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Does the 21st Century Mark the 'End of Men'? Not Quite -- But Women Are on the Rise

Hanna Rosin's new book targets the huge cultural and gender shifts in American life.
 
 
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The age of Men is over. The time of the Orc has come!

—Gothmog, in Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King

Just as men were about to win the penultimate battle in their quest to retake Middle Earth, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s final volume of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the forces of evil declared that the “age of men is over.” Yet, in the end, it was a lady, Éowyn, who made the decisive blow in that fictional battle, securing the rise of men to their rightful place as leaders of Middle Earth.

There are some disturbing parallels between the world of contemporary American men and women that Hanna Rosin depicts in her new book,  The End of Men, and this fantasy scenario. The idea that men are in trouble isn’t necessarily new—we started hearing that boys were in “crisis” about 10 years ago, for example—but Rosin takes the argument one step further. The title of the book aside, her thesis is not so much about the end of men as it is about the rise of women.

But before we sign onto this simplistic and oddly appealing storyline, we might do well to take a closer look. It’s true that economic forces are creating serious challenges for U.S. workers and their families, and that men are having a hard time. But women’s ascension—measured by the share of women getting professional degrees or being a family breadwinner—does not necessarily signal the end of men. Indeed, it may be just as fair to argue that with all their overachieving, multitasking efforts, women are actually letting men off the hook, to women’s own detriment.

Yes, there are fewer men employed in the United States now than at any time since 1948 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping this data. And, yes, there has been only a slight increase in the share of men finishing college relative to 30 years ago. And, yes, male wages have stagnated since the end of the 1970s, with only a brief uptick during the booming 1990s.

And for their part, women have certainly made impressive gains. Over one-third of women ages 25 to 29 had earned a bachelor’s degree in 2011, up from one-fifth in 1980. As Rosin points out, the typical college campus is 60 percent female, if not more, and women now outpace men in earning baccalaureates and professional degrees. In cities, young, single, childless women outearn young men.

But dramatic as these statistics are, they don’t add up to a world of female domination . Women have known for a long time that to compete with men they need to outcompete them. Women have invested in education more so than men. Yet—shockingly—the gender pay gap has not budged in over a decade. Today if a young woman with a college diploma lands a job where a young man in the next cubicle has an equivalent diploma, he’ll still likely take home a bigger paycheck. And, as Rosin points out, if she complains, she’ll still, as in the past, be branded a “bitch.”

The male advantage holds up even when men move into traditionally female-dominated fields such as nursing or elementary school teaching, as they’re increasingly doing (one-third of the growth in male employment over the decade from 2000 to 2010 was in jobs that were at least 70 percent female, twice the share of the prior decade). Men tend to outearn women even in these jobs, taking advantage of the “glass escalator,” gliding up the job ladder fast as can be.

 
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