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Hanna Rosin has written the hottest story of this hot summer — how much of it is hot air?
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This whole trend is now finding its way into the economy. Seventy-five percent of jobs lost in the recession belonged to men. As of a few months ago, for the first time in history, women outnumber men in the work force. Writes Rosin:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs — up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms….A white-collar economy… increasingly requires formal educational credentials, which women are more prone to acquire…. Just about the only professions in which women still make up a relatively small minority of newly minted workers are engineering and those calling on a hard-science background…. 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.
So what to make of this? That young women perform better in school is hardly an original observation. Mark Twain made it when he wrote “On Girls” in English as She Is Taught:
Girls are very stuck up and dignefied in their maner and be have your. They think more of dress than anything and like to play with dowls and rags. They cry if they see a cow in a far distance and are afraid of guns. They stay at home all the time and go to church on Sunday. They are al-ways sick. They are al-ways funy and making fun of boy’s hands and they say how dirty. They cant play marbels. I pity them poor things. They make fun of boys and then turn round and love them. I dont beleave they ever kiled a cat or anything. They look out every nite and say oh ant the moon lovely. Thir is one thing I have not told and that is they al-ways now their lessons bettern boys.
The seeds of the current situation can be found in How Schools Shortchange Girls, a study put out by the American Association of University Women in 1992. Christina Hoff Sommers eviscerated the study, pointing out in The War Against Boys that girls actually do better in school, that boys have much higher drop-out rates, and that the standard by which the AAUW study measured girls’ shortchanging was self-esteem — a purely subjective standard. Adolescent girls may have most self-doubts but who has the least? Young black males, as it turns out. Obviously, self-esteem has little to do with academic performance.
What threw in a curve — and apparently galled the university women to no end — was a population of “star boys” at the very top. On the whole, girls did better than boys but the best boys outperformed the best girls. Moreover the teachers seemed to favor these star boys, letting them call out answers and praising their achievements. You can just see those university women sitting there years before with their perfect homework assignments written in perfect penmanship grinding their teeth at these obnoxious loudmouths who were always asking a question or calling out the answer.
In the great meritocracy of contemporary American society, this classroom situation has now been duplicated in society at large. Young men who once congregated at the back of the classroom perusing motorcycle magazines and writing their girlfriends’ names on their arms in indelible ink are now sinking lower and lower in the work force. Meanwhile, those young women who turned in all their assignments and made the honor roll are rising through the ranks. True, the “star boys” still dominate most professions but that can be explained as well. With perfect heads-I-win, tails-you-lose logic, Rosin attributes this to “discrimination.”
So if good grades and graduate degrees are becoming the yardstick for performance in the economy, what kind of economy are we creating? The first thing to notice about those Department of Labor statistics is that nearly all the next decade’s expected job growth is in professions dependent on the government. The so-called “white-collar economy” we are entering is really an expanding government bureaucracy. Nursing, home health care, child care, maintaining medical records — all involve taking care of people or keeping track of other people taking care of people while taxpayers foot the bill. (Obamacare will supersize this effort.) Who’s going to create the wealth to pay for all this? Rosin doesn’t venture an answer.
More and more we are becoming an economy dominated by educated and credentialed people doing government-dependent jobs. This kind of economy specializes in “can’t do.” How else would you explain the current fiasco in the Gulf, where the federal government’s principal contribution has been to tell skimming boats they can’t go out without sufficient life jackets, to require federal permits for people trying to rescue damaged birds, to forbid the use of dispersants without environmental impact statements, to keep 80 percent of the nation’s skimming boats bottled up in their home ports in case there’s another oil spill somewhere, and to tell the world’s abundant supply of skimmers (including one Taiwanese boat that can skim as much as our entire fleet) that they can’t help because it would violate federal labor laws?
Women will do well in this can’t-do economy. In fact, anyone who excels at writing term papers and accumulating degrees is more likely to end up writing environmental impact statements than inventing new technologies or starting new businesses. Men’s skills are different. They are adventurous. They like to build and operate machines. They like to take risks and push the envelope. They prefer doing things in the real world rather than on paper. In the can’t-do economy, these skills are becoming more and more marginalized.
Yet economies only advance on the frontiers of science and technology. People who do well at school don’t always do well on frontiers. The ratio of men to women on the American frontier was probably 10-to-1. Always there were a few tough women who thrived in the pioneer life but most arrived only later as a “civilizing” influence. It is men who break new ground, brave the odds, and clear a path for women to follow. Feminists will insist that this is all social conditioning and that “women can be taught these skills as well,” but that’s the point. Men don’t have to be taught. They are that way naturally.
If we have an economy based on writing environmental impact statements, responding to lawsuits, and pushing each other around in wheelchairs, it is likely women will continue to dominate the work force. But that doesn’t bode well for the country. If we are to start making and doing things again — like building the 100 new nuclear reactors we need to clean the air and provide ourselves with enough energy — then men will have to make a comeback. The real question is not about the “end of men” but about the future of America. From the perspective of 2010, it doesn’t look very encouraging.
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