CRF Blog

Think Again: Working Women

by Bill Hayes

In Think Again: Working Women for Foreign Policy magazine, Kay Hymowitz argues that American women are much better off than critics claim.

In fact, American women are far more likely to work full time and rise to the top levels of business, academia, and professional fields like law and medicine — though not politics — than women in other developed countries. According to a recent study by Cornell University economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn, American women are about as likely as American men to be company managers, while women in the researchers’ comparison group of 10 other developed countries were only half as likely as men to have made it that far. In fact, the United States has the highest proportion of women in senior management positions of any country in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of the world’s most developed countries. At 43 percent, it is a percentage that comes close to women’s 47 percent overall share of the U.S. labor force.

Indeed, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks the United States eighth globally on gender equality in economic participation and opportunity, ahead of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Iceland. According to Blau and Kahn, 24 percent of working American women are in the professional fields, compared to only 16 percent of working American men; the gap in other countries also favors women, but by much less, 19 vs. 17 percent. If you exclude traditionally female occupations such as nursing and teaching, American women look even better relative to women in comparison countries. In general, the U.S. labor market is less segregated by sex than those of other economically advanced countries, with more women breaking into traditionally male fields. What’s more, American women are more likely than European women to start and run their own businesses; some 46 percent of American firms are owned or co-owned by women, and the rate of female ownership is increasing at one and a half times the rate of overall business growth.

This story may seem counterintuitive. The success of Sandberg’s book and Slaughter’s article no doubt reflects a deep dissatisfaction among some American women with what is often described as a “stalled revolution” toward equality. The WEF’s 2012 Global Gender Gap Report, for example, ranks the United States 22nd out of 135 countries for gender equality in education, health, political empowerment, and economic participation and opportunity — barely in view of top-rated Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, and worse even than Latvia and Lesotho. [more]