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on 14 May 2013
Wolf has an interesting and well argued thesis: the world has changed and for the top quintile of the population men and women lead similar lives. They go to the sane schools do the same jobs, work the same amounts, mate with the people from the same background and invest heavily in a small number of children born relatively late in life. They are also rich enough to hire servants drawn from the other 80 per cent of the population - female servants.

This is backed up with some heavy duty research - there are a lot of notes here - and it is both persuasive and surprising. We think life is not like this, says Wolf - because we read about the super rich for whom life is different again for women: more children younger and a life of administering the family properties. In this area there seems to be some elision in Wolf's thinking. She talks a good deal about family dynasties in politics in India and Pakistan and so and in big business of all kinds including Playboy. This presumably is not top quintile material - but is super rich. And in the historical sections, we hear about charity work, but also about running houses of ill repute and so in. Here too a clearer sense of who did what and why would be welcome.

Nonetheless I would recommend it strongly - not least for its explanation of the scruffy dress of academics. Apparently there's no need for display through clothes when your publications can do the job for you...
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VINE VOICEon 8 May 2013
I heard Professor Wolf on Radio 4 recently to the effect that once various obvious factors are accounted for, inequality has been largely eliminated and that contrary to received wisdom, Scandinavia provides no shining example. Her views were not well received as I recall. And so I read this and I'm pleased that I did.

In so many ways it's a counterpart to The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes in that it carefully demonstrates that today, the real sources of inequality are class and opportunity rather than whether one is male or female. Apparently it's as true in other countries as it is in the UK.

She lucidly and elegantly evidences that if one is poor then one is beyond highly likely (~90%) to be working in a stereotypical occupation. For professional occupations, with the exception of engineering, there is no such tendency.

The book does raise other seemingly unintended consequences of choice and opportunity for the professional classes including that they're not reproducing in sufficient quantities.

Two chapter titles worth quoting for controversy value if nothing else:

Goodbye to all that: the fracturing of sisterhood
The return of the servant classes

Whether or not it accords to your world view it's a great read dealing with bigger issues than the need for more women on bank notes.
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on 9 August 2013
This book is a racy read about how education has benefitted some middle class women. It is too smug and self congratulatory and not critical of inequality
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on 20 March 2014
The book is a rip-off: the title promises a book about "working women" but the book is exclusively about the wealthy and successful women of the top 1%. The perspective of the author is unbelievably narrow: She mistakes the rich women of her own acquaintance as representative of working women in general, or at least of educated professional women. But most educated women are neither rich nor influential and they certainly can't afford to hire nannies.

The author claims that women have achieved "near parity" and that elite professions are not gender segregated any more. That is simply wrong. In 2012, educated women earned 70 cents to the dollar of their male counterparts (see note *). 1 in 6 corporate board members are women and the number is stagnating. Women are still woefully underrepresented in the higher ranks of University faculty, and elite institutions are the worst. 20% of US Senators and 18% of House members are women and 5 women (10%) serve as state governor. "Near parity"?

No, most educated women are not even close to becoming rich and powerful, no, most of them do not resemble Alison Wolf's anecdotal elite, and yes, the gender gap is alive and well.

(*) Here are some data from the US that the author chose not to report (or probably didn't even bother to check - a lot of her "data" is anecdotal):

2012 median earnings of Americans by education and sex (US Census CPS, table P-20)

Bachelor's degree or higher:
Men $66,870; Women $46,713

Men $96,909; Women $70,811

Professional degree:
Men $101,888; Women $76,052
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on 24 September 2015
I bought this book because I had read extracts from it in the papers. The whole book is a bit too academic for my liking so I gave it away.
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on 1 October 2013
The XX Factor seems an endless stream of self congratulation that women are succeeding in all domains, in all realms and in all places. Women at the top everywhere, and Wolf knows many personally; it's her world. She provides voluminous stats to demonstrate and back her assertions. But it reads like a defensive, rah-rah, yay for our side sort of narration.

The good news is that women today simply assume they are equal. They don't have to fight (much) any more. So they don't fight, but they also don't show preference for other women, and they don't engage in feminist battles (which is not necessarily a good thing, Wolf hints). They are as career and money oriented as men.

But Wolf is almost totally focused on the elite. While women here are taking over committees and boards and divisions and companies, girls are shot in Pakistan for trying to go to school, and wives in Afghanistan are expected to stay home - to never leave the house - for the rest of their lives. Every culture's restrictions crimp someone's style. Today's restrictions are different, but they're there. Wolf points some of them out (e.g. Japanese mothers can't hire foreign nannies) but doesn't analyze their impact enough. In fact, most of the evidence seems to be anecdotal, from friends and interviews.

One of Wolf's more important points is that poor and uneducated women find having children gives them an anchor and a purpose. Otherwise they feel they would end up on drugs or in jail, or both. She says elite career women find this hard if not impossible to believe, let alone relate to. That's how far we've come is the point.

Career women singlemindedly pursue their careers and make everything else fit that stricture. For the uneducated, there are mindnumbing minimum wage jobs, which are not sufficient reason to work. Those jobs will always be there - even after the children have grown. Seven dollars an hour doesn't have the same allure as $150 does. So more children earlier is not a burden in their minds.

No surprise - upper class women marry well, have fewer children and send them all to private schools. These women are trapped in their particular class structure, just as humans have always managed from the time the first chief formed the first harem. The upper classes are conservative; they have Rules, and members conform to fit in. At the macro level, nothing much has changed, except more players are now women. So it's not much the "new society" of the title, but a reshaping of the class structure, to allow women - if they follow the Rules.

The XX Factor is a deep snapshot of where feminism stands today. In 20 years, someone will write a followup, or maybe, it won't be necessary. Wouldn't that be nice.

David Wineberg
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on 18 July 2013
I heard the interview on the radio and read some of the articles about this book. I thought that it would be a different type of book to suggest to our book club (all female) as it opens up lots of ideas for discussion about the changes in life for educated women. It certainly worked and got lots of discussion going!
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