end of man?

I went recently to the RSA to listen to Hanna Rosin presenting her book on The End of Man. The book has been widely publicised so you may know her main thesis: that women have overtaken men, leaving them out in the cold and lacking identity and a role.
I have quite a lot of time for much of the argument, and I like the contrast – as a generalisation – between women as ‘plastic’ ie adaptable, and men as ‘cardboard’ ie not adaptable and in some sense soggy ( though I haven’t read the book so don’t know if she actually uses this term). Where I’d put up a big question mark is the idea that women have overtaken men in the pay and career arena. At the point of entry into the labour market this may be true -at least in the US. But it’s crucial to take a lifecourse perspective here, to look at how things play out over time as women’s and men’s careers progress ( or don’t ). From UK cohort studies we can see that the earnings gap narrowed considerably between the two generations born in 1958 and 1970. It roughly halved, from nearly 20% to just over 10%. But as time went on, the gap increased. And crucially it seems to be increasing faster for the younger generation, so that the gap may be almost as big for them when they are 50 as it is for the earlier generation.
We’ll have to wait for analysis of more recent data to know if that looks like happening. But for now it seems to me that it’s premature to call time on men just yet.

  1. Nick

    1. Is there any way to connect the PP with the woeful UK track record on social mobility? You make the point that class trumps gender – but is there a story somewhere that the combined effect might be a significant explanatory factor in the remarkable socio-economic stickiness of the UK. The downside is that you would then need some comparative data on the PP in other more mobile countries.

    2. Most dysfunctions have a purpose – someone wins and has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Avoiding simplistic male conspiracy theories (it is unlikely that there is a conscious power-grab at work), is there a larger exploitative purpose to the PP? Maybe it simply reinforces stereotypes – but maybe it also generates an army of highly competent women at lower grades who form the backbone of many bureaucracies. You argue that there is no zero sum and that we would all be better off if competent women were not stifled in attempts to reach their potential, but this is a big picture argument. Many male managers who are likely implicated are seeing a small picture only, in which they may well imagine a tradeoff between having good administrative support or having a highly competent and likely more successful colleague.

    3. You very wisely step aside from the debate about whether women are choosing a less successful career path because they know that they stand little chance etc. – but are there any meannigful data on life-satisfaction and self-perceptions that could throw some light on what the PP does to women and the degree to which women collude with the PP?

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