Has the Gender Divide Become Unbridgeable? The Implications for Social Equality
56 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2008
Date Written: 2001
Each generation renegotiates the relationship between the sexes. We are now in the midst of a wholesale transformation. The large scale movement of married women into the workforce has fundamentally altered the bargaining position of men and women. Sex is less closely linked to reproduction; marriage is no longer a compulsory aspect of childrearing; men and women are more independent of each other; and the terms on which they are willing to enter into and stay in intimate relationships are negotiable. Most of the commentary either celebrates the greater freedom from repressive sexual mores, or decries the increased family instability and the negative effects on children. Scholars are only just beginning to chart the emergence of a new, and still evolving, set of understandings for intimate relationships and the implications of the new mores for class, race and gender inequality.
This article argues that the parameters of the new sexual mores are now in place. As with most social transformations, the new mores most prominently address the circumstances of the middle class, and play out unevenly for everyone else. These understandings, which are a pragmatic response to the interests of the middle class, aggravate class, race, and gender inequality. They do so because they undermine traditional working class reproductive strategies without the realistic possibility that the new mores can become universal. The changing economic position of women has enhanced the earning capacity of working class women just as it has middle women. This has occurred, however, without making working class women as economically self-sufficient as middle class women and without a corresponding transformation in the behavior of working class men. The result has lessened the effectiveness of strategies that compelled fathers and mothers to stay together. The well-documented national increase in family instability correlates inversely with income, education, and race: the worse off the parents in socio-economic terms, the more likely their children are to experience single parent families. Ninety percent of the children in high income families live with two parents compared with twenty percent of those in the lowest income groups. This paper concludes that the statistics are a predictable consequence of the overall changes in the nature of sexual and reproductive understandings.
Keywords: Sex, Gender roles, Reproduction, Child rearing, Economic equity, Sexual mores, Gender equality, Middle class, Working class, Family instability
JEL Classification: J10, J11, J12, J13, J15, J16, J18, K10, K19
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation