A Changing Economy Threatens Traditional Masculinity
The following is an excerpt from my new book, Macho Men: How Toxic Masculinity Harms Us All And What To Do About It.
“With globalization, automation, the evolution of manufacturing, the increase in disparity of both income and wealth, there are all kinds of things going on that have had a devastating impact on white working-class men.” — Ronald F. Levant, President, American Psychological Society
Men have dominated the economy for thousands of years. Now the economic conditions for that domination is changing rapidly. The global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children.
A good example is South Korea, which, for centuries has had a rigid patriarchal society. Wives who failed to produce male heirs were often abused and treated as domestic servants. In the 1970s and 1980s, the industrial revolution and incorporated women in the labor force. Women moved to the city and gotan education.
Male preference in South Korea “is over,” says Monica Das Gupta, a demographer and Asia expert at the WorldBank. “It happened so fast. It’s hard to believe it, but it is.” The same shift is now beginning in other rapidly industrializing countries such as India and China.
In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) developed the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries.
The OECD found in their data collection, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success. International aid agencies have started to recognize this relationship and lobbied governments to institute political quotas in about 100 countries.
Some experts have proposed that the modern global, post-industrial economy is more conducive to women than men.
Evolutionary psychologists have argued that evolution has dictated gender orientation to work. In the distant past men were faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources. That is even reflected in how Wall Street works. In contrast, it is argued, women were programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in nurturing and home care work.
These constructs and norms have framed our beliefs that this is the natural order. However, some experts argue that the biological constructs may not be accurate. Rather, the development of social roles, based on what civilization required for efficiency may be more accurate. What if the biological/social norm era of the pasthas now come to an end? And what if the reality of the economics of today’s era may better suited to women?
Look at what’s happened in the past 50 years. In the Great Recession of 2008–2012, in three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men, not women. The job loss hit the male dominated industries the worst — for example, construction, manufacturing, transportation, high finance. Technology may have altered that trend permanently and most of those jobs won’t come back for men.
Although the US economy has grown substantially over the last half century, there is no disputing that the benefits of this growth have been unevenly distributed. There is also solid evidence that some segments of the population are actually worse off than their counterparts of earlier generations. One recent study finds that the median lifetime income of men born in the 1960s is 12–19% lower than that of men born in the 1940s. Another highlights that the share of medical expenses to consumption has approximately doubled every 25 years since the 1950s. And other studies have started an important debate by showing that the mortality rate of white, less-educated, middle-aged men has been increasing since 1999.
In today’s economy women hold most of the nation’s jobs. The working class, which has long been dominated by men and defined by our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy.
Women now dominate education. For every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women. Last year, U.S. colleges enrolled 1.5 million fewer students than five years ago, The Wall Street Journal recently reported. Men accounted for more than 70 percent of the decline.Women now earn 60 percent of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and 42 percent ofall M.B.A.s. Most importantly, women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees — the minimum requirement, in most cases, for an affluent life. In a stark reversal since the 1970s, men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma.
The post-industrial economy doesn’t care about male masculinity. The attributes that are most valuable today — emotional intelligence, communication and relationships skills are not predominantly male. In fact, theopposite may be true.
According to the New York Times, women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China. where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Outside of the United States, women are increasingly becoming heads of state and other leaders, as we have seen in Finland and New Zealand. Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, and who vowed to end the “age of testosterone.”
The role reversal that’s under way between American men and women shows up most obviously and painfully in the working class. In what is known as the Rust Belt, and other centers of a manufacturing industrial economy, traditional family roles have been turned upside down because of the high levels of male unemployment.
In the U.S., only two of the fifteen job categories dominated by men projected to grow the most over the next decade are janitor and computer engineer. Women are projected to dominate all other job categories which are growing — nursing, home health assistance, childcare, and food preparation. Many of the new jobs, says Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, “replace the things that women used to do in the home for free.” Unfortunately, few of the women’s jobs are high paying, but the steady accumulation of these jobs adds up to an economy that, for the working class, has become more amenable to women than to men.
Many professions previously dominated by men are now filled mostly with women — for example, secretary. There is a desperate need for nurses, and nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, but most men see nursing as a woman’s job. Teaching schools are eager to recruit males , but most teachers are women, and few men show a desire to enter teaching as a profession.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs — up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all bankingand insurance jobs. About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms — and both those percentages are rising fast.
And while female CEOs may be rare in America’s largest companies, they are highly prized: last year, they out earned their male counterparts by 43 percent, on average, and received bigger raises.
“Women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well matched with the requirements of the day,” writes David Gergen in the introduction to Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership.
Social identity as one’s sense of belonging to a social category that comes packaged with a view about how people in that category should behave. The social identity influences economic outcomes because deviating from the prescribed behavior is costly. Hence, a desire to conform to one’s sense of self is an important driver of people’s actions. In the case of gender identity, the two relevant social categories are those of a “man” and a “woman”, and these two categories are associated with specific behavioral prescriptions.
Given a behavioral prescription that men should work and women should take care of the home, gender identity norms may explain why women are less likely to participate in the labor force.
For example, it is accurate to state that manufacturing jobs are diminishing and care jobs are in demand. It is quite another to have men resist or reject gender roles that they find emasculating (eg: caregivers, nurses, daycare workers).
Joan C. Williams reflects on changing gender roles in her book White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. She talks about “good” men and “real” men. The former are supportive, empathetic, collaborative. The latter are men who work in clearly identified masculine jobs, are assertive, take leadership at home and at work.
If we ask men to change their definitions of themselves it is not surprising that many will resist and find reasons to be critical of those they perceive as forcing this change upon them.
Geena Davis, at her eponymous media institute, has found that when a room’s population is 20% women, men see 50%. When it is 30%, men feel it as 60%. The American Council on Education did a study asking teachers to call on boys and girls as best they could 50/50. After the experiment, the boys were asked how it felt. Their common response was: “The girls were getting all the attention.” The boys (and men) feel a loss when equality is achieved. They have normalised overbalance.
As digital technology brings about massive global change, the World Economic Forum, which calls this shift the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is working to ready society for the upcoming disruptions. But for some, moving from a gendered position will feel like a loss, even though the shift may ironically reflect a more equal society.
What are these leadership talents?
The stereotypical leader for the past 100 years has been seen and promoted as aggressive, competitive and a risk taker. And males were seen as naturally fitting this perception. And this kind of leader may have been wellsuited for an industrial economy.
Other research has shown that women are superior to male leaders in areas such as creative thinking, collaboration, team building, consensus-seeking and ethical behavior.
“One would think that if men were acting in a rational way, they would be getting the education they need to get along out there,” says Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.“But they are just failing to adapt.”