There is a growing feeling of uselessness among men in the United States. In the last two years The Atlantic has run two cover stories titled “The End of Men” and “All the Single Ladies,” both prognosticating the impacts of gender role reversals occurring in Western — specifically American — society. In both articles, the point was clear: women have caught up, and are now leaving men in their dust.
We’ve all seen the statistics. For a quick refresher, here are three stats taken from the two Atlantic articles:
- Three women now graduate from college for every two men, and the ratio of graduate school rates are even more skewed towards women.
- Among single, childless urban workers between the ages of 22 and 30 (an admittedly specific grouping), women actually earn 8% more than their male counterparts.
- Men make up the majority in only two of the 15 highest growth job categories for the next decade (janitor and computer engineer)
In the past couple decades, public and private programs, scholarships, and professional groups have done an amazing job at providing women broader and deeper access to educational and professional opportunities than ever before. Yes, as a whole, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. And yes, executive positions in many industries are still overwhelmingly dominated by men. Make no mistake; there is still a lot of progress to be made. Nevertheless, almost all of the indicators have been moving in a steadily positive direction for women.
I am not writing to decry these trends or request a return to a Mad-Men-era of the domination of machismo (the progress that women have made, even in the past 20 years, has been incredible and I only hope that it continues). Rather, I am writing to warn of the social costs that we could be facing as men begin to slip further and further behind.
And what a quick slide it has been. Men are now more likely to only hold a high school degree. More twentysomething men than women are moving back in with their parents. Most damningly for men, industries that were traditionally dominated by men, such as manufacturing and construction, were decimated by the 2008 recession. The majority of those jobs are never coming back. All of this has led to far higher unemployment rates for men in their prime working age than for women.
So, what are the costs? For one, jobless men, especially those without education, feel like they’re facing a hopeless situation. Especially for those with only high school education, jobs have become increasingly scarce and the ones that remain have significantly less lifetime earnings potential than just a couple of years ago. With education costs going nowhere but up, and labor jobs declining, the future is particularly bleak. Groups of prospect-less men, both in terms of professions and relationships, could lead to higher rates of depression, substance abuse, and violence, particularly against women, all of which mean significant social expenses.
Relatedly, there is a growing shortage in the pool of marriageable men. As women are attaining higher educational and professional achievements than men, the pool of men available to them (as in, men they come in contact with and are single) is shrinking. Rapidly. Now, I understand that marriage rates are also declining as fewer people feel forced into the concept of a traditional marriage. However, even accounting for this, the pool of available men for women who want to get married is still shrinking to an unsustainable level.
Personally, my background is in international development. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in African communities where there is large scale male unemployment, and most men have resorted to taking what little money their wives earn as subsistence farmers and using that to spend their days at the local bar. Men in these communities face the ultimate hopelessness of having almost no chance to rise up from their neglected communities. Within this atmosphere, a culture of gender-based violence is born. While the situation is not nearly so dire in the U.S., there is a very real risk in growing male resentment toward the successes of women. In the communities I studied, domestic assault and sexual abuse rates were high largely because of the powerlessness of men. Men facing no job prospects and an increasingly marginalized role in the status of their family were asserting their power in the only other way they knew how: physical violence.
What can be done to avoid some of these expenses without stunting the progress that women have achieved?
Men need to be re-educated, both professionally and socially. The stigmas associated with professions long dominated by women, like nursing, need to be broken down, as these professions are often the ones facing the highest growth opportunities. In all professions, men need to get used to working both with and for women. Men need to be taught to be comfortable dating women who are smarter or earn more than they do. The concept of equal responsibility in all areas of home life, be it dusting or grilling, needs to be pervasive. This is not just important for instilling in the attitudes of our generation’s children, but it is necessary for men to adapt to our current society.
Men need to be taught that this is no longer a just man’s world, and we need to stop being nostalgic for that time. That ship has long since sailed.