The Truth About Men, Women and Work

The shrinking middle isn't just a class issue. It's becoming a gender issue too

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Illustration by Harry Campbell for TIME

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Of course, women will still benefit over the longer term from the fact that they are earning the majority of college degrees (about 60% of them). Those who are well educated, particularly with degrees in math or science, are starting on an equal footing with men or in some cases an even better one. In many wealthy, urban areas of the U.S. and Europe, young, well-educated and (crucially) childless women now outearn their male peers.

But both the success of women at the top and the scramble for lower-paying jobs at the bottom reflect a larger and more worrisome trend, the bifurcation of the American workforce. It's the core economic issue of our time, and it's likely to be one that hits women hardest. The middle-income jobs that are returning are factory gigs going mainly to men. The public-sector positions that sustained many women and allowed them to balance work and family over the past four decades are going, going, gone.

What's left are the extremes: those with demanding, well-paid jobs who can afford help to manage their lives, homes and children--and those who provide that help. In that sense, the shrinking middle may turn out to be not just a class issue but a gender one as well.

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