The most diverse pool of Democratic presidential candidates has left out one vital campaign issue: gender mainstreaming.
Instead of sidelining gender into individual policies around women’s and reproductive rights, or paid family leave, the candidates (and the debate moderators) need to mainstream other election issues such as Social Security, healthcare, higher education, the middle class, criminal justice, immigration, international trade, Wall Street, strengthening democracy and election integrity, LGBTQ+ rights, venture capital and entrepreneurship, GDP and economic growth, and binding arbitration so that we can prevent policies from adversely impacting half of the population, women (or men), as well as strengthen our democracy and economy.
The middle class
Today’s middle class looks different than decades past. Not only has the share of middle-class income dropped since 1971, but the share of middle-class Americans has also dropped (by 19 and nine points, respectively). Since 1970, the share of households with breadwinner moms has increased by 166%, and 71% of families in the U.S. rely on moms’ earnings for their well-being.
We are also grappling with the highest level of income inequality since before the Great Depression.
Higher education has lost its reputation as the ticket to the American Dream, partly because of how we pay for it. At $1.5 trillion, student loan debt is throttling our economy.
Women make up 57% of undergraduates yet hold 67% of all student debt, meaning our country has a 10-point gap between female attainment rates and their share of debt. And it takes an additional 1.9 years for women to pay back their loans than for men. The duration differentiation is certainly influenced by the gender pay gap, and it’s even longer for women of color. This results in greater total interest accrued and higher default rates. Over the long term, the personal effects of defaulting on loans are felt in low credit rating and less economic opportunity. At the national level, defaulting on loans will cost taxpayers $31.5 billion over the next decade and slow our economic engine.
Recreating a new middle class, one that’s adept for competition in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, includes examining the rate of future job automation as broken down by gender. Analysts predict that there are 7 men for every 10 women working in jobs most threatened by automation.
Social Security is quickly approaching a cash crisis. By 2020, the program’s annual costs will exceed its income. To maintain benefit payments, Social Security will need to tap into its $2.9 trillion reserve fund until it completely dries up in 2035. After that, the program will face a $13.2 trillion cash shortfall between 2034 and 2092. We’re already hearing discussions on solutions to sustain payments through 2092, such as implementing a 21% across-the-board cut in benefits.
When we gender mainstream this issue, we find another, unconventional solution to help save Social Security: closing the gender pay gap. On average, women lose $10,000 annually due to the gender pay gap, or $403,440 over the course of a 40-year, full-time career. Gender pay inequity doesn’t stop upon retiring.
Achieving gender pay equity would close Social Security’s savings shortfall by 35%, or $4.7 trillion. That’s more than the market capitalization of Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, and Amazon combined.
Beyond the immediate cost of paying for healthcare, we should also focus on mental health: its inclusion and affordability in healthcare plans as well as its untold economic costs.
We live in a country where teenage boys are three times more likely to die from suicide than teenage girls and male deaths account for 79% of all suicides. “Being a man” means living inside a set of rigid expectations marked by aggressive behavior and suppressed emotion. Reframing American masculinity would untrap our men and boys from what experts have coined the “Man Box“—allowing them to realize their potential.
Import tariffs come at a cost to U.S. businesses and consumers. Businesses, which shoulder the burden of these taxes, often pass the extra costs onto consumers. Because the U.S. tariff code has gender inequalities written directly into it, the impact on consumers is also gendered.
Compared to men, women have less money coming into their wallets (the gender pay gap) and more money going out. For example, the pink tax is the price differential of everyday goods that women pay simply because they are female. Apparel imports accounted for 75% of the total U.S. household tariff burden in 2015. The apparel burden for women ($5.8 billion) was nearly double the apparel burden for men ($3.1 billion). Per household, the extra costs of import taxes range from $69 to $86 for women and $33 to $42 for men.
GDP and economic growth
Robert Kennedy once defined GDP as an indicator that “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution and approach the knowledge economy, it’s time we revisit GDP as a barometer of national well-being and put it through the gender lens.
First, GDP fails to account for the effects of production, whether they be positive or negative. What is the value of soda if it increases rates of obesity? Second, GDP fails to consider income equality. According to GDP, an economy with unequal wealth distribution could appear better off than an economy with equal wealth distribution. Third, and most pertinent as technology progresses, GDP fails to capture the complexity of a knowledge economy that depends on intangible assets (data, intelligence, networks).
In 2019, the five companies with the world’s largest market caps were all founded by U.S. entrepreneurs: Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook. Despite the economic opportunity, most entrepreneurs (myself included) would agree there are countless challenges. It’s a particularly rigorous climb for female entrepreneurs, even though having at least one female founder on a startup team improves investment returns by 63% as compared to all-male teams. Venture capitalists who commit to gender equity could expand projected returns to their limited partners by $4.4 trillion.
A more equitable measure of national well-being would look similar to the UN’s Gender Development Index and Gender Inequality Index, which together disaggregate health, educational attainment, empowerment, standard of living, and labor force participation by gender.
Gender mainstreaming is more than an issue of fairness (ending the notion that women and girls are secondary). It’s a $2 trillion economic opportunity. I urge the campaigns and debate moderators to put the gender lens on all issues. How will future policies, whether they be on import tariffs or student loans, uniquely impact women and men? Let’s take a stand for the future of our economy and our democracy.
Katica Roy is the founder and CEO of Pipeline Equity.