Who Holds All the Wealth, Men or Women?

I said many times before that my primary identity is that of a feminist. I’m a feminist first and a professor, a scholar, a Ukrainian, a Jew, a Canadian, an autistic, a Hispanist, a blogger and everything else second. But I think that memes like the following one do nothing but hurt the cause of feminism because they appeal to cheap, meaningless outrage and not to facts and reason:

1%: The percentage of the world’s wealth held by women, despite the fact that they comprise 40% of the world’s workforce.

This just makes no sense at all whatsoever. All these men who hold 99% of world’s wealth, are they single? Or gay? Do none of them have wives? Daughters? Mothers? Sisters? Or do they all live in countries where women are legally precluded from owning the wealth of their male family members? This should mean that the Americans, the Canadians, the Western Europeans, the Australians, the New Zealanders, the Russians, etc. are all out. Who’s left then?

As to the percentage of the world’s workforce that women (or men) supposedly comprise, anybody with even a minimal knowledge of economics must surely realize that this figure is taken out of thin air. Many countries (such as the countries of the Former Soviet Union, for example) run on an unofficial employment market. There is simply no way to determine legitimately who does or does not work and what wealth they do or do not possess in such countries. Take, for example, the case of the former mayor of Moscow who, according to all paperwork, is nearly indigent because he put his billions in his wife’s name to avoid criminal prosecution. Have such people been taken into account when calculating the gender breakdown of wealth?

By all means, let’s be outraged by gender inequality. Let’s be as outraged as we possibly can. But for the love of all that’s holy, let’s be outraged about something that is worthy of outrage. Not something that is so patently silly.

57 thoughts on “Who Holds All the Wealth, Men or Women?

  1. I follow the link all the way through, and it leads to a 400 pages report from the World Bank as diggested by The Wall Street Journal. I don’t have the time nor do I intend to read the report, but the numbers do not make any sense. I would like to know what (flawed) methodology they used to come up with it. And by the way, I am sure that men hold substantially more of the world’s wealth than women do. But the numbers still make no sense whatsoever.

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    1. “And by the way, I am sure that men hold substantially more of the world’s wealth than women do”

      -Of course! But the only legitimate way to make this point is by relying on real research and real numbers. I don’t think that generalizations about the entire planet will be very useful here, anyways. In my culture, we call this “the median temperature of all the patients at the clinic.”

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  2. Well, we could call the World Bank report real research. But I don’t know how they extracted those numbers from a 400 page analysis. And I read enough of those reports as an undergraduate to go through one of them again. It just makes no sense. The only thing I can guess is that something as a joint bank account, joint mortgage, etc, didn’t count.

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  3. I heard someone discussing this on the radio a few years ago, and I remember that “wealth” was defined as money or resources that continue to generate more income without the owner having to do additional labor. This is an important point that may be lost with people repeating it around the internet.

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    1. That might be true, but how do you measure that? Especially across the globe? Economies tend to differ so much from the Western standard and we are talking about many many people who don’t fit into it.

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      1. You cannot measure it in a realistic, culturally relevant way, but you do measure it by collecting data from individual planning commissions and equivalent (who do regular sample surveys) and the national census. Since the institutions who require such data are all western in nature, they are not particularly bothered that the data they collected — at immense expenditure — is not actually relevant at the field level in many places.

        Of course, post WWII, the biggest chunk of action for these institutions *have* been making world economies conform to a western model. As an Ukranian, you’d know all about the structural adjustment packages, wouldn’t you?

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    1. I used to when I first got hired at my current place of employment. It wasn’t 70c but more like 78c. On this blog, I told the story of why that happened and how we changed it. So now, in my case at least, this is no longer true.

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  4. I’ll take your word for it about the numbers (although I too would have assumed the World Bank was a legitimate source…I guess that shows me to be more discerning), but I’m honestly surprised to hear that the concept that men hold “substantially” more of the world’s wealth (you agreed with that much) doesn’t bother you. You express such strong views about how women should work, and seem so disdainful of housewives. Sure, working and earning aren’t the same thing…but they are related. Earning is part of working. And the independence and power that come with earning are just a couple of the (many) reasons why I agree with you that women should have the same opportunity to work as men do. And so the disparate earnings (even if they’re not nearly as stark as the World Bank’s study would suggest) do still seem like a pretty big problem to me. Independence and freedom are much more difficult to come by without money. Sure, a hypothetical woman who’s married to someone who makes significantly more than she does will benefit from his salary while she’s married to him, but what she doesn’t have is the ability to leave if she needs to, or any real right to participate in decision-making on how that money is spent. Plus, if someone in the partnership has to quit their job for some reason, she’ll be the person who’ll have to do it.

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    1. Haha, reading though what I just wrote…it is rambly and not well-written at all, but I hope my meaning is at least somewhat intelligible anyway…

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    2. I agree with everything you say, Melissa. These are very serious issues. But my point is that we don’t get any closer to resolving them by relying on gross generalizations that don’t take into account all of the nuances you mentioned in your comment.

      “I’m honestly surprised to hear that the concept that men hold “substantially” more of the world’s wealth (you agreed with that much) doesn’t bother you”

      -When did I say that??? What bothers me is that the situation that is complex gets analyzed in very simplistic terms. This worked for the early stages of feminism but nowadays this is a losing strategy, that’s all I’m saying here.

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        1. That’s your half-assed Freudian theory about it, but how does that justify your use of those words? Even if your theory is correct, you still lower yourself by using that language.

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          1. I have to agree with Jonathan.

            David, I understand that you are using a very specific type of terminology that means different things to you than to other people. But since you often forget to translate what these words mean to you and your political group, people get needlessly shocked. Then, they will be less likely to hear your message.

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              1. I vaguely suspect you meant “repressed homosexuality”. And it is, indeed, a very Freudian idea. I happen to agree that the greatest homophobes hate homosexuality so much because they hate their own repressed urges.

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              2. I know that this is what you mean. Which is why I never thought you were a homophobe. I’d never allow homophobes to stick around here. As I see it, what you are trying to do is actually battle homophobia. But people might get confused because of your language, as I said.

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              3. Well, it doesn’t really matter what the word means “for you.” It matters what the word actually means.

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          2. I never think about Freud here. Do you believe that religions (not spirituality) are a product of unassumed fagottry?

            “half-assed”

            OH MY GOD! IT’S DISGUSTING! I’M APPALLED! 😉

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            1. People will keep mistaking you for a homphobe if you keep using the word “faggotry”. I know you are anything but a homophobe but you have to be more careful with vocabulary.

              Using the word “cunt” will now make you seem like a woman-hater. Again, I know you aren’t. But I’m sure you can see how others might arrive at mistaken conclusions about you.

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            2. Unless you’re talking about a bundle of sticks that usage is in fact homophobic. You are acting exactly like a homophobe and then getting huffy when people call you on it. And a sexist too, by the way. And someone with a deficient command of the syntax of the English language, as in *”able to read really my comments.” You also seem unaware of the Freudian origins of the theory you are spouting. I suggest you educate yourself. That what makes your comments half-assed: you don’t even know what your words are conveying. It’s always the racist, the homophobe, the antisemite, the sexist, who gets deeply offended when anyone objects.

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              1. “Really” and “read” should be swapped…

                “You are acting exactly like a homophobe and then getting huffy when people call you on it.”

                Are you serious? I called “faggots” the most homophobic fringe of activists (MRAs are often homophobic), and you really believe that my comment was homophobic?

                Perhaps you should educate yourself about sarcasm and irony…

                I knew that it was Freudian, I simply didn’t think about this here. But I admitted that it was Freudian…

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              2. Using the word as an insult is homophobic, not sarcastic. You can’t shout n+++++ at a group of white people as an insult, because that doesn’t make sense, but you can call ostensibly hetero men f****** thinking you are insulting them. Straight men call one another f***** all the time, and that usage is homophobic. There are just not two ways around it.

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              3. The F-word is inherently homophobic (like Jonathan said, unless you’re referring to a bundle of sticks). Unless you’re gay yourself, then using that word is homophobic, whether or not you yourself are homophobic. Maybe you could also investigate the difference between saying a person is homophobic (/sexist/racist/ableist etc.) and saying a statement or act is homophobic (/sexist/racist/ableist, etc.)
                I never said “you, David, are a homophobe.” I said that you said something homophobic. Which is indisputably true. If you’re genuinely not homophobic, great! This will be a great learning opportunity for you, as you will never have the desire to use that word again. As a non-homophobe, you’ll probably be very relieved to have learned this.

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            3. If you decide to use the most homophobic word in the English language, then yeah, the use of that word will be considered homophobic.

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              1. I’m sorry, Melissa, for the offensive remarks David addressed to you. It makes me feel very bad and I can promise this won’t happen again.

                All of us here hate homophobes but sometimes linguistic differences get in the way of this message.

                My apologies to everybody who has been made to feel bad in this thread!

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              2. Thanks. It’s ok though, I think I’ve finally reached the point where when I hear someone use words like “cunt” and the F-word (I won’t type the real word any more than I would type the N-word), I automatically tune them out.

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              3. For non-native language speakers (like me and like David) words in a foreign language don’t carry the same strength as for a native speaker. I curse like a sailor in Spanish but in Russian you have to make me very angry for me to start doing it. 🙂

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              4. I get that. I hope he will be happy to have had this learning opportunity. I don’t hold it against him that he’s new to English and didn’t know the implications of that word. I’ll only hold it against him if he continues to use it, even knowing what he knows now.

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  5. In the wealthiest countries of the world, mostly the industrialized West, US, Canada, Western Europe, etc… I would bet that the bulk of the wealth is held by middle-aged and elderly married couples as community property, so I see no ways for that 1 percent to be anywhere accurate.

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    1. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

      How are we helping the cause of equality by making claims that are impossible to substantiate at any reasonable level?

      What surprises me is that people have decided to see my annoyance with this single over-exaggerated statement as a denial that the problem of economic inequality between genders exists at all. Of course, it exists! And it needs to be addressed. But this is not the way to do that.

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  6. Female inheritance and other ownership of land and of major durable items (house, car) is legal in many countries but is not enforceable. “Customary law” (local tradition or local religious interpretation, often unwritten) commonly takes precedence over government statutes.

    Wealth is defined as total value of all assets at a given time, not including the yearly salary/wage. The truly wealthy US citizens manage to control assets in pre-nuptial agreements, trusts, and other ways, such that the spouse cannot get at the major portion of the assets. Even among the upper middle class self-employed group, the “tools of the trade” (medical, dental, law practices, for example) are excluded from asset valuation in divorce settlements (in many states).

    1% seems too low. 5% seems about right, depending on the real estate and financial market performance.

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  7. The blogger is wrong about “The percentage of the world’s wealth held by women.” If you go to the original source, it says that this statistic is for women in the developing world.

    Interesting to see how quickly these feminists jump the gun and make up stuff.

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    1. I want to remind you that I’m a feminist and I published this post to dispute this false contention. There are different kinds of feminists. Some thrive on these kinds of exaggerations but others are annoyed by them.

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