Monday, March 7, 2011

Are men declining? If so, why, and what's the solution?

Among men, median wages have "declined by 28 percent, or almost $13,000 (in constant dollars)" since 1969. (And no, 1969 was not cherry-picked as their peak; they peaked in 1973.)

That's from a post called "The Struggles of Men" on the New York Times' Economix blog.

If you go to that post and look at the chart, you can see how much difference it makes whether we include all men, or just men who are working full time. Not surprisingly, the latter measure (represented by the red line on the chart) paints a rosier picture.

The blue line includes men who have dropped out of the labor force. If you go by that measure, men's wages seem to be taking a firm nosedive.

An Economix commenter says:

After about 1970 there was a big expansion of the labor force, for three reasons. The first was the Hart-Cellar act of 1965, which produced a big increase in immigration. The second was a surge of women into the labor force after 1970. The third was the entry of the baby boom kids in the late '70s.

It really shouldn't be a surprise that an expansion of the labor supply leads to stagnant or falling prices (wages).
(That commenter has expanded on those points in a blog post, which seems to be totally anonymous.)

Glenn Reynolds posted the blog post to Facebook, and Brittany Gardner had this take (she gave me permission to quote from our discussion using her name):
As female strengths (empathy, social networks, collaboration) become increasingly marketable in a workforce, we will have to be sure that male strengths (competition, experimentation, systems thinking) can find a new niche and balance to match. With many traditionally "male-dominated" fields being automated or outsourced, I think that one logical entry field will be one women have dominated for a while.... child-rearing. Early education needs a complete overhaul to meet the needs of the next generation, and who better to design and implement new systems and experiment bravely and rationally, than men?

Men may also find they are uniquely equipped to get kids off the couches, net, and video games for a bit, and into the physical world, working on hands-on projects, games, experiments, and exploration.
I responded:
I agree about child-rearing, but the norms against men taking a lead role in raising children seem to be a lot more entrenched than the norms against women in the workforce. It's no longer socially acceptable to question whether women can do any job they want, but boys will still be teased if they pretend to be daddies; we'd feel more comfortable to see them pretending to be mass murderers. Many people might accept the idea of a stay-at-home dad in theory, but how many men would truly feel comfortable in that role in practice? Alas, men aren't seen as one of the kinds of people we're supposed to be concerned with, so anyone trying to draw attention to these issues will be fighting an uphill battle.
Glenn Reynolds said:
I think John's right, especially as any man who actually does want to work with children is immediately suspect as a child abuser.
(See "Eek! A Male!")

Here's Brittany Gardner's response to my comment:
There is a growing number of stay-at-home dads at the park and at playgroups I've attended. I was impressed at how much "better" they seemed to be at effortlessly managing behavior and teaching/interacting with their children . . . .

If it's true that unemployment is becoming a reality for more men, talking up roles with the next generation makes a lot of sense, and other projects can be worked on simultaneously. (All the stay-at-home fathers I know also work from home, or have productive hobbies they can work on simultaneously and involve their children in, to both parties' benefit and enrichment.)

The idea that steer-heading the next generation of humans is somehow emasculating, needs to be abandoned.

To paraphrase a quote I read recently: Sense of masculinity has always flowed from men's utility in society. Not the other way around.
And here's her response to Glenn Reynolds:
I think the suspicion directed at men who want to work with children mirrors the suspicion of motives we direct at women who take leadership positions . . . I think the more we normalize both, the better.


Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Interesting that she uses "steer" and "emasculating" in the same sentence.

I was a stay-home father for six years, writing books at the same time, and I think I did a good job, and it was very rewarding for me, but I can't say I was always comfortable in the role. I wish I'd been more so -- my discomfort was completely unnecessary, the result of culturally based insecurities.