Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Manning" down

We have discussed many times in class that women are choosing to start families later in life. Whether or not the "when" is a woman's “choice” is debatable. But what is becoming more and more apparent is that men, too, are starting families later in life. Later than decades past. So what becomes of 20-somethings if they aren’t settling down and starting families? Numbers would suggest that due to the increase of women enrolled in and graduating, from college and other institutions of higher education, women are busy working. Not to say that 20-something men aren’t working, but what they aren’t doing, is maturing.

When it comes to 20-something men, women tend to have quite a few things to say. But 20-something women aren’t the only ones with criticism of our male peers. There appears to be a growing concern with what some call a “delayed adulthood.” Most of the chatter over the condition revolves around what we’ve already discussed: marriage and children. The mean age for first marriages amongst men is rising. That might not be such a bad thing, especially if it leads to less divorce. But what else might it mean?

One author, Kay Hymowitz, whose book, Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, suggests that a combination of social factors has given rise to a “pre-adulthood” for young men. As the title of her book suggests, she believes that because more women have sought higher education and entered traditionally male-dominated professions, boys are delaying entering manhood. This generation of 20-something men, she explains, enjoy more recreational time, exhibit a general lack of desire to get hitched, and have a tendency to shirk adult “responsibilities.” I do think it important to note that the “responsibilities” to which Hymowitz refers are based on very traditional notions of male and female roles. Regardless, her theory raises many questions.

I first read one of Hymowitz’s articles last year, in the Wall Street Journal. One of her concerns is that young professional women are going to have fewer choices for mates because 20-something men would rather play video games than have meaningful relationships. I do not necessarily disagree with Hymowitz (I have enough 20-something male friends to know that some of them have a deeper emotional connection with their Fantasy Football team than the women they date). What interests me more is her hypothesis that women’s professional success in the last few decades is what has led to a generation of male pre-adults.

I was having dinner with my mother and stepfather last weekend, and my stepfather mentioned that there has been an increase of female professionals in his line of business (he is a real estate developer). He noted that female project managers are becoming more common on large construction sites. Additionally, some of his professional peers have suggested that the reason that young female professionals are becoming more common is that they are “better” at what they do. He explained that in recent conversations with colleagues, there is a growing consensus that young men, especially recent graduates, are less responsible and competent than young female graduates.

This sentiment may very well be limited to my stepfather’s and his colleagues’ experience, but I started to think that there must be something else there. Hymowitz suggests that it is because of women’s success that young men are delaying adulthood. But I wonder if it’s not more intertwined than that. Women’s professional success may have created a generation of “boyish” men, but how has a generation of "pre-adults" then turned around and affected women? I would argue that, perhaps, it’s been a benefit to 20-something professional women. If what my stepfather said about female versus male graduates in the construction field is accurate, then it would seem that 20-something women may be looking at even greater professional success in other areas of business.


Brown Eyed Girl said...

Interesting. I agree with the sentiment that the rise of women in the workplace and education has affected 20-something men. But I also wonder if there have been other factors contributing to this devolution.

For instance, when the average life expectancy was 35 years, what we now consider children were considered to be adults at 12. During the mid-20th Century, the life expectancy was 70-years-old. Men and women were married and raising families in their early 20s. Today, our life expectancy has increased to almost 80-years-old. [1] Perhaps, as the average length of life has increased, the importance to procreate and join the workforce has decreased. Humans now have more time to build up their resources for life. As a result, we can afford to delay the life milestones that were formerly expected of prior generations at this age.

Of course, this phenomena is predominantly taking hold of the male side of our species. I don't know quite what to make of this difference beyond the research discussed by Hymowitz.


Megan said...

You write that Hymowitz’s theory is that “women’s professional success in the last few decades is what has led to a generation of male pre-adults.” I wonder how this phenomenon changes when you consider that, in general, many professional jobs today require more than a Bachelor’s degree, which means that both men and women are starting careers later in life. To me, this suggests that there is a generation of pre-women as well. Indeed, my experience is that 20-something women today are less interested, and for the most part less prepared (at least financially) to get married and support a family—the adult responsibilities I assume Hymowitz is referring to.

AMA said...

Very interesting post! While I've heard a lot about the "delayed adulthood" issue, I have never heard it broken down by gender, nor about how it may be working to advance women in the workplace. Yet, while women may be getting positions at jobs that might have otherwise gone to men, I remain doubtful that this will in fact benefit them. I say this because when these women and "boyish" men do end up having families, it will likely still be the women who are stuck with the infamous double shift. Indeed, women are advancing in careers left and right (which is great!) but I'm not entirely convinced that men will be so inclined to pick up the slack at home.

Girl Talk said...

While to some extent I can see how increased women in the workplace and higher education could contribute to the "pre-adult" phenomenon among 20-something males, I do not believe that there is cause and effect here.

To begin, I'm skeptical because I think this assertion is highly dependent on socioeconomic status and also on how "maturity" is defined. Waiting longer to get married and shirking "adult responsibilities" can be two very different things.

Aside from the other factors mentioned by the other commenters, I think there are certain characteristics of the younger generations that generally contribute to younger people (both male and female) putting off those things in life traditionally considered "adult" and "mature" and shirking responsibility. If we are talking about "adult responsibilities," many young men are able to avoid being completely self-sustaining because of their parents (again, dependent on socioeconomic status). Many young college grads are moving home because of the job market and because their parents became successful in the '80s and '90s and are able to provide a financial cushion (not to mention the ridiculous debt that many students now bear after undergrad). I think a lot of parents in their 50s and 60s are able to provide more for their kids than their parents could for them, and I believe this results in the younger generations being coddled and dependent on their parents, which delays maturity. This can also have an effect on delaying marriage and children: the longer a young 20 year-old can depend on others to support him, why would he seek to take on other people that would likely be dependent on him? In order to mature, one needs to experience independence, and the 20-something generation generally seems to not have much of that.

Rose Sawyer said...
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Rose Sawyer said...

AMA, you write that if "'boyish' men do end up having families, it will likely still be the women who are stuck with the infamous double shift." I think that this is an extremely good point. Aristotle wrote that "excellence is not an act, but a habit," and -- to paint gender expectations in a somewhat positive light -- I think that our society expects excellence (cheerfulness, industriousness, selflessness) of women, but condones laziness in men.

As a tangent, I think one area where we really see this is at the gym -- I see so many more girls working out than guys. Yes, this is probably motivated by societal pressures for women to be "thin," but if it's keeping women healthier, the gender expectation is arguably working to women's advantage. To an extent, it's also so with work.

As Andrew Romano and Tony Dokoupil's 2010 Newsweek Article "Men's Lib" points out, "Despite apparent progress--young couples believe in coparenting and sharing the household chores--very little has actually changed . . . If both parents are working, women spend 400 percent more time with the kids."

Somewhat ironically, men's failure to "man up" seems to be the biggest problem for a woman who at least in some respects adheres to traditional heterosexual roles (is married to a man, and has children). Maybe the fact that fewer women are settling down in their 20s, Megan, reflects a rejection of traditional heterosexual roles. Maybe more women will have children solo, or with female partners.

Without meaning to, I guess I landed this comment squarely in line with Hanna Rosin's article "the End of Men."