The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them? Brutes?Cowen notes the oft-cited evidence for declining life expectancy among middle-aged white American men, and adds, "For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners."
Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.
Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes). A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs. They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.
Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority. Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here? And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.A few thoughts: first, the supporters of politicians like Trump and Austria's Norbert Hofer are majority male, but they still get plenty of female votes: Hofer won 60% of men but nearly 40% of women, and 40% is a lot. So the politics of anti-establishment anger are not just a male thing.
The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem. It might even make it worse.
Again, we don’t know this is true. But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two. It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible. Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.
One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done. But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick. Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus. But how to do that? That world went away for some good reasons.
If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it. It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes. It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure. And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.
What percentage of men are brutes anyway? Let’s hope we don’t find out.
It is true, I think, that a shift from an economy based on industry, agriculture, mining and logging to one based on services hurts men more than women, but it does hurt plenty of women, like the ones who used to sew clothes in factories across the US.
And, of course, those numbers about declining life expectancy among middle-aged white Americans apply to women as well as men.
But all that being said I think it is true that western culture is getting more feminized, and the western economy is moving away from the sort of hard, manly work that defined masculinity for millennia, and plenty of men are dealing very badly with this.