Last year there was a lot of discussion of Hanna Rosin's best-selling book, The End of Men and the Rise of Women. The author was prominently interviewed in a Saturday issue of The Globe and Mail, prefaced by the words: "Women are ahead in academics. They're jumping up the corporate ladder. And increasingly they're the family breadwinners."
Ms. Rosin's basic thesis is that changes in the economy and the educational system play to the strengths of women, and that power is decisively shifting away from men in the job market. This, in turn, is profoundly changing traditional gender roles.
While over-spun, there is some truth to this, in a long-term perspective.
Women, especially younger women, are now much more highly educated than men and increasingly dominate some well-paid professional occupations, especially in public services such as education and health care. Men have suffered most from the marked decline of blue-collar, middle-class jobs, and men with low levels of education find it very hard to find decent employment.
The great majority of households today depend upon two incomes, and about one woman in three in a dual-earner couple earns more than her male partner. Gender roles are undoubtedly changing as a result, though many women will note that domestic labour is still far from being equally shared.
However, women are still a long way from equality. Men continue to dominate the top rungs of the job ladder in the private sector, especially senior corporate management and highly paid professional occupations in science, engineering and finance. Men make up 79 per cent of the proverbial top-1-per-cent of very high income earners.
While some women are climbing the corporate ladder as high as the (perhaps rising) glass ceiling, most low-paid occupations in private services – from retail clerks, to clerical and administrative workers, to servers in restaurants – are still dominated by women.
Data from Canada's National Household Survey have confirmed the high degree of occupational segregation between women and men which underpins important differences in pay. Despite the talk of the "end of men," the hard fact of the matter is that there is still a large overall pay gap between women and men, and that it has not been meaningfully shrinking for almost 20 years.
Last month, Statistics Canada released Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics data for 2011 on the earnings of men and women. Women earned an average of $31,100 compared with $48,100 for men – meaning that they earned 66.7 cents for every dollar of male earnings.
This measure overstates the gender pay gap, since more women than men work part-time and in temporary and seasonal jobs. But women working full-time for the full year earned just 72 cents for every dollar earned by men ($47,300 versus $65,700).
The earnings of women working full-time for the full year, as a proportion of male earnings, used to be prominently reported each year as a key indicator of the economic progress of women. The ratio rose above 60 cents in the mid-1970s, topped 70 cents for the first time in the early 1990s, but has since remained more or less stuck at the low-70s-cents level.
The all-time high was 74.8 cents, in the recession year of 2009. That likely reflected disproportionate job losses for men and, especially, the major decline in unionized manufacturing jobs.
The ratio has now fallen for two years in succession, from 74.8 cents in 2009, to 73.6 cents in 2010, to 72 cents in 2011.
It is important to note that the ratio changed in 2011 because the earnings of women fell by more than those of men. With full-time workers of both genders experiencing a decline in earnings, it is a bit moot to say that men are doing better than women.
This recent increase in the gender pay gap likely reflects a modest recovery in mostly male blue-collar jobs and, perhaps, the impacts of fiscal austerity on women working in public and social services.
It is far too early to say that the forward march of women has been halted. But it is certainly a gross exaggeration to say that we are witnessing "the end of men."
Andrew Jackson is the Packer Professor of Social Justice at York University and Senior Policy Adviser to the Broadbent Institute.