"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Part I -- What Happened to the Men?

     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 and picking up a few freelance assignments -- while my better half goes off every day to her job as a librarian.

     At first I thought it was just me. Then I looked around at my friends. One lost his job in his late 40s. He tried to start his own business, then had some health problems, and now as he approaches 60 he is being supported by his wife who commutes to the city. My friend Joe was forced into early retirement when he was 57. His wife had gone back to work after their kids left for college. Now he's the house husband; and she's the bread winner. Yet another friend took early retirement from the government after his wife was offered a better, higher-paying job in another city. Now he's fixing up their new house as she goes off to work every day.

     A couple of years ago writer Hanna Rosin came out with a book 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 during the Great Recession were in manufacturing and other male-oriented industries, while women working in health and education were not affected so much. In fact, 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 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%. And while older men still make up the majority of senior executives and corporate directors, today women in their 20s actually outearn men in their 20s. The tide has turned ... perhaps with a vengeance.

     A variation of this issue came up in our house over the weekend. 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 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, a man who would feel comfortable hosting an auction, serving as master of ceremonies.

     She paused for a moment. "Actually," she said, "there aren't many men who are elders." She counted them up -- ten of the elders are women, only four are men. "Gee, it used to be all men," she concluded. "Now there are hardly any." She gave me a significant look and asked, "Where are all the men?"

     I didn't have an answer. Instead, I could only think about how men are in large measure, and for whatever reason, no longer in leadership roles, 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. Our town supervisor is a woman. The president of the board of education is a woman. 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 better education. Today, more women than men go to college. Some 57% of undergraduate students are women. According to recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the college enrollment rate for high-school graduates is 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; but among lower-middle-class and poor families women go to college in 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, women earn 63% of master's degrees and 54% of doctoral degrees. But hold on. Men still do "win out" in one statistic. The female high-school dropout rate is only about 7%. The male dropout rate bests them at closer to 10%.

     Currently some 80% of K-12 public school teachers are women. Perhaps one solution to male underemployment would be for more men to enter the field of teaching, expanding their career opportunities and possibly helping today's young males make more of their public-school experience.

     But really, none of this affects me directly. I'm just sitting here, happily retired, just starting to collect my Social Security. Yet I can't help but think how different the world of work 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, but perhaps not all of it. All I know is that I have two children, a boy in his late 20s, a girl in her early 30s. I just hope they both have equally good prospects for their lives and for their careers.


Anonymous said...

I have 5 children and the best thing we ever bought them was a college education and ensured that the diploma was in a specific area of demand (e.g. IT, Special Education). At least they didn’t have to start off with major student loan debt. Life is tough enough with car loan, rent, cell phone bill, and internet connection. Most of our kids don’t subscribe to cable TV. They married later and are having children later. I also see no problem with young adults learning a trade (e.g. auto mechanic; plumber) or joining the military. However, I do think we have made too many skill specific jobs “need” a college degree (e.g. dental hygienist).

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic with interesting statistics. Thanks for the info.

DJan said...

My husband and I are happily retired, but for the last few years that I worked, he went on early Social Security so he wouldn't have to continue to be humiliated by the inability to get a job commensurate with his skill level. They only looked at his white hair. Yes, the world is definitely changing. I will have to get that book.

DDD said...

My husband quit his job thinking to start his own business when he was 52. He never did start his business, and he refused to get paid less than his previous job. He was miserable and suffered depression until our first grandchild was born when he was 58, and he was useful again. I have seen a few men lost jobs and got depressed. (the wives told me about the depression).

stephen Hayes said...

I don't think of myself as retired but I guess I am. My wife continues to work because she gets great healthcare benefits from her employer, benefits that would cost us $1800 a month until we're on Medicare in two years.

Dave Bernard said...

I had a similar situation when at 53 our small company was purchased by a massive organization. I was part of the flotsam that is jettisoned with many acquisitions in Silicon Valley. Searched high and wide for something but it seems I was suddenly too old to continue doing what I had done successfully for the past 30 years. But like you I am fortunate and transitioned into retirement where the stress is less (more like non existent), the day offers promise and it feels good to be alive. Congratulations to our landing and best of luck to those who will follow in our footsteps.

Dick Klade said...

In the evolution of the workplace, I think what has happened is the men have finally wised up. For many years, women had the bulk of the wisdom--if they could latch on to a top-notch breadwinner who also would respect them, they could stay out of the rat race and enjoy life to the fullest. The "good old boys" finally have figured it out. If they can marry a potential exec, they can stay home and get in a few rounds of golf every week as long as the bread winner doesn't discover how they spend their time.

Barb said...

I think men have larger difficulty adjusting to change in general, so I am not surprised by this. Having said that, let's remember that many of those fastest growing files like education, child care and certain aspects of the medical field are not high paying jobs and often used to be considered mommy track jobs. So while more of us may be eotking, we still on average earn less.

And anecdotally, my brother is ready to retire but my sister in law wants to keep on eorking5.

Barb said...

I think men have larger difficulty adjusting to change in general, so I am not surprised by this. Having said that, let's remember that many of those fastest growing files like education, child care and certain aspects of the medical field are not high paying jobs and often used to be considered mommy track jobs. So while more of us may be eotking, we still on average earn less.

And anecdotally, my brother is ready to retire but my sister in law wants to keep on eorking5.

Tom said...

I know several older men who are working at jobs that pay less than their previous employment and that are not commensurate with their skill level. But in most cases they have adapted; they are certainly not humiliated; and they are probably happier than if they weren't working at all. But Dick, I don't think anyone I know has quite figured it out the way you're suggesting (tongue-in-cheek?). But as I've said before, one of the benefits of feminism for men is that it has taken a lot of the responsibility, and the pressure, off them to supply the entire financial support for their family.

Janette said...

You can go further.
Schools are now formed around the way girls learn- Reading and Verbal skills are now in Kindergarten. Boys' brains do not change for these skills, generally, until the end of first grade.
A girl is more likely to be selected for Science scholarships- all the way down to fourth grade.
Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed as ADHD. Even when diagnosed, boys are more likely to be medicated then girls. 85% of children diagnosed with Autism are boys. Then again, boys, in general tend to be more fidgety when sitting for long periods and tend to be more "one on one" social.
You know the song from "My Fair Lady" - "Why Can't a Woman be More Like a Man?" Things have changed greatly! Now it could be written, "Why Can't a Boy be More Like a Girl?"

Sadly, we have thrown out the baby with the bathwater trying to make things "more equal".

I worked for three years after my husband left the workforce. We could not see him working for less then what he made on Social Security.

Anonymous said...

I'm not as cynical as Dick. Women should work longer, we live longer, and need the extra income. Plus all that divorce business left many men skinned. Not my Ex mind you, but its certainly true of David. He went from driving a Mercedes, then a Porche he rebuilt to driving my old clunker.

Sydney said...

I was an economics major in college, so here's my theory. If you are a company with your eye on the bottom line, and you can hire a woman for 70% of the pay of a man, you hire the woman (or keep the woman when you go to downsize.) In your comment above, you observe that many older men you know are working for less than they used to earn, there's your answer.

Linda Myers said...

My husband and I are both retired. I had a couple of part-time jobs just for fun. He is content to take it easy. Neither of us had to retire early. Guess we were lucky.

We have eight children in our blended family. Both the girls are high paid professionals. Two of the boys are nurses and the rest are in "the trades". In the case of our eight, success was a matter of motivation in their 20s. Or not.

Bob Lowry said...

The world, both business and political, has been lurching from crisis to crisis for as far back as we care to look, all while older men have been in charge. I, for one, welcome the apparent tipping of the scales toward women. Things have been out of balance for so long, it is about time half the population got their fair shot at changing things.

Obviously, considering a person's talents and aptitudes regardless of sex is the best approach. But, it may take a pendulum swing toward the female side for awhile to force us to look at the cost of our bias. UNfortunately, some men will have to pay the price, just like many women have for too long.

Barbara said...

Tom, like so many of your posts, I had to really think about this before responding. As a female well trained in my legal assistant field I thought that age would not be a problem for me. I was wrong, of course, but luckily the attorneys were also aging at the same time, so there were still a lot of them out there that didn't think I was to old. However, like most professions, cut backs, job combinations and other changes have made job searches at an adult age difficult. But I'm positive that the average Middle Aged White Male has had it extremely difficult as jobs disappeared in the upper to middle positions.

As for the thought that men should look into teaching, I think that is a terrific idea. So many young boys do not have a successful or even daily male influence in their lives. What I have to wonder is how many have the right mind set to be able to spend a day in a classroom. I'm not sure if I could.

I also think these same Men could fill an important place in the lives of their children and grand children as either the stay at home parent or the hands-on grand parent.

Really it is a deep subject and one that would be fun to discuss with my friends.

Anonymous said...

My hubs of 42 years had to retire, his back and the managers at the grocery chain he worked were beasts, plus the fact those fellows who did retire, died the next week after the retirement party and their last day..We know we were phoned when they died in a chair, guess they were so damn happy they just went to where ever we go after we leave this terrestrial..It is all a crap shoot for men and for women they just get the scews cause they don't make the same as men at all..our only a sweet young 39 year old not married and saved every dime, she has no desire to marry and have kids, she travels in her job and is happy, we see her often and she is happier than many of her classmates from grade school and no worries about a man being a jerk at all..Her words, I saw plenty of discrimination in the govt. jobs I had, luckily I saved every damn dime and then some, cooked all the time, hemmed my dresses and pants and my hubs too, did all the household chores, we lived simply still do, we go to the shore all the time and inland too wine places, artist places when we want, we haul our two kitteh cats to a cats only vet. who happens to be a woman with women vets, they are reasonable and kind to our 4 legged kitteh cats..Life is not fair, it might be if Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes president..it could..have a great summer!

Snowbrush said...

The women I run into tend to be clerks of one kind or another plus an occasional nurse or PA. When women started going into medicine, it was supposed to humanize medicine, but I see no improvement, and I even wonder if the process of becoming a doctor doesn’t dehumanize women worse than men, or if the women who go into medicine simply start out that way. In any event, if I knew nothing about two doctors but their gender, and had to choose between a man and a woman, I would take the man.

Anonymous said...

Snowbrush--Each of us gets to choose. Other than my cataract surgeon, all of my Physicians and Physician Assistants have been female since 1983 - and I'm very happy about it. My MDs who have been/are female are anything but dehumanized!
Cop Car

Snowbrush said...

“My MDs who have been/are female are anything but dehumanized!”

I wasn’t referring to individual doctors, but to the continued dehumanization of medicine, a trend that women going into medicine was predicted by many to reverse. I don’t believe that women are to blame for how medicine is, as those who thought women would turn things around apparently believed. I do think that medical school is itself dehumanizing and even designed to inculcate callousness. As to whether women are hurt worse by this, I have no objective knowledge. I just that women can be callous and incompetent, that men can be compassionate and competent, and that the reverse is true of both genders.