Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The End Of Men, Again

Some days ago I got an e-mail from Hanna Rosin's agents asking me if I wanted her book The End Of Men to review.  The same night I got a gastritis attack.

Such are the rewards of writing in this field.  What is it that made me ill, you ask (other than countless cups of coffee, caused by anger)?

The title of the book, for one thing.  It's an obscenity in this world where women in many countries have fewer rights than dogs or bicycles.  It's an outrage even more generally, because it has made a bet on flaming the gender wars and as we all know such wars are great fun and lucrative for the instigators.  Likewise, these topics don't get any attention whatsoever when they are flamed from the other side.  I don't think a book called The End Of Women would get the same attention, even though women are somewhat ending in China and India.  Men, on the other hand, are not ending.

Had the book been called The End Of Male Dominance? (which appears to be its actual topic), the potential numbers of readers would have quickly shrunk to a few beady-eyed feminists such as yours truly.  As things are, I will find reading it tough going because I know it's supposed to press all sorts of unseemly buttons about feminism having gone too far and so on.  Yet I hear that it's kinda disappointing in that it doesn't tell us how all those men are ending.  Indeed, it might even suggest that rigid definitions of masculinity are at fault here.

So thinks our David Brooks who has written a meditative piece on the book.  I started reading it because I already have too much stomach acid. But he isn't truly horrible in that piece, which disappointed me.  Still, it's always worthwhile to do research on our David's assertions:

Thanks to their lower skills, men are dropping out of the labor force. In 1954, 96 percent of the American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today, that number is down to 80 percent. In Friday’s jobs report, male labor force participation reached an all-time low.
Millions of men are collecting disability. Even many of those who do have a job are doing poorly. According to Michael Greenstone of the Hamilton Project, annual earnings for median prime-age males have dropped by 28 percent over the past 40 years.
Men still dominate the tippy-top of the corporate ladder because many women take time off to raise children, but women lead or are gaining nearly everywhere else. Women in their 20s outearn men in their 20s. Twelve out of the 15 fastest-growing professions are dominated by women.
 Derek Rose responds to those arguments:

Actually in 1954, the 92.8 percent — not 96 percent — of men aged 25 to 54 had a job, according to BLS statistics. In August that percentage was at 82.2 percent. A lot of that has to do with, y’know, the recession. As recently as 2007, 87.5 percent of men had jobs. Others were in school, being a housedad or, yes, collecting disability. More on that in a sec.
Meanwhile, the percentage of women aged 25-54 working (outside the home) has also been dropping — from a high of 74.9 percent in fourth quarter 1999, to 69.1 percent in the first half of this year.
In Friday’s jobs report, male labor force participation reached an all-time low.  True, but as the Atlantic explained, this has more to do with an aging population than anything else.
Millions of men are collecting disability.
True, but so are millions of women — about 300,000 more women than men, in fact. According to the Social Security Administration, 3.28 million males and 3.58 million females were receiving SSI disability payments in December 2011. (pdf, page 22).

What about the annual earnings of men dropping?  Derek Rose again;

Brooks misrepresents Greenstone’s work here. Greenstone does indeed conclude that when you adjust for inflation, average earnings for median prime-age [25-64] males did drop 28 percent from 1969 to 2009 — but that’s because fewer men are working, and so aren’t earning any wage. When you look at men working full-time, the mean earnings of men aged 25-64 has risen 13 percent (but the median has dropped 1 percent, a sign of growing inequality. (pdf, page 13).

 Here's recent data on the male-female earnings difference from the second quarter of 2012:

It doesn't look to me as if men are ending.  Or as if women are completely taking over, either, though with that paltry exception Brooks allows, the top of the societal ladders:

Men still dominate the tippy-top of the corporate ladder because many women take time off to raise children, but women lead or are gaining nearly everywhere else. Women in their 20s outearn men in their 20s. Twelve out of the 15 fastest-growing professions are dominated by women.

Child-related absence from the labor force only affects the high-flyers?????   How very odd that view is.

So what have we learned so far?  Both men and women have lower labor market participation rates because of the recession.  More women than men collect disability.  Men's real earnings may have fallen or not risen much, over time, but men are still earning more than women.

What about women in their 20s out-earning men in their 20s?  That, too, is rubbish.  You can see it from the above graph, of course.  You don't have to use a study which singled out large metropolitan areas, removed all married individuals from the study and then didn't compare like-with-like by not controlling for education.  Young unmarried women in those areas have, on average, higher educational qualifications than young, unmarried men, and it's the education difference, rather than gender, that matters in those findings.

I've written about that particular study so many times before but it simply refuses to die because it's such a fun study to believe in.  And fits the framework of the coming monstrous petticoat regime!

Finally, let's have a look at those 15 fastest growing professions which are dominated by women. It's not clear which list Rosin's book used as there are several ways of defining "fastest growing" (percentage increases or absolute numbers etc). The one Rosin probably used is Table 2 in this article (scroll down), although it lists twenty occupations, not fifteen.

It's worth noting the text under that table:

The education categories and wages of the occupations with the largest numbers of new jobs are considerably different than those of the fastest growing occupations. Only three of these occupations are in the associate’s degree or higher category. Fourteen of the 20 occupations with the largest numbers of new jobs paid less than the national median wage of $33,840 in May 2010.

Out of the top five listed (all female dominated, by the way), only the first occupation mentioned, registered nurses, has a highish median annual salary: 64, 690 dollars.  The next four:  retail salespersons,  home health aides, personal care aides and office clerks, general, have median annual salaries of $20,670, $20,560, $19,640 and $26,610, respectively.  In other words, dominating twelve out of the top fifteen categories doesn't actually make women the winners in some giant employment race.

That's enough on our David today.  I might read Rosin's book one day and then I will do more ranting here.
Two post-scripts:  The first:  I spent time at the Bureau of Labor Statistics site trying to find labor market participation rates.  The ones I found for men and women aged 25-54 for 2010 don't exactly match the information Derek Rose provides but it is close.  All the labor market participation rates I could find (the most current ones were for men and women over the age twenty) demonstrate the same pattern:  Women have a lower labor market participation rate than men do.

The second, and more substantial:  This post is not meant to  belittle the troubles of men who are losing blue-collar jobs in this country, and there may well be something to the idea of rigid definitions of masculinity keeping some back.  At the same time, "flexibility" seems to mean accepting a very low-paid service job instead, and the losses in salary are real.  Women have had fewer opportunities for the better-paying jobs in the past and hence may be more accepting of low earnings opportunities than men.  Still, before we can discuss any of this properly we should drop the gender wars framework and at least get the basic data correct.