teenage boy

It’s the “end of men” theme again, but this time with a new diagnosis. The story so far. Feminist Hanna Rosin says men are sinking in the workforce because they are just not as adaptable as women to the demands of a changing workforce for more education. Conservative Charles Murray says men have given up the commitment to working because the welfare state has sapped their motivation.

But now MIT professor David H. Autor and a co-researcher have dug a little deeper and suggest that family experiences may be critical in the divergent fortunes of men and women in the labour market, reports the New York Times:

Only 63 percent of children lived in a household with two parents in 2010, down from 82 percent in 1970. The single parents raising the rest of those children are predominantly female. And there is growing evidence that sons raised by single mothers “appear to fare particularly poorly,” Professor Autor wrote in an analysis for Third Way, a centre-left policy research organisation.

A vicious cycle can result in which less successful men are less attractive as husbands, so that women choose to raise children by themselves, producing sons who are also less attractive as husbands…

While it’s true that men have suffered disproportionately from economic changes like the decline of manufacturing, some economists say that explains only a small part of the decline of men’s wages and the rise of women’s.

Professor Autor said in an interview that he was intrigued by evidence suggesting the consequences were larger for boys than girls, including one study finding that single mothers spent an hour less per week with their sons than their daughters. Another study of households where the father had less education, or was absent entirely, found the female children were 10 to 14 percent more likely to complete college. A third study of single-parent homes found boys were less likely than girls to enroll in college.

“It’s very clear that kids from single-parent households fare worse in terms of years of education,” he said. “The gender difference, the idea that boys do even worse again, is less clear cut. We’re pointing this out as an important hypothesis that needs further exploration. But there’s intriguing evidence in that direction.”

President of Third Way, Jonathan Cowan — a veteran of the Clinton administration and its welfare reforms — suggested that the research had a message for today’s Democrats. If they want to stop the erosion of the middle class, they have to get past “standard explanations” he said. “We need to ask, ‘How can we get these fathers back involved in their children’s lives?’”

How about: by fostering marriage.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet