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Revealed: the richer sex

6 September 2012

The cover story of the new Spectator is one of the most startling we have run for a while. Last year, Liza Mundy wrote a book called The Richer Sex showing how women would become the biggest earners in most American households within a generation. She has now studied the British data and found that the trend here is even more advanced. It’s not about equality. Women born after 1985 have not just ‘caught up’ with men, but are overtaking them. But while we Brits tend to joke about this, and talk about being ‘pursewhipped,’ the Americans are taking it seriously and understanding how it is changing society forever.

This means that my two sons can expect to grow up in a Britain very unlike the one I grew up in. They will see a country where the majority of doctors are women, where being female means you will do better at school and are more likely to go to university. Anyone born after 1985 will have seen a world where girls do better and now, for the first time, a male pay gap has opened up. In their 22-30s, women are paid more. This is the natural and inevitable consequence of the era where they are better-educated. This is not just economic.


This will even affect sex lives: Liza Mundy interviewed a woman who earns three times more than her husband. He told her that, after she got a bonus, her husband would watch TV instead of join her in bed. The evidence is more than anecdotal: there are already studies showing that men out-earned by their wives are more likely to take medicine for erectile dysfunction. This could be a generational thing: tomorrow’s men may be easier about earning less than their partner.

Liza’s insight is that neither men nor women grew up preparing for the era they now find themselves in, which is causing needless unhappiness. The UK economic model (and appallingly expensive childcare system) is geared towards one-earner households (unlike the Scandinavian, designed to have two-patent earners). Women worry about ‘marrying down’ and they shouldn’t. Men should similarly lose these hangups. There was a whole bunch of data and studies used for Liza’s cover story, not all of which we could fit into her excellent piece. But here’s some more.

  • It all started when girls started to do better than boys at school: 1985. Ever since then a pronounced gap has emerged in exam attainment. You know things are bad when, on the rare year that boys do 0.1pc better in one specific metric (A* at A-Level) it becomes news. The everyday story is about the girls doing better than the boys in school, in university and (ergo) in life. As Boris once said, when this generation of women reach the peak of their careers British economy will have been feminised – and utterly transformed.
  • In 1997, the average female employee earned 17 per cent less than the average male one.  That gap has now fallen to 10.5 per cent. But to see what will happen in the future, look at the young: the first generation of women to graduate in an era where they routinely did better at school than boys. The under-30s actually earn 2.5 per cent more than their male counterparts.
  • The overall employment rate disguises a staggering difference in the genders. Men have signed off from the labour market, as women have rushed on.