Taggert over at A Random Walk tipped me off to this recent article, "Working Girls" in Prospect, by Alison Wolf.
Her main point:
[F]or the first time, women, at least in developed societies, have virtually no career or occupation barred to them.
This marks a rupture in human history. It is one that has brought enormous benefits to many people, and to many women in particular. But its repercussions are not all positive, either for society as a whole, or for all women. We are no more likely to return to the old patterns than we are to subsistence agriculture, so we need to understand what the new female labour market means for all our lives.
Three consequences get far less attention than they deserve.
The first is the death of sisterhood: an end to the millennia during which women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than did their men.
The second is the erosion of "female altruism," the service ethos which has been profoundly important to modern industrial societies—particularly in the education of their young, and the care of their old and sick.
The third is the impact of employment change on childbearing. We are familiar with the prospect of demographic decline, yet we ignore, sometimes wilfully, the extent to which educated women face disincentives to bear children.
I can't decide if this is an article that says something to the effect of, for all that change, we are really still the same, or whether or not it points to really interesting shifts in our culture. See below (my bolds).
One could interpret today's feminist assumptions as reflecting the appetite of global capitalism for all talent, female and male, at the expense of the family. Certainly our current economic arrangements offer precious little support to family formation. On the contrary, they erect major barriers in its way. We all know by now that in most developed countries, birth rates are well below replacement level. Less recognised is the massive change in incentives to have children. In the past, adults had no tax-financed welfare state to depend on. Their families were their social insurance policies: children paid. Today, they expect the state to take care of their financial and health needs when ill or retired, regardless of whether they have six children or none. The benefits we get are completely unrelated to whether or not we contribute a future productive member to the economy.
Moreover, our labour market, with its greater gender equality, makes childbearing a very expensive prospect for successful professionals. Rearing a healthy, balanced child requires intensive attention and large amounts of time, and is not something that technical progress is going to alter. The price of that time is especially high for high-earning, busy elite parents—female or male. If they give up or cut down on work, the opportunity cost in terms of income forgone and careers stalled is far greater than for an unskilled 16-year-old school-leaver. In addition, elite children are expensive. Children are dependent for longer, high-quality childcare is costly and formal education has become increasingly important as the route to success. Parents know this, and it explains why the professional classes devote so much money and attention to their children's schooling.
. . .
The hard economics tells us that professional women will have to give up most if they have children, and so will be least inclined to do so. Highly educated women overwhelmingly stay in work and so pay little or no earnings penalty when they have children. But more and more of them in the developed world have no children at all. "The rich get richer and the poor have children" still applies; but this time around, it is women specifically that we are talking about. About 30 per cent of graduate women born in the early 1960s entered their forties childless. For graduate women born in 1970 (a substantially larger group) the expected figure is 40 per cent.
Unlike professional graduates, childbearing is a rational career choice for academically failing girls and one that a good many duly select, especially in countries where they are supported by the state.