Congratulations, mothers of daughters: we’ve raised a generation of alpha girls. When “Pomp and Circumstance” plays at commencements this month, more than half the new graduates will be women: 57 percent of the bachelor’s degrees and 60 percent of master’s degrees. As the new doctors and lawyers and Ph.D.s join the procession, half of them will be women, too.
Ask educators and they will tell you that these numbers are not a surprise: girls are typically better students, raise their hands more often, get their homework in on time (and much neater) and study harder. Evidence: 72 percent of high school valedictorians are female.
And in the workplace, under-30 unmarried women are currently out-earning males in major cities, as well as smaller communities, across the U.S.
While the “you-go-girl!” success is heartening after centuries of lagging behind, what about young men? What happens to them in this new social order? Some provocative answers are provided in “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys,” a new book by social critic Kay Hymowitz. She generated great controversy earlier this year when she wrote “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” for the Wall Street Journal, drawing more than 1,100 comments, among the most in the paper’s history.
The book, heavily researched and written in a friendly tone, makes the argument that compared to their alpha sisters, “men can come across as aging frat boys, maladroit geeks or unwashed slackers.“ Not all young men, Ms. Hymowiz says, but many. Even those with good careers tend to hang out in a “a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence.”
Ms. Hymowitz began her research when she noticed a cultural storm stoked by a convergence of social and economic conditions. Women were making unprecedented gains in education and careers. The phenomenon of the “emerging adult” (Ms. Hymowitz calls them “preadults”) was taking shape. On the economic front, the workplace was being driven by knowledge-based businesses, where higher-education degrees and communication skills are rewarded, both areas in which young women excel. Many young women are as career-driven as Mad Men now that the “Mrs.” degree is no longer necessary for economic security. So where did that leave the men? Ms. Hymowitz wondered, only to discover that many were watching “movies with such overgrown actors as Steve Carrell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carey, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell and Seth Rogan.” The success of women—and all those less-than-mature role models—leave many young men struggling to define their role in this new social order.
Today’s pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn’t say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can’t act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.
Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.
We recently chatted with Ms. Hymowitz, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. The mother of a son and two daughters, aged 23 to 33, she wisely decided not to go into details about her own children. We discussed what the man-child means to young women, and their plans for marriage and a family. We also wondered about the role parents play.
Q. With all the focus on careers, you note that among young adults “what you do” is almost synonymous with “who you are,” and starting a family is seldom part of the picture. Have parents fostered this attitude?
A. Baby boomer parents have mislead our kids a little with so much emphasis on achievement and independence and autonomy. What really most brings the most happiness beyond career is a fulfilling and happy home life. When you look at the things that can go wrong in life, certainly career mistakes can be daunting but nothing can make you more unhappy than a miserable marriage and divorce. We as parents have not focused enough on this. Kids see a lot of marital wreckage around them, and mistrust marriage.
Q. Many of us have raised our daughters to aim for career success. Should we revise our message?
A. Young women are extremely strategic in thinking about the education and the training they need for their careers. I wish they were equally smart about their love life. Their twenties are not just a time for career building and having adventures but also the time to think about what they want in a spouse and to take it seriously. Tell them don’t waste your time with child men or guys too self-involved. Get rid of them!
Q. For many baby boomers, talking about marriage and children seems more 1950s than 21st century.
A. We have to give women permission to say “I want to get married and have children” without any embarrassment or irony. Our generation of parents was so freaked out by the old-fashioned script that we didn’t want our girls to follow it so we banished all discussion of marriage and children.
Q. Why is it that women think about marriage before most men do?
A. Women excel at getting things done and the biological clock focuses their minds on the future. But a guy, without that pressure, can say “I’ll wait until 35 to 40” and that changes their personal script and keeps them in pre-adulthood longer.
Q. So despite the social and economic changes, biology still heavily influences women’s lives?
A. Biology writes a major part of the female script; you mature, meaning today you hit 30 or 35, and you reproduce—or not. For men, biology in this sense is more lax, more ill defined. It leaves doors open for men that are closed for women.