Magazine article The Spectator

Sex and Success

Magazine article The Spectator

Sex and Success

Article excerpt

The rise of working women has created a new - and far less equal - world

James is 15 years old, coming up to his GCSEs; and the researcher he is talking to is clueless about girls. Yes, he tells her, girls at his school, underage girls, do indeed have sex. With guys in their class, like him.

The researcher is surprised. Haven't girls gone studious; aren't they collecting the top grades, leaving the boys behind?

James states the obvious. 'It's not girls with As or A*s, ' he explains. 'Girls with As are virgins.'

Today, almost a quarter of girls report having underage sex. But there are almost as many girls waiting till they're 20 or more.

This isn't random, a question of whether and when the right boy appears.

Instead, it's a parting of the ways.

One group of girls is setting off along an alpha track, leaving their contemporaries behind;

and teenage sex lives are a very good predictor of who they are.

A* girls stay virgin because they have more important things on their minds. It's not just peer pressure, or social class: it's also ambition. These girls have realistic, achievable and life-altering goals for which it's well worth postponing sex. Others don't.

In the years since the Pill made teenage sex a safe activity, a gulf has emerged. In America, highschool dropouts now report becoming sexually active almost three years earlier than girls with law school in their sights.

In England, by the age of 16, girls are dividing into two distinct groups. The top sixth set off along a well-signed route: more hard work at A-level, and then a good university (where they can lose their virginity to an alpha-track boy). A full bachelor's degree and, increasingly often, a postgraduate one as well; and a well-paid 'Class 1' alpha job, professional or managerial.

It's the same all over Europe and North America, where half of 'Class 1' jobs are held by women. Professional men work with and for them, just as they work with and for men.

It may not be half-and-half at the very top, but in these integrated workplaces, an allmale meeting is a curious sight. These alpha women are the subject of my new book, The XX Factor, and there are lots of them: 20 million in Europe alone, and rising.

And the other five-sixths of British women? They lead lives that are essentially female and surprisingly traditional. Most women enter a very different labour market from the alpha females, one where most jobs are either dominated by women or dominated by men. Here gender still rules: hotel maids are female and street cleaners male;

care assistants female and lorry drivers male;

registered nurses female, electricians male.

Not only do most women work in occupations dominated by women, and in work groups that often lack a single male. They also do the most traditional of female tasks - but outsourced from the home to the workplace. This hollowing out of the home is one of the most striking features of modern life. People are being paid, in formal jobs, to do things that were once organised in our houses. The process went furthest, fastest, in Scandinavia: as a result, these pin-up countries for female equality have the most traditional- looking, sexually segregated labour markets in the western world.

But not at all levels. It is Scandinavian women who care for children, the sick, the old, as state employees. Meanwhile, at the top of the pyramid, like everywhere else in Europe, Scandinavian life is gender-mixed:

alpha women, alpha men.

All this feeds our societies' growing economic inequality. A lot of women now make big money. Moreover, inequality among women is growing very fast indeed. In both the UK and the US, the percentage of total female earnings that goes to the top female 1 per cent has doubled since the 1980s. In America, almost 200,000 women are earning a quarter of a million dollars a year, or more:

and the average income, within that group, is a breathtaking $475,000. …

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