The Old Boys’ Club Lives On

What’s happening to men? Not much. Kay Hymowitz argues that as young American women snap up advanced degrees and gun for higher-salary gigs, men are failing to ramp up their academic and professional qualifications. But young men can still fall back on one of the most valuable assets in today’s workplace: They’re men.

Hymowitz’ focus on the recent successes of women distracts from the long view: Men and women did not begin on equal footing, and they don’t stand on equal ground today. To be clear, women’s impressive gains in academia and the workforce over the past several decades have not practically disadvantaged men. Men are not securing fewer college degrees than they did in the 70s, and they are not earning less, either. That’s because women had to fight their way out of the home and the secretary pool before they even set their sights on the ranks of upper management. If young women are now making leaps and bounds in educational and professional achievement, it’s to catch up to their male peers, not beat them. Young men today may not be more successful than their fathers were, but they remain the demographic against which all other success is measured.

Maleness is so valuable in today’s workforce that men’s academic failures are in fact a testament to their gender advantage. Today, men are less likely to graduate from high school, finish college, or secure an advanced degree than their female peers. That ends up working out pretty well for men: Over a lifetime, female high school graduates will earn the same amount of money as male dropouts. Women who secure B.A.s will earn a comparable wage to men who never finish college. And the pay gap only increases as education levels rise: A woman must secure a Ph.D. in order to earn the same amount as a man with just a Bachelor’s degree under his belt. [1]

No wonder women are storming the Ivies: In a professional landscape that values men, higher education has emerged as one of the sole alternate routes to female success. The academic world has long been more accessible to women than the professional one. When colleges and universities first opened to them, young women were encouraged to extend their educations in order to secure an Mrs. Degree, if not a Bachelor’s. College is now primarily a place for women to start their careers, not their families. But though women have outnumbered men as undergraduates since the 80s, they’ve failed to translate campus dominance into career equality.[2]

That’s because when women enter the workforce, everything flips. The pay gap between men and women kicks in as early as their 14th birthdays.[3] And oddly, even the industries that Hymowitz cites as female-centric—knowledge economy jobs like print and television journalism—are in fact dominated by men. In 2010, women made up only 40 percent of local TV news stations, and less than 30 percent of news directors.[4] In 2011, they constituted just 36.9 percent of print newsrooms and made up an even smaller percentage of editors, figures that haven’t budged since 1999.[5] Even the current economic downturn has somehow failed to result in total female domination. Following what Hymowitz calls the “Mancession,” men have gained 805,000 jobs while women have lost another 281,000. Since 2009, men have even been more likely than women to snap up jobs in traditionally female sectors like education and health care. As the Roosevelt Institute’s Bryce Covert and Mike Konczal explain, that’s partly because men occupy many critical positions in the knowledge economy, while women still staff the majority of office administrator and secretary jobs. In recent years, women have left administrative support gigs not because they’ve graduated into more meaningful work, but because the secretary pool has evaporated.[6]

The Great Recession hasn’t been good for anyone. But there’s a longer-view explanation for why highly educated women are failing to gain ground in even the most female-coded sectors. While women rack up resume points in the academic world, men continue to succeed in a far more subjective pursuit: networking. When men and women graduate from business school, male M.B.A.s enter the workforce with a $4,600 salary advantage over women, a gap that only widens as their careers advance. Here’s one explanation for that generous male bonus: Male students benefit from the help of high-ranking mentors. Female students have mentors, too, but they’re less likely to be CEOs or senior executives, and their influence is far less likely to secure high-paying management gigs for their protégées. Why? Because men mentor men and women mentor women. And so, in spite of women’s impressive GPAs, the gendering of business success persists through the generations.[7]

This is how the glass ceiling is built: Even women who enter the workforce head-to-head with their male peers are less likely to be extended a hand to climb to the upper echelon. As the research of Jennifer Lawless shows, women are well aware of this professional limitation. Women who are similarly situated to men on paper nevertheless perceive themselves as less qualified than men to run for political office. Maybe that’s because a lack of qualifications does not pose a barrier for men: Sixty percent of men who consider themselves unqualified are likely to consider running anyway. Pair this with Lawless’ other major finding—that men are much more likely than women to be encouraged by higher-ups to throw their hats into the ring—and maleness begins to emerge as the most compelling qualification of all.[8]

All of a sudden, the male habit of spending a college career studying less and socializing more starts to look like a shrewd career move.[9] In the tagline to her book Manning Up, Hymowitz suggests that “the rise of women has turned men into boys.” But the truth is that acting like a boy has never been terribly inconsistent with grown-up male success. Take a look at some of the most successful men in the United States: In 2000, both major party candidates for president were C students from well-connected families. The pattern repeated itself in 2004. (It goes without saying that no major party candidate for president has ever been a woman). The term “Old Boys’ Club” continues to function as a useful descriptor for what’s going on here. Successful men mentor and support men in whom they see themselves—and guys with whom they’d like to knock back a few beers. Meanwhile, women are busy studying to make up the salary gap.

Hymowitz worries that all this female achievement has robbed men of their manhood. But in reality, it’s women who have been denied the opportunity to succeed as full adults. For high-achieving heterosexual men, the social measures of manhood are clear: A high salary, a home of his own, a dedicated wife, a couple of kids. As Hymowitz notes, these life goals complement one another—married men earn more and get more promotions than single guys. The measures of success separating girls from women are far less clear. When women get married and have children, their careers suffer. Among married women with children under six, less than 60 percent are employed at all. And these figures are not improving: Looking back at the past decade and a half, married women with minor children have never been so unemployed.[10]

Because women stand to lose out on raises and promotions when they get hitched and have kids, young women must work against their biological clocks to earn degrees and stable careers before they’re expected to invest their time in the home—and men are free to out-earn them from there until retirement. The fact that thinkers like Hymowitz are now focusing their brainpower on securing that turn of events is just the latest barrier to real equality between men and women.












Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Kay Hymowitz connects several worrisome trends: Men underperform women in high school and college. Men are going to college less altogether, even at many elite schools. Men are often less likely than similarly situated women to own a home. Men earn fewer graduate degrees and are underrepresented in the new, knowledge-based economy. Hymowitz suggests three possible causes for the decline of men: the decline of the industrial economy; girls’ superiority in the context of traditional educational methods; and a third, “existential reason” — men are increasingly deprived of marriage, and thus of a key motivator to male achievement. Public policy implications may vary depending on which cause one finds most important, but they might range from pedagogical reforms to government incentives for marriage and family.

Response Essays

  • Jessica Bennett characterizes the decline of men as both “exaggerated” and sometimes “plain wrong.” Women have made great strides, but the pay gap persists across occupations, even after controlling for children and education. The recent recession has been difficult for men, but at least they’ve bounced back in the recovery; women haven’t. Elaborate concern about masculinity at best hides enduring inequality—and at worst blames women for a lengthy set of non-problems.

  • Amanda Hess argues that not much has changed for men in recent years. Juvenile behavior among adult men is nothing new; it’s part and parcel of male privilege, and it has been that way for many years. Likewise with men who underachieve in school yet go on to high-status careers, owing mostly to their networking with other men. The reason for male dominance? The Old Boys’ Club, which has never truly left us.

  • Myriam Miedzian considers the 1960s, the era that formed the parents of many of today’s underperforming men. For a generation of women, second-wave feminism opened the job market, while the 1960s “do your own thing” ethos meant educational and career success. For the same generation of men, education and career meant conformity; “do your own thing” meant having fun. Miedzian points to a wide variety of other cultural trends in a far-reaching response, but ultimately concludes that we have failed men in two ways—by placing sports and conflict ahead of study and communication, at least for them; and by culturally shutting them off from traditionally female traits, like nurture and care, and the careers associated with these traits.