Marrying someone with money is still a woman’s best path to the top 1%

Despite achieving great strides in women empowerment, it seems that the best way for women to be part of the world’s 1% richest is to marry into it. At least according to research.

A new study published in the American Sociological Review finds that it’s almost impossible for a woman to to obtain a top 1% status through means of income.

If you don’t know what the 1% status is, it’s the threshold of households in the world that earns “nearly $845,000 in 2016 dollars,” according to MarketWatch.

In fact, women’s income alone only qualifies them for that threshold in just 5% of elite households in the world. This means that 95% of the time a woman’s surest prospect is to marry a man on his way to that 1% status.

Moreover, women who marry their way into that 1% contribute to the household’s top earner in just 15% of those households, which barely makes a difference.

Why is this still the case?

According to Jill Yavorsky, the study’s co-author and assistant professor at the University of North Carolina:

“Although self-employment and higher education increase the likelihood that women will personally earn sufficient income for 1% status, marrying a man with good income prospects is still a woman’s primary route to the 1% due to labor-market inequalities.”

Even bleaker:

This gender gap has been going on for decades.

Yavorsky adds that women have made “virtually no progress” in earning enough to qualify for the world’s 1% richest since the 1990s.

Is this still surprising?

According to Forbe’s annual list of the 400 Wealthiest Americans, the 10 richest people are men. It’s the same across all boards in the world.

Here’s where the women stand:

Walmart heiress Alice Walton is at number 12 with a $44.9 billion net worth. She’s followed by Mars candy heiress Jacqueline Mars (#18) with a net worth of $44.9 billion.

Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs, Apple’s late CEO, is number 20 ($20.5 billion) while Fidelity Investments CEO, Abigail Johnson, is number 28 ($17.3 billion.)

Meanwhile, Mackenzie Bezos is making headlines. She’s the estranged wife of the world’s richest man, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. She’ll be the richest woman in the world with an estimated $69.5 billion, if she gets half of his net worth after their much-publicized divorce.

The Gender Gap is still prevalent worldwide

It’s true that some countries have made progress in reducing gender inequality with better access to education, healthcare, and financial services.

However, worldwide, men still dominate over women when it comes to economic opportunities. Gender wage gap is strikingly large.

As if that isn’t depressing enough, women are underrepresented in senior positions within firms and yet they are over represented in minimum-wage jobs.

And it’s not much better in most countries in the world, where men are more likely to own and acquire land and assets than women.

It can’t get any more worse, right?

Still, in this modern age, most women still have very little influence over important household decisions – including how to spend the money they personally earned.

How can we fix this problem?

There’s a long way to go until we equal the playing field of the world’s richest 1%. However, there are a number of solutions being proposed to improve the situation.

Yavorsky put forth three ways to help boost the likelihood of women earning more money in top positions:

  1. Provide greater access to financial capital to help women entrepreneurs start and grow their business.
  2. Change hostile or biased cultures within male-dominated elite fields — like finance and law — “that prevent women from entering them in the first place, or push them out once they do enter them.”
  3. Promote women to more high-level leadership positions.

Gender inequality is directly linked to income inequality. With approximately half of the world’s population consisting of women, this can weaken sustainability of growth worldwide.

In this aspect alone, gender inequality isn’t just a women’s issue anymore – it’s a human issue. It’s a problem that has effect on all of us.

We need to focus on policies for better education, healthcare, infrastructure, financial inclusion. We need to promote equal rights.

And if we all rally together, we can make this change.

Notable replies

  1. What is “sobering” is the way that this article describes these women. Most of them partnered with their husbands before their partnership (or as the article describes it - “their husband’s companies”) became profitable. The fact that their contributions are diminished because they are wives and not on the company payroll (anymore), is both sad and also unfair to women. The freedom that Bezos, Jobs, and Gates have to create and raise venture only existed because their wives seamlessly worked to care for homes, children and their self indulgent personalities. Maybe the men only made it to the 1% because of who they married?

  2. Thanks @Jodypritikin for responding, and welcome to Ideapod Discussions!

    You make a good point. It’s actually been touched on here:

    You’re right that these men got a lot of freedom to operate thanks to the women they married.

    There’s another example of a successful partnership in Australia. Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard achieved a lot of success and her partnership with Tim Mathieson contributed to it:

    It’s a bit of a tangent. But have you seen this speech Gillard gave in Australian parliament?

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