Friday, December 26, 2014

Young Men Dropping Out – Fallout from the Jobs Crisis

A December 4th post by Milo Yiannopoulos in the blog brought up many issues faced by males now in their late teens and 20s.  Titled “The Sexodus, Part 1:  The Men Giving Up on Women and Checking Out of Society,” its thesis is that these teenagers and young adults have their backs to the wall in various ways, and are responding by dropping out, in the process holding themselves back socially and developmentally as well as academically.  As Yiannopoulos put it, “social commentators, journalists, academics, scientists and young men themselves have all spotted the trend: among men of about 15 to 30 years old, ever-increasing numbers are checking out of society altogether, giving up on women, sex and relationships and retreating into pornography, sexual fetishes, chemical addictions, video games and, in some cases, boorish lad culture.”  The article is a compendium of complaints young men have, ranging from sort of whiny (that women think men “and their preferences and needs can @#$% off and die”) and issues around since their grandfathers’ times (“a lot of nice but awkward young men are opting out of approaching women”), to controversial but reasonable observations (“in schools today across Britain and America, boys are relentlessly pathologized”), and clear effects of not enough work (“Nobody in my generation believes they’re going to get a meaningful retirement”).  The most prominent root cause, though, is the permanent jobs crisis. 

We can say four major things about job-shortage-related concerns young males have.  First, the generally worse career outcomes of men since and including the Great Recession mean that the old model of women’s incomes being secondary may be obsolescent.  At the same time, men are still trained to expect to be the main breadwinners, and it is a rare man of prime working age who honestly expects a spouse to provide a choice of working a good job, working a low-paying but physically unthreatening position, or staying home altogether.  Yet a stunning 75% of jobs lost in 2008 and 2009 came from males, and the areas in which they dominate, such as manufacturing, have recovered slowly.  Almost 60% of college undergraduates are now female, as are most recipients of bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  When controlled for age, education, and number of years working full-time in a career, differences between the sexes in earnings and promotions nearly or completely disappear.  All that means that men cannot reasonably be expected to take the lead in family income anywhere near as much as they still do, and in many families, it is they, objectively, instead of their wives, who should be “opting out.”

Second, the frequency of men’s unemployment has been causing havoc in romantic relationships.  Despite their career opportunities moving steadily toward equality, the ancient pattern of women selecting husbands who are well positioned to support them has barely changed.  The result is that more and more men are ending up choosing, in the words of one of Yiannopoulos’s interviewees, between being either “players” or boyfriends instead, if they go after women at all.  That is the main reason why marriages, per recent articles, have become much more common in the higher income brackets.  Since single men tend to be more destructive to themselves and others than those married, through committing violent crimes and engaging in unhealthful habits, that is a real danger. 

Third, mandatory consent laws for sexual advances and the growing media attention on rape make the problem of men’s noninvolvement even worse.  The massive majority of men would never condone rape, which is above all else a violent crime, and know that romantic and sexual situations are the most ambiguous ones there are.   Neither men nor women are machines programmed to know exactly what they will or will not engage in with whom.    The venues where concerns about rape and consent are concentrated, college campuses, are where men are most confused about achieving sexual relationships anyway, which makes their apprehension even worse and their likelihood of not trying during those formative years even higher. 

Fourth, much of men’s dropping out severely damages women as well.  Fewer husbands means fewer wives.  We have already seen this situation in some largely black communities, where young women as a group have, in recent decades, frankly run rings around men in education, emotional maturity, and lack of criminal records; the upshot has been such things as dating sites where the smaller pool of black men truly ready, able and willing to settle down can choose from women required to post full-length photos of themselves.  Perhaps, in the 1950s when getting family-supporting jobs out of high school was routine and Americans wedded at the youngest ages in the country’s history, there were too many marriages, resulting in high rates of, for example, spousal abuse.  But now we are going in the other direction, in which countless young men, in effect only a good career position away, aren’t getting there, and there simply aren’t and won’t be enough with strong traditional husband credentials to go around.  It is also much easier for anyone to leave the workforce in mid-career, still far more common among women, or even raise children, if they have a spouse providing the income or main income.        

It is possible that the number of good jobs with high shares of men will continue to drop disproportionally.  That will make the problem of young men keeping their adolescent or emerging adult lifestyles even worse, with even more, as Jack Donovan, one of Yiannopoulos’s sources, wrote, having “done a cost-benefit analysis and realized it is a bad deal.”  That is not something we want as a country.

What can we do about these problems?  That will be the subject of next week’s post.

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