Where Have The Good Men Gone?
Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men’s attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There’s nothing they have to do.
They might as well just have another beer.
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting editorial today about shifting demographics trends. The inquiry is initiated by the question, “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” This in turn began presumably due to a recent book entitled I Don’t Care About Your Band: What I Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters and Other Guys I’ve Dated (which prefaces the editorial piece.
I think the quote above gives an indication as to why single western men are the way they are. However, it plays off too much on cliches. The author comes closer to the key factor for why men are holding off on marriage a little earlier in the article.
Another factor in the lengthening of the road to adulthood is our increasingly labyrinthine labor market. The past decades’ economic expansion and the digital revolution have transformed the high-end labor market into a fierce competition for the most stimulating, creative and glamorous jobs. Fields that attract ambitious young men and women often require years of moving between school and internships, between internships and jobs, laterally and horizontally between jobs, and between cities in the U.S. and abroad. The knowledge economy gives the educated young an unprecedented opportunity to think about work in personal terms. They are looking not just for jobs but for “careers,” work in which they can exercise their talents and express their deepest passions. They expect their careers to give shape to their identity. For today’s pre-adults, “what you do” is almost synonymous with “who you are,” and starting a family is seldom part of the picture.
One factor to consider is that most younger men no longer feel sufficiently established to enter into marriage between 21-30. In the past, most men could enter a stable career with just a high school diploma (or less). This is no longer the case in the modern workplace. Competition (at home and abroad) is making it more difficult for men to enter into a profession they can feel confident and comfortable with. Men can no longer join a corporate entity in their early 20’s and feel like they have a stable career ahead of themselves. Regardless of whether or not the previous generation liked (or disliked) their early career options - they had that feeling of self-assuredness earlier on. You could get a job at the local factory in the past and afford a three bedroom house with two kids in the previous era or two. You can’t do that anymore in America (or anywhere else).
The modern man faces a competitive environment which is radically different. Financial stability is highly difficult (regardless of education, experience or career choice). Even lucrative professions don’t carry much stability in any fashion whatsoever. Technology and engineering professionals face the prospect of programmers and engineers in Asia doing the same work for 1/10th the cost. Investment bankers face the prospect of pitch book creations being outsourced to India. There is an overabundance of attorneys in the modern world, making the services they render being available in overabundance. Doctors can lose everything they have in a malpractice lawsuit brought on by the aforementioned lawyers who are scraping by. If a doctor manages to avoid legal woes, they are still in an uncertain environment attributed to half a million or more in educational debts associated with the long training period for the medical profession. There is no sure thing for any modern man, even the ones in professions that used to be considered catches.
Although the modern young man may seem to be immature, the decision not to take on marriage might be the most mature action of all. The decision to start a family (or take steps to it) would be premature and irresponsible given current conditions.
Unlike adolescents, however, pre-adults don’t know what is supposed to come next. For them, marriage and parenthood come in many forms, or can be skipped altogether. In 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that’s true of an astonishing 55% of the age group. In the U.S., the mean age at first marriage has been climbing toward 30 (a point past which it has already gone in much of Europe). It is no wonder that so many young Americans suffer through a “quarter-life crisis,” a period of depression and worry over their future.
Marriage in the modern world is a tremendous leap of faith in taking on greater economic burdens. All of this doesn’t even begin to address a secondary concern - divorce. Given that many of today’s men have had parents go through divorce (or two or three), marriage itself does not offer the prospect of emotional security that it did in the past. The deterioration of marriage presents a financial burden as big as anything a modern man can encounter in their life.
Although the notion of men holding of responsibility seems to be the prevalent perception, the truth is that holding off on marriage is probably the most responsible decision most men are making in their lives.