Monday, May 13, 2013

My Future As A Bag Lady

According to an insurance company survey (have not checked it for quality), lots of US women who earn sufficiently fear that they will end up as bag ladies:

Despite making enormous strides professionally and financially, almost half of American women fear becoming bag ladies, even many of those earning six-figure salaries, according to a new survey.

Six in 10 women describe themselves as the primary breadwinners in their households, and 54% manage the family finances, according to the poll by Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.

Even so, 49% fear becoming a bag lady -- a homeless woman who wanders the streets of a city lugging her meager belongings in a shopping bag.

Most surprising, 27% of women earning more than $200,000 a year said they fear falling into such destitution.

Such concerns were most pronounced among single women (56%), divorcees (54%) and widows (47%). But even 43% of married women harbor such fears, according to the study.
"Bag ladies" are homeless women who cart their belongings in plastic bags.

The article I link to then goes on to speculate about the psychology of the "deep-seated financial fears" of women:

Yet many also worry that financial achievement alienates both men and other women.

Forty-two percent said financially independent women intimidate men and run the risk of ending up alone, according to the survey. Almost one-third (31%) said those women are hard to relate to and don’t have many friends.
So it looks like the majority of the respondents didn't think financially independent women intimidate men or that such women are harder to relate to or don't have many friends.  But note that the summary chose to explain the results by focusing on the minority results.

That quote would be hilarious if it wasn't on such a sad topic, because it suggests that financial worries are a Catch-22 for women:  If you earn enough to take care of yourself, then you intimidate poor menz and end up lonely and crotchety (with multiple cats).  If, on the other hand, you are financially dependent, you have a much higher likelihood of actually ending up as a bag lady, or at least you have handed that choice to someone else to determine.

Do you know what pieces like this really need?  The corresponding results for men.  What percentage of men worries about becoming a street person in old age?  What percentage of men has deep-seated financial worries?  What form do they take?

Without those results we interpret everything about a survey like this as if the comparison basis was perfectly happy and secure men who never have irrational financial worries and who never fear that if they don't match the traditional masculine ideal they might not appeal to women or have many friends.

In short, we cannot ask the question the survey is implicitly asking (what's different about women?) without having the data for men, too.

I'm not saying that women wouldn't have the fear of becoming a bag lady in larger percentages than men.  I'm just saying that we need the deep-seated fears of both sexes under our magnifying glass, together with a large chunk of stuff about traditional gender roles, to make any sense about it.  Data from other countries would be good, too, because I suspect that the US is different in some respects.
Thanks to Cahuenga at Eschaton for the link.