"A long memory can drive a man crazy."
-- Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Men Are Gone

     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.


Rosaria Williams said...

Yes, indeed! It has occurred to many women that they too can achieve their dreams!
Besides, it takes two incomes to run a household these days.

Retired Syd said...

Well at least as far as the work world part, I think it's simple economics. If you have a woman earning 77 cents to a man's dollar, you fire the man first.

Janette said...

I am finding this to be true with the 30 something population. If the men did not find good employment in their 20's, they are totally unemployed in their 30"s. Both my nephew and nephew in law (ish- living together for 5 years) are unemployed and cannot seem to get their foot in the door. Yet their less educated gals are both fully employed- but with two jobs to hold the income together. They both landed jobs easily- often the same job that their male counterpart applied for as well.
Strange and a bit scary!

Barb said...

Im going to agree with Syd here, and also note that the male to female ratio in the US is 96 men to 100 women. I am concerned in that I have a son who seems not to be able to get a job and who I expect may have to create his own job or business. but as long as we have income inequality, employers are going to (lay off, fire,let go) thos individuals earning more, and the full time boys and girls who are getting medical care.

Cant speak for the church thing, my church is filled with men, over half the vestry are men and the church is full of educated middle aged white guys.

Anonymous said...

To Rosario: The time has past (about 25 years ago) when it was about achieving dreams that had been thwarted by patriarchy. It is not about more women (which is fine) but about fewer men (which is the problem identified). To Syd: That is true for positions at upper levels only. The big changes are everywhere beneath. To Janette: It is an emergent issue, just as you suggest. Parity of college attendance was reached in 1980. The decline of males is reflected in the graph displayed. It's now about 37% college attendance of males. They are not attending, not because there is no point in it (no jobs), but because they are not welcome.

Olga said...

I agree that something is going on, and it worries me greatly. Both my son and daughter are college graduates with debts paid off, but both are under employed and neither has found employment in their desired field. At least they do have jobs. I wish I had an answer. I wish somebody had an answer.

Tom said...

But I think Rosaria hit the nail on the head -- don't we want a country where everyone, both men and women, can achieve their dreams, or at least have the chance? Unfortunately, I'm not so sure we've been making much progress lately. But we ought to keep working on it.

I hadn't heard the notion that males are not welcome on campus. If it's true, that's a terrible situation. But just to clarify one thing -- the number of men going to college is not down from 1970; it's up, just not by very much. Meanwhile the number of women has gone up exponentially, to the point where the percentages are reversed from what they were 40-50 years ago. I don't think anyone wants to roll back the progress women have made, but maybe to push forward opportunities for men, esp. disadvantaged men.

As for getting fired, I think it's more an age issue rather than a gender issue.

JHawk23 said...

Interesting trend you point out. Overall it's a good thing, I think. As you say, it represents progress toward equality of opportunity.

Some other random thoughts on the phenomenon:
- The effects of 10+ years of needless wars: There are women in military service, but by and large, it's men who have found opportunities in service and are thus removed from the civilian economy and perhaps from higher education (some of which they're getting in the service).
- I think we're making progress in this country on equal pay for equal work and I don't quite buy the argument that employers, on a large scale, are higher women sooner because they're cheaper. But studies have also shown that women, offered a job at a given salary, are more likely than men to accept it without trying to negotiate higher, and maybe that's leading some employers to lean toward hiring more women.
- In education, I suspect women are increasingly more represented in the university pool because the list of things you can do without a college degree these days includes far more types of work that are more likely to appeal to men than women: e.g. in construction, security, manufacturing, building trades. In other words, women who want to work are more likely to need a degree to do so.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

Interesting stats. I wrote my Demography MA theses on Women's LF participation and fertility. The rates were in the 30 percent range back then.

As for college, my granddaughters are acquiring BA degrees, two down two to go, but it looks like #3 may settle for a 2-year technical degree that makes money.

David is taking his resume to the Romney headquarters here in Arlington today. He has worked in several campaigns for both parties and is a retired telephone guy (AT&T) so he has good experience, but is "too old" for some. Such is life.

Working in a library sounds like fun. I could do that if I cared to work again, but I don't. Dianne

Midlife Roadtripper said...

I just read Gail Collins' book "When Everything Changed - The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. Fascinating study and one I think everyone should read. Particularly our young women who don't realize how women have sacrificed and fought to afford them the opportunities they take for granted now.

Much has changed for women since before 1960 and one which many don't want to admit - the fight for equality and the birth control pill has made a huge difference. When women can plan when to have or not have their children, makes a world of difference - obviously.

Also, I remember when the Want Ads were separated by jobs for Male and Female. I remember going to interviews where I was asked if I could tolerate men making crude jokes about women. (I didn't get those jobs, apparently due to my reply.) I remember getting less of a bonus for the same job as a man in my company. I was told since I had a husband, I didn't need it as much as he did. This, after I had given up my dream career track to be the breadwinner in a lesser job, so my husband could get his college degree.

Interesting post. Enjoyed it.

Barb said...

Lots of interesting comments after mine, but I do want to ad, as a full time college student (at sixty) that I absolutely no on campus evidence that men are not welcome in higher education. and in my location at least, the ratios are not that bad. As the parent of a 22 year old with a degree who is considering a certificate program to increase job viability, I would also agree with the idea that men can more easily

#1Nana said...

I'm bucking the trend and staying retired while the spouse continues to work.