Viva la Revolution?

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Alison Wolf on Women, Inequali... Will Davies on the Economics, ...

Women have made an enormous amount of economic progress over the last half-century but how have the gains been felt by different kinds of women? How have these changes affected women's perspectives on marriage and family? In this week's provocative episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts sits down with Alison Wolf of King's College to discuss her new book, The XX Factor.

As always, we'd like to hear your reactions to this week's conversation, so let's continue it here. We love to hear from you!


1. What's the difference between gender gaps and gender segregation, according to Wolf, and why is this significant in her analysis?

2. How different is the situation for women today, really, according to Wolf? Or, how much do women hold in common with Jane Austen character's today? To what extent do you regard these historical changes as a net positive?

3. Wolf and Roberts discuss the role of values a lot. For example, in discussing the role of "servants" in the economy historically and today, Wolf notes a societal value "that people are all worth the same amount." How have notions about democracy changed along this same timeline? To what extent is/ought democracy be regarded as a value? (Hint: EconTalk fav Mike Munger had some things to say on this in this Feature Article.)

4. About halfway through the conversation, Roberts and Wolf dig deeper into the pattern of inequality among women. Wolf says,

"It actually seems to be this sort of almost--'segregationist' is too strong a word. It's not pure segregation. But this tendency of like to marry like, which again is an international phenomenon, is very, very marked in marriage and family formation. And it goes, I think, with the growing anxiety also about children and child-rearing and making sure that they have the best and that they are set on a path in which they too can marry somebody like themselves. And it's a little chilling, but it's also something I think we have to be aware of."
What makes this trend chilling? What might some of the long-run consequences of such a trend be? Is there anything that could/should be done to mitigate this trend? Explain.

5. What does it mean to think of children as an asset, or a capital good, as Nobel laureate Gary Becker suggested? What's wrong with this way of thinking? Can this idea help to explain the new "revolution" of "helicopter parenting" noted by Roberts?

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COMMENTS (2 to date)
Brian Mason writes:

Wolf said something like no one today could reasonably criticize democracy: one person one vote. I live in Thailand where one person one vote VERY different tax/subsidy has failed. Spend your neighbor's money aka democracy is failing in europe and will fail in the US if we do not adapt.

Wolf mentioned some women have children to produce someone to love them. I agree and find it distasteful. I resent that I am often forced to pay for it.

I learned and enjoyed the exchange.

Luke J writes:

1) Disparity within genders vs. disparity across genders. Top 15-20% of women are narrowing the gap across genders (female-to-male), while leaving behind a widening gap within the gender (female-to-female). I believe Wolf suggested a growing gap within gender (male) as well. Take away: "a rising tide lifts all boats," but some boats float better than others.

4) US has growing nominal income disparity and this child-rearing method seems to feed elitism rather than inhibit it. On the other hand, many of these well-educated couples, while employing "servants," are themselves "servants" to college and high school dropouts who took a more entrepreneurial path.

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