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Liza Mundy’s book examines the changes and challenges that several families faced when the woman earned the higher income in a household.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Women will become the main breadwinners in U.S. households by 2030. This is a big flip predicted by Liza Mundy , a Roanoke native and author of “The Richer Sex.”
Mundy, 52, has a long-time interest in family and gender issues. She grew up in the 1970s and said feminism helped shape her views on women and society. Her ideas and interests have been fuel for many writings, including the book “Everything Conceivable” and articles appearing in Time magazine, The Atlantic and the Washington Post, where she is a reporter.
Her latest book examines the changes and challenges that several families faced when the woman earned the higher income in a household.
While Mundy was talking with a Simon & Schuster editor about women outnumbering men in colleges, the editor mentioned a rise in female breadwinners in households. Exploring the effects and relationship of these two trends led Mundy to “The Richer Sex.”
“All of these things were coming together to convince us both that this is an interesting trend that is worth exploring — both why it’s happening and what the consequences are,” Mundy said.
Mundy returns to Roanoke this week to speak at the Shenandoah Club. The talk is at 12:30 p.m. Monday and reservations are required; call 345-1576.
Mundy recently talked about writing the book, balancing life and work, and coming back to the Roanoke Valley.
Q: What sparked your interest in how female breadwinners are changing the family dynamic?
When I was growing up in Roanoke in the 1970s, my generation was very influenced by feminism and new opportunities. Incidentally, I would say that I had a very good upbringing in terms of possibilities for girls and women. I felt very supported academically and socially in terms of life goals and achievements.
I started noticing, maybe about six or seven years ago, reports of women now outnumbering men in a number of universities. I was really curious about why that was happening, what the dynamics were like on campus, because that was very different from when I was in college. Women were very much outnumbered by men. I was interested in what the dynamics were like, why that was happening and how these women’s lives would unfold being part of a generation where women are getting better educated than men.
I’ve always considered myself a feminist. I think the situation in workplaces and families is different than what it was 30 or 40 years ago. I think that people who are interested in women’s and family issues need to be aware of how the world is changing and what the new challenges are for men and women.
Q: What did you learn from writing the book?
I learned that every family in some ways is unique and people react very differently to maybe the same situation. I had never really fully appreciated how hard the workplace worked for many years to ensure that women would be deprived of economic opportunity. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that until about 150 years ago, married women couldn’t own property in marriage and couldn’t own the right to their own wages.
The reason that men outnumbered women at universities in the 20th century had to do with the GI Bill, which, as President Obama has pointed out talking about his grandmother and grandfather, the GI Bill was available for men and really the reason why in the 1950s and ’60s that going to college became a middle-class phenomenon for men. It became a common thing for men to do, but not for women. Then the Vietnam War gave men another incentive to go to college and not women.
There were these structural incentives in place for women not to go to college. Once those fell, women really started pouring into community colleges and four-year colleges, and master’s degrees and Ph.D. programs because those barriers had finally come down.
Q: What kinds of societal changes or conversations would you like to come from “The Richer Sex”?
I think it’s useful to talk about these issues and air these issues. I feel like it’s happening more and more in a way that is kind of inflammatory and viral, but also useful. We saw this with the comment that Paul Tudor Jones made at the University of Virginia a couple of weeks ago when he said that the reason why there weren’t more women on Wall Street on the trading floor was because when they became mothers, they lost all focus and were no longer able to make the sort of rational trading decisions that they needed to.
The outcry against that was really sort of heartening. It was discouraging to hear that kind of attitude still exists, that women become sort of useless professionally once they have children. But it was heartening to see the outcry against that kind of attitude. I think we are having a really robust conversation about working parents and working mothers. We are seeing that there are definitely still pockets of strong resistance against women becoming professionally dominant, professionally accomplished or economically empowered. But I think that resistance is waning. The voices of women standing up for their achievements are very loud and very powerful.
Q: How do you balance your work and life?
Having teenagers is a little bit easier. Once they don’t have to be driven around so much to activities, life becomes more manageable. I mean, my husband is very involved and is a very active parent. He does work hard and doesn’t have a crazy travel schedule. My husband is very good about working a sort of sane work day and getting home, and helping, and being there for dinner and sharing that part of it, and being a very hands-on dad.
I think that being a reporter and a writer now at a time where we can work remotely and we can work from home, it does mean you are kind of working all the time and at odd hours. But it does make things much more flexible. When my kids were little, and I worked at the Washington Post, we couldn’t work remotely. If I was going to work, I had to be in the office. My children are very supportive and accept that they have a working mom and a working dad. They help also, believe it or not. They have been known to do their own laundry pretty regularly.
Q: What is like for you to come back to Roanoke?
It’s always great to come back. I still wish that they would widen Interstate 81. It always makes me nervous. But it’s always lovely to come back to Roanoke. I have good friends that are still there and family who is still there. It’s obviously such a beautiful part of the state. It’s hard because we have family in North Carolina and in eastern Virginia as well, so we can’t get back there as much as we’d like. But it’s always beautiful. Our kids have the same reaction to seeing the star, and the same landmarks that I always knew are very familiar now to our kids as well.
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