About this Issue
The industrial jobs traditionally favored by men have been disappearing, and their replacements have been creative, networking, and knowledge-based jobs, at which women tend to excel. Women now predominate in higher education. At colleges and universities they outnumber men, earn better GPAs, and receive more advanced degrees. After thousands of years of dominance, men now seem like they may be a gender in decline.
But is that so? And what does it mean for public policy? How should we respond to these trends in the areas of education, employment policy, and family law? Lead essayist Kay Hymowitz is the author of the recent book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. She connects the dots for us and suggests an “existential explanation” — men are less likely to be married these days, and marriage is what turns an underachieving boy into an overachieving man.
Is her explanation right? Or some other one? And if so, what do we do? We’ve invited three experts to discuss Hymowitz’s ideas and their implications for public policy. They are Jessica Bennett of Newsweek, Amanda Hess of GOOD magazine, and philosopher/author Myriam Miedzian.
What’s Happening to Men?
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.
You can see the strongest evidence that boys and young men are falling behind in high school and college classrooms. Boys have lower GPAs and lower grades in almost every subject, including math, despite their higher standardized testing scores. They are 58% of high school dropouts. In the mid 1970s about 28% of men had college degrees. Since then, that number has barely budged. Meanwhile, the percentage of women with a college degree increased from 18.6 to 34.2%. Women now earn 57% of college degrees; predictions have them at 60% in the near future.
People often assume that this “boy problem” as it is sometimes called, is really a “low-income boy problem,” primarily affecting Blacks and Hispanics. It’s true that the human capital disparities between women and men are especially pronounced in these groups. But there are signs that higher income boys are also falling behind. By 2008, men were in the minority at Harvard; that’s been the situation for years at Brown, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia (though men continue to have an edge at Dartmouth, Princeton, and Yale.) At high-ranking historically male schools like Amherst, Williams, Bowdoin, Tufts, and Haverford, men are also less than half of the populations. Male college students are far less likely to study abroad or engage in extracurricular activities other than sports. They go on to earn fewer graduate degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2007 men were earning only 40% of master’s degrees and by 2009 fewer than half of all Ph.D.s; these numbers represent a decline of ten percentage points over just ten years. Admissions officers in colleges and universities are quietly resorting to affirmative action for male candidates since, for obvious extracurricular reasons, women are averse to campuses where men are scarce.
Given that the college premium has been rising since 1980, it was inevitable that male earnings would come to reflect their educational disadvantage. That’s already starting to happen. In an analysis of recent census data, Reach Advisors found that childless twentysomething men now earn 8% less than their female counterparts in 147 out of 150 of American cities. That’s despite the fact that college-going women major in subjects that tend to lead to lower paying jobs. Young single men are less likely to own a home than women. While on average men continue to earn more than women, their wages, unlike those of women, have stalled. The median male fulltime worker is earning about the same as he did in 1970 after inflation. Meanwhile, women’s earnings have climbed steadily. The Great Recession hit male workers so much harder than female that that it earned the label “Mancession.” Since 2009, men have been gaining jobs at a faster clip than women, but overall men’s job losses remain far higher than women’s.
So what explains this stunning shift between the sexes? Although feminism clearly played a role, the deepest roots of women’s current success lie in economic and technological change. In the early decades of the 20th century, a “household revolution” dramatically eased the domestic burdens primarily borne by women. Indoor plumbing and electricity led to refrigerators, washing machines, and other “engines of liberation.” By the mid-twentieth century and especially after 1960 when the birth control pill became widely available, women found themselves living in an utterly reshaped habitat from that of their ancestresses, free from sepsis, unplanned children, nursing obligations for ailing relatives, sewing, baking, and arduous trips to the river or well. Second wave feminism of the late 1960s was in large measure a response to this new freedom, a point that Betty Friedan well understood.
Women’s release from household drudgery coincided with the emergence of the postindustrial labor market, meaning a growing number of service and knowledge-based jobs. Already in 1950, Peter Drucker observed that the emerging job market would be a congenial one for women, who were at least men’s equals when it came to the management, analytic, and communication skills required there. But historians and economists have underestimated just how much this economic shift undergirds women’s success. Before feminism, educated women who held jobs often gravitated towards publishing and journalism more than other fields. Since then, the media has exploded with opportunities for them. In 1973 there were 3,000 book publishers, according to Publisher’s Weekly; by 2004 there were about 85,000. Television outlets also dramatically expanded to the great benefit of women. By 2006 women held 57% of news anchor jobs. They were also 58% of reporters, 56 % of news writers, 66% of producers, and 55% of executive producers.
The knowledge economy multiplied opportunities in other fields like public relations, graphic and product design, and management, as well as occupations using analytic reasoning. These are all areas where women have excelled. A 2003 report from the Dallas Federal Reserve detailed a large increase in the number of designers, architects, performing artists and directors, lawyers, doctors, and accountants throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Some of these jobs have surely been lost in the Great Recession, but the basic point still holds: over the past decades knowledge jobs proliferated both in number and in complexity, to the great advantage of women wanting gratifying jobs. The Economist nicely summed up the point this way; “The landmark book in the rise of feminism was arguably not Ms Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique but Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society.”
The success of young women has also been an international affair. Women are outperforming men in school and moving ahead in urban workplaces all over Europe and Asia. They are half or more of university students throughout Western and Eastern Europe, and have reached or are approaching parity in Japan, Korea, and Singapore. As they move into cities, get their degrees, and join the workforce, women are delaying and even forgoing marriage and children. In South Korea, for example, well over half of 30 year old women remain single, preferring to pursue more education and “self-development.” Their success is changing entrenched patriarchal attitudes. In the 1990s after sex-selective abortion became commonplace, Korea had one of the highest boys-to-girls ratios in the world. Now as younger Koreans reject the traditional preference for sons, the sex ratio is beginning to right itself. It’s probably only a matter of time before the same thing happens in China and India, both places where younger women are also becoming independent and successful workers. What’s causing the shift in women’s status? South Korea never had a vocal feminist movement—but it does have a vibrant knowledge economy.
All over the developed world, then, working women have been beneficiaries of the post-industrial economy. That leaves us with the question: why are men failing to keep up? There are two common answers. First, girls are “better at school” than boys, and are able to better compete for the higher paying, higher status jobs that require a college education. The reasons for this are highly disputed. One possibility is that boys learn differently than girls and that the schools, where women do most of the teaching, fail to recognize boys’ particular interests and “learning styles.” Female teachers choose fiction, goes one example of this line of thinking, but boys prefer adventure stories and biographies. Another possibility is that girls possess noncognitive strengths that lead to greater school success. In a 2002 paper, “Where the Boys Aren’t,” Harvard economist Brian Jacob compared a large cohort of college grads who had been 8th graders in 1988. He found that while boys and girls scored similarly on cognitive tests, girls were better at paying attention in class, keeping track of homework, and collaborating with classmates. Other studies have also found them to be more self-disciplined.
The second and related theory about why men are falling behind has it that today’s labor market prizes female strengths more than male strengths. The manufacturing economy, the one that ironically gave women the household revolution that helped to liberate them, relied on physical strength and endurance. Perhaps there were women who could be men’s equals in the steel mills, on the auto line, digging in mines, building bridges, or laboring as lumberjacks, bricklayers, or roofers. But there weren’t many. Good jobs today are another breed. They rely on traits like organizational and planning skills, aesthetic awareness, an ability to collaborate, and what are called “people skills.” They also often require a consumer mindset, and despite their increasing time on the job, women remain the world’s dominant consumers. The noncognitive skills Brian Jacob found to be at the root of girls’ school success also serve them well in the office. Whether these qualities are innately feminine, culturally taught, or some combination doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this argument. The point is that today, with the important exception of the technical and financial sector, younger women (that is, childless women, an important caveat) have shown they can easily be men’s equals, and possibly even their superiors, in the knowledge economy.
I would add a third, more existential explanation, for the male problem. 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. Evolutionary psychologists would point out it’s not insignificant that many of those dependents shared their genes.
Beginning in the middle of 20th century, not coincidentally the same historical moment that great numbers of women were moving into the workforce and becoming economically independent, the universal assumption that men were essential to family life started to erode. Divorce and single motherhood began to rise; even today, though divorce rates have declined, 40% of American children are now born to single mothers. Close to half of those mothers are living with their child’s father at the time of birth, but within five years, 40% of those fathers have moved out and their contact with their children diminishes steadily.
At first, the large majority of unmarried mothers were low-income women relying on a bundle of government benefits, particularly welfare, to support themselves and their children. More recently, however, high school educated women and those with some college have swelled the ranks of single mothers. Thus far, high-income women have bucked the trend towards single motherhood, but there’s evidence that is changing. In a forthcoming paper, Lucie Schmidt, an economist at Williams College, found that the birthrate for unmarried college-educated women has climbed 145 percent since 1980, compared with a 60 percent increase in the birthrate for non-college-educated unmarried women. It’s a safe prediction that the college gender gap will cause these numbers to climb. By age 23, there are 164 women with bachelor’s degrees for every 100 men, and trends have been towards greater educational homogamy, because women show little interest in marrying “down.”
What this means is that boys today are growing up in a culture that, unlike any before in civilization, is agnostic about their future familial responsibilities. The effect of this agnosticism on black men has been particularly dramatic. Social scientists generally point to the loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs as the cause of high black male dropout and crime rates, poor college performance, and absence in the lives of their children. It could also be that black men and women were caught in a negative feedback loop. As the manufacturing economy declined, black men could not find the decent jobs they had once relied on. Black women chose to have children on their own. Sons grew up observing that men were of little consequence to family life, which in turn gave them less incentive to adapt to changes in the labor market or more generally to become reliably productive husbands and fathers. With little hope for finding suitable husbands, black women came to take single motherhood for granted. Today 72% of black children are born to unmarried women.
This existential theory, stressing the loss of men’s primary social role, is impossible to prove with any certainty. But there is some evidence that unmarried men are less motivated in the workplace. 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 still could be a product of self-selection. The same qualities that make a man more productive in the work place may also make him a more reliable marriage partner. Several studies attempt to tease out the problem. Eric Gould at the Hebrew University in Tel Aviv looked at the schooling and career decisions of over 2,000 young American men between 16 and 39. He concluded that if there were no returns to career choices in the marriage market, “men would tend to work less, study less, and choose blue-collar jobs over white-collar jobs.” The findings don’t apply to the highest achieving men, but it does help to explain some of the behavior of men who straddle blue and white collar worlds.
Consider another recent study by S. Alexandra Burt at Michigan State University. Burt followed 289 pairs of male twins for 12 years, between the ages of 17 and 29. More than half of the twins were identical. She found that men who had shown less antisocial behavior as adolescents were more likely to marry as they got older, which argues for self-selection. But she also found that a married twin had fewer antisocial behaviors—aggression, irritability, financial irresponsibility, and criminal involvement—than his unmarried brother. This suggests there is some truth to the very unfashionable idea that marriage helps to discipline men.
Aside from school reforms that could help keep boys more engaged, the new gender gap has no obvious solutions. The profound economic changes that have led to female success and male stagnation have also transformed our culture and its expectations for men.
 National Center for Education Statistics, “America’s High School Graduates: Results of the 2009 NAEP High School Transcript Study,” April 13, 2011.
 Sheldon Danziger and David Ratner, “Labor Market Outcomes and the Transition to Adulthood,” The Future of Children, Spring 2010.
 Brittney L. Moraski, “The New Gender Gap: Are males an endangered species on American college campuses?” The Crimson (Harvard), June 7, 2006.
 Belinda Luscombe, “Workplace Salaries: At Last, Women on Top,” Time, September 1, 2010.
 Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, “The Problem with Men: A Look at Long-term Employment Trends,” Up Front Blog (The Brookings Institution), August 8, 2011.
 Rakesh Kochhar, “Two Years of Economic Recovery: Women Lose Jobs, Men Find Them,” Pew Research Center, July 6, 2011.
 Jeremy Greenwood, Ananth Seshadri, and Mehmet Yorukoglu, “Engines of Liberation,” Review of Economic Studies 2005, 109–33.
 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, “The Evolution of Work,” 2003 Annual Report.
 United Nations Statistics Division, “Statistics and Indicators on Women and Men,” June 2011.
 “Growing number of young women in S Korea avoid marriage” China Daily, July 28, 2010.
 Choe Sang-hun, “South Korea Welcomes Its Daughters,” New York Times Upfront; Choe Sang-hun, “Where Boys Were Kings, a Shift Toward Baby Girls,” New York Times, December 23, 2007.
 Brian Jacob, “Where the Boys Aren’t” Economics of Education Review 2002, 589–598. See also Gary Becker , William H.J. Hubbard, and Kevin M. Murphy, “The Market for College Graduates and the Worldwide Boom in Higher Education of Women,” American Economic Review, May 2010, 229–33.
 Angela Lee Duckworth and Martin E. P. Seligman, “Self-Discipline Gives Girls the Edge,” Journal of Educational Psychology, February 2006, pp.198-208.
 Lex Borghans, Bas ter Weel, and Bruce A. Weinberg, “People People: Social Capital and the Labor Market Outcomes of Underrepresented Groups,” NBER Working Papers 11985, January 6, 2006.
 Sara McLanahan and Audrey Beck, “Parental Relationships in Fragile Families,” The Future of Children, Fall, 2010.
 W. Bradford Wilcox, “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat From Marriage in Middle America,” National Marriage Project, 2010.
 Jeroen Smits, “Social Closure Among the Higher Educated: Trends in Educational Homogamy in 55 Countries,” Journal of Social Science Research, June, 2003, pp.251–277.
 See, for instance, Sanders Korenman and David Neumark, “Does Marriage Really Make Men More Productive?” The Journal of Human Resources, Spring 1991, pp.282–307.
 Eric D. Gould, “Marriage and Career; the Dynamic Decisions of Young Men,” Journal of Human Capital, April 2008.
Sure, Men Have It Rough. But Let’s Not Forget about the Women
It’s easy to lament these days that men are falling behind—and women, as a result, are on their way to ruling the world. The crisis of manhood has become something of an obsession, with belligerent, contradictory, nonstop messages hitting us from every angle. Hundreds of articles refer to the current economic downturn as a “Mancession” (despite new job data showing we’re more likely in a “Mancovery.”) The Atlantic declared late last year that we had come upon “the end of men,” while Newsweek, conversely, urged men to “man up!” by embracing dirty diapers and girly jobs. Amid all of this, Kay Hymowitz came storming out of the gates with “Manning Up,” a compelling argument that women’s rise had turned men into “aging frat boys, grubby slackers, and maladroit geeks.” (Ouch.) Her essay here takes us through a historical analysis of what, exactly, went wrong.
Now I’m not here to argue that men don’t face challenges. Indeed, as Hymowitz makes clear, males now lag behind females in the earning of college and advanced degrees; last year, they were surpassed by women as the majority of the American workforce. Those are major changes—both economically and culturally. And for young men, the repercussions may be even more severe. Women are waiting longer to get married and have children, with many of them rejecting these notions as a whole (or deciding to go at it alone). In urban areas like New York and Los Angeles, single, twentysomething women are now out-earning their male peers.
Yes, washing machines and birth control pills have helped us (a lot!). Sure, we outpace the guys around us in high school, college, and post-graduate degrees. But there’s a crucial shift that we’re leaving out when we talk about the “new gender gap”—that when women reach a certain age, most of these trends reverse themselves.
A few statistics to drive the point home:
By the time women enter college, studies show they’ll have given up many of their leadership roles. The rise of the knowledge economy may have multiplied opportunities in other fields (Hymowitz sites public relations, graphic design, and management). But women will still make up just a third of business-school students and barely a quarter of law firm partners.
The workplace may value female business traits, and they should: studies correlate women on corporate boards with profit, including a McKinsey report that estimates the United States could increase its GDP by 9 percent if we achieved true equity at work. But that doesn’t mean the workplace necessarily rewards them. Women still have trouble penetrating the highest rungs of the corporate world: they are also just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, less than a quarter of politicians, and just 22 percent of the leadership positions in journalism.
And then, of course, there’s what happens when women get home from work. The Industrial Revolution may have left us with super-powered washing machines (and the tech revolution has brought us online-order grocery delivery), but at the end of the day, most women remain burdened by domestic life. (And they still do the vast majority of the chores.)
Where this leaves us? Up in arms about a cultural trend that is both exaggerated and, by some perspectives, plain wrong. As Rachel Simmons, the author of The Curse of the Good Girl, told me recently: “The zeitgeist is that girls are excelling and boys are having trouble. But it all depends on what you’re measuring.”
The result of such over-analysis is twofold. First, it threatens to send men into a frenzy, as they are bombarded by advice from seemingly every angle. They have women shouting at them to get back to work. Men telling them to “man up!” They are expected to wax and coif and keep up with the latest fashion trends, all while embracing the Don Draper masculine demeanor. (With all the mixed messages, is it any wonder men don’t know how to behave?)
But perhaps more detrimentally, the man crisis perpetuates a notion that women are doing just fine—or worse, creating the problems men now face. It spreads the notion that feminism is dead—and that we have no need for it anyway, because we’ve already won the gender war.
Exhibit A: Last week’s New York Times, in which Frank Bruni laments that if you look beyond the Beltway, the gals are doing pretty damn good—as evidenced by this year’s ladies World Cup (“it wasn’t the boys but rather the girls of summer who had sports fans clustered around television sets, cheering and swearing”); “Bridesmaids” (“a side-splitting, end-of-discussion retort to the writer Christopher Hitchens’s impudent assertion a while back that women just weren’t funny”); and Lady Gaga and Adele, whose album 21 “sold at the sort of clip—2.7 million copies and counting—more typical of the predigital, predownload era.”
These are great strides, indeed. But for every statistic showing girls are “better at school,” or “dominating the box office,” there is another to show that men continue to be better compensated, more prominent in politics, dominating the business spheres, and rising up the corporate rungs while leaving the women behind.
Consider this survey, from Catalyst, which found that motivated female M.B.A.s who graduated from top-tier schools—and had no intention to have children—still earn $4,600 less per year than their male counterparts in their first jobs out of business school.
Or U.S. Department of Education data, which separated pay by job sector to determine that whether women who go into teaching or business, social work or science—and before they’ve had the chance to cripple themselves by life choices like babies—they will still make roughly 20 percent less than the men they work with, regardless of the field.
It’s true, we’re recovering from a recession in which men made up the vast majority of job losses. But let’s not forget, men out of work means women are often the sole breadwinners in their homes. And then there’s the recovery—where it’s women, not men, who are continuing to lose jobs. Since June 2009, when the recovery started, through July of this year, men have gained 998,000 jobs overall, but women lost 301,000, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. As Joan Entmacher, VP for family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center, put it last week: “Women were already losing ground in this so-called recovery, and a closer look show that the job market continues to worsen for women.”
In many regards, Hymowitz is right: the depth of evolution of men and women’s place in the culture is a first in human history. But let’s not worry about the boys while we forget about the girls.
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. 
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Don’t Blame Women’s Workplace Successes for Men’s Problems
The illustration accompanying Hymowitz’s essay captures the crisis she posits with respect to the status of men: The female marches ahead triumphant, while the male, on a leash, crawls behind on all fours.
While male educational and workplace problems need to be addressed, Hymowitz’s arguments in no way point to a crisis. Nor does she convincingly argue that the increased equality of women in the workplace comes at the cost of men’s decline.
Take the following argument: Men’s wages have stalled, Hymowitz points out. They remain about the same as in 1970 after inflation, while “women’s earning have climbed steadily.” Of course women’s earning have risen more since the days when newspaper want ads were divided into male/ female columns, with higher paying jobs in the male column, and when 5% female quotas kept women out of professional schools. Most of the brilliant women who did get in met the same fate that Sandra Day O’Connor first met. Upon graduating Stanford Law School, she was unable to get a job in a law firm—and rejected an offer to serve as legal secretary! The second-wave feminist movement changed all that, but in spite of enormous progress, on average men still earn more than women.
The knowledge economy has indeed been good to women, opening up jobs in computers, graphic design, public relations and so forth. But men also profit from this expansion. While women may be doing better in some areas, men dominate in many others including the very lucrative hi-tech industry. In many traditional fields including engineering, finance, academia, and politics, men remain the majority.
Women have hardly taken over the knowledge economy; nor is its growth the major reason for women’s progress in the workplace.
While giving some credit to the women’s movement, Hymowitz plays down its role and emphasizes the advent of household technology—dish washers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners—and the knowledge economy as the crucial forces leading to change. But upper middle class women did not need household technology in order to enter the workplace—they had maids. Traditional gender roles kept talented, motivated women in the home. For every Elizabeth Blackwell who struggled to become the first U.S. female physician, imagine the thousands of 19th and 20th century women denied the right to any profession. As for working class women, many worked in factories even after they married.
Hymowitz acknowledges that women still earn less on average than men, that only 22% of wives earn more than their husbands, that the higher echelons of corporate boardrooms are dominated by men (in fact, even at middle and lower levels, men are the majority), and that work possibilities and wages of college-educated men improved substantially over the past thirty years. She notes that while male unemployment rates have been considerably higher since the 2008 recession, recently men have been gaining and women have been losing jobs.
Hymowitz points to the fact that young unmarried women in many large cities are earning more than their male counterparts. She cites this fact as evidence that college educated men are being left behind. For many of these young women, the advantage will be short-lived: A third of professional women leave the workforce voluntarily for an average of 2.7 years to care for their children. When they return, only 40% find full time jobs.
In discussing why boys are falling behind girls academically, Hymowitz ignores two factors essential to understanding the problem.
Today’s young people have been raised by baby boomer parents, many of whom brought with them sixties values. “Do your own thing” was the slogan embodying the movement away from traditional values like responsibility and duty. (A correction to stifling earlier values was necessary, but went much too far.) Psychology professor Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, is among the researchers who have amassed data on the self-focus, self-centeredness, and conviction you can attain whatever you want that characterize many of today’s young.
Why would these characteristics have a worse effect on boys than girls? Baby boomers were the first generation to treat their daughters seriously in terms of academic and professional achievement, and encouraged traits of hard work, determination, postponement of gratification necessary to achieve those ends. Mothers were excited by this new found freedom; some went back to school themselves.
Fathers who had only daughters no longer needed to bemoan the absence of a male heir. Daughters could now take over the business, join the law firm, or be a source of pride by doing well academically and professionally. Young women were excited about the new prospect of being taken seriously. There was no such excitement for young men, who had been taken seriously forever. To them “do your own thing” might well mean doing what’s fun, not following in your hard-working father’s footsteps. (Anecdotally, among my highly educated acquaintances five sons are jazz or rock musicians; one is a circus acrobat.)
Much of the often very crude media and entertainment aimed at young men has further encouraged a “boys just wanna have fun” mentality. I would suggest that these cultural changes provide a more convincing explanation for the increase in young men choosing not to take on familial responsibilities than do women’s earnings or opting for single motherhood. Most women do not opt to raise their children alone; they do so when the father is not available. Many of today’s young men want to share with their wives the burden of providing with their families.
The other factor that Hymowitz ignores is how the emphasis on sports discourages boys from focusing on their studies.
Studiousness seems to come less naturally to boys as a group than to girls. Even countries like Iran and the Arab Emirates have more female than male students at universities. If we are serious about helping boys do as well as we know they can, we need to reward the boys who write the best essays, get the highest grades, create the best art work, excel at chess or on the debate team.
But outside a small number of elite and private high schools, boys who read, study, and do homework most often are viewed as geeks, nerds, or sissies. The heroes of our high schools are athletes—especially members of the football team. With this value system—further encouraged by the entertainment industry— is it surprising that boys do not do as well as girls and do not develop the good study habits that make for success in college?
The present cuts in government spending present an opportunity to press for cutting spending on high school sports instead of eliminating art, music, and pro-social programs such as conflict resolution and anti-bullying. These latter programs encourage “emotional intelligence”—including traits such as patience, empathy, ability to communicate. Hymowitz correctly points out that these traits, more common in women, are useful in a knowledge economy.
In a study measuring stereotypically masculine and feminine traits, Jean Twenge found that college women endorsed “masculine” traits such as ”forceful, ambitious, assertive,” at a high rate, but men showed “only a weak trend toward” feminine traits including nurturance and caring.
It makes sense that since women have gravitated toward higher paying and often more prestigious male jobs, they have also developed some masculine personality traits. The reverse is not true. Men have not gravitated toward traditionally female jobs or the traits connected to them. This is particularly deleterious to working class men, so many of whom have lost their blue-collar jobs. If boys were rewarded and admired for studiousness and empathy more than for sports, some of these men would at least have a chance at succeeding in a knowledge economy. I doubt that there will ever be as many male nurses or health care attendants, but the percentages might increase significantly. There are already indications of small increases in male nurses—from 9.5% in 2003 to 12.2% this year.
These new job possibilities would make a dent in male unemployment rates, but would not solve the problem. Since it doesn’t look like our government will be making any significant investments in rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure in the near future, or in helping to launch 21st-century alternate energy projects—as other advanced industrialized countries are doing—it is hard to see how we can significantly reduce blue collar workers’ unemployment rates. This is the real male crisis that may well be on the horizon.
The Decline of Men is a Women’s Issue
It’s still a man’s world: that’s the idea that connects the three responses to my essay “What’s Happening to Men?” Bennett, Hess, and Miedzian point to two related facts to support their position: women continue to earn less than men and to be MIA at the highest levels of business and politics.
But by failing to grapple with one of the major reasons for the wage gap and the glass ceiling, and by downplaying men’s problems in the knowledge economy, they are telling half truths that don’t do women any favors. That’ s because of this simple formula: fewer competent and successful young men equals more single mothers. More single mothers? Well, that means more wage gap.
The two main sources of the wage gap are 1) occupational choices (high-paying STEM fields, for instance, are more likely to be male and lower-paying jobs in education, female), and 2) hours of work. Simply put, women work fewer hours than men. Complaints about the wage gap almost always ignore this fact, and I’m sorry to say that my respondents continue the tradition. Amanda Hess cites a chart showing that “a woman must earn a Ph.D. in order to earn the same as a man with a bachelor’s degree.” The chart in question not only doesn’t take occupation into account. It also groups together all “full time year-round” workers, meaning, according to the Department of Labor’s definition, people working 35 hours a week or more. That “or more” is crucial. Women are far more likely to be closer to the 35-hour end of the spectrum than men, who are disproportionately represented at higher end. So yes, because they work more hours and in higher-paying fields, men with fewer education credentials earn more than women with more.
Why do women work fewer hours than men? The answer is obvious: motherhood. Research consistently shows that women’s hours and earnings take a big hit once they have children. This also affects their ability to move up the career ladder. (A fuller discussion and citations can be found here.) As I noted in my essay, the opposite is true for (married) men; they work harder, get more promotions and earn more once the kids arrive.
What can be done about this? The most obvious answer is that men take equal responsibility for the kids. On a broad scale, this is simply unattainable. Remember that 40% of births in the United States are to single mothers. In the majority of those cases there is no father at home. With whom are these mothers supposed to share responsibilities? There’s no evidence that the most common answer—government supported parental leave, childcare and so forth—will solve the problem. In Iceland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, generally regarded as the countries with most female-friendly policies in the world, women still work fewer hours and earn considerably less than men.
In fact, in rich countries over the past decade part time work has become more popular among women. Married mothers in the United States are no exception. About two-thirds of the part-time workforce in the United States is female. Bennett, Hess, and Miedzian seem to assume that children and domestic responsibilities are a “burden” to women who really want to be at the office. It’s not at all clear that most women feel that way. According to a 2007 Pew Research survey, only 21 percent of working mothers with minor children want to work full-time. Sixty percent say that they would prefer to work part-time, and 19 percent would like to give up their jobs altogether. For working fathers, the numbers are reversed: 72 percent want to work full-time and 12 percent not at all.
That said, stably married mothers are in a much better position than their unmarried sisters to get support for longer work hours and more ambitious careers, if that is what they want. And that brings us back—at last!—to the subject of our debate: the predicament of contemporary men. Among 23 year olds, an age when many people are beginning to think about finding a mate, there are 164 women with a college degree to every 100 men. Unless women marry less-educated men, a lot of those who want children will not be able to have them. Many others will become single mothers, who, if for no other reason than the laws of physics, won’t be able to compete on an equal footing with either men or their married peers. Fewer educated or competent men, then, is a women’s issue. And a big one.
Women’s Work Still Pays Less
Hymowitz claims that when Hess, Bennett, and I point out that women earn less and are underrepresented in business and politics we “are telling half truths that don’t do women any favors.” She then argues that the real reason women earn less is that they work fewer hours, work part time or not at all after they have children, and men “work more hours and in higher-paying fields.”
Well, she is right about men working in higher-paying fields. The median wage for mostly male parking lot attendants is $9.23 per hour, which does not include tips. The median wage for mostly female child care workers is $9.12—without tips. The average annual salary for mostly male garbage collectors is $43,000; the average salary for mostly female home care aide coordinators is $30,000—and their salaries are considerably higher than those of home care aides whose median salary is $21,036. These figures do not include overtime.
Can one really argue that parking people’s cars is a more difficult, more demanding job, a more important job with more responsibility than taking care of children?
Is collecting garbage more difficult than dealing with sick, handicapped old people, many of whom are incontinent and require bedpans and changing of diapers?
When it comes to gender pay gaps in Scandinavian countries, it is interesting to note that the 2004 annual report of the Swedish National Mediation Office concludes that differences in pay “primarily reflect gender segregation in the labor market and the fact that jobs traditionally dominated by women are lower paid.” Not surprisingly, sex discrimination is not limited to the United States.
And speaking of sex discrimination, how about the lawsuit against Walmart, one of our nation’s largest employers, brought on behalf of 1.6 million women. Their lawyers provided statistical evidence that the women did not earn as much and were not promoted as often as the men. The Supreme Court rejected the case on purely technical, procedural grounds. Does Hymowitz think it likely that these women went through the trouble of bringing a lawsuit against their employer without grounds? Does she think it likely that they were working fewer hours while irrationally demanding the same pay and promotions as men?
The issue of male /female employment played a small role in my essay, which focused mainly on alternate explanations for men falling behind academically. In fact, I took most of my data from Hymowitz’s own essay and Manning Up. But Hess points to studies indicating that when male M.B.A graduates enter the workforce, they earn $4,600 more than female graduates—no children, no part time work involved here. How does Hymowitz explain this discrepancy?
As for a majority of women with young children wanting to work part time, I do not as Hymowitz suggests assume that they would “really want to be in the office.” I do assume that in today’s economy, many working class women—including those who have a husband or partner—cannot afford to stay home, even if they would prefer to. Which brings me to the serious problem of these women’s low salaries and the loss of men’s blue collar jobs.
It is not surprising that the tensions arising from high unemployment rates and low salaries, combined with a popular culture that discourages male responsibility, lead to working class families being more likely to cohabit than to marry, to be less stable than upper class families, and to have larger percentages of women raising their children alone. W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the recently published National Marriage Project report, points to “a two-family model emerging in American life… While the educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families, everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones.”
Between Individual Choice and Cultural Destiny
I’ve watched with interest as this discussion of the future of men and women has danced along the divide between individual choice and cultural destiny. In her lead essay, Hymowitz suggests that the decline of men could be a product of “our culture and its expectations” for them. Our society is “agnostic” toward the “future familial responsibilities” of men, she writes, and the “effect of this agnosticism on black men has been particularly dramatic.”
As black men have fallen prey to cultural agnosticism, however, black women have exercised their agency. “Black women chose to have children of their own,” Hymowitz argues. And the choices women make, she says, hurt men. “Sons grew up observing that men were of little consequence to family life,” Hymowitz writes, “which in turn gave them less incentive to adapt to changes in the labor market or more generally to become reliably productive husbands and fathers.”
In Hymowitz’ worldview, the very ability of women to make their own financial and personal choices is enough to send men on the path to ruin. “The economic independence of women and the collapse of marriage norms,” Hymowitz writes, “have deprived men of the primary social role that incentivized their achievement.” Men have failed because they are no longer “expected to become providers”; they are blocked from success because no one is “depending on them.”
What can be done about the rise in single motherhood and female financial independence, which Hymowitz suggests has devalued men both in the home and the workplace? “The most obvious answer is that men take equal responsibility for the kids,” Hymowitz says. But that would require men to make some choices. Faced with the statistic that “40% of births in the United States are to single mothers,” Hymowitz decides that wide-scale fatherhood is “simply unattainable.” What’s the alternative? Women stop “depriving” men of fatherhood and make themselves more dependent upon them?
Beyond the puzzling implication that women restrict their own agency in the service of men, it’s worth nothing that many women do not strictly “choose” to have kids on their own. Half of pregnancies are unintended.  Unmarried women are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy than married women, and the unplanned birth rate of poor women is six times that of higher-income women. Many women in America don’t choose motherhood—it chooses them. Men are left with the choice to stick around or not.
When women make choices that devalue men, it’s a problem; when they make choices that devalue themselves, that’s inherent. In her latest response, Hymowitz writes that women’s “occupational choices” are responsible for the wage gap, writing that “high-paying STEM fields, for instance, are more likely to be male,” while “lower-paying jobs” like those in education trend female. Hymowitz does not discuss the possibility that our society has in fact “deprived” women of jobs in these higher-paying industries by way of lowered cultural expectations, but some new research into the STEM gap does.
State University of New York at Buffalo psychology professor Lora Park hopes to explain one reason women may not “choose” to enter STEM fields—because they see the field as inconsistent with their other duties as a woman.  According to Park’s research, a focus on romance can deter female students from their interest in STEM, while college men are capable of juggling an interest in romantic relationships and a focus on math and science. The “problem is related to a sense in traditional society that science is somehow masculine, and that men may be put off by women becoming a force in STEM fields,” Park says. “This is about the cumulative impact of romantic images and scripts for women’s lives.”
I can’t pretend to know how the complex constellation of cultural, biological, and individual factors works to influence relations between the genders in America’s new knowledge economy. What I do know is that we won’t gain any real insight by claiming that women choose, and men just follow.
A Final Few Words
Due to some hurricane-related power problems, I’ll have to limit myself to just a few random comments.
Miedzian appears to believe that salaries should reflect some Platonic version of the importance, difficulty, and responsibility of a job. Sometimes they do, but not because a philosopher king got to determine things. It’s because of supply and demand. There are enough childcare workers available to keep salaries low; if there were not, workers would earn more. (Though let’s face it, if they did, fewer women would find it feasible to work outside the home.) I have no idea why parking lot attendants make what they do, but if parking lot owners could find capable men or women willing to work for less, they would hire them in a second.
To the question of research that purportedly proves gender discrimination: the studies in question do not stand up to a reasonably skeptical reading. The “statistical evidence” of discrimination by Wal-Mart does not consider hours, work experience, or other variables. The report originally referenced by Hess showing a substantial discrepancy in earnings between men and women straight out of business school was sponsored by Catalyst, an advocacy group for women in business. That fact by itself doesn’t disqualify its findings, but a close reading yields enough questions to do so. Why, for instance, does the study include subjects from Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada? The unexamined variables are immense. At any rate, the Catalyst study is at odds with this peer-reviewed Harvard and University of Chicago study.
Hess interprets my position as ”women choose and men follow,” or rather women make “individual choice” and men follow “cultural destiny.” This sets up an absolute distinction between individual agency and cultural influence that I don’t accept. Individual choice is always circumscribed by biology, by scarcity—and by culture. Hess herself seems to admit as much when she refers to “lowered cultural expectations” that make women avoid STEM fields. But if “lowered cultural expectations” make women choose to study education rather than physics—an open question from my perspective—then surely cultural expectations could make them choose to have children on their own—or not. Surely men too can face “lowered cultural expectations” as lovers, husbands, and fathers that influence their choices. This all means that women’s choices and men’s choices cannot easily be disentangled. Men choose in a way that affects women’s choices and vice versa. For the foreseeable future, at any rate, the sexes are interdependent.
Where Are the Solutions?
For a moment, let’s just assume we buy the theory that men are in decline: in school, in work, in relationships, and ultimately, in life. Over the past two weeks, Hymowitz has identified the problem, we’ve debated its merits, and we’ve looked at the philosophies behind it. Yet despite a 248-page book and a 2,400-word essay, it’s surprising that Hymowitz provides so little in the way of solutions—a seemingly crucial part of this discussion. Aside from school reforms to keep boys more engaged, she concludes, “the new gender gap has no obvious solutions.”
A quick read through the literature shows that clearly, there are solutions, and there are plenty of them. So in the name of furthering both men and women, a few suggestions—with the help of the proposal to create a White House Council on Boys to Men (which is worth a read):
- Mandatory Paternity Leave. Hymowitz may dismiss Sweden, but in 1995, our fair-haired friends passed what my Newsweek colleagues call a “simple but revolutionary law”: one that would increase the length of paid parental leave by a full month—but only if the father was the one to take it. In 2002, a second paternity month was added—and now more than 80 percent of Swedish fathers take four months off for the birth of a new child.
Now paternity leave may not going to solve the problem with men outright, but it does change cultural attitudes. It would mean that certain lucky boys would get to spend more key bonding time with their fathers; perhaps it would encourage more men to take on that role, too. All of this is proven to be good for young men. But it would be good for women, too: lessening the stigma of the “mommy track” and the pay penalties that often come along with it. Scholars will tell you that it’s no coincidence that Iceland has one of the smallest wage gaps in the modern world as well as the most generous paternity leave program. These things go hand in hand.
- Recruiting Male Teachers. Men are just 3 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers, and they are 18 percent of secondary educators. Which means—as the authors of the White House Council proposal put it—many boys, and in particular, inner-city boys, “spend their early lives going from female-run homes to female-run elementary schools with mostly female teachers.” Particularly in communities where rates of single mothers are high, doesn’t it make sense to covet male role models?
- Mentoring–And Programs that Encourage Active Fathering. Studies show that kids who spend more time with dads have higher IQs; that strong fatherly involvement in early life can also improve a child’s future career prospects. If that’s the case, why not go as far as to incorporate such programs into schools?
- Expanding Men’s Work. We know that there are plenty of programs to support girls’ involvement in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). But why not create programs to encourage boys to enter into the typically female-dominated fields, like health, social work and education? The authors of the White House proposal—who have yet to secure a meeting with the White House—offer a marketable way to do this: calling these the “HE” fields, for health and education.
- Thinking About Solutions. It’s simple alright, but shouldn’t it be as important as identifying the problem?
The Pay of Parking Lot Attendants
Hymowitz argues that childcare workers earn less than parking lot attendants because there are “enough childcare workers available to keep salaries low,” not because women’s jobs have traditionally been paid less. But if it’s all a question of supply and demand, then higher male unemployment and the availability of recent male immigrants who do not speak English beyond a few phrases–and who unlike daycare workers do not need to–indicates that there is a higher supply of parking lot attendants than child daycare workers. So according to her argument, it is they who should be earning less.