Are you tired of separating the recycling and having to put your underpants in the laundry basket? Are you sick of watching your wife’s vampire shows on tv? Chrysler knows how you feel. Last year the struggling US auto company filed for bankruptcy protection and was forced into a humiliating shot gun wedding with Fiat. So in keeping with the spirit of the age, the company’s made-for-Super-Bowl Dodge Charger ad features whiny men who feel oppressed by women. Now you can broadcast your powerlessness and frustration every time you fire up your new muscle car (just make sure you remember to put the trash out first).
The Atlantic’s Hanna Rosin. argues that there’s a connection between beaten down men and America’s shrinking manufacturing sector. Rosin spoke with Geraldine Doogue on Saturday Extra where she argued that traditionally male industries are in decline and displaced men are failing to adapt to new job opportunities.
In an article for the Atlantic Rosin wondered whether the "modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men":
Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you. It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back, but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random. The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer.
The changes in America’s labour market have hit the working class hardest, says Rosin: "Since 2000, manufacturing has lost almost 6 million jobs, more than a third of its total workforce, and has taken in few young workers." And with the bursting of the housing bubble, construction jobs have evaporated (at least for now). Rosin explains:
Men dominate just two of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade: janitor and computer engineer. Women have everything else—nursing, home health assistance, child care, food preparation. Many of the new jobs, says Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, “replace the things that women used to do in the home for free.” None is especially high-paying. But the steady accumulation of these jobs adds up to an economy that, for the working class, has become more amenable to women than to men.
Rosin isn’t saying that women now have the upper hand in the labour market or that men are a disadvantaged group. She’s fully aware that men still have most of the highest paid jobs and women still do most of the unpaid work such as caring for children. But she senses a trend.
There is a trend, but it’s more complicated than gender. For example, consider education. These two graphs from Richard Settersten’s and Barbara Ray’s article ‘What’s Going on with Young People Today? The Long and Twisting Path to Adulthood‘ show the earnings of men and women aged 25 to 34 by education. While women’s earnings have improved across the board over the past 40 years, only more educated men have managed to match or improve on the earnings of their predecessors. And it’s clear that women still earn less than men (if you think this is just because they work fewer hours see this graph).
Looking at households rather than individuals, it’s clear that the long boom did little for those at the bottom of the income distribution. The graph below from Lane Kenworthy’s blog shows average inflation-adjusted incomes of the poorest 20%, middle 60%, and top 1% of households since the 1970s (see Kenworthy’s post at Crooked Timber for more discussion).
As Kenworthy notes: "For the bulk of American households, incomes have increased moderately or minimally. For those at the top, by contrast, they have soared." Some economists like Greg Mankiw argue that rising inequality is about the economy’s increasing demand for skills. Citing the work of Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, he argues that the growth in educational attainment has slowed in recent decades. So as technological change has continued to drive the demand for skills, the supply of skilled workers has lagged behind. As a result, the wage premium for highly skilled workers has increased.
As Goldin, Katz and Kuziemko point out, compared with women men have lagged behind in educational attainment: "Women are now the majority of undergraduates and those receiving a bachelor’s degree" (pdf). So if the labour market is demanding higher levels of education, it seems that women are adapting better to change.
However Kenworthy isn’t convinced that education tells the whole story about rising inequality. Even Mankiw admits that differences in education don’t explain how some people go from rich to super-rich. But for whatever reason, inequality has been growing in the US and some Americans — not all of them men — are being left behind.
… four men stare into the camera, unsmiling, not moving except for tiny blinks and sways. They look like they’ve been tranquilized, like they can barely hold themselves up against the breeze. Their lips do not move, but a voice-over explains their predicament—how they’ve been beaten silent by the demands of tedious employers and enviro-fascists and women. Especially women. “I will put the seat down, I will separate the recycling, I will carry your lip balm.” This last one—lip balm—is expressed with the mildest spit of emotion, the only hint of the suppressed rage against the dominatrix.
So it seems that today’s man fantasises about speeding along deserted highway alone. That’s not how it used to be.