Friday, June 5, 2015

Coming Soon To Malaysia: It’s A Woman’s World

The Economist has an essay on one of the biggest social and demographic changes in history (excerpt):

Badly educated men in rich countries have not adapted well to trade, technology or feminism

…Tallulah may be an extreme example, but it is part of a story playing out across America and much of the rest of the rich world. In almost all societies a lot of men enjoy unwarranted advantages simply because of their sex. Much has been done over the past 50 years to put this injustice right; quite a bit still remains to be done.

The dead hand of male domination is a problem for women, for society as a whole—and for men like those of Tallulah. Their ideas of the world and their place in it are shaped by old assumptions about the special role and status due to men in the workplace and in the family, but they live in circumstances where those assumptions no longer apply. And they lack the resources of training, of imagination and of opportunity to adapt to the new demands. As a result, they miss out on a lot, both in economic terms and in personal ones.

For those at the top, James Brown’s observation that it is a man’s, man’s, man’s world still holds true…Yet the fact that the highest rungs have male feet all over them is scant comfort for the men at the bottom.

Technology and trade mean that rich countries have less use than they once did for workers who mainly offer muscle…But the real money is in brain work, and here many men are lagging behind. Women outnumber them on university campuses in every region bar South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. In the OECD men earn only 42% of degrees. Teenage boys in rich countries are 50% more likely than girls to flunk all three basic subjects in school: maths, reading and science.

The economic marginalisation this brings erodes family life. Women who enjoy much greater economic autonomy than their grandmothers did can afford to be correspondingly pickier about spouses, and they are not thrilled by husbands who are just another mouth to feed….

…There is no sugar-coating this: many blue-collar men no longer have the sort of earnings or prospects that will make women want to marry them…It is pointless to make plans with someone you fear will sponge off you for a while and then vanish.

It’s a long essay, but well worth your time to read.

Can’t happen here you say? Here’s the male to female ratios based on the latest tertiary education enrolment data (2013; Source: National Education Statistics 2013):

  Entering Enrolled Graduating
IPTA 1:1.61 1:1.56 1:1.74
IPTS 1:1.00 1:1.06 1:1.15
Polytechnics 1:0.85 1:0.86 1:0.96
Community Colleges 1:0.55 1:0.56 1:0.58
Total 1:1.18 1:1.24 1:1.28

Generally speaking, more women than men enter tertiary education, and the ratio is skewed towards public universities. In other words, apart from graduate/PhD, the higher the education level, the more women enter, enrol, and graduate. Worse, the ratio of women generally increases as you go from entry to graduation – men are more likely to drop out.

There’s still a glass ceiling at the very top of many professions, but Malaysian society is undergoing a sea change in relationship between the sexes at work and at home, in the composition and earnings of the labour force, and in our politics. How that plays out in our hitherto patriarchal society would be interesting to watch.


  1. Hi Hisham,

    As starter, I must stress that I'm all in for gender equality in the corporate world.

    However, despite of the significant skew towards female in terms of education statistics, I don't see that the ladies will out-grow the guys in the corporate world (hence achieving equality) in the next 100 years for one simple reason -- maternity.

    I know, many women nowadays don't get marry early and some don't even want to have baby, but if we are talking about statistics, women will still lose out in the corporate-ladder race to men for the maternity reason. Let's say 5 out of 10 women will get pregnant and be on leave for the minimum 2 months, the men in the office will surely take advantage -- competitively or politically -- to outperform the women, which is sad. So, we will still have more Larry-Pages then Sheryl-Sandbergs, like it or not.

    Yes, we have many women who have 3 children and still do well in their career and I sincerely hope to have more such corporate leaders (women are more prudent than men generally), but I just don't think it will happen.


    1. Level the playing field then, give men the same 'disadvantage' in the form of paternity leave.

      In fact, there's so much dialogue on increasing the length of maternity leave, it's a shame few has brought up the subject of paternity leave.

    2. @Fung

      Quite likely true over the short term, actually more so with the bias towards women in higher education, as that would reduce the supply of qualified men.

      But over the long run, as women delay childbirth and have fewer children (which is already happening), I'd expect more women to make it to the top.

      The pay data that I have is already showing women achieving parity or near parity in pay in two major sectors of the economy.

    3. @anon 11.12
      Thanks for your feedback, I guess many "ambitious" men would still choose to ignore the so-called paternity leave (maybe leave for 3 days), unless the employers make it strictly compulsory. Most women, on the other hand, would definitely choose to take a rest by maximizing the maternity leave.

      Thanks for your feedback. May I ask the definition of the "parity in pay"? Izit median? And if I have to guess, I think audit/accounting would be one of the sectors.


    4. @Fung

      Government, and transport and communications, though foe the latter I think its more comma than transport.

      Accounting is under financial and business services, and unfortunately I don't have a breakdown.

  2. regarding gender equality in corporate world
    gender equality for a better society? yes
    gender equality because women deserves it? no

    everyone get the same right and opportunity, from srk to smk to colleges, so whoever deserves it should be rewarded, men or women.

  3. It will happen in malaysia too - everyone should medicate their sons with ADHD drugs like the US. Read the comments in the article Hisham - Economist is simply towing the feminist propaganda.

    1. @anon 11.06

      I go by the data, and the data is showing a predominance of females in tertiary education. Over time, that will cause pay for women to increase relative to men. Everything else follows from there.


  5. Hello Hisham. Is this true? Is the govt paying 9 billion annually for govt owned companies' debt?

    1. @anon 9.00

      Yes and no.

      Since the number comes from MOF, its true. But some of the commentary is off base. The debts are off the balance sheet, but the expenditure is not. So the claim that these payments have not been tabled to Parliament is bogus.