For Quartz, I wrote about the sexism that Hillary Clinton has faced throughout her career, and the economic barriers that prevent young aspiring female politicians from emulating her path:
Like all women of her generation, Hillary faced formidable sexism, fighting for rights women now take for granted. But like many women of her generation, she also benefited from being born in an era when upward mobility was arguably more feasible, at least economically.
Though now multi-millionaires, the Clintons came from relatively modest beginnings. Bill grew up in poverty in Arkansas, while Hillary grew up in an Illinois family that only reached middle class stability in the mid-20th century. The Clintons rise to power was not buoyed by inherited wealth, but by a system that allowed lower and middle-class baby boomers increasing access to higher education and prestigious jobs.
But the contemporary versions of Bill and Hillary Clinton—talented middle-class or lower-class students from the Midwest or South—may find that achieving the same success will be stymied by their family’s class status or their geographical distance from centers of power. The prototype for a future Hillary is someone who grew up more like Chelsea Clinton—wealthy, connected, and able to pursue multiple advanced degrees.
While gender barriers have eased over the past forty years, economic barriers have tightened. Older generations of women have diversified once closed fields: female lawyers are now common, the number of female politicians is still disproportionately low but has been slowly rising, and we have our first female presidential nominee. But the path to professional success is increasingly narrow, dependent on expensive advanced degrees and the financial ability to work in prestigious fields for no or low pay in America’s most expensive cities. Momentum forged by earlier generations has stalled.
The hard work and ambition of women like the young Hillary Clinton have much less currency in today’s system, because only one type of currency—hard currency—counts.