Economic troubles lead to ‘end of men’

Marketplace Staff Jun 22, 2010

Economic troubles lead to ‘end of men’

Marketplace Staff Jun 22, 2010


Kai Ryssdal: There was a point, late last year and early this, where women were a majority of the American workforce. Men are back at just over 50 percent in the latest survey, mostly because of seasonal changes in the kinds of work the economy provides. But, in general, this recession has put far more men out of work than it has women. Changes in the labor force could be just a symptom of larger gender-based disruptions in society and the economy.

Hanna Rosin writes in The Atlantic magazine this month about the economic troubles men are having in an article called “The End of Men.” Hanna, welcome to the program.

Hanna Rosin: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Ryssdal: Couldn’t help but notice — and I get that you don’t write the headlines for your articles — but there was no question mark on the “End of Men.” It’s kind of done already, right?

Rosin: That’s true. Usually you can convince the editors to at least put a question mark to save you the barrage of e-mails that you’ll get later, vilifying your article. So, it’s true, there is no question mark, that’s true.

Ryssdal: It’s basically, we’re living through the change right now. This recession has brought the changes and the future is us.

Rosin: I would say that this recession has sort of accelerated and uncovered the changes that they’ve been happening for a long time in the economy and in relationships. But the recession kind of made us all see them in a way that maybe we wouldn’t have sat up and taken notice earlier.

Ryssdal: Is it as simple as saying that the new economy, the 21st century economy, is just better suited to the skills and talents that women have?

Rosin: It might be that because you couldn’t argue, say, for example, that women have gotten smarter than men, that we’ve bred a superior breed of woman. I mean, that certainly is not true. But it does seems to be that whatever skills are required — I mean, you can take college as the most obvious example. How can you explain to yourself why women do better in college, or why women do better in school. It’s not that men and women have radically changed or women are a lot smarter. It just seems to be whatever skills are required these days, women seem to be better at them.

Ryssdal: And it translates into the workforce, these management issues and all of that.

Rosin: Yes. If you look at job growth in the future economy, you take the top 15 jobs, and the great majority of them are jobs that tend to be dominated by women. I mean, the irony there is that they’re nurturing-type jobs. They’re jobs that open up because upper-class women are going more and more into the work force. And so, then middle and working-class and lower-working class women start to do the jobs that those women used to do for free, such as child care and elder care and food preparation, for example.

Ryssdal: You have this great series of quotes from these college-aged women. You went out to Missouri, I guess, and you talked to these obviously bright, ambitious women, who are dating these guys who clearly these women think are just schlubs.

Rosin: That kind of clinched it for me because when I was in college, certainly we all assumed that I would be working, that I would have a job, my husband worked too. It was kind of “equality vision.” And then I go to this working-class college, it’s a state school, it would not be an anathema for people to have traditional ideas of marriage roles.

And yet, what I found was the exact opposite. I was walking around the cafeteria — the people I ended up quoting were three sorority girls who were sitting together. And indeed, they have a very casual assumption that they are going to be taking care of all the business, that their husbands are sort of not going to get their act together, and that they’re going to be the ones who are making most of the money and their husbands will be home, taking care of the kids.

Ryssdal: Is it fair to say that men are being squeezed out of the economy?

Rosin: They are doing less well than women. But I say they’re being completely squeezed out. I think that’s slightly unfair. But they are having a hard time retooling. I mean, if you look at the job statistics, all the jobs that are growing, say, nurses — there’s no natural reason why a man can’t become a nurse — but for whatever reason, it’s hard for them to adjust.

Women over the last 100 years, they have had to change their notion of who they are and what they do many times, very radically, over the last century. You know, can a woman with children work? Can a woman with young children work? What kinds of jobs can a woman do? There’s lots of professions that started out as male-dominated and then became female-dominated — teachers and secretaries being the most obvious example. But there are almost no professions that have gone in opposite direction, where they started out as female-dominated and men have started to do them. And so I think our notion of what a man can and can’t do in this country changes, but extremely slowly. Whereas the notion of what a woman can and can’t do and what’s acceptable changes much more rapidly.

Ryssdal: Hanna Rosin in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine. Her article is called “The End of Men.” Hanna, thanks a lot for your time.

Rosin: Thank you so much.

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