At My Real Job: The Decline of Men

At Cato Unbound this month, Kay Hymowitz looks at the trends and considers whether men are in decline:

Women today are entering adulthood with more education, more achievements, more property, and, arguably, more money and ambition than their male counterparts. This is a first in human history, and its implications for both sexes are far from simple.

What’s the cause? It could be any number of things: the retreat of manufacturing and the rise of the knowledge economy, pedagogical methods that were really better suited to women all along, and — Hymowitz suggests — the decline of marriage, which motivates men to be high achievers and kicks them in the butt if they fail.

Consider this an open thread, on her essay or any other topic.

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42 thoughts on “At My Real Job: The Decline of Men

  1. > What’s the cause?

    How about, “It’s just a correction”? I mean, men can be in decline for a *very* long time before we even get to equal distributions on a lot of embedded cultural institutions. We’re still ‘way away from the center on the graph between patriarchy and matriarchy.

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  2. I have to say, if I were a woman my main complaint about this topic would be that when looking at data that shows us how much women are accomplishing, we are still framing it as if the most important issue is where the men folk are.

    That being said, I think there is something to the (incorrect but still popular among young folk) notion that a non-college educated man can make just as much in a good skilled labor job, while women have to get a degree in order to succeed.

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    • I see the inverse as often as not, though. Feminist groups and the like complain about the lack of women in STEM majors, but consider the fact that women now comprise of a comfortable majority of college graduates to be an absolute good. I even recall complaints about how Utah is “behind” the other states, as far as female scholastic achievement goes, because there remains near-parity between male and female college populations.

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  3. This is both only anecdotal and at best only speaks to a fraction of the data, but…

    My sister teaches at a midwest state college, and she has noted that women who have made “bad” long-term career choices at 18 are still somewhat likely to recognize this in their 30s or 40s and go back to get some kind of degree and reboot their entire career. Men almost never do this, or at least that she has seen. (And I am told both sexes are equally as likely to come back for career assisting advanced degrees when they have jobs that pay well.)

    So there’s that.

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    • > Women who have made “bad” long-term career
      > choices at 18 are still somewhat likely to
      > recognize this in their 30s or 40s and go back
      > to get some kind of degree and reboot their
      > entire career. Men almost never do this, or at
      > least that she has seen.

      This is a fascinating observation. It twiggs with my own anecdotal experience.

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      • If true on a macro level, I wonder what this says about men? Is it a biological thing, or a social thing?

        This also, btw, jives with my experiences listening to talk radio, where I often hear male callers complain they are out of work because the economy has sunk their industry. They often seem to be waiting for people in charge to resurrect that industry, even when it’s obvious it ain’t comin’ back.

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        • I think it’s cultural.

          Half-assed thoughts: women (post-1985) have been encouraged to believe that they can have it all; career, education, family life. Men (since forever) have been encouraged to believe that their lot in life is to get their ass to work and do it until they die. This is overly simplistic, obviously, but not entirely inaccurate.

          While the “you can have it all” meme is faulty, it does result in a willingness to change/try – if you don’t have it all right now, well then you might be doing something wrong so go back 5 steps and try again. The “work until you die” bit, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily encourage thinking outside the box.

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        • Sunk costs are very true for men I think. Changing course means acknowledging the losses, if you don’t change course then in your own mind the losses are not fully incurred. Women are better able to absorb sunk costs. To put it in more common vernacular; men aren’t lost in their own minds until they have to ask for directions.

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    • My college within my university had a lot of older men going back to school. My co-blogger Sheila has also complained a lot about leering older men on campus when she was in college. So “almost never do this” is a pretty severe exaggeration.

      Despite this, I think it is true that women are more likely to go back to school, though.

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      • Women do have a tendency to go back to school more than men… one interesting side question would be: when men go back to school, are they seeking advanced degrees in something they’re already doing, or are they seeking career-track-jumping?

        I’d guess that on the whole men go back to school to double down on their existing career track, women go back to school to open a new track. It would be interesting to see if the data bore that out.

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        • Sounds true enough. My above experience involves undergraduate degrees. But I do think that, more often than not, they’re getting degrees in fields that will help them along with their current path rather than an out-and-out career change.

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  4. I only hope this starts to manifest more in our power hiearchy, i.e. more female CEOs, politicians, and better career advancement in the military.

    It does seem a relative decline, but in absolute terms simply bringing balance back to the force, so to speak.

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  5. Birth Control.

    By making procreation optional, fatherhood has become optional.

    By making fatherhood optional, husbandhood has become optional.

    By making husbandhood optional, adulthood has become optional.

    Perpetual male adolescence.

    Rent-to-own. No money down.

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    • This is Hymowitz, more or less.

      The question is whether this is what’s going on — or whether it’s just a long-overdue correction, as Patrick suggests. Or whether it’s something else — the structural argument about manufacturing versus knowledge may also be true.

      How to argue…

      …against Hymowitz? It may well be that anecdote and stereotype make the argument seem more powerful. Quantify, quantify.

      …against Patrick? The same; note that women significantly outnumber men in college now. A correction would mean gender parity.

      …against the structural argument? Give it time. If the rising generation of men neglects the knowledge economy, we may indeed be looking at the start of a new matriarchy. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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      • She got into class/race issues to a degree that I find interesting but don’t know that I feel comfortable really addressing…

        It does seem that there is more wiggle-room to make poor decisions when one is a member of a particular class/race and less wiggle-room when one is from another.

        Two parents living together without benefit of clergy is something that seems far more sustainable in one class than in another, for example… which means that perpetual adolescence is more sustainable in one class than it is in another.

        (And just writing that down makes me wince.)

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      • > A correction would mean gender parity.

        This depends, really.

        I mean, one would *hope* that this is where you’d go, but in practice I’m of the opinion that widespread social change is subject to tipping points, which is why we have a tendency to oscillate around parity points in many different aspects of society.

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          • In a nutshell (this is not written well, sorry, I’m horribly distracted):

            If you presume that some measurable bit of a social construct (say, gender balance in the workforce, minority representation in legislatures, whatever) has an optimal point at “equality” or “proportionate” or whatever, and you further presume that we’re not currently at the optimal point, then getting from our current state to “better” is likely going to oscillate around the optimal point (one would hope, asymptotically) rather than move closer from one direction.

            So if women should represent half the workforce, and currently they represent 1/3 of the workforce, I’d expect the rates of change to be such that they represent an increasing number of the delta in any snapshot in time, until such the point that they represent more than half the workforce, at which point the rate will change but the percentage of women will start to increasingly outnumber the men, until the rate changes back the other way.

            This is because: whatever forces (engineered, governmental, societal, cultural, whatever) that currently encourage change stack and then must be unstacked to undo the change. All those forces are things that begin to carry their own weight, so undoing them is a project in and of itself.

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      • I’m not sure it can’t be a little of all of those things. The extensive, and I mean extensive, research on gender differences in cognition and intelligence have turned up very little: females do slightly better on some types of verbal tasks (but not all), and males do better on some times of spatial reasoning tasks (but not all). The mean differences, where they do exist, are tiny (for spatial reasoning tasks, it’s on the order of 10s of milliseconds, for example). So it’s not likely we’re looking at innate differences, but instead, cultural and perhaps structural ones, and I suspect that there are a lot of causes imbedded in those. The change in the nature of the family, the age of child birth and marriage, etc., have allowed women to thrive, and have reduced some of the incentives for men to achieve economic success or at least the potential for success at a relatively young age (I actually think this opens other doors for men, too: much easier to be a starving artist in your 30s, for example, if you’re not facing the pressure of putting food on the table for yourself and 3 or 4 others). It’s also increased the competition for high paying jobs, which means that in a way, all men have done is regressed to the mean. I imagine that, as the economy continues to change, and as women become more and more integrated at all levels of the workforce, these things will eventually even out: men will adapt, women will adapt, and we’ll achieve some sort of equilibrium. In short, it’s all good.

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    • But why does this happen to men and not women? We aren’t reacting to society being at a point where (finally!) wifehood is optional by becoming perpetually adolescent. It’s arguably had the opposite effect, releasing women from a culture in which they were expected to remain perpetually sheltered and innocent, the ‘angel of the household.’

      What does it say about marriage and childbearing if its decline has enabled women to be more mature and successful and induced men to be less so?

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      • This goes back to one of the insights I had when investigating the difference between girl toys and boy toys.

        Here is the sweeping generalization:

        Boy toys are usually variants of war toys or sublimations of war toys.

        Girl toys are usually variants of the things they’re going to have to use to prevent boys from going to war.

        What this means in practice is this: if women do not domesticate men, they will revert to feral state as if they were cats.

        If the men are, effectively, castrated and have a steady food supply, they will be perfectly cheerful playing with their toys, eating their food, and napping on the couch.

        And calling it heaven.

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  6. Only slightly related: Are there any women who post on/ read the League (besides Katherine above me)? I actually never thought about this before, but, now that I consider it, this place does have a overwhelming share of Y chromosomes. Just noting.

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    • It was noted before back around the era of Makoto_Chan I believe. There don’t seem to be a huge number of (vocal) ladies though I don’t know why. There’re a couple more who commentted more before and haven’t as much lately.

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    • Well, I think that’s relatively simple. After all, my poli-sci classes in college were about 50/50, maybe 55/45 male. But, yet here we are.

      This is a blog about politics on the Internet. Strike One.

      This is a blog about politics on the Internet with a high concentration of libertarians and other political niches. Strike Two.

      This is a blog about politics on the Internet with a high concentration of libertarians and other political niches that’s about policy and phiolosophy. Strike Three.

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  7. There’s this thing that some of my colleagues complain about with their more difficult male students that they call “thwarted entitlement”. I don’t know if I’ve seen much difference between the young men and women there, but it does seem that the young men are more openly ticked off when they don’t feel they should be assigned something, whereas the young women will usually complain on the course evaluation or find a very diplomatic way to complain after class (i.e.: “Some of the students in the class are feeling like maybe you assigned us too much reading. Is it possible that you might change that?”). Also, the young men who do get ticked off seem to stay that way for the rest of the semester.

    Not sure if this helps, but maybe there’s something there.

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    • “I don’t know if I’ve seen much difference between the young men and women there” meaning it doesn’t seem to me, as it does to some of my colleagues, that the males are more likely than the females to be ticked off about some assignment. There’s always some of any class that will be easily annoyed at having to do work in the class.

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  8. I kinda want to riff on “threshold earning” here: Hymowitz mentions the fact that women are far larger consumers than men and then connects that to successful mindsets. But isn’t it possible that being “the world’s dominant consumers” also requires larger incomes?

    I’m not saying this will show up in savings rates, in fact I’m suggesting that it doesn’t: if men are more able to fulfill their high priority wants than women are, they may well see less reason to earn more money. The low priority goods they could obtain may not be worth as much as more leisure or less frustration on the job.

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