Monday, June 24, 2013

Lou Dobbs With A Blackboard: On Oppressed Men

This is a fun lesson in putting together lots of data items which have very little to do with each other.  It's also a story about how American men are in trouble.  Or so Lou Dobbs tells us in this video:

I love the last bit about the high sales of erectile dysfunction drugs, given that they weren't around until quite recently.  That men didn't take them in the past does not mean that erectile dysfunction didn't exist.  Indeed, it seems to have been pretty common among men over forty.

Our Lou implies, however, that it is only now that the American men can no longer get it up, what with having become neutered and emasculated by women getting out of their proper places (kitchen, the bed, behind the vacuum cleaner).

Let's take that list more seriously.  The first item is about a serious dilemma, especially among men of color in the US:  Insufficient numbers attend college.  But Dobbs suggests that the problem isn't in that as much as in the gender percentages being the wrong way around.  I think he would be fairly comfortable with 43% of university students being women.

The second item in that list, the difference in male and female unemployment rates, shows a tiny difference

Had Dobbs been able to do his little class some time earlier, he would have found large differences in the direction he wishes them to be.  But the male unemployment rate has declined quite rapidly as the recession has eased itself, and the two rates are settling back to their usual statistical position which is rough equality (second column from the right)

The point here is that Dobbs uses data which does not reflect long-term patterns to bolster a long-term argument.

The third item, about the real earnings of men not having risen much over time, is also a serious problem.  It has much to do with the outsourcing and globalization that Dobbs' own political party supports, promotes and advocates. 

But notice that Dobbs decides to give us the percentages of women going to college but not the female median earnings.  The reason is that those are quite a bit lower than the male median earnings, even after the latter haven't grown much over time.  To show that would have interfered with Dobbs' thesis, because it would have shown men doing better in something than women, on average.  But omitting it biases his little lesson.

The fifth item looks at one consequence of the bad labor market of recent years:  more young men living with their parents than was the case in 2000, and attributes it to some other nefarious cause than the hand of the free markets that he otherwise worships.

The fourth, sixth and seventh items on Dobbs' list are pretty odd ones, because it's hard to interpret them as reflecting men being left behind, somehow, unless one agrees with Dobbs that men should all have access to obedient wives and lots and lots of children and no threat of a divorce (from the wife) and so on.  Well, in general they can only be explained if Dobbs believes in male supremacy as the only situation where men are not "left behind."

But these items:  men (and women) getting married later in life or not at all, more fathers living apart from their children and lower fertility rates than the US had in the 1960s, are not something that  can be argued to reflect a boycott of marriage by men or some horrible plot against men in general or other such simple conspiracy theories.

To unwind that bundle from the other end, let's start with the seventh argument:  The drop in US fertility rate.  HOW does that show that men are in trouble?  The 1960s fertility rate of 3.7 children per woman is probably measured before the pill.  Dobbs likes that fertility rate and he doesn't like the current rate of 2.07 children per woman.

I get that.  But I don't see what it could possibly have to do with his thesis here, unless Dobbs thinks that men's happiness is crucially dependent on siring very large families.

Dobbs argues that the fertility rate is low not for the reason that actually prevails (worldwide fertility rates are down and that has much to do with contraception) but because of single mothers!  There's no man around to make them breed more, I guess.

Duh.  I can't believe I'm writing about this seriously. The sixth and seventh items are both about the evils of single mothers, really.  Dobbs has very simple, though unstated, theories about why the percentage of fathers not living with their children has grown (though it's still a minority arrangement) and why men (and women) seem to be getting married later or not at all.

For instance, he assumes that the latter is because men are boycotting marriage.  For that to explain the later age at first marriage, we would have to assume that at various times in history men either boycotted marriage or really went for it.  We would also have to assume that women have no say in any of this.  It's just men boycotting marriage, and the reason why they would do so is left to hover in the air.  No economic causes at all!  No changes in the cultural ideas about marriage!

And divorce and single parenthood are also quite complicated matters which social scientists study from all sorts of angles.  I can't fathom how the sixth point, about a certain percentage of fathers (27%) not living with their children, fits into Dobbs' theory.  Is it that those fathers have decided to boycott fatherhood, too?  Or is it that they have been rejected by the mothers of their children?  In any case, why are phenomena that are usually discussed from the point of view of all the people that are affected by them suddenly seen as only problems about men?*

It's a mess, that list, because all the items in it share something only if one assumes that the traditional male breadwinner with a submissive and dependent family is the alternative to men being in trouble or being left behind**.   It's also a biased list, of course, because it omits anything (say, the percentage of women in the US Congress or in speaking roles in major movies) where men fare much better than women.

*The point is this:  If we regard divorce or single parenthood a problem, why is it not discussed as a general problem, for both men, women and children?  Why is it a male problem? 

**The first item in Dobb's list is an important one.  More young men should take education seriously and consider college.

But as I have written before, the difference in college enrollment rates by gender is a global phenomenon, ranging from such countries as Saudi Arabia to the Scandinavian democracies.  Indeed, it is observed wherever women are allowed to go to college.  It is partially, at least, explained by the fact that the jobs women have access to without college are poorly paid, in comparison to the jobs that men have access to without college.  Still, the job markets are changing and education will matter more in the future and boys should be encouraged to think of higher education more.

The third item also matters, but it is largely the fault of outsourcing and globalized production strategies by Dobbs' beloved corporations.  Those have caused the death of well-paying blue-collar jobs in the US.