Is there a crisis of manhood?

Two new books say men have lost their place in the world, but is there really a ‘crisis of manhood’?

There are two books coming out about men in the next few months that have a very similar theme.

The first, an e-book by respected psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo, is called “The demise of guys”. The other, written by senior American journalist Hanna Rosin and out in the Autumn, is called “The end of men”.

As you might have guessed, the argument at the heart of both these books is that there is a crisis of manhood.

Boys and men alike have lost their place in the world and are more likely to fail at school, college or work – and be depressed, suicidal and lonely – than ever before.

But is it true? Is there a crisis of manhood? We take a look at the evidence.

Stating the case

There’s no doubt that statistics bear out the idea that boys and men are having a hard time – to some extent. In school exams, for instance, girls now do considerably better than boys. In 2011, the percentage of girls gaining A grades at GCSE was nearly 7% higher than the percentage of boys achieving similar results, a gap that has widened from just 1.5% in 1989.

And that gap doesn’t close at college or university. More women than men are attaining A levels, while in 2010 more young women – 51% – were going to university, compared to just 40% of young men. At the end of it all, a higher percentage of women are gaining first class degrees.

And this is slowly being reflected in the workplace. For example, it’s predicted that there will be more female doctors than male ones in a few years’ time. Over in America, 2010 data showed more women were working than men.

“It may be happening slowly and unevenly, but it’s unmistakably happening: in the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards,” writes Hanna Rosin.

In other areas the crisis of manhood is even starker. Men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives, and in young men, under 35, suicide is the second most common cause of death in England and Wales.

But the authors of “The demise of guys” go further than that. Young men aren’t just failing at school and college and increasingly becoming depressed; they’re “flaming out academically, wiping out socially with girls and failing sexually with women.”

In other words, in all the major areas of life, from education to romance, it seems men are messing up. But why might that be?

Importance of status

Hanna Rosin suggests the crisis of manhood is largely economic in origin. Male dominated jobs that require physical strength are in terminal decline. Jobs that rely on communication skills and emotional intelligence are on the rise. Unfortunately for men, they’re better suited to the former.

And when men lose their jobs, they often lose status. Their role in the family, and in society, is lost with them. Men who can’t offer much in the way of status aren’t even an attractive romantic proposition to most women. Rosin hints at a sense of hopelessness that is engulfing many men.

Zimbardo offers another cause: technology. He arguea that, “from the earliest ages, guys are seduced into excessive and mostly isolated viewing and involvement with texting, tweeting, blogging, online chatting, emailing, and watching sports on TV or laptops.”

All this solitary activity is hardly conducive to good education, good relationships or developing the sort of communication skills that men need to stay in touch with the demands of the new economy, the author says.

In a nutshell, we’re all doomed.

Is the manhood crisis a myth?

But other researchers refute the idea of a crisis of manhood.

Yes, says British psychologist Dr Mark McCormack, some men are struggling both socially and economically. But his own research also suggests that men are shedding the ‘macho man’ stereotypes that may once have held them back.

He believes that, at school, boys are no longer attacked for being too clever or ‘swatty’. He suggests that young men are maintaining “emotionally rich friendships” and that more than ever men are putting value on building relationships and forming close bonds.

In fact, he writes in Psychology Today, young men are “casting off the orthodox notions of what it means to be a man and they are embracing their softer sides. It is something we should celebrate.”

And other evidence suggests that, far from flaming out with women, men are having more sex than ever. They have more than twice the number of sexual partners that women do, and because fewer men go to University, male undergraduates are in romantic demand.

Even at work, and even though many traditionally male-dominated careers are clearly in decline, the idea of a masculine ‘crisis’ might be overplayed. Statistics show that the gender pay gap is still large, and it favours men. On average, women earn 15% less than men in the UK.

All down to perspective

So, is there a ‘crisis’ of manhood? That depends on your perspective. These are clearly challenging times for young men in particular, who find themselves staring at an economically bleak outlook and a world that is changing in favour of softer, more feminine, character traits.

Clearly, many men feel alienated by the situation they find themselves in and turn to solitary pursuits and online distractions to help fill the gaps in their lives.

At the same time, men still tend to earn more than women and many men are adapting to the new reality by shedding macho stereotypes and forging closer relationships, both on and offline.

Nevertheless, there appear to be changes afoot that are affecting many men deeply. If it isn’t a crisis of manhood, it may be reaching crisis point for plenty of men.


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