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Capitalism's Original Sin: Gender Distribution Of Work

Men do not do their fair share of housework and childcare. And companies still discriminate against female employees. And it's not looking any better for the digital economy.

The gender gap at work
The gender gap at work
Meredith Haaf

MUNICH — Just imagine, the Global Gender Gap Report is published and everyone is equal: women earn the same amount as men, and they occupy half of the seats in boardrooms and parliament. There are no notable differences when it comes to the amount of housework and childcare that men and women undertake. Wouldn't that be lovely, if the new decade began this way?

It would be lovely, but the reality is a very different picture. The authors of the 2019 Equality Report, published by the World Economic Forum, estimate that it will take another century for women to be on an equal footing with men worldwide. German women will have to wait over 250 years if there is no increase in the current rate of change. The only issue that we humans seem to be slower to address is the destruction of the planet.

However, it would be much easier to achieve gender equality than it would be to stop global warming. We can see that from the very real progress that has been made over the past century, both globally and in Germany. Women's access to healthcare and education has improved markedly, as has their political representation. In these areas, they are coming close to equality.

There's no country in the world where men take on their fair share of housework and childcare.

The problem is the economy — and how work is divided up under capitalism. In this regard, the situation in Germany is especially bad. Although women make up half of the work force, they are underrepresented in management positions and among higher earners.

There are two important reasons for this. Firstly, there is no country in the world where men take on their fair share of housework and childcare. In Germany they do 60% less than women. This means that overall women do more work, but earn less and have less influence over the economy. This is especially true when they have children. It may be more comfortable to divide the tasks in this way, but as long as domestic work is shared out so unevenly, as long as fathers and partners do not take on their fair share of the burden, the prospects for their partners — and according to forecasts, also for their daughters — are limited.

The second issue is that employers and companies still discriminate against women. Women are less likely to be promoted and, according to the World Economic Forum, they are at risk of being left behind by the digital revolution. They are shockingly underrepresented in these new industries. It's a systemic problem, as journalist Caroline Criado Perez shows in a new study, published in January. Tech companies hire very few women, investors are reluctant to offer female-led startups money, and data-based services tend not to take gender differences into account. The new generation behind these tech companies prefer colleagues who look like them: young, dynamic and masculine. In the digital economy, women are becoming invisible.

In a fair society, work is shared out equitably, and so are its benefits. It is not only the responsibility of politicians and women to make this ideal reality – it is also up to those who have so far been reluctant to relinquish their comfortable, traditional gender roles.

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