I lost my job at age 53, never to find full-time employment again. Now 10 years later, I find myself sitting at home, working around the house, playing golf with my friends and picking up a few freelance assignments -- while my better half goes off every day to her job as a librarian.
At first I thought it was just me. Then I looked around at my friends. One lost his job in his 40s. He tried to start his own business, then had some health problems, and now in his 50s he's being supported by his wife who commutes to the city. Another friend is a writer. He sits at home while his wife goes off to work. My friend Robert was forced into early retirement when he was 57. His wife had gone back to work after their kids left for college. Now he's the house husband; and she's the breadwinner.
Earlier this month Hanna Rosin came out with a book, The End of Men, which argues that the era of male economic hegemony is gone for good. She pointed out that most of the jobs lost during the Great Recession were in manufacturing and other male-oriented industries.
Meantime, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1970 the female participation rate in the workforce has increased from 43 percent to 62 percent, while the male participation rate has gone down from 80 percent to 73 percent. And while men still take the majority of seats in corporate boardrooms, today women in their 20s actually outearn men in their 20s.
The issue came up in our house over the weekend. My dear partner is helping to run a charity auction at her church. She's looking for an auctioneer. "For some reason I think a man would be better," she mused. "But there aren't many men who come to church."
"What about the elders?" I asked. I was thinking there must be at least one man among the group of elders who run the church, a man who would feel comfortable hosting an auction, serving as master of ceremonies.
She paused for a moment and I could see her thinking. "Actually, there aren't many men who are elders." She counted them up -- 10 of the elders are women, only four are men. "Gee, it used to be all men," she concluded. "Now there are hardly any." She gave me a significant look and asked, "Where are all the men?"
I didn't have an answer. Instead, I could only think about how men are in large measure, and for whatever reason, no longer in leadership roles, and in many cases no longer even working. Women have taken their place. Her boss, the director of the library, is a woman. So is the president of the library board of trustees. Our town supervisor is a woman. The president of the board of education is a woman. The PTA is run completely by women -- although men still dominate the fire department.
It's no secret that the path to a good job is a better education. Today, more women than men go to college. Some 57 percent of undergraduate students are women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for 2011 high-school graduates, the college enrollment rate was 72.3 percent for young women and 64.6 percent for young men. (Interestingly, in higher income groups, men and women go to college in roughly equal numbers; but among lower-middle-class and poor families women go to college in much larger numbers.)
One Minnesota college admissions officer noted ruefully that the admissions pool had recently fallen to just 30 percent male. In the past year it had increased to 34 percent because, he admitted, "We actually did a little affirmative action." He's not alone. According to a 2011 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, some liberal arts colleges find they have to "provide admissions preferences for men in order to avoid large gender imbalances in their student bodies."
Meanwhile, in 2010, women earned 62.6 percent of master's degrees and 53.3 percent of doctoral degrees. But hold on. Men still do "win out" in one statistic. They account for 58% of high-school dropouts.
Currently only about 20 percent of K-12 public school teachers are men, compared to 30 percent in the mid-1980s. Perhaps one solution to male underemployment would be for more men to once again enter the field of teaching, expanding their career opportunities and possibly helping today's young males make more of their public-school experience, lowering their dropout rate.
I spent 30 years in the workforce, and now I'm happily retired. I can't help but think how different the world of work is compared to when I started out -- let alone what it was for my father. For the most part that's a good thing, especially the changes from my father's time. But has the pendulum swung too far against the males? I don't know. All I know is that I have two children, a girl and a boy, both in their 20s. I hope they can both look forward to equally good prospects for their lives and their careers. That's what we're all striving for, isn't it?
"Whatever its origins, the problem of young men falling behind is becoming entrenched ... Now, in families where the fathers have a high school education or less, girls are much more likely than boys to finish college. If the boys do go, they are more likely to drop out. The difference is especially pronounced in families where there is not father."
"Women now earn 6-0 percent of master's degrees, about half of all the law and medical degrees, and about 44 percent of all business degrees. In 2009, for the first time women earned more PhDs than men, and the rate was starting to accelerate even in male-dominated fields such as math and computer science."
In contrast to all that's been written about the one-night stands with acquaintances common on college campuses being disadvantageous to women, Rosin found that "for most women the hook-up culture is like an island they visit mostly during their college years, and even then only when they are bored or experimenting or don't know any better. But it is not a place where they drown. The sexual culture may be more coarse these days, but young women are more than adequately equipped to handle it, because unlike in earlier ages they have more important things going on, such as good grades and internships and job interviews and a financial future of their own to worry about. The most patient and thorough research about the hook-up culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relationships that don't derail their careers."
"Over the course of the past century," Rosin writes, "feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature -- first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions have gone the way of the pharmacist, starting out as the province of men and now filled mostly with women. Yet I'm not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men, operating under the outdated <a href="http://www.nber.org/papers/w8985" target="_hplink">pollution rules</a>, still shy away from some careers as women begin to dominate them."
"Sure bets for the future are still jobs that cannot be done by a computer or someone overseas," Rosin writes. "They are the jobs that require human contact, interpersonal skills, and creativity" -- jobs in fields like home health, child care, teaching, veterinary medicine -- "and these are all areas where women excel."
"Reversing centuries of tradition, families are investing in their daughters. The son preference that prevailed for so much of history was not based only on sentimental attachment or habit. Families poured their resources into sons because sons were the most likely to succeed, and perhaps to help support their parents in old age. With women dominating American colleges, the still-striving middle class is putting its best bet on its daughters."
"These days the problem in the dating market is caused not by women's eternal frailty but by their new dominance. In a world where women are better educated than men and out-earning them in their twenties, dating becomes complicated. Men are divided into what the college girls call the players (a smaller group) and the losers (a much larger group), and the women are left fighting for small spoils. The players are in high demand and hard to pin down. The losers are not all that enticing. Neither is in any hurry to settle down."
We know women are marrying less and later than ever, but experts disagree about why. Rosin argues, "the most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are now more economically independent and thus able to set the terms for marriage -- and usually they set them too high for the men around them to reach... The whole country's future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African-Americans: The mothers pull themselves up, but the men don't follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare.
In a chapter that focuses mainly on the rise of women in Korea, Rosin notes that Asian women dominate in the classroom and have grown up unwilling to take on the traditional female role of the subservient homemaker, even as men continue to want wives who fit that mold. "Asia's looming problem right now is not the dangers of seduction but threat of industrial-scale sexual indifference. In a host of Asian countries, including Korea, the new woman and the same old man have looked each other over and each has deemed the other a wholly unsuitable life partner, creating a region of 'lonely hearts,' as <em>The Economist</em> recently called them."
The one socioeconomic bracket in which the divorce rate is down is among the affluent. This, Rosin writes, in tandem with women's increases in education, opportunity and earnings, has made possible a new mode of time sharing in upper-class marriages: "Couples are not just chasing justice and fairness as measured by some external yardstick of gender equality. What they are after is individual self-fulfillment, and each partner can have a shot at achieving it at different points in the marriage."
Over the course of her research, Rosin writes, she didn't encounter any woman who worked full-time and had relinquished control of the domestic space to her husband. "This is true even if the woman is working two jobs. It's true even if the woman makes considerably more money than the man." As Rosin told Lisa Belkin, "Women demanded choice, and now there is an excess of choice. But they are not overwhelmingly happier. Partly that's because even women who make significantly more money than the men they are with never ceded the domestic space. And that can be exhausting. Women don't give up things. They don't give up responsibilities. They add new things. They exhaust themselves and still don't give anything up."
"What were once considered exclusively women's concerns are now becoming the baits of the rising workforce. Surveys of Generation Y reveal them to have almost exactly the same workplace expectations and desires as a forty-year-old working mother: They want flexibility, the option to work remotely, to dip in and out of full time and to find their work meaningful ... Women have written the blueprint for the workplace of the future. The only question left is, will the men really adapt?"
"The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative. The model is not explicitly defined as feminine, but it echoes literature about male-female differences. A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. 'We never explicitly say, "Develop your feminine side," but it's clear that's what we're advocating,' says Jamie Ladge, a business professor at Northeastern University."
Discussing recent cases of female chemists poisoning their husbands, Rosin reflects, "Singular and exotic though these cases may be, they raise the broader unsettling possibility that, with the turnover in modern gender roles, the escalation from competitiveness to aggression to violence that we are used to in men has started showing up in women as well ... For some people the rise in female violence must come as a great disappointment. Many of us hold out the hope that there is a utopia in our future run by women, that power does not in fact corrupt equally. But that vision ... has always had an air of condescension behind it. The most distinctive trait of women is not necessarily that they are kinder or gentler or will do anything to protect their young ... it's that they ... bend their personalities to fit in what the the times allow."