The Increasing Significance of the Decline of Men (NYT)


“Depression Breadline,” 1991, by George Segal. All rights reserved The George and Helen Segal Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

At one end of the scale, men continue to dominate.

In 2016, 95.8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs were male and so were 348 of the Forbes 400. Of the 260 people on the Forbes list described as “self-made,” 250 were men. Wealth — and the ability to generate more wealth — must still be considered a reliable proxy for power.

But at the other end of the scale, men of all races and ethnicities are dropping out of the work force, abusing opioids and falling behind women in both college attendance and graduation rates.

Since 2000, wage inequality has grown more among men than among women, as the accompanying chart from the Economic Policy Institute shows.

Wage Inequality Worsens, Especially for Men

Chart shows the ratio of wages for high-wage workers (95th percentile) to wages for the typical worker (50th percentile).

A study by the Dallas Federal Reserve published in 2014, “Middle-Skill Jobs Lost in U.S. Labor Market Polarization,” found that:

While women were hit much harder than men by the disappearance of middle-skill jobs, the majority of women managed to upgrade their skills and find better-paying jobs. By comparison, more than half of men who lost middle-skill jobs had to settle for lower-paying occupations.

From 1979 to 2007, seven percent of men and 16 percent of women with middle-skill jobs lost their positions, according to the Dallas Fed study. Four percent of these men moved to low-skill work, and 3 percent moved to high-skill jobs. Almost all the women, 15 percent, moved into high-skill jobs, with only 1 percent moving to low-skill work.

Men whose childhood years were marked by family disruption seem to fare the worst.

In a 2016 paper, David Autor, an economist at M.I.T., and four co-authors, measured academic and economic outcomes of brothers and sisters in Florida born in the decade between 1992 and 2002.

For boys and girls raised in two-parent households, there were only modest differences between the sexes in terms of success at school, and boys tended to earn more than their sisters in early adulthood.

Among children raised in single-parent households, however, boys performed significantly less well than their sisters in school, and their employment rate as young adults was lower. “Relative to their sisters,” Autor and his collaborators wrote, “boys born to disadvantaged families” — with disadvantage measured here by mother’s marital status and education — “have higher rates of disciplinary problems, lower achievement scores, and fewer high-school completions.”

When the children in the study reached early adulthood, the same pattern emerged in employment:

Employment rates of young women are nearly invariant to family marital status, while the employment rates of young adult men from non-married families are eight to ten percentage points below those from married families at all income levels.

Autor and his co-authors conclude that family structure “is more consequential for the skills development and labor market outcomes of boys than girls.”

The recent increase in dysfunctional behavior among non-college white men correlates with the substantial increase in the rate of white nonmarital births, up from 22.2 in 1993 to 35.7 percent in 2014. In 1965, the white nonmarital birthrate was 3.4 percent.

At the same time, the divorce rate for college graduates has declined from 34.8 percent among those born between 1950 and 1955 to 29.9 percent among those born between 1957 and 1964. In contrast, the divorce rate for those without college degrees increased over the same period from 44.3 percent to 50.6 percent.

While marriages are breaking up more in the working class, an extensive study of divorce found that “infidelity, domestic violence, and substance abuse were the most often endorsed ‘final straw’ reasons” for the dissolution of marriages. These are all behaviors that men from disrupted families — who often have difficulty holding relationships together — frequently demonstrate.

For many men without college degrees, the scaffolding that underpinned their fathers’ lives has been torn down. David Leege, an emeritus professor of political science at Notre Dame, wrote me by email:

The institutions they knew to process authoritatively the economic and social changes they faced in earlier times are gone or undermined — the union, the Catholic Church, the industrial bar with co-workers, the compliant wife — and what has replaced it, if anything, is an unvetted information technology that yields little truth or comfort, and nurtures anomie and anger.

David Geary, a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, describes a vicious cycle that entraps men who either drop out of the work force or take low-skill jobs with few prospects of improvement:

The long-term political implications of large numbers of unengaged and underemployed men are potentially very serious. Marriage typically reduces men’s aggressiveness and rule breaking and focuses them on family and engagement with the community. However, if large numbers of them are not attractive as potential husbands, due to poor long-term economic prospects, then this “civilizing” influence is lost to them. I don’t know what the tipping point would be, but the potential for large-scale discontentment and destabilization increases as the proportion of these men increases.

Moving Up

In the decades before the Great Recession, women migrated to high-skilled jobs more so than men. Percentage change in employment share, 1979-2007.

David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas-Austin, elaborated on Geary’s point in an email, stressing the lower proportion of men than women getting college degrees:

Women have strong mate preferences such that they do not want to mate or marry men who are less educated, less intelligent, and less successful than they are.

And this, Buss said, “creates a surplus of men” at the low end who are not going to get married.

Millions of these less well educated men are not going to get the benefits of marriage:

Married men live longer, are less likely to become alcoholic, take drugs, commit suicide, etc.

In a phone interview a number of years ago, Richard Freeman, a Harvard economist, was prescient:

Men are really going to have to change their act or have big problems. I think of big guys from the cave days, guys who were good at lifting stuff and hunting and the things we got genetically selected out for. During the industrial revolution that wasn’t so bad, but it’s not going to be there anymore.

Asked to confirm his earlier views, Freeman wrote me that what he predicted

has occurred and continues, and perhaps is linked to the penchant for some male workers to be more favorable to right-wing populism than might have been the case.

David Deming, a professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School, suggests that things are not as simple for men as “changing their act.”

In a 2015 paper, “The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market,” Deming writes:

High-paying, difficult-to-automate jobs increasingly require social skills. Nearly all job growth since 1980 has been in occupations that are relatively social skill-intensive. Jobs that require high levels of analytical and mathematical reasoning but low levels of social interaction have fared especially poorly.

What this means, according to Deming, is that

the economy-wide shift toward social skill-intensive occupations has occurred disproportionately among women rather than men. This is consistent with a large literature showing sex differences in social perceptiveness and the ability to work with others.

Studies of gender differences, according to Deming, show that

Females consistently score higher on tests of emotional and social intelligence. Sex differences in sociability and social perceptiveness have been shown to have biological origins, with differences appearing in infancy and higher levels of fetal testosterone associated with lower scores on tests of social intelligence.

In an email, Deming suggested two reasons that men may be reluctant to take jobs in the growing service sector. The first, he said, is that

if service sector and other “pink collar” jobs were higher-paying and more secure (perhaps unionized), they would attract more men.

The second reason, in Deming’s view, is that

many service sector jobs involve “serving” people of higher social status. I think women are more willing to do this — for cultural or genetic reasons, who knows.

From another perspective altogether, Allan Schore, a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the U.C.L.A. School of Medicine, explores the slower development among boys “in right-brain attachment functions.”

This “maturational delay” in brain function, Schore writes in an essay that was published earlier this year in the Infant Mental Health Journal, “All Our Sons: The Developmental Neurobiology and Neuroendocrinology of Boys at Risk,” makes boys

more vulnerable over a longer period of time to stressors in the social environment and toxins in the physical environment that negatively impact right-brain development.

This vulnerability, in turn, makes boys more susceptible to

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and conduct disorders as well as the epigenetic mechanisms that can account for the recent widespread increase of these disorders in U.S. culture.

Schore argues that a major factor in rising dysfunction among boys and men in this country is the failure of the United States to provide longer periods of paid parental leave, with the result that many infants are placed in day care when they are six weeks old.

Starting day care at six weeks, Schore writes, is “the exact time of the initiation of the postnatal testosterone surge found only in males.” Schore notes that “research has documented that boys more so than girls raised in single-mother families show twice the rate of behavioral problems than do boys in two-parent families” and argues that a “mis-attuned insecure mother” can be “a source of considerable relational stress, especially when the immature male toddler is expressing high levels of dysregulated aggression or fear.”

When a child is 18 to 24 months old, fathers play a crucial role, Schore writes, pointing to

the male infant’s attachment transactions with the father in the second year, when he is critically involved in not only androgen-controlled rough-and-tumble play but in facilitating the male (and female) toddler’s aggression regulation. This same period (18–24 months) involves the initiation of a critical period of growth in the left hemisphere, and so the “paternal attachment system” of father-son interactions would presumably forge an androgenic imprint in the toddler’s evolving left-brain circuits, including the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, allowing for his regulation of the male toddler’s testosterone-induced aggression (“terrible twos”).

What does all this suggest?

First, there are irreversible changes in the workplace, particularly the rise of jobs requiring social skills (even STEM jobs) that will continue to make it hard for men who lack those skills.

Second, male children suffer more from restricted or nonexistent parental leave policies and contemporary child care arrangements, as well as from growing up in single-parent households.

It would be paradoxical if the right-wing takeover of the country on Nov. 8 were to instigate significant policy initiatives to address this problem. Or perhaps not so paradoxical, given that males who are particularly conflicted about their disempowered status in American life — and who are the most loyal Trump supporters — might be the ultimate beneficiaries of this kind of reform.

On Sept. 13, 2016 in Aston, Pa., at the height of the presidential campaign, Donald Trump, with his daughter Ivanka, who helped craft the policies as a self-described working mother, said that he would seek to make child-care expenses tax deductible for families earning less than $500,000 and called for establishing tax-free accounts to be used for child care and child enrichment activities.

He also called for guaranteeing six weeks’ maternity leave by extending unemployment insurance benefits to working mothers whose employers do not offer paid maternity leave.

“For many families in our country, child care is now the single largest expense — even more than housing,” Trump said, speaking from prepared remarks. “Our plan will bring relief to working and middle class families.”

It has been a longstanding objective of right-wing regimes to push women back into traditional gender roles. Is that what’s going on here? Or could it be something less pernicious and more important?

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