The Cato Institute recently published a fascinating essay by Kay Hymowitz, “What’s Happening to Men?” In it, Kay reviews recent research to try to find an explanation for the decline of the American male.
The grim facts are these:
- Women now earn 57% of college degrees, 60% of masters degrees, and over half of Ph.D.s
- Childless 20something men earn 8% less than their female counterparts
- 40% of American children are born to single mothers; this rises to 72% of black children
- For every 100 college-educated 23-year-old males, there are 164 college-educated 23-year-old women (!)
On the one hand, this is wonderful news. The male dominance that persisted throughout most of human history has been reversed. It is truly a major victory for equal rights and feminism.
On the other hand, this has had a major impact on the well-being of men, with black men acting as leading indicators.
Hymowitz suggests that structural changes in the nature of work and society (the decline of blue collar manufacturing jobs, the rise of the knowledge economy) and their results (the declining dependence of women on their husbands) have removed the motivation for male achievement:
The economic independence of women and the collapse of marriage norms have deprived men of the primary social role that incentivized their achievement. Adult manhood has almost universally been equated with marriage and fatherhood. Boys grew up knowing that they had inescapable future demands on them. There were exceptions, of course. In polygamous societies, low status men often had neither wives nor children; in others some males became priests and some, warriors and soldiers. But in most human societies, men knew that they were expected to become providers. Why have men agreed to do all of those dangerous, boring, dirty, exhausting jobs? Because people were depending on them.
Indeed, Hymowitz cites studies that show that, “married men work longer hours, earn more, and get more promotions than single men, including those who are fathers; indeed, their earnings rise after they marry.” This suggests that the traditional role as husband and provider has a significant impact on men’s lives.
My own analysis is similar. For most of history, the male attributes of physical strength, abstract thought, and aggression gave men a significant advantage over women. In a feudal world, it was the ability to fight and toil in the fields. In the industrial age, it was the ability to work physically demanding skilled labor jobs. And of course, there was always the male-dominated field of warfare.
Today, however, very few fields still reward the classic male strengths. Perhaps the only ones that remain are the military, professional sports, finance, and high-tech (the first two reward physical strength; the last two reward abstract thought; all four reward aggression). And many of these are in danger–when wars are fought by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), physical strength becomes less important.
These fields, while important and rewarding, can only accommodate a small fraction of the total male population.
If anything, I believe that the impact of these structural changes has been underestimated and underhyped. I suspect that decades from now, we’ll mark the turn of the 21st century as the official end of the Age of Men. Until the point at which our masculine strengths are once again needed (alien invasion?), the expendable gender will also have to settle for being the inferior one.