Why we should worry about the future of men

By Allison Schrager
February 27, 2014

If you’re an American man you’re more likely to be unemployed than your female counterparts. Today more than 4.3 million Americans are considered “long-term unemployed” — out of work for more than 27 weeks. Fifty-six percent of them are men. The Great Recession emasculated generations of men, displacing many of them from the labor force and undermining their financial security. The effects may be felt for decades.

But does that mean the end of men and the rise of women, as author Hanna Rosin has suggested? Not quite. Male unemployment hasn’t come at the expense of women’s success; it reflects deeper structural changes felt by everyone. Technology and globalization has rendered many better-paying jobs, traditionally held by men, obsolete. Both men and women have the potential to thrive, but in order for that to happen we need policy that complements the modern labor market — rather than hold it back.

Even before the 2008 recession, male labor force participation had been declining while more women went to work. This trend was heightened early in the recession because men experienced the brunt of unemployment, losing jobs in male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. These jobs disappear more rapidly during recessions, when weaker firms need to shed workers.

But as the recession wore on, more unemployed men found jobs or left the workforce, and the male/female unemployment rates almost equalized. Today, male unemployment is only slightly higher than it is for women, although the lower unemployment rate masks the fact that many men, especially men older than 55, left the labor force because they couldn’t find work. The unemployment rate also doesn’t tell us how many men took lower paid or part-time jobs because they couldn’t find anything else.

What happened to men’s jobs during the recession reflects a long-term trend of middle-skill jobs, in industries like manufacturing, disappearing from the economy. They don’t come back as the economy recovers, which explains, in part, why unemployment persisted as the economy recovered.

Rosin, in her 2012 book “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” argues that these external factors are changing the job market in a way that will ultimately favor women. She believes that the jobs that can’t be outsourced or replaced by machines, like teaching or healthcare services, reward skills innate to women — like communication and empathy.

But if it were that simple, women would be paid more than men, because the labor market rewards people with better skills. Yet women are still paid less — a mere 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, as President Obama recently pointed out. Women have always been paid less than men, though that gap in pay has been narrowing since the sexual revolution, when more women went to work. But starting in the 1990s, the convergence in male/female pay began to slow, leading economists to worry that women will always be paid less.

Rosin believes this wage gap is because of persistent discrimination. But even if we eliminated all gender discrimination, women would still be paid less than men. The wage difference is largely due to the fact that women tend to work in lower-paid industries and occupations, like home health aides or nursing. Taking time off or working part-time, which women often do to care for their families, cripples income and earning potential. Even if all the male construction workers became health aides, men would still be paid more because they are more likely to remain in the job market without any breaks to employment. It’s hard to argue that women are overtaking men or that they ever will.

But we still need to worry about future of men — especially men under 35. Gaining the skills necessary to thrive in the modern labor market requires education and on-the-job training early in one’s career. Men are less likely to be enrolled in school  (including high school and post-secondary) than women. That means eventually, more women will have attended college than men, which has never been true before in America. So even if men have the potential to thrive, they might struggle because they are less educated.

Young men, displaced by the recession, are also missing out on the crucial on-the-job training that happens early in one’s career. Throughout the recession, young men had much higher rates of unemployment than older men.

If young people are missing out on skill development, they will earn lower wages for decades. Combine that with less education, and young men, in particular, face a precarious future. Policy must do more to address youth unemployment and education for both genders. Monetary policies like a near-zero federal funds rate and quantitative easing, the primary tools we’ve used so far, are too blunt and ineffective to address the needs of young workers.

It would be more effective to target them directly, through education and jobs that give them the training they need. In his State of the Union, President Obama outlined an initiative to encourage apprenticeships and vocational training for both genders. Details are still uncertain, but it’s a promising start.

Yet even the best program may be undermined by the way compensation is structured in America. Employer benefits, especially healthcare, are expensive to provide. The cost of benefits might exceed the value of a young, unskilled worker’s labor. The employer mandate (which is part of healthcare reform, but its implementation has been continuously delayed) may discourage hiring young workers who need training because it requires employers with more than 50 employees to provide healthcare to full-time employees.

A better policy would separate employment from healthcare by eliminating the mandate and the tax-exempt status of employer healthcare benefits. Those measures would go a long way to build a functioning individual market and break the tie between employment and healthcare. This would encourage employers to take on young men — and women — who need training.

Both men and women can succeed as the economy changes. What’s happened to men during the recession highlights a worrying trend, but it does not mean men will be marginalized. It should be a call to action to improve training and enact policy that promotes a dynamic, fluid labor market.

PHOTOS: A man rubs his eyes as he waits in a line of jobseekers, to attend the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. career fair held by the New York State department of Labor in New York April 12, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson 

A Twitter employee works at a computer at the company’s headquarters in San Francisco, California October 4, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith 

 

19 comments

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There are also a WHOLE lot of men in middle management and ‘consulting’ roles, traveling around to meetings, pretending to be important…. who will ultimately be replaced by software. There is an enormous amount of Dockers fat in the system.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Hey, at least the young guys are nice and sensitive, and good listeners.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

I agree with the author that healthcare and employers should be separated. It would improve healthcare considerably as real competition would be needed to satisfy actual consumers. I’m not sure it would have the affect she states though. Or not as much as she thinks anyway. Demand is the only thing that drives hiring and training. Not cost.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Why is nursing considered a low-paying occupation, I wonder. A college degree is required and the lives and health of people often depend on nursing skills. Interestingly, I have heard that male nurses make much more than female nurses, despite no distinction between their job requirements. How is this fair, I ask you?

Posted by mmmSquirrels | Report as abusive

Considering the fact that the majority of women I’ve seen hired and/or promoted over men in the work place, seem to often have the common attributes of large breasts, and good looking butts in tight jeans… I think there might be something more than just ‘good skills’ involved, in many cases. But of course, those women never see it that way.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive

Glad I checked out the article and accompanying pics.

My memory must be winding down in my old age. I hadn’t remembered that the US is 90% black.

Posted by f00 | Report as abusive

dd606 offers: “common attributes of large breasts, and good looking butts in tight jeans… I think there might be something more than just ‘good skills’ involved.”

Yes, and given the brilliant male leadership of CitiGroup and Bear Stearns over the past 15 years, skill is clearly what drives promotion and salary of men. Not connection, privilege or a wide stance :)

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Ms. Schrager,

This piece is long on aspiration and short on everything else.

You speak of targeting young men “…directly, through education and jobs that give them the training they need.” Please put some meat on those bones if you can.

NO ONE has yet stepped forward to state with reasonable certainty precisely what GENERIC training will be of benefit to these young people in TOMORROW’S ECONOMY. That’s because TOMORROW’S ECONOMY is as yet a “anybody’s guess” blank slate.

In his State of the Union, President Obama outlined an initiative to encourage apprenticeships and vocational training for both genders. WHAT KIND, specifically?

At present, yes, “…the cost of benefits [exceeds] the value of a young, unskilled worker’s labor.” That’s not going to change for “…employers with more than 50 employees…” and the writing is on the wall for a majority of non-management full-time employees.

America today is BROKE, slashing it’s military and role in the world with twenty million illegal fence-jumping squatters in the shadows just waiting to be legalized and invite all their relatives here to collect from America’s cornocopia of social programs. At the same time America’s retirees on Social Security and disabled on SS Disability are soon to be further victimized by yet another fraud, the “Chained CPI”, that will even further erode the existing shortfall in related “inflation indexing”.

So from what mountaintop will the “…call to action to improve training and enact policy that promotes a dynamic, fluid labor market?” Who will comprise the multitudes necessary to yell and cheer and pay for what you propose? This is all chaff and no wheat!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

How many government programs have been worth the money spent? Incompetence and corruption are the hallmarks of Uncle Sam’s craftsmanship. The answer to increasing US employment is; US consumers buying US made products. It’s not magic, will not require a ten million dollar study, no book long explanation is needed, and can happen with the speed of greed when backed by the force of public momentum. Individuals taking responsibility for their own welfare by making US jobs a priority when they shop. Big brother always has the answer and, too often, it’s a big mistake.

Posted by nozone | Report as abusive

The effectiveness of education in the form of a four-year college degree has become the subject of debate.

There is plenty technical work to be done that has a component of physical labor that women tend to avoid. Some computer parts can still be heavy and coplicated to install and configure. Robots and other industrial strength manufacturing equipment that replace men also require men with old and new skill sets.

Sending young men to college to write essays about fictional characters develops communications skills but delays their deployment to the labor market and increases their student loan debt. The student loan debt delays the impact of the increase in their income from reaching the durable goods market and increasing the labor demand from the manufacturing sector.

Imagine if the Navy and Air Force required all recruits to have four-year degrees rather than just officer candidates.

For men, some of the fat needs to be trimmed from education. Shakespeare and Dickens should not be prerequisites for server room temperature management systems engineering technicians.

Posted by MICHAELDONELLO | Report as abusive

Meh. Have daughters. Every nation will be safer and smarter, the planet a nicer and less violent place for all flora and fauna. Males control the governments and economies, industries and corporations of every country Rosin and this author carp about, always have. It’s just that throughout history there were huge shifts and wars that wiped out the un-needed dudes. Clearly, men will keep finding ways to cleanse the planet of the spares and excess. No one makes lazy, entitled males *decide not* to go to high school and college, or refuse to simply go into a trade where they can use their hands instead of what isn’t in their head. For chrissakes, throughout time, their sisters have ben doing everything in their power to MacGuyver a way to become better, smarter and educated; every day they still manage to get up, get there and succeed. While generally also taking care of some male relative(s) baggage.

Posted by timebandit | Report as abusive

As a young male person I think the problem of male unemployment and low skills is not limited to the United States. It’s a global problem, and in my opinion it’s linked to the education systems that are in place now.

The current education systems do not favor men. The education is too institutionalized, and hard to combine with work. It is unappealing for men in young age, and inaccessible for men later in their lives.

I think men are more likely to try doing new scary things and go beyond the comfort zone than girls. That’s why the school, in which they were pounded with knowledge since really young, is really boring. Partly because of such a bad educational approach guys like me have a really easygoing attitude to education. I myself didn’t like studying at all, as opposed to learning what I found useful at a given time.

What is needed is a more flexible education system. If you can freely pick what you want to learn as you go through your working life, then I think men will be much more willing to learn, and also will learn only things that are highly relevant. Moreover, schools need to point to clear uses of particular types of knowledge – for guys learning for the sake of learning sounds like nonsense.

Posted by Radek.kow1 | Report as abusive

The nation spends 40 years solely concerning itself on women’s issues and then is surprised that men are all of a sudden falling behind. The whole education system has been feminized. You have all these boys getting diagnosed with ADHD when the reality is they are bored stupid by a system that caters solely to how girls learn.

Posted by anarcurt | Report as abusive

@Anarcurt has a point. Our education system is not keeping up with the needs of the economy. In todays world education must be continuous throughout your life. Much as doctors and high tech workers have to keep up with the new technology and procedures. This can’t be done by constantly having to take years off to go back to a college. The smaller vocational and for profit schools need to be far better and far cheaper. But employees have to realize that their education and skills are their responsibility, not the employers. They will not constantly pay you to go to training.
But the reality is you can’t teach a B or C level high school student to be a high tech worker, nor can you instill the responsibility and disipline for self learning.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Earlier this month, due to weather, I had employees skip airplane travel and Skype into 7 different meetings they would have missed. Nothing bad happened. 5 of those meetings, we didn’t even take the ipads off mute. On the screens were the usual people mumbling summaries of reports we could have read through email. We have to ask ourselves, what all these men are doing flying around the country, staying in hotels on the company nickel, pretending to be important. Our economy is based largely on inefficiency, which is fun for a while, but it’s unsustainable. Anyone not preparing for the inevitable trimming of fat is kidding themselves.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

can I get paid to blather about the obvious too…?

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

The US government is certified 100% fascist – controlled by corporations who are determined to sell their products in America while at the same time not employ any Americans and expect no corporate taxes. THAT’S the problem in America and no amount of education or healthcare fiddling will fix it.
The citizen voter in America has to vote into office a new generation of politicians who will be held accountable for corporate tax policies and full employment.

Posted by UScitizentoo | Report as abusive

“Yet women are still paid less — a mere 77 cents for every dollar a man earns”

This statement is very misleading. When comparing men and women of the same age and experience performing the same jobs; the differences are minimal. Why would any employer focused on profits ever pay a man more if they could hire a woman to do the same work for less?

Posted by walstir | Report as abusive

walstir reasons: “…the differences are minimal. Why would any employer focused on profits ever pay a man more if they could hire a woman to do the same work for less?”

Because men at the top are a club who enrich themselves? Why else would a bank focused on profits pay an executive 150 million dollars a year when ten million would find perfectly adequate talent. Especially when all the talent has to do is…. pretty much nothing and still get a bonus. These are not theories. This has actually happened in multiple cases, in recent times. At very large, mainstream companies. It’s all legal, and it is still going on. This idea that the extra hundred million a year buys you extra talent…. is not founded in reality.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive