With midterm campaigns nearing
their climax, President Barack Obama was in Washington state on Thursday to talk
to one of his most important constituents these days: women. Amid his
West-coast campaign tour for Democrat congressional candidates, Obama took the
opportunity to nod to the defining economic narrative of the last 50 years: the
entrance of the female half of the population into the workplace.
The White House just released a
new policy paper on its economic
strategy for women, detailing how it will push for better access to loans,
education, and equality in the workplace. "As the majority of college graduates
and nearly 50 percent of the workforce, women are in a position to drive our
21st century economy," the paper proclaims.
But this coming of age didn't happen overnight. During World
War II, women started working out of necessity; they stayed when jobs became
careers. They were hired in a hunt for "diversity" and kept because
of their talent. The result has been a world-changing revolution. Today, women
are not just good for the bottom line: They're fundamental to bringing nations
out of poverty, and they just might be the future of work. Here's how it
America's men away at war, women take up civilian jobs at home. Between 1940
and 1950, the proportion of married women ages 45 to 55 in the workforce
doubles from 10 to 20 percent. In Britain, about 9 out of 10 single women and 8
of 10 married women are employed.
Nobel laureate W.
argues, "One of the surest ways of increasing the national income" is for women
to work outside the home. The Soviet Union takes such advice to heart; by 1970,
9 out of 10 Russian women ages 16 to 54 are either in school or the workplace.
The Library of Congress/flickr
June 10, 1963: U.S.
signs the Equal Pay Act, which attempts to end the gender gap in wages. At the
time, an American woman earns about 60 cents for every dollar earned by a man.
Bank founder Muhammad
Yunus begins his first experiments
with microcredit, with a focus on teaching disadvantaged Bangladeshi women how
to manage small amounts of money.
1979: With women holding
management positions in U.S. companies at just half the rate of men, two women
at Hewlett-Packard, Katherine Lawrence and Marianne Schreiber, coin the term "glass
1994: Lawrence Summers,
then chief economist at the World Bank, finds that educating women and girls
is, dollar for dollar, far more efficient at reducing poverty and boosting
social indicators than big infrastructure projects.
May 18, 1998: Newsweek coins
the term "womenomics," arguing that the Asian financial crisis has been a
blessing in disguise: Japanese women join the labor force in droves, at cheaper
salaries than men.
August 13, 1999: Portfolio manager Kathy Matsui
authors a report on Japan for Goldman Sachs: "Women-omics: Buy the Female
Economy." Over the next seven years, her recommended investments wildly
outperform the Japanese market as a whole.
TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images
September 2000: The U.N. General
Assembly adopts the Millennium
Development Goals, a set of
anti-poverty targets for 2015 that officially enshrine the idea that women are
instrumental to societal well-being.
April 12, 2006: The
Economist turns a concept into a buzzword with "A Guide to Womenomics," noting
that women represent a mere 15 percent of directors on U.S. corporate boards
and just 7 percent worldwide. The buzzword becomes Womenomics, a book by two journalists, three years later.
Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
2009: Pundits dub the
global financial crisis the "he-cession," as the economic downturn hits men
harder than women. Writing in FP, Reihan Salam
says, "For years, the world has been witnessing a quiet but monumental shift of
power from men to women." A year later in the Atlantic,
Hanna Rosin takes the argument a step further, asking: "What
if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?"
September 2010: Worldwide, an
estimated 70 percent of women now regularly work outside the home and in many
places are the majority of university graduates. These gains are paying off for
developing countries' GDPs, but not
always for women themselves, who still make about 20 percent less than men in
the U.S. and, Sarah Palin aside, lack opportunities in political life. In a
whopping 75 percent of parliaments worldwide, less than a quarter of all seats
are occupied by women.
FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images