We recently solicited your questions for Hanna Rosin, author of the new book The End of Men (and the Rise of Women). Here now are her replies, which include an explanation of the book’s title and possible solutions to the wage gap. Thanks to everyone for playing along, and especially to Rosin for fielding so many of your good questions.
Q. What do you think about the feminization of higher education; that is, more female faculty and administrators resulting in more policy creation by women or influenced by them? –Gary
A. This has been the conservative explanation for why boys are having trouble in schools. It was advanced, for example, by Christina Hoff Sommers in her 2000 Atlantic story “The War Against Boys.” I think it’s a valid but somewhat limited explanation. For one thing, it’s not new. Psychologist G. Stanley Hall began promoting this theory in 1908 in his influential essay “Feminization in School and Home.” The problem with it is it implies a kind of coordinated conspiracy by women to influence young minds. The truth is that women have taken over teaching because, as has happened often in our economy, once women start to enter a profession the men tend to flee. That’s really the men’s problem, as I see it, not the women’s. It would be fabulous and solve a lot of problems if more men would become teachers. It also has to do with the fact that teaching is one of the rare profession in the U.S. that allows for enough flexibility for a parent to be able to spend a reasonable amount of time with his or her family, both on a weekly basis and on summer vacations. That’s the fault of the American workforce, which is so resistant to flexible working and a reasonable amount of vacation time.
I think what has happened in schools has less to do with female teachers favoring their own than the subtle and gradual erosion of an assumption of patriarchal privilege (and sorry for sounding so gender studies!). What I mean by that is girls have always been better at school. In 1908, when the high school movement began encouraging teenagers to graduate from high school, more girls graduated than boys. But what did it really matter that more girls graduated? Opportunities were limited. So teachers naturally turned their attention to the boys. They assumed, in some tacit and largely unacknowledged way, that educational schools were training the future male elite, and girls were just along for kicks. That was generally the feeling even when I was in elementary school in the 1970’s. But now that assumption has changed. Female – and male — teachers turn their attention to the girls and hold them up as the gold standard because it does actually matter that girls are better at school. At that age – before they’ve had children or bumped into any kind of glass ceiling – everyone assumes the horizons for a girl are unlimited. So why not make her the valedictorian?
Q. How does this finding fit with the pay gap between women and men? –AB
A. Women’s wages have been steadily increasing over the last several decades while men’s have, by different measures, either stagnated or declined. But it’s true that in most professions women’s wages have not caught up. There is still a pay gap. Why? Partly because women work fewer hours than men, partly because women don’t negotiate for salaries as much, and partly because of built-in bias that still favors men.
But the pay gap does not tell the whole story. Take the statistic that in much of the country, childless women under 30 have a median income higher than the equivalent men. How can that be true if there’s a wage gap? The answer is: there are more women working. So Suzie may make less money than Bob who sits one cubicle over, but there are more total Suzies working than Bobs.
The structural changes in the economy overall favor women. But that doesn’t mean all the problems have been solved. The next steps are the hardest: asking ourselves why it is that women take on the greater burden of child care, and why the workforce penalizes them so heavily for it.
My personal preference is not that we solve the pay gap by, say, having women work as many hours as men so they catch up. It’s that we solve it by all working fewer hours!
Q. My question drives to taking a deeper look at the traditionally male dominated industrial jobs and what has happened to the requirements to perform in those jobs in the high technology end of the segment.
Machine tool companies on a global scale are at the forefront of a new employment trend and are struggling to find competent, skilled, trained, reliable workers to do the job. They are in the frontline of the severe technical employee shortage.
The minimum requirements for today’s high tech jobs are math skills, writing skills, computer skills, statistics, and quality process training. These are the minimum requirements. Germany, Japan, and Korea have a shortage of people across the board and are struggling to fill these kinds of jobs with anyone. The US still has population growth but the people contributing to the growth are lacking the skills and even the aptitude to be able to perform in a quality driven business environment. Then there are the soft skills in project management, time management and team dynamics that turn the competencies into a successful business.
The newest hottest technology out there is 3D printing: printers are used to make machined parts. The computer and engineering skills for employees in this field will be even beyond what is available today.
In childhood, boys on average have a much higher preference to play with tools to make (or break) stuff compared to girls. Education curricula tend not to consider practical application until it’s too late and career paths are already determined.
Where is this trend leading to? Are we going to run out of people to implement innovation just as the most exciting developments in several decades are ready for deployment ? –Mark
A. What we don’t really have in this country is a coherent industrial policy the way they do in, say, Germany. We generally just encourage everyone to prepare for college, instead of training them for specific skills needed by industries. States are starting to address this on their own. In Alabama, for example, where I did my reporting, local governments give high school kids scholarships to attend community college, and the community college works closely with local factories to develop the skills they need. And the state is putting a big emphasis on bringing in high-tech manufacturers. But this is all happening piecemeal and not part of a larger national strategy. The good news: both parties seem pretty concerned about what to do with the people who have been left behind by the manufacturing era, so maybe they will make their way to something more cohesive.
Q. I’d like to depart from an Asian perspective. Let’s put it in the most straight-forward way: what I find most difficult for women to be “successful” in our society is that they have to resist the influences and pressures from the overwhelmingly “conventional” social norm (ex. woman should be caring more about domestic things), which requires tremendous efforts and power. I’ve always believed that women sacrifice more than men do. Women are always stereotyped as sensible, which are not the fittest attributes for the game rules defined mostly by men.
According to your observation, could you share your ideas about how women are impacted by biased social settings and stereotypes? What are your suggestions for casting off all of those seemingly natural constrains? –Rachel
A. Research backs up what you say. In many lab studies, women are penalized for being too aggressive and straightforward, or even for not being helpful. Researchers at New York University handed out two evaluations describing two different candidates as “stellar” performers in an aeronautics company. The evaluations were identical except one was named “Andrea” and the other “James.” Research subjects judged Andrea as less appealing and less deserving of a promotion. They assumed that because she was a woman, she must have done some pretty unpleasant things to get to that position in a male dominated field.
This is all pretty depressing. But there is some good news. Some researchers at Harvard Kennedy school went back to the question last year and tried to figure out how women could get around this problem. The thinking is: we are now in this transitional moment, where so many more women are qualified and poised to move into upper management, but there remains a cultural suspicion of overly dominant women, so how can we get around that? I write in my book about their conclusions. In short, they came up with a few helpful formulas where women could advocate for themselves, but not trigger that backlash. It’s annoying, in its tightrope specificity. But it really does work. You’ll have to read the book for more specifics!
Q. Do you feel different in the fallout of the financial crisis where the second wave of job losses appear to be public sector workers who are female? I know several female teachers who have either been laid off or are unhireable due to structural unemployment. – Pdubble
A. A good point. Women were more heavily impacted by the public sector cuts because more women work in the public sector, especially as teachers. But that doesn’t change the long-term trend. Despite the Republican rhetoric, the government has experienced steady growth over the last few decades while manufacturing has experienced steady shrinkage. Women still dominate 12 of the top 15 jobs projected to grow in the coming years.
Q. To what extent do you believe that the growth of women in the workplace has contributed to the downward pressure on wages? It is now much more difficult for a family to be supported by one wage earner — either male or female — than it was for previous generations. What can be done or should anything be done to change this? –Jez Nash
A. This is an excellent question. Women do tend to get paid less than men. And a lot of the female-dominated industries at the bottom of the economy are not well-paid jobs. But I’m not sure if that’s depressed wages overall, for men and women. If anyone out there knows any good studies on this, please send them along.
Q. I haven’t read the book, but read excerpts that were recently published in The New York Times, in which you argue that women have adapted better to the realities of our global economy because in many cases they started their careers without big expectations and were more willing to adapt when necessary. In some ways, particularly for those lower on the economic ladder, the situations have now reversed, so what do you see happening over the next generation? Will young men today be as adaptable as young women two-three decades ago? Will today’s young women allow their careers and ambitions to define them and leave them unwilling to adapt if forced to down the road? –Q
A. I am generally a believer that a lot of these changes have to do with historical circumstances and not, say, innate qualities. Part of the reason women are adapting is because they’ve been marginalized, and the marginalized tend to be more flexible and adaptable. I often think about men after World War II, when they came back desperate to reestablish themselves, took advantage of the GI Bill, and raced back into the economy. The mean way to put it is: Patriarchal privilege makes you lazy. But men have hustled before and they surely will again. At least I hope so.
Q. What do you think of the Larry Summers claim that men and women are mostly equal in ability, but men are more skewed and so, for example, there are more mentally challenged males and there are more geniuses? If that’s true, it seems like the implication may be that women may outclass men at the middle and above the middle but we may not see women at the top of various fields (at least to the extent that extremities lead one to the top of something). –borlaug
A. Well, you have to be much more precise about your terms. There is no evidence that there are more male “geniuses,” because that is a pretty vague term. There is evidence that in certain fields – math, for example, you find mostly men at both far ends of the curve. Hardly any women win top level international math competitions, for example. But that is different than being a “genius” or ending up as the CEO of Coca Cola, or, say, a senator. Those kinds of job require a whole set of skills that have nothing to do with “genius.” So Summers’s analysis explains something, but only a limited something.
Q. Your title seems deliberately confrontational, what was the reasoning behind it? –Matt
A. It is! My own son is very offended by it, which is why I dedicated the book to him. The title was given to my magazine story by my editor, so originally I had nothing to do with it. But then over time it stuck, and became the recognizable term for this argument I was making. People began to use it as a short hand descriptor, that’s an “end of men” kind of character or situation. So I held onto it for the book. It’s poetic, memorable, four short words. It’s definitely been a blessing and a curse. It does not accurately reflect the nuance that’s in between the covers. But I’ve come to appreciate the fact that people have a strong emotional reaction to the title.
Q. Why is it that when there is systemic failure of men, it is seen as the failure of men themselves and men as a social construct. While, on the other hand, a systemic failure of women is seen as a failure of the social and political system, and need for reform/legislation to put women “on equal footing.” –Travis
A. This is an excellent point. I think it’s because an important part of being a man is being self-reliant, so men rarely, for example, form social movements to defend their rights, something women have done routinely.
Q. In predicting the end of certain types of men – “construction, manufacturing, high finance” – you seem to ignore the male-dominated field of science & technology, which has been doing much better than those others in the recent past. Care to comment? –James
A. That is true and a good counterpoint to my argument about the future economy. Men still dominate computer science and that is an important growing field. The truth is, we are not training enough computer programmers period in this country, men or women. I imagine men will always dominate that field but there is also some evidence that women are discouraged from entering it because it defies social expectations. There have been some nice simple studies showing that women do better on math tests when there is a female proctor giving the exam, for example. Also in a handful of countries – Bulgaria and Romania, I believe – women really excel in math and computer science. So one can create a culture where it is more encouraged.
The good news about the computer science industry is that even though it is male dominated, it has a pretty flexible workplace culture that isn’t weighed down by the usual face time, office-bound rules of older industries. I address this all in a book chapter exploring women in Silicon Valley.
Q. Since women have overtaken men in the workplace, when will public policy start to help women more (health care, maternal leave, paternal leave, etc.)? How can we get more women into congress? Kirsten Gillibrand (Senator – NY) had a great interview on The Daily Show about congress, public policy, and women’s role in it.
Also: since women are more prevalent in the workplace, especially in managerial roles, how long do you think it will be before a similar change is reflected in congress (mostly men)? How long will it take for there to be an effect on policy? How do we get more women in congress?-Brenton
A. I’ve just been over in Europe, and it makes you weep over the state of our social policy. There, they have moved on from the discussion about paid maternity leave (which we have not begun yet) to the gender neutral discussion about parental leave and child care. The key for women is obvious. On a policy level, more flexible work and parental leave that isn’t all focused on mothers. And on a cultural level, allowing men to pick up more of the burden of childcare without that being viewed as emasculating.
I think we are likely to see changes in politics before we will see them in, say, finance. I have no good evidence for that. Just an instinctive sense that when Hillary Clinton ran, we worked out a lot of our base stereotypes about how a woman has to be – should she cry, be tough, bake cookies. I think if she ran again, she would be treated as just another candidate.
Q. Who is rooting for this plastic-women-over-unadaptable-men scenario in the long run? Also, how does this theory apply to her own marriage with David? Or if not, why doesn’t it describe their relationship? –Holly
A. Hmm. You are asking me to insult my husband here. My husband, who has been gamely taking care of our three children while I’ve been on book tour. On paper, as a worker, I suppose I have in fact been more plastic. David has been in the same company (with lots of promotions) since before we got married, and I have had dozens of different jobs and job configurations. That said, we do have one of those pretty typical, happy, see-saw marriages I describe, where we take turns working more or less, earning more or less and doing more or less of the childcare. So maybe we’ll give him Styrofoam?