Alpha women, according to columnist Margaret Wente in the Toronto Globe and Mail, are
highly educated with full-time careers (and then some). They work like dogs. They have fewer children than most. They’re far more likely to be married to their first husbands. They sleep less, watch less TV and may well have less sex than other women (they’re too busy). The good news is that they exercise more. They’re devoted to their children, but never put careers on hold for them.Wente calls them (and she includes herself) “the new female elite, a group that has emerged only in the past few decades.” They are, says Alison Wolf, a British economist, “highly educated women [who] have become a class apart.” And they have remade our world.
Wolf says this alpha women elite makes up 15% to 20% of developed world females, with every field open to them. They have more in common with alpha men than they do with the other 80% or 85% of the female population--their interests, career trajectories and priorities, Wente writes, are vastly different:
Less-educated women are still likely to work in gender-segregated fields (teaching, personal service, retail). They’re more likely to drop out of work when they have their kids, and after that, they’d rather work part time. They’re far more likely to have children out of wedlock and to be divorced. Alpha women stay in school longer, marry later, postpone kids until they’re over 30 and don’t stop working when they become mothers.According to Wente, alpha women don’t marry househusbands; they don’t like to marry down. They want men as high-achieving as they are, including as fathers of their children. Wente believes that most women “secretly regard men without paid work as slackers.”
And alpha women are tigers when it comes to raising children:
If you are an elite parent, you will do everything you can to make sure your children have the same opportunities you’ve had, and that means education. You are willing to invest large amounts of time and money to make sure they get the best one possible. You might send them to Montessori or move to a school district with [language] immersion. You will enrich them with extracurricular activities. You’ll supervise their homework, deliver them to Kumon and hockey games [recall, Wente is Canadian], take them to Europe and send them to Harvard (if they get in). Either way, university is a given, and maybe postgraduate studies too. All this is phenomenally expensive, which is one reason why elite parents have so few children and are motivated to keep working at full tilt.Wente also maintains that alpha women spend a lot of time trying to improve things for their female elite, a fact that causes her to suggest, “they could reflect a bit more on some of the unintended consequences of women’s liberation, including the growing gulf between the elites and everyone else:”
The rise of alpha women results in a decline in social mobility as the elites perpetuate themselves. “The tendency for children born into the ‘top fifth’ of the developed world to stay there is both high and surprisingly uniform” in many different countries, Wolf writes.
Wolf’s “top fifth” reference is for me almost eerie. We had already found that the “top fifth” of American households represents in fact a quarter of our population, making up 26% of the electorate, paying 86% of income taxes, and in contrast to those below, with 87% living in families. The top 20% of households hold nearly six times as many full-time, year-round workers as the bottom 20%.
We never think of ourselves as agents of a new class system, with people just like us at the top. The idea of it horrifies us. Yet without meaning to, we’ve become them.