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June 10, 2010

The (Literal) Feminization of America

Whilst digging up fodder for yet another snooze inducing post about voting demographics, the Editorial Staff stumbled across something we (half vast though we are reputed to be) had never seen before: a population pyramid.

This delighted us, since it offers yet one more chance to swing a giant clue bat at the reigning meme du jour on the reich side of the b-sphere: the notion that feminism is the root cause of every evil known to man from the heartbreak of psoriasis right through to the invention of non-dairy creamer. Don't get us wrong: we've taken a few whacks at radical feminism ourselves. Identity politics, no matter the intended beneficiary, is a detestable business.

It's hard enough to balance legitimate competing interests without demonizing everyone who doesn't belong to the target demographic.
But when we see someone try to pin every social problem on a single cause, we can't help thinking "confirmation bias". Of all the implications raised by the following chart (affordability of entitlements, changes to the tax base, effects on education, the housing market, marriage, and the labor market come to mind) one of the most interesting is the literal feminization of America:

United_States_Population_by_gender_1950-2010.gif
Graphic source

As the next chart shows, before 1950 men outnumbered women in this country. But since 1950, women have - quite literally - outnumbered men (though the disparity appears to be shrinking slightly). The sex ratio is the proportion of men to women. Values over 100 mean that men outnumber women. Values under 100 mean that women outnumber men.

Approximately 1.05 boys are born for every female in the United States but by the time our bouncing, genderless baby turns about 30, women of the same age begin to outnumber men. The following chart tracks the overall sex ratio in America (past, present, and projected) over nearly two centuries:

Sex ratio.jpg
Data sources here and here.

As the population ages and the center of mass shifts from younger to older people, females begin to outnumber males. It's amusing to entertain the notion that perhaps some of the societal changes we're seeing are due to changes in the underlying demographic mix of society over time.

The end result may well be the same regardless of whether you believe it's all a wicked conspiracy (i.e., a tiny cabal of feminists swiped the collective corn flakes of the patriarchal hegemony whilst they sat rooted to their BarcoLoungers, transfixed by the scantily clad charms of the Dallas cheerleaders) or are willing to consider the possibility that more benign/organic forces may be at work as well (possibly, changing proportions of men and women in the general population?).

Anyway, what woman is a woman who doeth not her utmost to vex and annoy the assembled villainry? Food for thought, no es verdad?

Posted by Cassandra at June 10, 2010 05:02 AM

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Comments

It's odd, but the upper graph seems to directly track the figure of my Aunt Ethel the Feminist. How do they do that?

Posted by: spd rdr at June 10, 2010 09:45 AM

Nemo vir est qui mundum non reddat meliorem.

So, what you're saying is that we have too many women; and we know that China has too many men. The obvious solution is an exchange program. Of course, American women will not like Chinese men very much (and vice versa); the ideas the two groups have about how men and women should interact will clash strongly.

Still, it's good for everybody, in the long run. Why, it's just how they used to make alliances, in the old days -- give them a bunch of your women in marriage! With such an alliance binding the world's strongest nations, China and America, we'd have generations of world peace. Women like peace, right? So, they should vote for this plan!

(Or maybe your point was that we have too many old people, with the bias towards women being a mere accident of that. I don't have as good a solution for that one.)

Posted by: Grim at June 10, 2010 09:45 AM

spd, given your 937,819 daughters, you have no idea how hard it was for me not to single you out as the root cause of society's ills :p

Grim, it's interesting. The balance is starting to shift back due to immigration (most of it illegal, sadly) and increases in male longevity. But I thought it was interesting that the surplus of women is projected to last until at least mid-century. I would have expected it to continue the present trend and decline fairly rapidly.

I think one implication is a surplus of older, single women. YIKES!!!! Planet of the Cougars!!!!

Posted by: Cass at June 10, 2010 09:53 AM

So, second look at illegal immigration? :)

Posted by: Grim at June 10, 2010 10:00 AM

Actually, you know whose demographic this is? Sarah Palin's. All kidding aside, older women (especially married, but also widows) are quite conservative on average. Maybe not as conservative as older men, but certainly they are rarely a font of revolutionary sentiment.

Posted by: Grim at June 10, 2010 10:02 AM

Interesting you should say that :p

I found this stuff while researching something about voter demographics and got sidetracked. Need to finish the other post!

Posted by: Cass at June 10, 2010 10:06 AM

"Why, it's just how they used to make alliances, in the old days -- give them a bunch of your women in marriage!"

But now that "we" are predominantly woman, the way we'd look at is that "we" make alliances by giving them some of our excess men in marriage.

I've been reading Matt Ridley on early specialization of roles by gender. He thinks, if I understand him correctly, that women tended to take over a kind of baseline gathering style of food production that was predictable and plentiful but not the richest in calories, perhaps because gathering was compatible with pregnancy and nursing children. This freed men to go off on risky hunting expeditions that often failed but occasionally resulted in high-fat, high-protein bonanzas. So began men's impatience with the plodding, security-first homebody conservatism of women, and women's exasperation with the pie-in-the-sky dreams of men who were apt to invest the family's savings in poker games when they weren't getting themselves killed in blood feuds. The trade-off was: "Be here when I get back, not pregnant by another man," and "OK, but bring home meat. And don't stay out too long."

Not that Ridley claims to have new ideas about gender specialization. He brings it up because he believes it's the key to the origin of trade, which he sees as the springboard to civilization and the defining characteristic of homo sapiens.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 10, 2010 10:51 AM

But now that "we" are predominantly woman, the way we'd look at is that "we" make alliances by giving them some of our excess men in marriage.

Ice to the Eskimos, T99. China has all the men it needs. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 10, 2010 11:22 AM

But if there's more gay men in China these days and more gay marriage, a gay Western man would be exotic. Right?

I do kinda wonder what kind of societal pressures are brought to bear on Chinese women studying abroad. I knew a guy who married a Chinese student back in the nineties, and he was just an average-looking average-earning student himself. But since she came from what I gathered was a backwater without a high standard of living, he seemed like a pretty good match even to her protective parents (as long as the loving couple could send money home, eventually take care of them, etc. Which was fair enough.)

Nowadays, I'm sure there's a pressure to get a good brideprice from a rich guy, or to make sure that nice boy who's a friend of the family gets to marry somebody.

Posted by: Maureen at June 10, 2010 11:58 AM

Actually, you know whose demographic this is? Sarah Palin's. - Grim


Interesting point, and perhaps not altogether a bad thing in light of the following classic witty observation.


Everything Fred Astaire ever did, Ginger Rogers did backwards while wearing heels!

Posted by: GrayBear at June 10, 2010 12:12 PM

I see what you mean, Grim. Hmmm. Maybe we Americans should ask the Chinese women to send over some of their surplus men, as a kind of tribute to cement an alliance.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 10, 2010 01:37 PM

Before you decide on that course, I'd suggest you take a few months and visit China to see how much you like their cultural attitudes toward women. After all, once they send them all over, you won't be in the majority any more. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 10, 2010 01:46 PM

Before you decide on that course, I'd suggest you take a few months and visit China to see how much you like their cultural attitudes toward women.

Anyone who's not Matthew Yglesias could figure *that* out in 72 hours.

Posted by: BillT at June 10, 2010 02:30 PM

This graph is misleading.

The bars for 101 and 99 should be the same size, each equidistant from the 'axis' of 100.

Terrible work.


Posted by: Aunt Ralph at June 10, 2010 02:56 PM

The bars for 101 and 99 should be the same size, each equidistant from the 'axis' of 100.

Not when the original values are 98.6 and 100.7. The labels appear rounded b/c there is not enough room to show the decimal place. Feel free to go and chide Microsoft if you don't like the way they handled it.


Posted by: Cass at June 10, 2010 03:08 PM

Feel free to go and chide Microsoft if you don't like the way they handled it.

It figures. That "Men = Women" equation is just one more reason to consign Bill Gates to eternal servitude in the boiler room in the sub-basement of Hell.

Posted by: BillT at June 10, 2010 04:47 PM

That, and Mr. Clippy, too. :)

The Chinese are welcome to Helen Thomas, Maureen Dowd and Barbara Boxer, just for starters.

We're keeping Cass and Mrs. Rdr.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 10, 2010 06:39 PM

That "Men = Women" equation is just one more reason to consign Bill Gates to eternal servitude in the boiler room in the sub-basement of Hell.

Yanno, I was wondering if anyone was going to comment on that!

Posted by: Helen Thomas at June 10, 2010 08:26 PM

I was also going to comment about that Men Above / Women Below layout as -- ummmmmmmm -- *unimaginative*...

Posted by: BillT at June 11, 2010 04:10 AM

...but I thought better of it.

Until now.

That whole "sex and relationships" thing, yanno.

Posted by: BillT at June 11, 2010 04:14 AM

I'm really not all that surprised at the ratio numbers. One of the biggest health advances achieved during the 20th century is the near-elimination of deaths occurring as a result of childbirth, which used to be a significant mortality factor for women. The other thing is the significant immediate and delayed effects of the world wars.

I suspect the overall ratio will swing back towards more women as the Baby Boom generation passes through their retirement years, owing to the general tendency for women to live longer than men. After that, I'm not sure. I'll have to go hunt up some data on gender ratios by age group.

Posted by: Cousin Dave at June 12, 2010 10:23 AM

Men have a perfect, ancient alibi:
'The woman tempted me, and I spent.'

Its the women who want to keep up with the joneses

Posted by: M. Report at June 15, 2010 01:32 PM

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