Continuing my series from SwiftEconomics on economic falsehoods passed off as truth, we move to a particularly stupid one regarding women and wealth.
Next in Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Series: Part 9: The BMI
Previous in Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Series: Part 7: Roger Maris’ Asterisk
Barber Conable Jr made the following statement sometime ago that may be the most absolutely ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard:
Women do two thirds of the world’s work. Yet they earn only one tenth of the world’s income and own less than one percent of the world’s property.
It has, unfortunately, been oft-repeated as if the very fact it was once said lends it credibility. Singer Annie Lennox regurgitated it, as well as some other fallacious statistics best saved for another time, and concluded:
It shocks, disappoints and angers me that in a world where man has traveled to the moon and where we can connect to people anywhere on earth instantly online, men and women are still not equal.
Ahh, the old “if we can put a man on the moon” line. And hey, why haven’t we put a woman on the moon? Neil Armstrong = misogynist. Gee, we men sure are evil.
Back in reality, the only thing interesting about this statistic is how embarrassingly false it is.
Let’s start with wealth. OK, according to the Wall Street Journalthere is a total of $140 trillion dollars of wealth in the world. This number is surely a bit speculative, but it should be close enough to work off of. Now the United States has $47.6 trillion of that, or 33.4%.
Now let’s look at how that wealth is distributed only in the United States (the United States is all I need to refute this nonsense). This data from the St. Louis Fed is a bit old and yes, you’re not supposed to compare different statistics across time. Still, the data comes from about the time this assertion was made and the ratios haven’t changed considerably, so it will illustrate the point:
As one can see, the vast majority of wealth is owned by married couples. Women without children even have more than men without children (primarily because men die younger (do you have anything to say about this Annie?) and women thereby take over the family’s financial assets). The large majority of the wealth owned by single men and women is that owned by the elderly who have been widowed, not the young who are just entering the workforce. And since single men and women with children have such paltry sums, it makes almost no difference. Even though marriage is on the decline, 49.7% of people over the age of 18 are married as of 2005 (in 1992, 54.8% were married).
Do women who are married have no wealth? If so, someone certainly forgot to tell the divorce courts. Legally speaking, in the United States, married couples co-own their assets. Thereby, women own at least half the wealth of married couples, and own slightly more than half of the wealth of singles (especially given the fact that women make up 51% of the population). Well, if women own or co-own half of the wealth of the United States, which owns 33.4% of the world’s wealth, then women own at least 16.7% of the world’s wealth, even if only women in the United States owned anything. But hey, it’s all relative; some people may consider it “close enough” being off by only 1670% after discussing one of the world’s 190 some countries.
Hell, even if you boiled it down to just single women, who, according to the St. Louis Fed in 1992, made up 29.1% of the American population (7.4% with children and 21.7% without) they would still have, according to my calculations, 14.1% of the wealth. 14.1% of 33.4% is 4.7%. So if we only counted single women in the United States, women would still own 4.7%, not 1%, of the world’s wealth.
And if we add the Euro Zone ($26.6 trillion), the U.K. ($6.7 trillion), the rest of Western Europe ($3.6 trillion) and New Zealand, Canada and Australia ($5.0 trillion), the total comes to $89.3 trillion. Since marriage is considered effectively the same in all those countries (both parties co-owning the assets), women own probably slightly more than half of that as well, or at least $44.65 trillion or 31.9%. Add in Japan ($17.3 trillion), which has alimony and child supportby the way, and you’re over 40%.
Laws may not be fair to women in Middle Eastern and African countries, or perhaps even China, other Asian countries and Latin American countries. But if you consider that wealth co-owned, women probably own about half and possibly slightly over half of the world’s wealth. But how do you count it? I would say a woman living under the shackles of Sharia Law should not be “counted as having wealth in marriage.” But a woman in China who’s married, yeah I would probably count that. And the Middle East is so poor it hardly makes a dent in the statistics.
So where did they get this ridiculous statistic from? Well, nowhere it appears. According to the Wikipedia entry on the subject “…although oft-cited and used as a slogan this statement seems not to be supported by any data.” No kidding.
This is nothing new for the more vulgar feminists among us. At least the wage gap is simply being interpreted incorrectly. I can’t say that about the one under discussion here or other such femstats. In 1993, the media “watchdog/make-stuff-up” group FAIR decided by fiat that domestic violence rates rose astronomically on the day of the Super Bowl. No evidence was necessary (because none existed). A big scare began that 150,000 women die each year from anorexia. The actual number, maybe 100, at the most (Who Stole Feminism?, Pg. 11-12). Tragic still, but only about 1/1000th to 1/3000thas tragic. Lenore Weitzman claimed in her extremely influential book The Divorce Revolution that after divorce women saw their standard of living go down 73% while men’s went up 42%. But as John Stossel noted:
…Arizona State University psychologist Sanford Braver set out initially to examine the reasons for the shocking data… [but instead] was surprised to discover that the Weitzman figures were wrong, the result of a mathematical error. Weitzman later admitted she was wrong… [in fact] men and women come out almost exactly equally. (Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity)
Then there’s Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. When they aren’t making bad movies or pledging to serve their president, they are on a crusade because, as Kutcher says, “there are between 100,000 and 300,000 child sex slaves in the United States today.” That sounds horrible. But the study they (and many others) cite actually concluded 100,000 to 300,000 kids were “at risk” of being forced into prostitution. The study included all runaways as being at risk, even though almost 80% return home in less than a week.
Of course their critics aren’t perfect. I’ve mentioned the college gap nonsense and the old cliche of women being bad drivers isn’t exactly born out by the fact that men get into more accidents. I think we’re just more reckless, though (not that that makes it any better).
Anyways, back to the matter at hand, the other two parts are little better. With income we go from an outright falsehood to a partially outright falsehood and partially spurious conclusion. Women in the United States now make up about half the labor force. As stated in my article on the wage gap, women earn about 77% of what men do. U.S. GDP is $14.2 trillion and the world’s is $58.3 trillion. Let’s use that as a rough estimate for wages (again, imperfect I know). If women make up 50% of the labor force and earn 77% of what men do, they earn 43.5% of American income. U.S. GDP is 24.3% of the world’s and the overall income is roughly equivalent in ratio. That would mean women in the United States earn 10.6% of the world’s income by themselves. Include the rest of the Western and Asian countries and you come up with something that’s certainly above 30% and probably pretty close to 40%.
Furthermore, what does income even mean? Feminists like to say that housewives do “unpaid labor.” But how so? Do housewives starve? Or do their husbands actually pay them just without direct compensation (again, the courts recognize them as co-owning the families assets). After all, women make some 80% of a family’s financial decisions. So how exactly is she unpaid? Since some families still go by traditional or semi-traditional roles—and many countries do to a much greater extent—even if the statistic were true, which it isn’t, it would still be spurious.
Finally, we have the work difference. My guess is this is based off something like The Second Shift by Arlie Hochschild. In her book, she claimed that working women still have to do all of the chores associated with being a housewife and men weren’t helping anymore than in the past. Of course this assumes working men and working women work the same amount outside the home. They don’t. Men work more away from home and women work more in home. Even so, Hochschild neglected to include all sorts of things in her “calculations” that men typically do, from barbecuing to financial management. Oops.
Recent studies have shown repeatedly that men and women work about the same amount when you include everything. Both Time Magazine and The New York Times have come out and said so. And when we go outside the United States, a major study concluded the same thing. Joel Walfgagel summarized the methodology and findings as follows:
Three economists, Michael Burda of Humboldt University in Berlin, Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas, and Philippe Weil of the Free University of Brussels have analyzed data from surveys in 25 countries that ask people how they spend their time. Some of the countries are rich, like the United States and Germany, some are poor, like Benin and Madagascar, and some are in the middle, like Hungary, Mexico, and Slovenia. The people surveyed were asked to fill in diaries indicating how they spend each segment of their day.
Photo Credit: Direct Radio Sation Blog and St. Louis Federal Reserve
Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Series
Part 1: A Primer
Part 2: Income Stagnation
Part 3: All Fiat Currencies Fail
Part 4: Iraq War Casualties
Part 5: Female-Male College Gap
Part 6: Male-Female Wage Gap
Part 7: Roger Maris’ Asterisk
Part 8: Women Do All the Work but Men Keep All the Money
Part 9: The BMI
Part 10: A College Degree is Worth One Million Dollars
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