At first I thought it was just me. I lost my job at age 53, never to find full-time employment again. Now ten years later, I find myself sitting at home, working around the house, playing golf with my friends and picking up a few freelance assignments which I can do from my computer -- while my better half goes off to her full-time job every day.
B works at the library. I called her the other day and a man answered the phone. I thought I had the wrong number, because the library is staffed entirely by women. One man worked at the library a few years ago, but they ran him out because he didn't get along well with his fellow staff members.
But no, it was the right number. The library director, a woman, had hired a temp to fill in for the day. Meanwhile, the president of the library board of trustees is a woman. The board consists of seven women and three men.
In our town, the town supervisor is a woman. The president of the board of education is a woman. The PTA is run completely by women -- although the men still dominate the volunteer fire department.
I look around at my friends. One lost his job in his 40s. He tried to start his own business, then had some health problems, and now in his 50s he's being supported by his wife who commutes to the city every day. Another friend is a writer. He sits at home while his wife goes off to work. My friend Joe was forced into early retirement a few years ago, when he was 58. His wife went back to work after their kids had grown. Now he's the house husband; and she's the bread winner.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1970 the female participation rate in the workforce has increased from 43% to almost 60%, while the male participation rate has gone down, from 80% to 71%.
Does it sound like I'm complaining? I don't mean to. I'm happy sitting at home, piddling away my time, picking up a few jobs here and there. After all, I punched the time clock for 30 years. That's enough for me.
But the issue came up again this morning. B is helping to run the charity auction at her church. She's looking for an auctioneer. "For some reason I think a man would be better," she mused. "But there aren't too many men at my church." Then she paused. "And the men who do go to church aren't very charismatic, that's for sure."
"What about the elders?" I asked, "Isn't there an elder who could do the job?" I was thinking there must be at least one self-confident man, used to public speaking, among the group that runs the church, a man who would feel comfortable hosting an auction, serving as master of ceremonies.
She paused for a moment, and I could see her thinking. "Actually, there aren't many men who are elders, either." She counted them up -- ten of the elders are women, only four are men. "Gee, it used to be all men. Now there are hardly any." She gave me a significant look and asked, "Where are all the men?"
I didn't have an answer for her, but it reminded me of the time I first took my daughter to veterinary school, a few years ago. In the big hallway of the main building hung a row of photos of graduating classes, going back to the 1950s. Those old black-and-white photos showed graduating classes that consisted exclusively of men. One photo after another marched down the hall, showing well-dressed, clean-cut men graduating from veterinary school. Then, sometime in the 1970s, a few women began dotting the pictorial landscape. By 1990 the classes were half men, half women. And in more recent photos, the graduating classes are overwhelmed with women -- my daughter's class was more than three-quarters women, barely 20% men.
Today, more women than men go to college. Some 58% of undergraduate students are women, even though there are more college-age men than women in American today. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for 2011 high-school graduates, the college enrollment rate was 72.3% for young women and 64.6% for young men. (Interestingly, in higher income groups, men and women go to college in roughly equal numbers; it's among lower-middle-class and poor families where women go to college in much larger numbers.)
One Minnesota college admissions officer noted ruefully that the admissions pool had recently fallen to just 30% male. In the past year it had increased to 34% because, he admitted, "We actually did a little affirmative action."
Meanwhile, in 2009, for the first time, more women than men earned doctoral degrees -- 28,962 women to 28,469 men. But hold on. Men still do "win out" in one statistic. The female high-school dropout rate is only 7%. The male dropout rate stands at a little over 9%.
Don't ask me what's going on. I'm just sitting here, happily retired. But something is going on.