Hanna Rosin: Data Shows Women Have Progressed. But What's Next?

Aug 17, 2018

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Story Behind The Numbers.

About Hanna Rosin's TED Talk

Post-recession, journalist Hanna Rosin noticed an economic shift: jobs dominated by men were on the decline, jobs dominated by women were on the rise. But does that data signify meaningful progress?

About Hanna Rosin

Hanna Rosin is the co-host of the NPR podcast Invisibilia.

Rosin has written for several publications. Most recently she served as national correspondent to The Atlantic. Previously, Rosin was a contributor to Slate and founder of its women's site, DoubleX. She still co-hosts the podcast DoubleX Gabfest.

She's the author of The End of Men: And The Rise of Women where she chronicles the economic and cultural shifts that are upending male dominance. The book was based on her 2010 story in The Atlantic — and she gave the opening talk at the first TEDWomen conference on the topic. Rosin is also the author of God's Harvard: A Christian College On A Mission To Save America.


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GUY RAZ, HOST:

On the show today, The Story Behind The Numbers.

HANNA ROSIN, BYLINE: I will warn you guys, I'm always off my mic. And everyone complains that I breathe too much.

RAZ: This is journalist and writer Hanna Rosin. And you might recognize her voice from the NPR podcast Invisibilia.

ROSIN: That's the - 100 percent things I get from Invisibilia. Alix is like, stop breathing, I can't even think.

RAZ: That's why your show sounds better.

Now, before becoming a podcast host, Hanna was a writer for The Atlantic. And she also ran Slate's women site DoubleX, which is why we wanted to ask her about measuring progress when it comes to women.

So when I say the word progress, what does that mean to you?

ROSIN: The most clean definition of progress for me is more opportunities and less restrictions for the greatest number of people. You know, if you think about it in terms of men and women there are various points in history where the possible roles for women were much too restrictive. But if you look at 100 years of history, decade after decade there's a lot of movement for women and very little movement for men.

RAZ: About a decade ago, right after the recession, Hanna was going through some job numbers, and she noticed something pretty remarkable, something that signaled a huge economic shift for women.

ROSIN: Lots of jobs that were associated with men were dropping off the map one after another. There are just lists of professions. They go from nurse to ship worker, to technological assistant, to journalists, it's every profession in a list. And then, you have projections of the professions most likely to grow and the professions that are absolutely disappearing. Most of the professions that were absolutely disappearing were professions that were traditionally associated with men. Most of the professions that were growing were professions that were traditionally associated with women.

RAZ: So today, a decade on, we know some of the basics of this story, a decline in manufacturing jobs and a rise in service-sector jobs. But Hanna noticed this back in 2009. And when she put all the numbers together a much bigger picture emerged. So she gave a talk about what she found at the very first TED women's conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

ROSIN: If you think about this, if you just open your eyes to this possibility and start to connect the dots you can see the evidence everywhere. For every two men who get a college degree, three women will do the same. Women, for the first time this year, became the majority of the American workforce. Over 50 percent of managers are women these days. And in the 15 professions projected to grow the most in the next decade, all but two of them are dominated by women. So here you have a generation of young women who grow up thinking of themselves as being more powerful earners than the young men around them.

Certainly, this is not the first time that we've had great progress with women. The '20s and the '60s also come to mind. But the difference is that back then, it was driven by a very passionate feminist movement that was trying to project its own desires, whereas this time it's not about passion and it's not about any kind of movement. This is really just about the facts of this economic moment that we live in.

The 200,000-year period in which men have been top dog is truly coming to an end, believe it or not. And that's why I talk about "The End Of Men."

RAZ: So you wrote a book about this, and it's actually called "The End Of Men."

ROSIN: Yeah.

RAZ: And what does that mean? Like, what do you what do you mean by that?

ROSIN: I mean - OK - so what does, "The End Of Men" mean? It's the end of the assumption of male dominance, that's no longer what we assume to be the order of our current universe. You know, the end of an assumption of male order in the family and the male breadwinner. And all of these roles that we slot men into and have assumed that they occupy. All of those things are being questioned now.

What the economy requires now is a whole different set of skills. You, basically, need intelligence. You need an ability to sit still and focus, to communicate openly, to be able to listen to people and operate in a workplace that is much more fluid than it used to be. And those are things that women do extremely well, as we're seeing.

If you look at management theory these days, a leader is somebody who can foster creativity, who can basically build teams and get them to be creative. And those are all things that women do very well. And then on top of that, that's created kind of a cascading effect. Women enter the workplace at the top, and then at the working class, all the new jobs that are created are the jobs that wives used to do for free at home - child care, elder care and food preparation. So those are all the jobs that are growing, and those are jobs that women tend to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: I think it's fair to say that it's certainly a better time to be a professional woman than, you know, 1990, 1980, 1960.

ROSIN: Yes. Why did I pause before saying yes? Well, let me just say cleanly, yes. Absolutely. There's a lot more opportunities. There's a lot more job growth. Do you want to know about my hesitation?

RAZ: Sure.

ROSIN: So there's two hesitations. One is that the jobs at the very, very top, which is really important because those are the sources of true power, has not shifted that much. So middle management has shifted a huge amount, kind of working class jobs shifted a huge amount. But the very top has not shifted that much. And the second hesitation comes from the fact that these are low-paying jobs.

RAZ: So seeing these numbers as pure progress is a little tricky here, right? I mean, it sounds like it makes you uncomfortable interpreting it that way.

ROSIN: It doesn't actually make me uncomfortable because I'd like to zoom outwards. I will say it made many readers of my book uncomfortable. I got tremendous resistance from feminists to the idea of calling this progress. And that's because - I mean, that's for several reasons. One is the cultural backlash that we are seeing hugely now. I mean, you can see the election of Trump that way, you can see social dynamics such as marriage. There's been a profound change in American marriage patterns.

RAZ: Well, explain that for - what you mean by that.

ROSIN: OK. So we haven't talked about this yet, but there's college-educated marriage patterns, which are the happiest, most settled, most wonderful marriages that people have measured in a really long time. But most of Americans are not college-educated. That's only 30 percent of Americans. For most of Americans, divorce rates and kind of rates of broken families are exactly where they were in the '70s - lots of divorce, huge rise in single motherhood.

This has been going on in black families since the '70s when factories sort of moved out of the city, has migrated to white families as factories sort of moved out of smaller towns. And so you have to reckon with the fact that there are a lot of angry, displaced men who resent the rise of women and blame the rise of women for a lot of their problems.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

ROSIN: This whole thesis really came home to me when I went to a men's group in Kansas. And these were men who had been contractors or they had been building houses and they had lost their jobs after the housing boom. And they were in this group because they were failing to pay their child support. And the instructor was telling them they no longer had any moral authority, that nobody needed them for emotional support anymore and they were not really the providers, so who were they?

And what he did was he wrote down on the board $85,000. And he said, that's her salary. And then he wrote down $12,000. That's your salary, so who's the man now? He asked them. She's the man now. And that really sent a shudder through the room. And that's part of the reason I like to talk about this because if we don't acknowledge it, then the transition will be pretty painful. But if we do take account of it, then I think it will go much more smoothly.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: So, you know, this book comes out, I think, 2012.

ROSIN: Yeah.

RAZ: We're, you know, six, seven years on since the book came out. I mean, you almost seemed to predict the consequences of not dealing with this disruption, which happened - is happening.

ROSIN: Oh, wow, is it happening. I mean, I spend a lot of time on the manosphere, you know, which is the man part of the web. It is utterly dominated by biological determinism, that women have a certain role and men have a certain role and that the fact that women have subverted that role is destroying society.

RAZ: Do you think that that perspective is just kind of fleeting, or do you think that that has a potential to actually take root?

ROSIN: Oh, it is taking root. And, you know, this is a thing Susan Faludi predicted in her book "Backlash," which is about this very idea. Every time you have forward motion economically, any kind of progress for women, it's accompanied by a giant tidal wave of cultural backlash. And that's exactly the moment we're in right now.

RAZ: But it seems like that tidal wave of backlash doesn't have quite the impact of the ultimate progress. In other words, two steps forward, one step back.

ROSIN: I think that's right. I think it's two steps, forward one step back. I mean, the way I think of these numbers is progress, like all of history is jagged, like there isn't usually a straight line you can draw upwards or downwards. You know what is my hesitation here?

RAZ: What?

ROSIN: Lots of power hierarchies have worked in lots of different ways across the span of history, but not the male/female hierarchy. It is consistent over every society over the millennia forever. And so why is that? You know, why is that the one that's so hard to break? Is that a cultural story that we tell ourselves? It is remarkably consistent over history.

RAZ: Except it's breaking now. We're watching that happen, right?

ROSIN: Yeah, we're watching it happen.

RAZ: So, I mean, in a hundred years from now, can we say - can we assume that things will be even better?

ROSIN: Well, it's true in all futuristic societies that project forward, the woman is commanding the fleet, so maybe. Maybe we can. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: That's Hanna Rosin. Her book is called "The End Of Men." You can watch her entire talk at ted.com, and you can check out more stories from Hanna on the NPR podcast Invisibilia. On the show today, The Story Behind The Numbers. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.