What About Men?

When I make presentations to audiences of women and men about my research on women in organizations, they often ask me, “What about men? What’s happening for them?”  Recent studies, reported by Richard V. Reeves and Isabel V. Sawhill, reveal some important changes for men in the United States workforce.  Specifically, Reeves and Sawhill note, “the old economy and the old model of masculinity are obsolete.” While women have been pushing, for the most part successfully, into previously traditionally male roles, men have not been pushing into traditionally female roles.  Because the jobs that men used to do are largely disappearing, men either need to adapt and move into the female-dominated HEAL (health, education, administration, and literacy) jobs, or men will have fewer and fewer prospects for participating in the labor market.  The thirty fastest-growing occupations are currently in the HEAL sectors.  The only obstacles to men entering these occupations are culture and attitude—men aren’t training or applying for these “pink collar” jobs. Here are some recent trends that do not bode well for men if they do not adapt and change:

  • Male wages are stagnant and, among the less educated, have fallen. Median earnings for men with only a high school diploma have fallen by 28 percent since 1980.
  • Men are now a minority on college campuses, accounting for 42 percent of graduates.
  • Girls demonstrate more focus, effort, and self-discipline as well as better study habits starting in the early grades, and, consequently, they have higher grades.
The authors note that what is needed is a “cultural recalibration” for men.  Many men are retreating into violent “hypermasculinity” in order to try to hold on to their old competitive edge over women.  Instead, we need campaigns that encourage men to see themselves in HEAL jobs the same way that campaigns currently encourage girls and women to see themselves in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs.  We need to balance participation and opportunity across all the sectors for both women and men. This cultural recalibration also needs to include adaptation by men on the home front.  In households where two parents work outside of the home, men are doing more childcare and housework than in the past, but not as much as they think they are doing.  Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times cites several rigorous studies of the division of labor for opposite-sex, dual-earner couples across the transition to parenthood.  While the division of labor for housework showed no gender gap before children, a significant gap emerged after birth.  While men in two-income families reported that they shared housework and childcare equally after birth, analysis of rigorous time studies showed that women shouldered much more responsibility at home.  This extra work for women, in addition to holding a full-time job, creates pressure and stress that can push them out of the workforce.  Miller cites the work of Paula England and others who note, “the gender revolution has largely been one-sided—women have entered traditionally male jobs but men have been reluctant to take on traditionally female activities.” Reeves and Sawhill sum up the challenges for men as follows:
“The way forward, we believe, is for men to embrace and adapt to the new, more androgynous world.  There is no point in harking back.  The world in which high-paid manufacturing jobs could support a family, and where women were expected to focus on being wives and mothers is gone.  Women have shown they are ready for this transition.  But what about men?”
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