The Side Effects of the Decline of Men

This isn’t the end of men, just a decline.

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Some questions for this Valentine's Day: Why do relations between the sexes, at least in public rhetoric, seem so fraught these days? Why are the political views of educated women turning against the president, relative to his male supporters? Why are marriage rates rising for educated Americans but falling for the less educated? Some new results about labor markets — quantifying the loss in male status — may help shed light on these and other puzzles.

New research shows that the percentage of college-educated men working in cognitive, high-wage occupations has been falling. For women that percentage has been rising. So, I suggest, if men feel as if they are in decline, combined with the already-known phenomenon of male wage stagnation, that may unsettle society and politics as we have known them.

The researchers Guido Matias Cortes, Nir Jaimovich and Henry E. Siu split jobs into categories, with "cognitive" occupations relying on brain power corresponding closely to what many call white-collar jobs. Their worrying result for men is this: In 1980, 66 percent of college-educated men worked in these cognitive occupations. By 2000, that had fallen to 63 percent. Those three percentage points may not sound like a major change, but that's over a 20-year period when the American economy became wealthier and more Americans became educated. Men also grew older as a group during this time, which should have propelled them into more white-collar jobs. Relative to those expectations of improvement, the retrogression is startling.