Thursday, October 4, 2012

Some Thoughts on How Men Are Going Down, and Not in the Fun Way

Posted By on Thu, Oct 4, 2012 at 5:33 AM

All summer long, people have been talking about Hanna Rosin's book and same-titled article in The Atlantic, "The End of Men." There's a lot I don't care for about the discussions of the book, but I get especially tired of the basic presumption that, if things are going shitty for men, they must be going better for women, and visa versa, as if life is just one big tug-o'-war between the sexes and women's successes come at the expense of men.

And I've known a lot of people who have been unemployed or underemployed in this Great Recession, but the bad luck of it doesn't seem to be falling solely on men.

So, I am happy to see that some more nuanced discussion are now taking place.

First up, Jennifer Homans points out that things are not actually going so great for anyone:

But this “rise,” which Rosin so cheerfully reports, is in fact a devastating social collapse. It starts with inequality and class division. As Rosin herself shows, men at “the top” of society are not “ending.” It is all happening to the lower and middle classes, because “the end of men” is the end of a manufacturing-based economy and the men who worked there, many of whom are now unemployed, depressed, increasingly dependent on the state and women to support them. We know the numbers, and they are bad: since 2000 the manufacturing economy has lost six million jobs, a third of its total work force — much of it male. In 1950, 1 in 20 men in their prime were not working; today the number is a terrifying 1 in 5.

And, as Homans points out, women aren't suddenly finding themselves in better jobs. They're just finding themselves in their same old jobs, but with partners who no longer have an income. You know what's not a recipe for happiness? The stress of being a one-income family when you're used to having two, and the stress of trying to help your partner, who was brought up in this culture that equates being a man with being able to provide for his family, deal with the fact that he can't be a "real man" using that definition anymore.

And then there's this piece by Stephanie Coontz, which looks at actual numbers that don't pose such a rosy picture of things for women.

What we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance. Between 2010 and 2011, men and women working full time year-round both experienced a 2.5 percent decline in income. Men suffered roughly 80 percent of the job losses at the beginning of the 2007 recession. But the ripple effect of the recession then led to cutbacks in government jobs that hit women disproportionately. As of June 2012, men had regained 46.2 percent of the jobs they lost in the recession, while women had regained 38.7 percent of their lost jobs.

The 1970s and 1980s brought an impressive reduction in job segregation by gender, especially in middle-class occupations. But the sociologists David Cotter, Joan Hermsen and Reeve Vanneman report that progress slowed in the 1990s and has all but stopped since 2000. For example, the percentage of female electrical engineers doubled in each decade in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. But in the two decades since 1990 it has increased by only a single percentage point, leaving women at just 10 percent of the total.

Some fields have become even more gender-segregated. In 1980, 75 percent of primary school teachers and 64 percent of social workers were women. Today women make up 80 and 81 percent of those fields. Studies show that as occupations gain a higher percentage of female workers, the pay for those jobs goes down relative to wages in similarly skilled jobs that remain bastions of male employment.

Whew! Well, that's depressing! No wonder we'd rather tell ourselves a story about how women are rising up while men are sinking. At least in that version, some of us are doing OK. But the truth is, things are bad all over. If there's a tug-o-war between the sexes, somehow everyone is losing.

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