Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Mancession and the Sheconomy

Perhaps you've noticed that's it seems to be lot easier for women to get jobs these days than men. Most of the jobs being "created" today are some sort of cubicle-warming position with "manager," "representative," "associate," "coordinator," or "specialist"in the title. These jobs consist mainly of attending meetings, delegating authority, patiently explaining things to other people, and some form of useless paper shuffling.

The "jobs of the future" are things men simply don't want to do (I know I don't) - things like changing diapers, mopping up vomit, emptying bedpans, drawing blood, taking care of a roomful of children, waiting tables, planning weddings, and so on. Most of the remaining jobs are dead-end "service" jobs, which men, who instinctively compete for status, tend to dislike, as it requires obedience, docility, and a "may I help you" attitude that many men simply don't possess (or affect while internalizing suppressed rage). Not to mention the salaries are abysmal - hard to woo women or start a family earning that kind of money.

The things that men like to do are the ones that have disproportionately been taken over by machines, like manufacturing. The resulting oversupply of male labor (including bottomless unskilled labor from Mexico) has driven male wages down, even for jobs which can't be shipped overseas like pipefitting, landscaping, HVAC installation, auto mechanics and so on. Now, a new wave of automation is coming for things like truck driving, the mainstay of blue-collar males since deindustrialization (check out all those pickup truck ads. What are all those guys doing anyway, and why are they baling hay?). Improvements in auto-production and a shift to electric cars may reduce the need (hopefully) for auto mechanics, oil changers, etc. Those areas that men tend to work in, like building construction, have taken a beating thanks to lack of capital. We can't just go on building more buildings every single year forever - for one, the entire earth would be paved over, for another, we'd run out of materials, and another, we wouldn't even have enough people to put in them, especially if population is declining.

Even the few remaining fields where men have a small numerical edge (science, engineering, mathematics, computer programming, construction), the common lament you always hear is "how do we get more women to get interested in this profession?" WTF? There aren't enough jobs right now for all the men in these professions, and you want to get more women into them? Shouldn't you be more worried about the quantity of jobs rather who is doing them? If a job is getting done, what does it matter if it's a man or a woman doing it?

In general, men prefer movement and action. They like physical things and don't like sitting still for long amounts of time. They are good at focusing on a specific task, but their attention varies, and they are less docile, generally. Many men have less-than-desirable social skills. School is almost perfectly designed to turn men off from learning and education, and our "college for all" culture provides few opportunities for the average man to become a decent, productive member of society (unlike, say Germany with their apprentice systems), instead preferring to lock them up and throw away the key. Non-college jobs are denigrated in American society, attracting people who see themselves as "rejects" for college, and leading to poor-quality service. At the same time, like twenty people all crowding together trying to enter into an elevator at the exact same time, students are encouraged to go to college so they can get "prestigious" jobs that don't exist, and graduate with nothing but debt to show for it.

Women, by contrast, have an easier time sitting behind a desk all day, cooperating, behaving, smiling, and being social, which is what jobs tend to be all about nowadays. I once read someone's opinion that the "women's lib" movement was actively encouraged so that women would enter the workforce en masse, competing against men and driving down salaries. Plus, women were more docile and easier to control - they didn't talk back to their (male) bosses, rock the boat, ask for a raise, or try and outcompete or outshine their (male) bosses. There was a sense that, since women were considered a "second" income, that you could pay them less, and this is probably why women still tend to earn a little less than men in the same positions (although this is greatly exaggerated). It seems believable enough, especially since this seems to be the only mass movement since the War that the oligarchy has not strangled in its crib.

Of course, schools were originally designed to churn out obedient soldiers and factory workers as John Taylor Gatto has so aptly demonstrated. Now that the factory work is gone, they seem to do little more than keep people out of the workforce until they turn 18, and then they can become either prisoners or debt donkeys. But this "sit still, be quiet, behave, do exactly what you're told, stand up and sit down when the bell rings;" type of mentality is inherently easier for girls to go along with. Mass education has only been around for 50-60 years (even before World War Two it wasn't uncommon for people to have only a primary school education, and many of these people were smart as a whip), and that's way too little time for evolution to mold all men and boys into obedient little workers, especially since the previous few million years before that encouraged the behavioral traits I listed above for reproductive success. Thus, I doubt men are simply going to behave as the robots economists use for their models and transform into home health care aides, third-grade teachers, nurses, and so on. I tend to agree that schools treat boys as "defective girls" and try to medicate away the problem:
Being a boy can be a serious liability in today’s classroom. As a group, boys are noisy, rowdy and hard to manage. Many are messy, disorganized and won’t sit still. Young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities. “Girl behavior is the gold standard in schools,” says psychologist Michael Thompson. “Boys are treated like defective girls.”

These “defective girls” are not faring well academically. Compared with girls, boys earn lower grades, win fewer honors and are less likely to go to college. One education expert has quipped that if current trends continue, the last male will graduate from college in 2068. In today’s knowledge-based economy, success in the classroom has never been more crucial to a young person’s life prospects. Women are adapting; men are not.
What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed (Time)

Lest you think any of the above is an exaggeration, I advise you to check out the following link:

The glass ceiling illustrated in one ‘meet the staff’ web page

This also leads to the loss of class mobility and concentration of wealth, as men now no longer have to compete against just upper-class men, but upper-class women as well. Now members of both genders who are "to the manor born" can hoard opportunities, making sure there's no room for people from the lower classes to rise up the ladder as was more likely in times past. There's only so much room on each level of the pyramid, after all.

At Colleges, Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust (New York Times)

And this has caused the feeding of men's insecurities, especially those of white males. Predictably, these insecurities have given birth to a whole host of "movements," the Tea Party movement, Libertarianism in its varied forms, including the latest Neoreactionary movement (bring back the aristocracy!), the militia movement, the men's rights movement, the "pickup" community, sovereign citizens, survivalists, the NRA (what it's become) and the John Birch Society (which has now captured the entire Republican Party). I'm sure there are others I'm forgetting.

FOX News is specifically designed by its creators to appeal of this fever pitch of anxiety, anger and insecurity. Exhibit A: FOX News propagandists Bill O'Reilly and Brit Hume arguing that the corrupt, obese bully Chris Christie is just "too manly" for a "feminized" culture like the United States. Predictably, Christie's numbers shot up among what is essentially now an aging white male party. Exhibit B - Elizabeth Hasselbeck, one of FOX's endless stable of pulchritudinous, square-jawed, blonde, Aryan Überfrauen, has stated that "wussified" men are now a threat to national security! You can almost cut the anxiety with a knife. Of course, outlets like Rush Limbaugh pioneered revelling in "political incorrectness," depicting opponents of their entire message as "shrill harpies," and themselves as "just one of the guys" chatting in the locker room after the game. "Feminazis" were one of the major targets of him and his clones, and you can see why these types of shows are played on AM radio outlets that used to be known primarily for sports talk radio (blue-collar men listen to radio in the truck or on the job site). There are a whole genre of books about "how to be a real man," and things like "the Man Show" are out there to supposedly define what a man is "supposed to be" (unfortunately, in America that seems to be one particular type of man - loutish, big-mouthed, arrogant, aggressive, sloppy, unintellectual, incurious, and beer-and-sports-obsessed). Note how you didn't see stuff like this forty years ago.

Presumably, Larry the Cable guy is a "real man" 'cause he's driving a monster truck!
History shows that Whenever you have a large amount of unemployed or unemployable men, you have a recipe for trouble. If men don't have work - they'll make work, and that work is likely to be crime, rape, violence, vandalism, vigilantism, and all sorts of other mischief, including picking up guns and heading to town hall meetings or policing polling stations for "voter fraud."

All of which is prelude to this crunching of some dire data from Matt Yglesias:
Catherine Rampell recently noted that all the net job growth in December was accounted for by women's employment while men gained zero net jobs. Month-to-month numbers can get noisy, and you shouldn't attribute too much significance to net zero as a threshold, but it is true that the labor market in the United States is highly gendered. It's not just a question of various disparities that arise inside particular firms—there are systematic sectoral gaps between what jobs women hold and what jobs men hold. So an economic trend that's bad for construction workers lands very heavily on men, whereas one that's bad for teachers lands very heavily on women.

Taking the long view, we can see that American women have regained the employment level they were at before the recession. Men, by contrast, have not. The much-hyped "manufacturing rennaissance" is a bit of a myth, and to the extent that it's happened, it hasn't made up for construction job losses. There's a very real male-dominated boom in natural resource extraction jobs, but that sector just doesn't employ that many people.

Younger women were hit by the recession but have also more than recovered their losses. Young men's employment level is way down from where it once was. Optimistically one might hope this represents a surge in young men enrolling in college and learning useful things, but to the best of my knowledge the gender gap in college attendance and graduation continues to favor women.

All told, it's very much an End of Men scenario—with the particularly striking fact being that you see the end of men more strongly in the younger cohorts. The population of people over the age of 55 is both large and growing, so the experience of older people carries a lot of weight in national aggregates. But the younger you look the more you see men's disemployment as a theme. For younger workers we really are slouching toward gender equity—we're just doing it more by men becoming worse off than by women becoming better off.
Four Charts Show the Gendered Labor Market (Slate)

See also: U.S. Women Last Month Regained All Jobs Lost to the Great Recession; Men Still 2.1 Million Short (September 12, 2013) (IWPR)

And it's likely to get worse:
In the next two decades, 47% of US jobs are at risk of being automated away, an alarming Oxford study found last week.

But computers create as well as destroy jobs: Economist Tyler Cowen points out that an unmanned Predator drone requires 168 workers to keep it in the air for 24 hours, whereas one sortie by an F-16 is backed by fewer than 100 workers. Our economic future will increasingly be a story of those who complement computers. And though it may be counterintuitive to say so, that means big potential upside for women.

Why, when the computer-programming field remains dominated by men? Because women are more conscientious. Women are also more likely to ask for help or acknowledge their limits. Women are more modest, and modesty, it turns out, will be an invaluable trait in the future.

How does this play out in terms of gender? Keep in mind that one of the most common and preventable sources of deadly infections in hospitals is failure to wash hands. One study found that women doctors washed their hands after 88% of patient contact, but for men that figure was 54%. That’s arrogance, a belief that you are such a great medicine man that you couldn’t possibly be ferrying disease.

Changes in higher education will reward superior female conscientiousness. Today college is essentially a four-year vacation from reality for the children of the well-off that produces a valuable credential. But free online universities are turning that model upside down: Within a few years, students who paid nothing for their tuition but crammed intensely and learned much more than the average kid at Party U. will be presenting themselves to employers, who will not fail to notice the new source of talent.

The most conscientious, self-motivated students, regardless of where they came from, will eat the lunch of the kids who didn’t bother to learn a useful skill in college. Cowen points out, “women are more likely to follow instructions and orders with exactness and without resentment. . . . There is plenty of evidence that women are less interested in direct workplace competition and more likely to work well in teams.”

Women have a new word for the masculine tendency to belittle feminine input while asserting expertise they don’t necessarily possess: mansplaining. In an increasingly meritocratic and linked world, mansplaining will prove to be a costly flaw.

“If you’re a young male hothead who just can’t follow orders, and you have your own ideas about how everything should be done,” writes Cowen, “you’re probably going to have an ever-tougher time in the labor markets of the future. There won’t be much room for a ‘rebel without a cause’ or, for that matter, a rebel with a cause.”

Men have already been punished by de-industrialization that values office skills more than physical strength. Now we’d better learn that we can’t mansplain our way through the e-economy.
Which workers will survive the robot age? (New York Post)

The bottom line is: must men fail for women to succeed? I say no. I say we rise and fall together. There's no other way. Otherwise, too many men with nothing to lose will tear the system down anyway.


  1. Hi, nice roundup as usual. Your inclusion of an article by Christina Sommers reminded me of something I've been mulling over for a while.

    I appreciate most of her articles, but her involvement in this thinktank fills me with a sense of uncertainty, or of the danger that I'm being hoodwinked. How do you approach thinktanks and their constituents?

    Also, this seems very relevant to what you're talking about:
    I think it dovetails with your previous suggestion of Roosevelt-style public work projects, and honestly, this political maneuver worried me in ways that few others do.

    oh, and a suggestion: anonymous comments are far less invasive and tiresome to submit. consider turning them on.

    1. Good article. here's the money quote:

      That an emergency economic recovery program should be designed with gender in mind is itself remarkable. That, in current circumstances, it should be designed to "skew" employment further towards women is disturbing and ominous.

      I would argue that the expansion of the military-industrial complex is a de facto make-work jobs plan that we've been running in this country since the 80's, and one that tends to favor men, but this is never discussed as such.

      As I've said so many times before, exploiting divisions through "divide-and-conquer" is the way elites rule. Dividing male against female is just another facet. It's not a liberal/conservative issue. Unfortunately, it seems it's right/conservatives/authoritarians who are the ones appealing to this disaffected base, even though it's their economic ideas that are destroying the economic fortunes of these same men!

      I'll try and figure out how to turn on anonymous comments. I'm not very adept at Blogger settings, so any problems are due to my own ignorance rather than any sort of intent.

  2. good observations. but aren't we just pissing into the wind? this will not change, it's just a numbers game: population exploding, resources/energy in decline... 'jobs'; aptly named.

    a couple of good reads relevant to your post::

    1. That’s a great letter, thanks! It’s always weird to see someone else writing down your thoughts – the mark of a truly great author. Where can I find someone to pay me for writing full time - lol? The David Graeber piece I covered back here: Our Jobs Are (Mostly) Bullshit.

  3. I usually really love what you write, but I was actually shocked and disappointed by this:

    "Women, by contrast, have an easier time sitting behind a desk all day, cooperating, behaving, smiling, and being social..."

    I hardly think a generalization like that can be useful or truthful. Who in the world WANTS to sit behind a desk all day? Nobody I know. It's just that is what most of the jobs are, especially for people who: Couldn't afford or get through medical school/engineering, have mouths at home to feed, need a job where they aren't on the road all week and have regular hours, and want a consistent, not commission-based, income. Just because those people tend to overwhelmingly be women does not mean that women like those jobs or do better at them. It points more to the fact that a very large amount of households in this country are sole women with children, which socially is an appalling state of affairs and says a great deal about the accountability of all those men who helped procreate, yet aren't there now to raise and provide for their offspring. Also, most people that I know (not any sex in particular) have more social skills than I do personally. Possessing social skills and a positive outlook (smiling) are not gender based. Suggesting it is so seems a trifle biased and disingenuous to me. It certainly strikes me as not very complementary or respectful towards women. I realize exceptions don't disprove generalizations. But those generalizations do not seem based on fact or studies, and don't include the realities of life/society that restrict the options many people have. Oh, and women don't "want" to clean up vomit or change dirty diapers. We do it because somebody did it for us, and it needs to get done to others now. So we step in and do it. "Want" is not a part of the equation. It's called taking care of business and being responsible adults who share in the unpleasant jobs that society needs done.

  4. good points, roz. i was also struck by the notion that women 'want' to clean up vomit. women do it because it's a job that needs to be done, and they do. who would actually 'like' to imbibe that foul smell, muchless mop it up?

    kind of off point, but moreso a counter: have you checked out the 'feminization of boys' in state run schools? interesting implicstions there... i know it's not p.c., but i still believe there are fundamental differences in the sexes that the corpo-state wants to deny for their own profit motives... we're all just fungible, interchangeable parts for the machine, regardless of sex, culture, or any other real differences that might indicate otherwise. this in no way i believe in the notion of 'suprerior' v. 'inferior'. but i do believe there are differences between humans... hence, the 'experience'.

  5. What about the fact that the males featured in there are disproportionately white, and Asian males seem an exception in college grades? I suspect it's as much a cultural thing as it is gender.

  6. I guess “want to do” is a poor choice of words, so I apologize for that. “Be somewhat more amenable to” might be more accurate, and of course these are broad generalizations – I personally know male nurses and female engineers. But I also know a broad enough range of individuals to know that men and women aren’t just interchangeable widgets to be plugged in to the economy as need be the way economists think they are – they have their own interests, abilities, passions, proclivities, and so on. And some of these are tied in with gender, as much as we hate to admit it. I personally wouldn’t last a day as a nurse. I pass out at even the sight of bodily fluids. A lot of nursing is sort of child care for old people, and women tend to be more amenable to that. Tend to be is the operative phrase – there are plenty of women would be just as inept as me. But I have tremendous respect for the people - male and female - who are able to do that job.

    To some extent this is based on experience. When I had to shadow doctors and nurses for work, I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and came up with a ratio of 10:1 for “on the floor” medical personnel, and about 2:1 male/female for doctors (most doctors are still male, but I suspect that’s changing). But there are far less doctors than nursing and support staff, in fact I think there were only 3 MDs for the hospital floors, and obviously becoming a doctor is time-consuming and expensive.

    By contrast, when I go on to the construction site at the same hospital, I’d say the ratio is about 100:1 male/female. The stereotype of big burly men doing construction work is pretty accurate as far as I can tell. Most of the people in the trailer I deal with are men too, with the women filing the paperwork. Hospital managers tend to be more equally balanced, and the top of the management hierarchy is usually white males, just like in the above link (here’s where we really do need more women). But these jobs are based on class and social connections primarily, so replacing older, wealthy white men with older, wealthy white women isn’t going to solve the jobs crisis.

    Now why should this be? Anyone can freely choose to be any profession they want. Is this just because of cultural inertia or attitudes? Color me skeptical. Somehow I don’t think those burly construction guys are going to show up on the hospital floors, and if they did, they’d be terrible. So, the question is, what are they going to do?

  7. I do believe that men these days have become different (less manly?) than what the men of earlier generations were, but they have also become more able to be accepted for wanting to take on a nurturing-type job such as being a nurse or stay-at-home dad. I think some of these changes are good. However, there does appear to be a lack in young men of today as far as accepting responsibility and sucking it up when things aren't immediately gratifying to them personally. I find it rare to meet men my own age (40s) who can be counted on to know how to do something, be willing to do it, and chose to be someone you can count on the way my dad and his peers did. Yet these men today are more willing to talk about feelings, our relationship and also their experiences as part of the world that I'm pretty sure my dad never did with anybody. So while there may be some kind of aspect of feminization of boys, I'm not sure that's the right term. Also not sure if all of it is a bad thing. I think honestly the way a mother and then the father raises a son has a great deal to do with it, but our society also has vastly different futures an expectations than in my parent's generation.

    As far as actually doing jobs outside of the traditional mainstream, two thoughts: My mom told me that when she was in college, there were only a very few careers even open to girls - nursing, secretary, etc. Obviously there were historically those rare women who did get into science based fields and made amazing discoveries, but I suspect those women were all from well-off families and maybe had indulgent fathers. Women just weren't usually welcome in many fields, and had to work very hard to get in them at all. Which is my second point, because I've experienced that first hand, in this century. I used to paint cars. I had years of experience at a high end body shop, and great references. When I had to relocate several states away in a southernly direction, I filled out applications to resume my career in the new city. Out of the many places I dropped my application off at, only a few waited until I turned around to laugh - most of them did it to my face. So getting hired and taken seriously is a problem still for anyone looking to work in nontraditional fields. It's a cultural problem, and it's called sexism.

  8. Women are not compliant because of some innate female quality. Women are compliant because we are medicated into zomboblivion precisely so we can endure the unendurable jobs we are forced against our will to take because the kids need to be fed and the bills need to be paid. Men will, by and large, sit around waiting for manly work until their lives utterly crumble. Women do not have this luxury, therefore fully 25% of the female population in the US is on antidepressants precisely so we can remain quiet and obedient as we mop up vomit and shuffle papers.


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