The End of Men?

In her provocatively, if perhaps a bit overstatedly, titled book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin looks at the way that our cultural and gender dynamics are changing, and the implications for how we should raise our children to thrive in this new context.

The gist of Rosin’s analysis is that in an economic and social environment that values “flexibility, hustle, and an expansive sense of identity,” for some reason men are not stepping up to the plate so women have filled in and, for the first time, often surpassed men in terms of academic achievement, professional success, and earning power, without ceding any domestic ground.

This isn’t a book about how women don’t need men, or how women should be out there roaring and whatnot.  Rather, it’s a look at how our economy and culture are changing, and an attempt to figure out why women are thriving and men are not in the new milieu.  As a parent of a boy and girls, I found a lot to think about in the book.  Certainly there are biblical roles and expectations for men and women, but many of our traditional understandings of gender roles are cultural rather than biblical, and it is important to me that my children know how to navigate their world and do the best they can with their God-given gifts.

The statistics and examples Rosin cites are sobering.

  • In 1950, one out of 20 men of working age was not working; today that ratio is one out of five.  In many families, when dad loses a job, mom goes out and gets one, even if she’s not qualified, has to go back to school, or has to change her concept of who she is. For some reason, men don’t seem to be able to do that as easily.
  • In 1965 women averaged 9.3 hours of paid work and 10.2 hours of childcare per week.  Now women average 23.2 hours of paid work AND 13.9 hours of childcare per week.  None of the women Rosin interviewed had husbands who really split household responsibilities with them, even when the wife was the breadwinner, even when the man wasn’t working, even if the woman was working more than one job.
  • “Many professions have gone from all-male to all-female, and almost none have gone the other way…theoretically men can be anything these days but moving into new roles requires certain traits: flexibility, hustle and an expansive sense of identity…the women take on new roles with gusto, while the men take them on only reluctantly.”
  • At the end of high school, nearly 25% of sons of educated parents can’t read at a basic level, compared to less than 7% of daughters.  More women than men get undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees than men, in almost every subject including many traditionally all-male disciplines.

As a parent who cares deeply about education, I found it sobering that somehow boys seem to have absorbed the idea that girls are good at school and they are not, or that school is not necessary for success.  Increasingly this is not the case.  Rosin writes about the qualities she is trying to instill in her son to help him go against the flow and succeed in academics and professionally–organization, independence, flexibility, hustle–and examines some ways that boys can be encouraged to succeed in a rapidly changing economy.

I also found much to think about regarding daughters.  Rosin points out that with women being better educated and out-earning men, and with many men stuck in perpetual adolescence, relationships become complicated.  She writes, “Women are often ready for marriage while men are still playing video games” and that for a lot of women the choice becomes “marrying down, delaying marriage, or not getting married at all.”  How should we prepare our daughters for this situation?  Obviously this is an issue that encompasses preparing boys to be men as well as preparing daughters.  Some people contend that the answer is to undereducate your daughters and train them to not try to excel so that boys won’t feel eclipsed and will be forced to lead.  I think that’s stupid.  Girls shouldn’t have to be less smart or less accomplished out of fear of intimidating men.  The problem in that case is not with the girl, but with the boys who ought to man up!  Not that I am carrying baggage related to that at all.  🙂

Whether or not you are a parent, The End of Men is a fascinating sociological look at the changes going on in our society, and a book that will give you a lot to think about.  If you’ve read it, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!


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