.. the greatest, most astonishing fact that I am aware of in social science right now is that women have been able to hear the labor market screaming out ‘You need more education’ and have been able to respond to that, and men have not, and it’s very, very scary for economists because people should be responding to price signals. And men are not. It’s a fact in need of an explanation.
The most common explanation is of the 'man-child' or peter pan syndrome: the immature adult male who refuses to accept his traditional responsibilities of marriage and fatherhood in favor of computer games, fast food and lads nights out. Such immature men are not interested in the virtues of education and career progression. The shrinking wage gap is therefore caused by man-child apathy as men choose to drift through life and women began overtaking men in education and in the work place. This man-child theory is quite accepted and has led to calls in Ireland to cap the amount of time spent on computer games and introduce compulsory military service for all men.
A representative example of this contempt for men is Penny Young Nance writing for Fox News (I know, I know) :-
Bennett writes about how the culture has so badly confused males in what their role in life should be that they just never grow up – or man up for that matter. They have fallen behind in college where women now surpass men in getting their college degrees. These women are getting jobs in the workforce while the men are lingering in dead-end jobs -- if they are working at all. While opportunity for women is a good thing, men should not take this as a cue to coast.
And don’t even get me started on the maturity level of these Peter Pan-like boys. The statistic from Bennett’s book that perhaps struck me the most is that teenage boys, ages 12-to-17 years old, actually spend less time playing video games than 18-to-34-year-old men. I can understand the desire to play a video gaPenny Young Nanceme here and there as a kid, but as an adult? Grow up. [link]
An alternative theory argues that men are indeed rationally responding to the changes in the labour market by 'dropping out'. In economic terms, men as economic actors believe the cost and risk of education, marriage and career progression is not worth the reward because increasingly the reward is divorce in a legal system stacked against them which sees the mother receiving custody of children, the family house and the man turned into a cash dispenser.
Dr Helen Smith agrees. In her latest book Men on Strike, she argues that men are either consciously or unconsciously avoiding marriage and careers because our culture has become hostile to men. I do occasionally read her blog and while I haven't read the book, I found an extract called Why Men Are Avoiding College:
So where are all the men? Media accounts are short on insight and often just insult males, calling them lazy and dumb. Maybe we would be better off if the media and elites weren't so openly pleased that women are outpacing men in college. The college strike didn't happen overnight. It started years ago when the war against boys began after the feminist era. Initially, feminism was presented as being about equal rights between the sexes. Now it is often about revenge and special privileges for women and girls. Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of The War Against Boys, argues that feminists and their sycophants have worked hard to turn the educational system into one that favors girls at the expense of boys. Boys are now seen as "defective girls" in need of a major overhaul. Sommers says, "Gender experts at Harvard, Wellesley, and Tufts, and in the major women's organizations, believe that boys and men in our society will remain sexist (and potentially dangerous) unless socialized away from conventional maleness. . . . The belief that boys are being wrongly 'masculinized' is inspiring a movement to 'construct boyhood' in ways that will render boys less competitive, more emotionally expressive, more nurturing--more, in short, like girls." [link]
There is at least four positions here. The Left, who wishes to promote autonomy, is broadly split between those who want equal opportunity for women and those who view gender as class warfare. The Right in their support for stable family units are torn between shouting 'man up' and placing the blame on regulation that penalize and discourage men from performing their traditional responsibilities.
All four positions are driven by ideology. Conservatives consistently assume their country is in terminal decline and that a change in the status quo will result in the end of civilization. My opinions on left leaning feminists are recorded [here].
But I do have some sympathy for the view expressed by Helen Smith, that of men adapting rational actions based upon an anti-male culture. I don't agree our culture is anti-male but there is a lack of incentives for men to partake in marriage and career progression (I consider low pay a form of coercion, not incentive).