I went to get my flu shot this past week. Don't forget to do that. For odd reasons, my visit to the clinic made me think of a post I wrote awhile back about men and women.
One of my pet peeves (along with hectoring people about safe driving) is hectoring people, especially men, about taking care of their health. In my experience, a lot of men ignore their health, somehow thinking it's a sign of weakness to go to the doctor, or eat their vegetables. This contributes to a basic inequality between men and women: on average, women live four years longer than men do.
I think of myself as a feminist. Everyone should be treated equally and should have the opportunity to fully develop their talents and their lives. So in that spirit -- and hoping it's somewhat relevant and not insensitive in light of the hysteria around this week's news -- I repeat:
I lost my job at age 53, never to find full-time employment again. Now over ten years later, I find myself sitting at home, working around the house, playing golf with my friends, doing volunteer work and picking up a few freelance assignments -- while my better half goes off every day to her job as a librarian. (This was two years ago. B is retired now -- she retired when she turned 65 and qualified for Medicare.)
But my situation was not unique. I look around at my friends . . . still today. One lost his job in his late 40s. He couldn't find another job so he tried to start his own business, then he had some health problems, and now at age 60 he is being supported by his wife who commutes to the city. My friend Joe was forced into early retirement at age 57. His wife had gone back to work after the kids went to college. Joe became the house husband; his wife the bread winner -- until, now, Joe died last year at age 65, and his widow is still working but has been able to cut back to part time. Yet another friend took early retirement from the government after his wife landed a high-paying job in another city. Now he's fixing up their house (still) as she goes off to work every day.
A few years ago, in 2012, Hanna Rosin came out with a book and TED Talk The End of Men, which argued that the era of male economic hegemony is gone for good. She pointed out that most of the jobs lost in the Great Recession were in male-oriented industries, while women working in health and education were not affected so much. According to the New York Times, today 12 of the 15 fastest growing professions are dominated by women.
Meantime, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 1970 female participation in the workforce has increased from 43% to almost 60%, while male participation has gone down from 80% to 71%. And while older men still make up the majority of senior executives, today women in their 20s actually outearn men in their 20s. The tide has turned.
A variation of this issue came up in our lives, when B was helping to run the charity auction at her church. She was looking for an auctioneer. "I think a man would be better," she mused, "but there aren't many men who come to church."
"What about the elders?" I asked. I was thinking there must be at least one man among the group of elders who run the church.
B paused. "Actually, there aren't many men who are elders." She counted them up. "Gee, it used to be all men," she concluded. "Now there are hardly any." She gave me a significant look (as though it was my fault) and said, "Where are all the men?"
I could only think that men, in large measure, are no longer in leadership roles, (okay, I get it, not in Congress, but isn't Congress behind the times in a lot of ways?) and in many cases no longer even working. Women have taken their place. Her boss, the director of the library, is a woman. So is the president of the library board of trustees. The PTA is run completely by women -- although men still dominate the volunteer fire department.
It's no secret that the path to a good job is a good education. Today, more women than men go to college. The college enrollment rate for high-school graduates is 72% for young women and 65% for young men -- the result is that 57% of undergraduate students are women.
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, women earn 63% of master's degrees and 54% of doctoral degrees. But hold on. Men do still "win out" in one category. Their high-school dropout rate is 10% compared to 7% for women.
Currently some 80% of K-12 public school teachers are women. Perhaps one solution to male underemployment would be for men to enter the field of teaching, expanding their career opportunities and possibly helping today's young males make more of their school experience.
None of this affects me directly. I don't need a job, and even though I take an adult-education class, I probably forget more than I learn. Yet I can't help but think how different the world is compared to when I started out -- let alone what it was for my parents.
A lot of things have changed, mostly for the good. I have two children, a boy and a girl both in their early 30s. I just hope they both have equally good prospects for their careers -- and their lives.