You can’t count men out

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION -

The yang of Amer­ica’s la­bor force is this: Over a 40-year ca­reer, a man earns $431,000 more than a woman on av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress.

The yin of Amer­ica’s la­bor force is this: In this decade, for the first time in Amer­i­can his­tory, men no longer in­evitably dom­i­nate the la­bor force. Women were ac­tu­ally the ma­jor­ity of pay­roll em­ploy­ees for the five months that ended in March, ac­cord­ing to one mea­sure from the fed­eral Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics. That’s mostly be­cause about three-quar­ters of Amer­i­cans who lost their jobs in the Great Re­ces­sion were men.

Now men again fill a slight ma­jor­ity of pay­roll jobs be­cause they are more likely to work in sum­mer jobs such as con­struc­tion. Amer­ica may now teeter back and forth, with men pre­dom­i­nant in the sum­mers and women in the win­ters.

With women mak­ing far-reach­ing gains, there’s a larger ques­tion. Are women sim­ply bet­ter-suited than men to to­day’s jobs? The At­lantic raised this is­sue provoca­tively with a cover story by Hanna Rosin bluntly ti­tled “The End of Men.”

“What if the mod­ern, postin­dus­trial econ­omy is sim­ply more con­ge­nial to women than to men?” Rosin asked. She adds: “The postin­dus­trial econ­omy is in­dif­fer­ent to men’s size and strength. The at­tributes that are most valu­able to­day — so­cial in­tel­li­gence, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the abil­ity to sit still and fo­cus — are, at a min­i­mum, not pre­dom­i­nately male. In fact, the op­po­site may be true.”

It’s a fair ques­tion, and oth­ers also have been won­der­ing aloud if a new age of fem­i­nin­ity is dawn­ing. Af­ter all, Rosin notes that Amer­i­cans who use high-tech bi­ol­ogy to try to pick a baby’s sex seek a girl more of­ten than a boy. And women now make up 51 per­cent of pro­fes­sional and man­age­rial po­si­tions in Amer­ica, up from 26 per­cent in 1980.

It’s also true that while men still dom­i­nate the Amer­i­can power elite, they also dom­i­nate the bot­tom rungs of the lad­der. By some counts, Amer­ica’s pris­on­ers are 90 per­cent male, and most es­ti­mates are that home­less peo­ple are dis­pro­por­tion­ately male.

If school per­for­mance pre­dicts ca­reer suc­cess, then women may do even bet­ter a few decades from now, for girls clearly excel in school as never be­fore. The Na­tional Honor So­ci­ety, for top high school stu­dents, says that 64 per­cent of its mem­bers are girls. The Cen­ter on Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy cites data show­ing that boys lag girls in read­ing in ev­ery Amer­i­can state.

Yet my hunch is that we’re mov­ing into greater gen­der bal­ance, not a fun­da­men­tally new im­bal­ance in the other di­rec­tion. Don’t hold your breath for “the end of men.”

One rea­son is that women’s gains still have a catch-up qual­ity to them. Catch-up is eas­ier than forg­ing ahead.

More­over, the dif­fer­ences in ed­u­ca­tional per­for­mance are real but mod­est. In math, boys and girls are about equal. In ver­bal skills, 79 per­cent of ele­men­tary school­girls can read at a level deemed pro­fi­cient, com­pared with 72 per­cent of boys, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter on Ed­u­ca­tion Pol­icy.

At the very top, boys more than hold their own: 62 per­cent of kids who earn per­fect 2,400 scores on the SAT are boys.

Some ed­u­ca­tion ex­perts, like Richard Whit­mire, author of “Why Boys Fail,” ar­gue that the suc­cess of girls has to do in part with how schools teach chil­dren. Tweak­ing cur­ricu­lums by ex­pos­ing kids to more books full of ex­plo­sions might lead boys to do bet­ter in read­ing — and if boys con­tinue to lag, there’ll be more of a push for boy-friendly ini­tia­tives.

I think we ex­ag­ger­ate the de­gree to which the sexes are mired in con­flict. As Henry Kissinger once said, “No­body will ever win the bat­tle of the sexes. There’s too much frat­er­niz­ing with the en­emy.” We men want our wives and daugh­ters to en­counter op­por­tu­nity in the work­place, not sex­ual ha­rass­ment; women want their hus­bands and sons to be in the ex­ec­u­tive suite, not jail. Nearly all of us root for fair­ness, not for our own sex.

The truth is that we men have typ­i­cally ben­e­fited as women have gained greater equal­ity. Those men who have lost their jobs in the re­ces­sion are more likely to have a wife who still has a job and can keep up the mort­gage pay­ments. And women have been par­tic­u­larly prom­i­nent in the so­cial sec­tor, de­vis­ing new pro­grams for the mostly male ranks of the job­less or home­less.

So for­get about gen­der war and zero-sum games. Odds are that we men will find a way to hold our own, with the help of women. And we’ll ben­e­fit as smart and tal­ented women be­lat­edly have the op­por­tu­nity to de­ploy their skills on be­half of all of hu­man­ity — in­clud­ing those of us with Y chro­mo­somes.

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