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The Women’s Century

The 19th century was the European century; the 20th century was the American century and the 21st century could be the women’s century. This is a conclusion drawn from a combination of several factors: the nature of the global economy, the particular qualities of women and the requirements of world development.

The Nature of the Global Economy

The global economy is characterized by an ever-increasing rate of change. This is a reality that celebrates and rewards flexibility and speed of adaptation. It is a reality that rewards the ability to learn new skills and new ways of doing things, but especially the ability to multi-task. This reality of rapid change has drastically decreased the life span of businesses.

The life span of a successful Fortune 500 company (the 500 hundred largest companies in the world) is now 40 years or half that of a human being. One third of the Fortune 500 companies listed in 1970 had disappeared by 1983. Small American companies have an even shorter shelf life: 98% disappear within 11 years after their founding; 70% within 8 years of their founding and 50% within 4 years of their founding. The average life span of all companies in Japan and Europe is a little over 12 years.

These facts reflect the ongoing change in the character of work. According to the United States Department of Commerce, in 1820 approximately 80% of Americans made their living as farmers while today it is less than 2%. In 1947, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, approximately 35% of America’s workforce was employed in manufacturing. Today the figure is between 12% and 14%. Between 1995 and 2002 the world’s 20 largest economies lost 22 million industrial jobs. Of these America lost about 2 million industrial jobs and China (where all these jobs are supposedly going) lost 15 million manufacturing jobs. Despite the shrinking of America’s industrial work force, the country’s overall industrial output increased by an astonishing 50% since 1992. The key to continued prosperity does not, therefore, depend on preserving outdated industrial jobs but on shifting to ever more efficient and diverse services. These jobs are often better paying and more interesting than those in the fields or on the assembly line. As we shall see below they also offer more opportunity for women.

Requirements of speed and flexibility favor smaller economic units. There is now one company for every seven workers in the United States and the majority of companies employ five or less workers. Almost 70% of all new businesses in the United States are established in the home and “employ” the founder of the business and perhaps one or two other people. Current trends indicate that within the next ten to fifteen years there will be one company for every three workers. Companies with fewer than 20 individuals are responsible for about 90% of new work job creation. Many of these workers are not salaried and are part time or temporary. These trends are being replicated in other parts of the world, including Israel.

All of this has also revolutionized the way we make our livings. The 20th century will be known as the first and last century in human history wherein most people were salaried. Up until the last decades of the 19th century most people were self-employed: farmers, artisans, storekeepers, free professionals etc. By the middle of the 21st century most people will again be self-employed. This development is taking place at a rapid rate. In 1998 22% of all Americans were self-employed, in 2000 26%. 1955 in the United States was a turning point in the history of work. This was the first year that more people were employed in services and commerce than in primary production (agriculture and industry).

Somewhere around 2030 a similar turning point will take place and the self-employed will once again become the majority of the population. The rapid rate of technological innovation and decline of company lifespan has resulted in a situation wherein occupations and professions are dying and being born every day. It is estimated that 80% of college graduates are not working in the areas in which they received their diplomas. Young people entering the work market today can expect to have 5-7 careers in their lifetimes and 15-20 places of work (not jobs in the traditional sense of the word). Flexibility, the ability to learn new skills and to multitask are the attributes that will be rewarded in the developing work market.

A growing number of people have a portfolio of five or six income generating occupations, which change constantly. The “portfolio worker” may already be the fastest growing class in the work market. Portfolio workers must be flexible and have multi-tasking ability.

The Place of Women in this new Economic Reality

What does all this have to do with women? It seems that women are better pre-adapted to this emerging environment than men. Modern economies in general and small companies in particular require the ability to multi-task, and deal with stress. In addition, services of one type or another now comprise over 70% of the GNP of most developed countries. 


Anecdotal evidence indicates that women are superior to men in multi-tasking and dealing with stress. Academic research is more ambiguous but some studies favor the view that women are indeed superior to men in multi-tasking and handling stress. Evolutionary theory also appears to support this observation. Hundreds of thousands of years of a human evolution in a hunter-gatherer society have rewarded the survival abilities of the single mindedness of men who hunt and the multi-tasking abilities of women who had to do everything else. While the man was out hunting the woman was nursing, cooking, taking care of the children and the elderly and in general cleaning up the camp site, all more or less simultaneously.

The modern service based economy also favors women for the simple reason that women have also been conditioned by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution to provide service, while men have been conditioned to receive service. Dr. Dov Yannai of the Adam Institute in Israel has divided the work market into four categories: Hi-tech, low tech, no tech and “motech” (the Hebrew word for sweetheart). “Motech” refers to very personal services geared to making us feel better.


Hi-tech of course gets the most publicity because it is dramatic and exciting and has profound economic, social and cultural impacts. But the simple fact of the matter is that it creates relatively few jobs. Most of the jobs being created are in the services: no-tech or “motech”. 
The hospitality industry is a prime example of “motech”. Tourism is the world’s biggest employer and biggest export-industry. It accounts for over 10% of the global work force, over 10% of the global GNP and about 11% of global consumer spending. Along with oil revenues it is the largest earner of foreign currency in the Developing World. Tourism also offers women from the Developing World greater employment opportunities in the money economy and thus indirectly contributes to an improvement in women’s status in these countries. 


Women dominate other areas of “Motech”: alternative massage treatments, cosmetology, catering, gerontology services and others. This has radically changed their impact on the economy. Note the following statistics from the United States Department of Labor:

• From 1987 to 1999, the number of women-owned firms in the United States more than doubled. 

• About 40 percent of all businesses in America today are owned by women. 

• Women-owned businesses employ 27.5 million workers and generate annual sales and receipts of $3.6 trillion.

• Women start businesses at twice the rate of all business start-ups.

• More than 60 percent of women-owned small business start-ups are based at home.

Other developments have also swayed the pendulum to the side of women. For example, modern technology empowers women equally to men. Pure muscle power means nothing in a postindustrial society. Brains, discipline, flexibility and imagination are what count.

But it is in the areas of world development that women might have the greatest impact. Women are the Grand Strategic joint for world development and closing the gap between the developed and the developing worlds. The joint is a military term used by B.F. Liddell Hart the famous British military theorist. It refers to that point which if attacked will give you the greatest benefit for the least effort. The liberation and education of women might very well be the Grand Strategic joint of global development policy. Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury wrote a detailed article in Scientific American in which he proved this assumption using economic (not feminist) arguments only. He wrote: “Educating girls quite possibly yields a higher rate of return than any other investment available in the developing world…(even more than) power generation…” 


But the cultural context of the status of women is even more central than Summer’s quantitative analysis in regard to global development and the alleviation of poverty. The recent UN Report on Human Development in the Arab World (compiled by Arab professionals living in the West) referred to the low status of Arab women as being one of the major reasons why Arab countries are lagging behind the rest of the world. They wrote: “no society can achieve the desired state of well being and human development, or compete in a globalizing world, if half its people remain marginalized and disempowered”. This observation is a universal truth relevant for the entire world.

There have been Marxist and Capitalist theories explaining the backwardness of the developing world. Marxists blamed the economic imperialism of global capitalism. Capitalists blamed local corruption, incompetence and utopian social planning. Both theories can mobilize much supporting evidence. But a Feminist theory of development seems to be a more powerful explanation. In 19th century Europe it was said that the quality of a country could be determined by the way it treats its Jews. In the 21st century it will be said that the quality of a country can be predicted by the way it treats its women. 


Tsvi Bisk (site) is director of the Center for Strategic Futurist Thinking and author of The Optimistic Jew: A Positive Vision for the Jewish People in the 21st Century (Maxanna Press, 2007). He also is Contributing Editor for Strategic Thinking for The Futurist magazine , the official publication of the World Future Society, and he has published over a hundred articles and essays in Hebrew and in English.



COMMENTS

This is the post-bio century 😊

Good piece, and it will become more timely as the decade unfolds.
Later in the century, the 21st surely can be the Century of Women, but (and there’s always a ‘but’) these early decades of the century appear relatively bleak. First I’ll start with the idiosyncratic view: the gap between what I was told concerning the future, starting say in 1968 when movements such as feminism coalesced) and what is the reality in 2012 is: rather disheartening to an ordinary mortal who witnessed the entire process. The are very few Spock the Vulcan-types who can submerge their subjective feelings, and it isn’t necessarily sour grapes; in my case it is the knowledge of the certain prospect of decades more of back and forth- the effort spoilers put into their endeavors is so staggering that if the intention is to change things as painfully as possible with maximum casualties, the spoilers have a good chance of succeeding.. and they know it. The Right doesn’t consist so much of Utopian conservatives as it did up until the ‘80s, today Rightists want progress as long as they are on top and arrange for things to go their way. Or more accurately their families’ way, because IMO what the Bush dynasty experience demonstrated is how many—perhaps the majority—will do virtually anything to steer their familial/dynastic interests to the maximum. Deep-seated, the last thing I expect in the near future is such ambitious seekers to relinquish their death grip: self-seeking is one thing; what do you do about dynasties, cliques, and secret societies?
Objectively, things do look better than when feminism began; back then male chauvinists, as they were called, had the upper hand- today they have cut their losses and will make any concession that does not jeopardize male domination. I often think about what a blogger at IEET a few months ago wrote concerning the ‘70s being a better era…
sometimes the recollection is that it was better; sometimes not. Overall, women are better off, however I feel embarrassed to tell anyone I’m interested in futurism. ‘Overall’ is a pretty mushy word. Transhumanism is relatively concise; futurism is vague, it brings back memories of squishy liberals of the ‘70s telling their listeners what they wanted to hear. The women were intent on vertical progress for themselves;
the men had something more ... horizontal.. in mind.

This article took its thesis and started trying to shoehorn in several facts that don’t really fit. 

Bisk starts by saying “the 19th century was the European century; the 20th century was the American century and the 21st century could be the women’s century.”  This statement is probably based on the notion that the countries were dominant both economically, politically, and technologically for their given century.  Bisk goes on to try to say that in some comparable way the next century will be dominated by women (presumably over men).  Most of Bisk’s facts do not actually pain this picture.  Women might create tons of small home based business’, and in aggregate they add up to a large amount of money, but for the large part these business do not significantly create novel technology, or create liveable wages.  Using this statistic to argue for women becoming economically dominant is like arguing that blacks in 1960’s South Africa were dominant because in aggregate they made more money than whites and they had more fruit stands than whites. 

I concede that women multitask better and in general experience less stress in social situations and that this may be a good trait in being an desired worker in the 20th century.  I will also add that in aggregate women have greater “social intelligence” than men and that this is a good asset in any environment where teams are competing against each other.  These assets are countered by other deficits.  A recent study published in science found that when looking at team efficiency the best scoring teams always had at least one woman (the teams were small, 3 people) but they also found that the worst teams were all female, and the consistently best teams had one female and two males; hardly a study that champions a clear domination of women over men.  Another statistic that will limit womens dominance in the 21st century is that more men than women are willing to work long hours in competitive fields. 


Women also lack a spur to accomplishment that men have in spades, the notion that they must be more successful that a desired partner in order to get laid.  Maybe this spur will change, but until I see solid evidence for that change I will remain doubtful.  In spite of the progress of women becoming more powerful earners in the economy women still want men to earn more than they do (on average). 

The author might try to argue that I am measuring dominance in the wrong way.  He might say that what really matters is how much a groups subjective sense of well being improves defines who was really dominant in a given century.  This argument still fails to convince general measurements of womens happiness in the US reached its peak in the 1970’s and has been declining or stagnant since while mens happiness has not shown this same level of decline. 

The last statement the author makes “In the 21st century it will be said that the quality of a country can be predicted by the way it treats its women.” is a nice platitude but too narrow for me.  What about the mentally atypical, what about the children, what about minorities, what about criminals?

This article was soft headed, ieet should stop getting assbags to defend “feminism”, it makes girl power feminism look unnecessarily bad.

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