It’s been a while since I wrote about gender issues so today I’ll harness International Women’s Day to give a few forecasts that will affect women of the Homeland generation, or Generation Z, which is a more widely used name. I chose to describe the developed and the developing world in two different paragraphs. This is not to say that you can easily dichotomize the worlds of women into two hemispheres, but there are two overarching trends that vary significantly with economic (or cultural and industrial) maturity. Also my time is limited today because, well, I’m a woman and should take the day off, right?
1. In developed countries (OECD) women will continue to strive for equality, not only in opportunity, but in outcome. The countries that are leading in women’s equality, like the Scandinavian countries, will continue their focus on assimilating men into traditional female roles and on some issues we might expect to see a “men’s movement”, where men who feel marginalized come together to improve their opportunities. Lately there has been a push in those countries toward giving divorced fathers an equal standing in custody cases and more acceptance for taking out paternity leave. United States trails behind other western countries politically and is one of only two countries that don’t have mandatory maternity leave. Workplaces are still often rigid towards the needs of families, which has led to an “opt-out” movement where highly educated women stay home with children instead of working. This has resulted in a greater income gap between those women who have children and those who don’t have children than between women and men. So in the U.S. we might mistake progress for childless women with overall progress for women while overlooking the personal sacrifices for both groups of women. This fork in the road around the critical age when women have to chose between family or careers will not resolve itself automatically. Expect a change to be voiced by next crop of mothers, Millennial women. Besides being more gender neutral, Millennials generally are generally more open to social institutions and are demonstrating changed attitude to motherhood that is less self-sacrificing than their mothers. The Gen Z/ Homelander women will likely continue the trend toward full equality.
2. In developing countries women are still facing hardships that have been largely overcome in the Western countries. But here too things are changing. The fastest way to progress for women seems to go via access to contraceptives and education. Advanced skills and the freedom to chose when to have children give obvious economic opportunities and geographical freedom. Looking at the numbers from Unicef there is a stark generational increase in the number of women who are educated. Comparing the cohorts of women who are between 45 -49 and 20-24 we see that there is a 50% jump in some African countries. In countries that have experienced steep economic progress young educated women feel the pressure between the expectation of conforming to old traditions and embark on new opportunities as single women. In China this tension is particularly strong. Despite the female scarcity after years of gender selection during the one-child policy, men will often not consider marrying a woman over 30 years. The endearing” term for these women is “left overs”. Chinese women who spent their early adult years getting an education may simply prefer to go it alone. By the time the Homeland Generation come of age it is likely that the preference for having boys is in its last throes. Millennial Chinese are displaying a different value set that is very comparable with the one that dominated the 1980s here in the West. Independence, economic prosperity and personal competence are idealized. so while in the west post-material values have introduced a new “retro- movement” of post-modern June Cleavers in response to their trailblazing mothers, women in fast developing countries are more likely to embrace independence. It is not inconceivable that Western Homelander women will fall behind on independence and economic opportunities than their sisters in developing countries. All over the world expect to see Homelander girls evolve into being equally represented in parliamentary arenas, growing into engineers and scientists and as mothers who will raise their daughters very differently than how their own mothers were raised. Progress is slow and sticky but, in this arena, I would say pretty certain.