A viral, decades-old statistic is based on sketchy research.
If you're a feminist you've probably seen this. You may have even repeated it: verbally, on your blog, on a flyer, on Twitter, in your book or an academic article. It goes something like this:
While women represent half the global population and one-third of the labor force, they receive only one-tenth of the world income and own less than one percent of world property. They are also responsible for two-thirds of all working hours.
That's how it appeared in 1984, on page one, in Robin Morgan's introduction to the classic collection called Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology. That's more or less how it was tweeted by untold numbers of people a quarter-century later, on #IWD 2011 (a.k.a. International Women's Day). And that's how it was graphically presented in a slick Google video promoting IWD events that year.
But that wasn't where it started, of course.
Where did it come from?
I don't know what it is, but some concepts come to mind: meme, virus, legend. I'll just call it it.
Usually, it is repeated without real attribution. But there are three bonafide sources offered by real scholars.
- A report called "World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace," from 1980 (U.N. buffs might call it A/Conf. 94/20); or to the "Programme of Action" that emerged from Copenhagen. That Copenhagen document was released under the name of Kurt Waldheim, who (before his Nazi past was revealed) was Secretary General to the United Nations at the start of the U.N.'s 1975-1985 Decade for Women. This is not the true source.
- The footnote from Morgan herself says: "Statistics from Development Issue Paper No. 12, UNDP." Produced under Decade-for-Women impetus, this was titled "Women and the New International Economic Order" (I've placed a copy here). Unfortunately, this is just a restatement, without substantiation. It is not the true source.
- The Copenhagen report contains a footnote to a 1978 edition of a Decade-for-Women-inspired journal published by the International Labour Organization, called Women at Work (1978/1). This, I now believe, is the true source.