Men Declining?

Provocative and important cover story in the current issue of the the Atlantic. It’s entitled The End of Men? Clearly exaggerated, but the main point of the article that men are having a harder time than women making the transition to a far more knowledge-based economy is probably true. The article claims the trend is global, not just here in the US.

The basic story is well know. An economy driven by technology and globalization no longer needs much muscle from humans, but now more highly values brains. Both left and right brain skills. So men who have relied on their muscle to earn a good living are having a hard time. The result: more woman working today in the US than men for the first time ever, 3/4 of the laid off workers in the Great Recession have been men and the jobs that are least likely to come back in the next recovery – production and construction – are male dominated occupations.

What is deeply troubling in the article is the evidence that men are more resistant to gaining the skills needed to succeed in the economy of the future. For whatever reason women are disproportionately higher ed students at all levels. From community colleges through advanced degree programs. And they are finishing degrees at a higher rate than men as well. This is not good news. Societies where men don’t work or don’t earn enough to support a family are societies with all sorts of social problems far beyond economic.

Our view of the economy is that career success in the future will look a lot more like rock climbing that ladder climbing. Career ladders that use to be the path to the middle class are increasingly gone. Technology and globalization mean that predictable and linear career progress for most of us is toast. What will take its place is the need to continuously adjust (rock climbing). All of us are going to have to be willing and able to learn new skills and new occupations over a lifetime. The article claims that men – except those from upper middle class households – are having great difficulty making these transitions. If true, this is a challenge that we need to make a priority.

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