Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The End of Masculinity?

By Richard Vedder

Before 2009 ends, a historical trend dating back to the first European settlements in America in the early 17th century will end. Specifically, before the year is out, data will show that more women are working than men. When I first earned a paycheck as a high school kid in the 1950s, there were more than two males workers for every woman --now men are going to become a minority. Similarly, in the formation of human capital through formal education, the male-female gap has not only narrowed by long disappeared, and men are a distinct minority on most campuses these days.

Throughout most of history, a man's role was to provide and protect his family. A woman's role was to be the manager of the family household --raise the kids, see to their education and religious training, keep the house clean and everyone fed and clothed. That has radically changed.

There are lots of interesting implications for college life.

1) The assumption that we need affirmative action to promote female access to college, etc., may be outmoded, independent of whether you believe those programs ever were effective. Women are no longer a minority. In a nation with an African-American president and whose secretaries of state have all been female or African-Americans for the past two decades, it is hard to conclude that women are discriminated against in the labor force. Unemployment rates for women are significantly lower than for men, and most layoffs have been male --hardly a sign of gender discrimination.

2) Since women are still more prone than men to take prolonged spells from working to have children, it may be the shifts of the modern era increase the need for adult learning and retraining.

3) The decline in male dominence of work may be associated with some trends in education, such as women excelling more than men in school. It may be that there are unintended adverse consequences of the changes observed. Why is criminality dramatically higher among males than females, for example?

4) The welfare state may have worked to contribute to the robbing males of some of their masculinity. I aways contended that the rise of welfare payments in the 1960 to 1995 period contributed importantly to divorce rates --women said, "I don't have to live with my husband for economic support --the government will provide." A growing segment of the male population lost a sense of importance, of being needed, adding to the drug and criminal pathologies of modern times.

No doubt there are other implications, but that is enough for now.

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