round of venture capital financing in 2010, roughly 6 percent had a female CEO and 7 percent had a female founder.

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to look at a new crowdfunding law that was passed as a provision of the JOBS Act in April. The law, which will be effective in early 2013, is an exemption to existing securities law that for nearly a century has enabled only wealthy individuals or banks to offer entrepreneurial capital. Kevin Lawton argues against the arcane securities law in his book, The Crowdfunding Revolution, saying that it stymies the democratization of investing.

The crowdfunding law frees entrepreneurs to accept capital from “the crowd.” Under the new law, people who earn less than $100,000 in annual income may invest up to $2,000, or 5 percent of their income (whichever is greater), in businesses of their choosing via approved intermediaries. People who earn more than $100,000 can invest up to 10 percent of their income.

Would more women as traders make a difference?

This essay is adapted from The Hour Between Dog and Wolf, published this month by The Penguin Press.

If, as many maintain, women could have such a tonic influence on the markets, why are there so few women traders? Why are women not pushing their way onto the trading floors, and why are banks and hedge funds not waving them in? Women make up at most 5 percent of the traders in the financial world, and even that low number includes the results of diversity pushes at many of the large banks. The most common explanations ventured for these numbers are that women do not want to work in such a macho environment, or that they are too risk averse for the job.

There may well be a kernel of truth to these explanations, but I do not place much stock in them. To begin with, women may not like the atmosphere on a trading floor, but I am sure they like the money. There are few jobs that pay more than a trader in the financial world. Besides, women are already on the trading floor: they make up about 50 percent of the sales force, and the sales force sits right next to the trading desks. So women are already immersed in the macho environment and are dealing with the high jinks; they are just not trading. Also, I am not convinced women are as easily put off by a male environment as this explanation assumes.

The real reason Romney is struggling with women voters

Back in February, things started to look dire for the Romney campaign’s ability to attract female voters. Every day brought another story about Republican attacks on reproductive rights: attacks on insurance coverage for contraception, transvaginal probes, all-male panels called in Congress to discuss contraception, attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding, and the candidate himself increasingly afraid to say a positive word about contraception when asked directly in the debates. A gender gap opened up between the candidates in the polls, with Obama outpacing Romney with women by 19 points. The Romney campaign responded by trying to change the subject, to jobs and the economy. But if Romney wants to close the gender gap, he should rethink that strategy. After all, the polling data suggests that his stance on economic issues – specifically the size of the safety net and amount of economic support the government provides to citizens – is what’s really hurting him with female voters.

The real war between the sexes may not be over feminism or sex so much as whether or not our tax dollars should go to social spending. Research conducted by Pew in October 2011 showed women support a strong, activist government in much larger numbers than men. On the question of whether the government should offer more services, women said yes by 9 more percentage points than men. The gender gap on social spending remained when pollsters asked about specific interest groups. Women wanted more spending on the elderly than did men by 11 percentage points, more spending on children by 10 percentage points and more spending on the poor by 9 percentage points.

Female voters respond much more strongly than male voters to government providing pragmatic solutions and real-world support for ordinary citizens, which helps explain why women flock to Obama and to the Democrats in general. In fact, with college-educated white voters, the gender differences are nothing short of astounding. In this group, female voters prefer Obama 60 to 40, and male voters prefer Romney 57 to 39.

The next emerging market: A billion women

You would never dream of not investing in India. You would never dream of not investing in China. So why wouldn’t you invest in women? That question was posed by Beth Brooke of Ernst & Young at the launch on Wednesday of a campaign called The Third Billion that aims to empower women as a means to drive economic growth. The campaign is based on the notion that there are a billion women not participating in the global economy who should be.

“Every country, every company in the world is looking for growth wherever they can find it,” Brooke said at a panel discussion (which I moderated) at Thomson Reuters headquarters in New York. “Where is the growth coming from? It’s coming from the emerging markets … We historically think of those emerging markets as India and China and many others. But it is clear that women are an emerging market.”

DeAnne Aguirre, senior vice-president at Booz & Company, said the concept of the “Third Billion” comes from the notion that if China and India each represent 1 billion emerging participants in the global marketplace, then a third billion is made up of women around the world whose economic lives have been “stunted, underleveraged or suppressed.”

from The Great Debate UK:

Women on course to control larger proportion of wealth

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- Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com and blogs regularly for Reuters Great Debate. The opinions expressed are her own. Reuters will host a “follow-the-sun” live blog on Monday, March 8, 2010, International Women’s Day. Please tune in. -

Projections indicate that by 2050 the world’s population will stand at around 9.2 billion, up from around 6.7 million at present.  The vast majority of this increase will be in the developing world.  In developed world countries populations may start tapering off after 2025.

It seems likely that this explosion in population in the developing world will do nothing to address the fact that that per capita wealth is massively skewed towards the developed world.  Using World Bank data for 2000, the average per capital wealth in the top 10 wealthiest countries is a staggering 170 times greater than the average in the bottom ten.
Demographics in the developed world are defined by low fertility and low mortality rates.  This translates into an ageing population.  Added to this mix is the fact that male mortality rates are higher than female in the developed world.  As a consequence, as these populations age they are becoming predominantly female.  It follows that women are on course to control an increasing proportion of the world’s wealth.
Reports that suggest that women are responsible for buying 80 percent of household goods in the U.S. will not be a surprise to the seasoned shopper.  Over the past decade or so it appears that the advertising industry has been waking up to the notion that women’s responsibilities stretch further than making decisions on washing powder.

Closing the wealth gap between men and women

– Mariko Chang is author of the forthcoming book “Shortchanged: Why Women Have Less Wealth and What Can Be Done About It.” A former Associate Professor of Sociology at Harvard, she is a member of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development’s Experts of Color Network. The views expressed are her own. –

I cheered when President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law one year ago. But on its first anniversary, I find the pessimist in me prevails. My skepticism isn’t about this new law, but rather our almost myopic focus on equal pay as the panacea for women’s economic inequality. It’s the inequality in wealth we need to address.

You may recall that Ledbetter was a supervisor at a tire factory in Alabama who, after almost 20 years of employment, received an anonymous note containing the salaries of three other male supervisors. The sole woman among 16 supervisors, Ledbetter was the lowest paid person in her position, earning $3,727 per month. Salaries for the men in the same position ranged from $4,286 to $5,236 per month, despite some having less seniority and experience. Over 19 years, cumulative salary discrepancies cost Ledbetter more than $200,000 in wages.

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